Writing a Professional Email

Student sitting on the floor types on a laptop with books to the right and a mug to the left.
From pixabay.com

You’re looking through the Blackboard page, and you can’t find the reading your professor assigned.

Your class will be in a computer lab next week, but you don’t remember which one.

You have questions about how your essay could be improved.

You need to send your professor an email.

Chances are, you’ll need to send your professors lots of emails throughout your time in college. Knowing how to write a profession email is especially important during a semester where we find ourselves mostly online.

As students, we are constantly learning how to become more professional individuals in our work, our timeliness, and our interactions with others. When we send an email to a professor, we are speaking to a professional. We must be considerate of our professors’ time and attention. So, here are some quick pointers:

  • Include your class name and number in the subject of the email – A professor will immediately be able to identify the right Blackboard material, textbook, and reading that you may have a question about.
  • Always begin your emails with a greeting. It’s the nice thing to do! Here are some standard examples: “Dear Professor Dupop,” or “Professor Dupop,”
  • Get right to the point! You’re a college student, and you don’t have much time for dilly-dallying either! Use proper grammar, capitalize first letters of a sentence and the word ‘I,’ and use correct punctuation. Do not treat emails as text messages!
  • End the email by thanking your professor for their time.
  • Don’t forget to sign off at the end of an email! You can leave your best friend with a “cool, thanks.” In this situation, we have to get just a tad bit fancy. Examples:
    • Kind regards
    • Best wishes
    • Thank you
Student types on a laptop with a mug resting to the right and an open book to the left.
From pixabay.com

Here is an example email:

Subject: ECO-1103-01 Assigned Readings  

Professor Dupop,

I hope this email finds you well.

I am having a difficult time finding the readings which were assigned for Monday’s class on Blackboard. Would you be able to direct me to them?

Thank you!

Best wishes,

Jamie

A hand, palm facing up, is  extended towards envelope icons dispersed in the air.
From pixabay.com

Voila! What a nice, professor-approved email. Remember, professors and students ought to respect each other, and we can all show deference and politeness through our writing.

Happy emailing!

Alessandra | Fall 2020

Fun Ways to Work with Words

Have you ever finished a paper and felt like you just can’t look at it any more because you’ve been staring at it for so long? Using a text editor or generator is one exciting way to get a fresh look at a paper. There are an endless number of free online programs that can help you reassess a piece that you’ve written, whether it’s a blog post, a poem, a short story, or a research paper. Two types of programs that you can run a text through, whether in its entirety or in part, are:

  • Word cloud generators
  • Up-goer five text editors

Each of these programs can give new perspectives on a piece of writing that may seem stagnant.

Word Cloud Generators

There are a variety of free word cloud generators available on the Internet. Some of these include Jason Davies Word Cloud Generator, Wordle, WordItOut, and Tagul. Below is an example of a world cloud created by running the text from our tutor bios through the Tagul generator. The larger a word appears, the more it has been used in the entered text. As you can see from our word cloud, the tutors are a bunch of people who have majors and minors and who love to write and to spend their time on a variety of activities (apparently our preferred pet is a cat). Because of this feature, making word clouds can be a fun way to see which words appear most frequently in your text. Perhaps you will realize you have been subconsciously using a word more than you should. Maybe you will be able to see that your text has focused more on an idea than you originally thought you would (which means you should schedule an appointment at the Writing Center to adjust your thesis statement accordingly!). Either way, using a word cloud generator is a great way to get a new look at your writing.

Word Cloud

Up-Goer Five Editors

There are also a number of text editors that are referred to as “Up-goer Five Editors.” After copying and pasting text into these kinds of editors, they will essentially highlight or underline any words that are NOT one of the thousand most commonly used words in the English language. This seemingly absurd concept was first made popular by a group of scientists who made a comic attempting to explain the Saturn V moon rocket using only the “ten hundred” most common words – hence the name “Up-goer Five.” In this way, it can be a very useful tool for highlighting jargon. While discipline-specific terminology is wonderful to use with targeted audiences, general papers or presentations are a different case. Works that are shared with a general audience should avoid these words – or actively define them so that audience members can understand the progression of ideas. It is important to remember, however, that a limit of only the thousand most common words is a little bit overkill, so please proceed with caution (all the underlined words in the sentence were highlighted by Up-Goer Five text editor)!

