For many, writing isn’t the most exhilarating experience–especially when the subject of one’s writing is not of his or her choosing. I personally, am one of the few individuals who enjoy writing for pleasure. However, writing a 20-page paper on basket-weaving practices in 18th century Europe doesn’t really put me on the edge of my seat. Writing is difficult, taxing, and often time consuming. In addition, it is a requirement asked of most college students across the nation, making it extremely difficult to avoid. So let’s face it, writing for school can sometimes be a pain! Fortunately for you, I have five helpful tips to make it less painful.
- Organize! Organize! Organize! Plan! Plan! Plan!
You know what makes any task even more stressful and difficult than what it already is? A lack of planning! How many times have you been in the process of writing a paper and you get stuck? If you don’t like writing I’m willing to bet more often than not. By organizing and planning what you want to write before you write it, you eliminate the possibility of this occurring. It’s like my football coach always says, “proper planning prevents poor performance.”
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- Use Your OWN voice!
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Before I became a semi-seasoned/confident writer I always placed a lot of stress on having a certain voice. I had created a false notion that whenever I wrote a paper it had to have a voice other than my own, because my voice wasn’t professional enough or acceptable when writing. Nothing could’ve been further from the truth. As long as your paper grammatically makes sense and abstains from the use of slang, write how you talk! There’s no need to try to sound like Mark Twain or Charles Dickens when you write, because the best voice to use