— Jason Swartz, writing tutor

Top 10 Slang Words to Avoid in Your Writing

Why should you avoid them? Slang can mean different things to different people, so it may not be comprehended the way that you intended it to be. Also, slang is very informal. It can show a laziness or a lack of effort by using slang. Lastly, it is boring! There are over a million words in the English language so I guarantee that you can find a more interesting word than a slang term.

1.  “Like”

This word is bland, humdrum, and dull. There is absolutely nothing exhilarating about it. To say that you “like” something or your roommate likes something is meaningless. Great, who cares?! But if you or someone else really has an opinion, express it! Make sure that you use words to get the opinions and feelings across to the reader.

2.  “Thing”

This is the least specific word in the English language. Your reader has no clue what you are referring to when you use it. Be specific!!

3.  “Kids”

I remember my 6th grade teacher complaining about this word, and it has stuck with me. But I am not the only one that feels like this. They are “children,” “teenagers,” etc; give them some credit! Just choose a more specific and less demeaning word. (Unless, of course, you are talking about baby goats. Then, by all means, use “kids.”)

blog pic- baby goats

4.  “Ripped off”

If your brother ripped off his shoes before jumping in a pool, go ahead and use this phrase. However, if your brother got ripped off because he was not given the correct change at the grocery store, use a different phrase. This is slang and sounds sloppy when it is used in a paper.

5.  “Awesome”

This word is so overused that it has become almost as meaningless as “good.”

“Did you have an awesome time? Did you drink awesome shooters, listen to awesome music, and then just sit around and soak up each other’s awesomeness?” -Mean Girls

6.  “Always/Never”

Really? Because I guarantee that someone could prove you wrong most of the time. Very few phenomenon always or never happens. So, use a more realistic term in your writing if there is a slight chance that it may actually happen.

7.  “Good”

Pizza is good. A book is good. But if it is good enough for you to write a paper about, you should use a more descriptive and exciting word!

 

pizza blog pic

8. “Very”

This is often an over exaggeration and is used as a way to express an emotion that is not nearly as strong as you make it sound.

9. “The use of contractions”

This was one of the first rules I learned when I began writing. Do not use contractions. Let me repeat: NEVER USE CONTRACTIONS IN FORMAL WRITING! Contractions are a short cut. If you use a contraction in your paper, you might as well say to your professor that his or her paper is not worth your time to write out entire words.

blog post pic4

10. “First, Secondly, finally, in conclusion, lastly,” etc.

Your readers can count. They know that it is the first paragraph or the second paragraph by counting the paragraphs. Also, they know you are concluding your paper because it stops after your paragraph. Do not tell them things that they can figure out on their own.

-Adrienne, Peer Tutor

Commas: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Them (and Some Things You Didn’t)

Commas are probably the second most feared punctuation mark in the English language, right next to the semicolon. There are lots of myths floating around about when you should and should not use commas. We’re here to set the record straight. Whenever you have a question concerning whether or not you should use a comma, just come on back to this blog post. You’re sure to find the answer.

First, let’s talk about the biggest myth in the entirety of comma lore.

Commas do NOT get put where you feel that there should be a pause. No. Wrong. Stop.

Believe me; if a sentence “sounds like” it should have a pause, most fluent speakers/readers will put one there, even without the comma. Commas serve a much more grand purpose.

Commas can be imperative to give the sentence meaning and nuance. Here are ten simple rules to help you master the comma:

  1. Two Independent Clauses With a Coordinating Conjunction

…what?

Let’s break that down. An independent clause is essentially a handful of words that could stand alone as a sentence. That means that they have a SUBJECT and a PREDICATE. Here are some examples:

  1. I wrote a blog.
  2. The blog is helpful.
  3. Everyone should read my blog.

Now, you can combine independent clauses (sentences) if they are closely related. We do this all the time, and they are commonly referred to as compound sentences. THAT’S what we’re talking about when we say two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction.

But, what’s a coordinating conjunction?

Answer: FAN BOYS

Explanation: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. FAN BOYS.

Fan boys are those little words that we use ALL THE TIME. They group things together (like clauses). Here are some examples:

  1. I wrote the blog, and it is helpful.
  2. Everyone should read my blog, so I shared it on Facebook.
  3. Everyone read my blog, but now everyone thinks I’m a nerd.

As you can see, whenever we used one of those coordinating conjunctions, we have to have one of those commas there.

One more thing.

Look at a sentence like this:

I wrote the blog, and I shared it, and now everyone hates it, so I tried to delete it, but I caught my computer on fire instead.

This is also a problem. This is a RUN-ON sentence. Even though it has all of the appropriate commas, compound generally only allow for two sentences being combined at a time with commas and conjunctions. Just break it up.

One down! Let’s keep going.

  1. Two Independent Clauses WITHOUT a Coordinating Conjunction

This is actually a time when you do NOT use a comma. We’ve already looked at what independent clauses and conjunctions are, so let’s move right into an example sentence:

I keep running out of example sentences, I should look some up on the Internet.

This looks deceptively correct. However, there is NO conjunction (FANBOY).

So…now what?

This is where the most feared punctuation mark comes in: the SEMICOLON. Whenever you have to independent clauses (complete sentences) stuck together without a conjunction, use a semicolon like so:

I know how to use semicolons now; I fear them no longer.

That was easy. On to rule three!

  1. Introductory Adverbial Phrases (IAPs)

Disclaimer: I don’t know if this is the technical term or not (and I don’t exactly care), but it’s a good term, so I’m going to use it.

Let’s break it down. A phrase is like a clause, but it doesn’t have the SUBJECT and a VERB, it just has one or the other, and it certainly could not stand alone as its own sentence. Here are some examples:

  1. Before writing
  2. In the morning
  3. Despite being a master in all things grammar
  4. Unfortunately

As you can see, IAPs can be as small as a single word or quite wordy.

IAPs occur at the beginning of a sentence. (That’s why they’re called introductory.)

Earlier, we talked about SUBJECT and PREDICATE. Technically, IAPs are part of the PREDICATE (the second half of the sentence). This is because IAPs act as adverbs (hence, adverbial); adverbs describe verbs, which are the fundamental parts of PREDICATES.

Because the IAP is separated from the PREDICATE, you need to have a comma after it. It helps the reader to see that it is not a part of the subject and can avoid troublesome confusion. Here are some examples:

  1. Before writing, I also do fifty pushups.
  2. Unfortunately, I cannot actually do fifty pushups.

Here’s an example of how not having that comma can cause confusion:

After walking the dog sat down.

“Walking the dog” is a common phrase. However, that’s not how those words are being used in this sentence. There wasn’t someone walking the dog; the dog was walking and then sat down. It should look like this:

After walking, the dog sat down.

Any questions? Good. Let’s move on.

  1. Dependent Clauses

We’ve mentioned clauses before. They have SUBJECTS and PREDICATES. They can stand alone as independent clauses.

So what makes a clause dependent?

Dependent clauses are things that could stand alone as complete sentences, but they have a word or two in the beginning that makes them unable to do so. Here are some examples; notice how they could stand alone with the first word(s):

  1. Although I do like writing
  2. Before I finish these examples
  3. Even though this is the last example

Just like IAPs, these dependent clauses act adverbially and are technically part of the PREDICATE. Ergo, they must have a comma before them for the same reason as IAP.

Easy enough, right? Right. Onward.

  1. Compound Predicates

This is the second rule where you do not need a comma. As we’ve mentioned quite a few times before, sentences have SUBJECTS and PREDICATES. In a circumstance where you have a compound predicate, you have a sentence with one SUBJECT performing two actions (two PREDICATES, if you will). Here are some examples:

  1. I wrote this blog and quit my job.
  2. I realized what a stupid idea that was and begged Josh for my job back.
  3. Josh was wonderful and gave me my job back.

Notice how each sentence could be separated into two sentences, like so:

  1. I wrote this blog. I quit my job.

And so on.

Because there is no new subject for the second action, you don’t put a comma after the coordinating conjunction like you normally would.

But there’s always a catch…

If you restate the subject, then you have to have a comma (even though technically it’s still the same subject). Here’s an example of that:

  1. I wrote this blog, and I quit my job.

English…

  1. Series (The Oxford Comma)

One of the most violently heated debates in English communities (and the eponymous title of a great Vampire Weekend song) is the use of the Oxford Comma.

The Oxford Comma is the last comma in a series of things. For example:

  1. There nice commas, mean commas, and Oxford Commas
  2. I need butter, milk, and eggs.
  3. I need another list that is easy, fast, and uses an Oxford Comma.

Now, the gradual decline of the Oxford Comma is often traced back to publication companies saving a few cents (and page space) for everything they printed (which added up). It was considered “irrelevant”.

They are wrong.

Here’s why.

Courtesy of jfkandstalin.wordpress.com

Without the comma, it’s hard to tell whether or not the last two items are independent of them selves (items in the list), or an appositive for the item before the last comma. Here’s an example:

Get it? Without the Oxford Comma, you can’t tell if JFK and Stalin are two more things, or just more information about the first thing (strippers).

Two more. Let’s go. I’m going to lump the last two together because they are so closely related.

 

  1. Nonrestrictive Modifying Phrases/Appositives
  2. Restrictive Modifying Phrases/Appositives

More random English words. Let’s break it down.

Modifying phrases and appositives are words (or just a single word) that provide additional information about the subject. Modifying phrases are adjectival (describing how it is), and appositives are nominal (describing what it is). Here are some examples with the modifying phrase/appositive bolded:

  1. My mastiff, Percee, weights more than I do. (A)
  2. My mastiff, which weights more than I do, tried to sit on me. (MP)
  3. The book lying on the table is my favorite book. (MP)
  4. Rowling’s book The Sorcerer’s Stone is the first book in the series. (A)

A keen observer will have noticed that one of the appositives and modifying phrases were highlighted, and one of each was not. Here’s why:

If the appositive or modifying phrase is information that influences your interpretation of the sentence, DO NOT use commas. If the appositive or modifying phrase is extra information, DO use commas. Let’s look at the previous examples.

  1. I only have one mastiff. Therefore, I cannot be referring to any other mastiff other than Percee (who actually does weigh more than I do). Therefore, it’s in commas.
  2. Once again, I only have one mastiff. It needs no more explanation.
  3. “The book” is vague. There is more than one “book” in the universe. I need to restrict my definition of “the book” to mean precisely the book that is on the table.
  4. Again, Rowling has written way more than one book. I want to know specifically which

Basically, if you can take out the appositive/modifying phrase, and the reader would still know EXACTLY what you’re referring to, surround it in commas.

Nonrestrictive=Needs commas

That’s it! You’re free!

See, that wasn’t so bad.

There are a few minor rules that you should know as well, like always putting commas after proper locations or in a “this, not that” style sentence. Also, always use commas when you describe something with more than one adjective (the tall, slender writer). Oh yeah, and if someone is a Jr. or Sr., put a comma after their name and before the Jr./Sr. (John Doe, Jr.). Don’t forget to also put commas at the end of quotes.

Now, you too can be a Comma Master!

 

Tyler, peer tutor

Fall Application Deadlines: Sip your Pumpkin Spice and Relax!

It’s that time of year…

From pinterest.com

Pumpkin spice lattes, cozy knit sweaters, bonfires, and Halloween right around the corner.

But….it’s also scholarship/fellowship/grant application time! Though the Fulbright deadline was this past weekend, there are still other programs that are open. Maybe you have an application you’re working on, too!

If you’re a junior, then you may want to check into programs such as the Peace Corps, the Fulbright, and the Boren Award, as these are typically programs for after graduation. Check out the links at the end for more information about deadlines and what to prepare.

Over the past few months, I’ve settled on a research area and developed a proposal, finishing up this past weekend with all my final drafts. I’ve gone through probably a dozen twenty drafts of my statement of grant purpose and a generous handful of twelve drafts of my personal statement. I’d like to share with you a few things I’ve learned that may help you in these types of required writing.

What’s the first thing you should do?

  1. Read! Read all the information you can find about the scholarship, what you will be doing, and what you need to provide. You’d be surprised at how many times I had to read and re-read my Fulbright instructions to capture the multitude of requirements for each of the documents they need. Read carefully, take notes, and you’ll be in a great place to start writing.
  2. Next, if you have all (or even most) of the information you need to start composing your writing, jump on in. Start with a rough draft, aiming really only for getting your ideas on paper–you will go through countless revisions and drafts and change so much that you’ll really want to try not to think that your first draft will be close to perfect.
  3. Work on a lot of drafts, and ask your professors, if they’re writing recommendations, to review your documents with you. Come see us at the Writing Center, too! We’re here to help you through the entire writing process, even and especially for scholarship/fellowship/grant applications.
  4. Continue working and revising until you are completely satisfied with what you’ve written. For me, it felt like the process of writing my personal statement and statement of grant purpose took significantly more time than my average paper to complete. Plan to have enough time to work on it in between classes, in the evenings, on the weekends–whenever you can take thirty minutes, an hour, or some amount of time to review and revise.

Which reminds me…

  1. Make sure you check and double-check and triple-check your page lengths/word counts! The Fulbright requires a personal statement of one page and a statement of grant purpose under two pages. Likewise, the Boren Award has essay prompts that allow for 800 words or less. This is not a lot of space!

Like we say in the Writing Center, when you start your drafts of these documents, overwrite it first and edit out later.

Remember, when you get stuck trying to figure out how exactly to describe your passion or articulate why you want to study a certain language, you are always welcome in the Writing Center! Utilize the resources you have, ask a lot of questions, and finally:

  1. Take a deep breath. Relax for a moment. It will all be okay! These applications and all the deadlines are all very stressful, so make sure you keep yourself healthy and do your best to keep your stress levels in check.

    From franklin.edu

We have faith in you!

Happy fall and happy application writing!

Here are links to some of the awards and applications for more information:

http://www.peacecorps.gov/apply/

http://us.fulbrightonline.org/

https://www.borenawards.org/

http://www.marshallscholarship.org/

-Emily

 

From fotosearch.com

From fotosearch.com

Journalistic Style

Writing in a journalistic style is not a skill all college students get to learn; however, it is definitely useful regardless of the career field one chooses. We’re so used to writing paragraph after paragraph, citing sources, formatting bibliographies, and making sure we meet the page or word count requirement. Journalism is different. The basic rules of English still must be followed, and there is a certain format and writing style used. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you understand the difference between writing an essay and an article:

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use superfluous words, phrases or information.

Journalists need to understand that not every member of their audience has the same level of education, so simple language should be used. For example, you may not see the word “superfluous” in an article, but you may see “excessive” or “unnecessary.”

In addition, readers don’t always have the time to sit down and read every minute detail about an event, so a journalist must write the most important facts (preferably at the beginning of the story), keeping the story short and sweet, but long enough that the reader can piece together what happened and make sense of it.

Paragraphs in articles are generally no longer than a couple of sentences, although in more in-depth pieces, they can be around four or five sentences long.

newspaper

Image from Creative Commons search Website: https://pixabay.com/p-154444/?no_redirect

Here are a few phrases that are redundant or can be shortened in articles, and their replacement words are in parentheses (from Flyod Baskette and Jack Sissors):

  • A good part (much)
  • A little less than (almost)
  • Accidentally stumbled (stumbled)
  • Disclosed for the first time (disclosed)
  • Jewish Rabbi (Rabbi)
  • Due to the fact that (because)
  • Easter Sunday (Easter)
  • Entered a bid of (bid)
  • Grand total (total)
  • In the immediate vicinity (near)

Style and Formatting

The Associated Press has specific style notes that journalists follow. Here are a few:

  1. Numbers– When describing someone’s age, use figures. Otherwise, generally anything under 10 is spelled out, even street addresses (e.g., Sixth Street).
    • DO NOT start a sentence with a number, unless it is a year (e.g., 1920 was a great year for dancing).
    • Use Roman numerals to describe wars and important people, such as World War II, Pope Benedict XVI, Queen Elizabeth II, etc.
  2. Dates– Use numbers for years and days. DO NOT add st, nd, rd, or th at the end of them. If a month does not include a date, spell it out completely, otherwise use the following abbreviations: Jan., Feb. Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. (Those not listed are spelled out with dates, e.g., Feb. 14, July 21, Dec. 25). Write out days of the week; do not abbreviate them.
    • When describing decades or centuries, do not use an apostrophe between the year and the ‘s’ at the end (e.g., 1990s, the ‘60s, etc.)
  3. Names– The first time you mention a person in a story, ALWAYS use his or her first and last name. Any time you refer to him or her afterwards, use just the last name. Avoid using titles like Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. unless they are in a quotation.
  4. Cities– There are a list of 30 cities that do not require state names after them, two of which are Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The other 28 are available here

journalism

Gatlung and Ruge give some insight as to how the gatekeepers of news (those who pick which stories need to be written) choose stories. First, the story must be relevant. If the Orioles beat the Yankees in the ALCS, sports fans would want to hear about that immediately, not two days after it happened. Though it would still be news two days later, it has more relevance the sooner it is printed (which ties in with timeliness).

Additionally, gatekeepers sometimes choose softer (or what I call “feel good”) stories to balance out the harder, investigative pieces. Unfortunately, a lot of our news is negative, with shootings happening almost daily across the nation, robberies, car accidents, etc., and that is what keeps a reader’s attention. Journalists need to be aware of the nature of the stories they write so they can keep the public more informed.

Final thoughts: use complete sentences, avoid comma splices, and always, always, ALWAYS report the facts as accurately as possible. Before you know it, writing articles will be as easy as writing a 5-page research paper.

-Kelsey, peer tutor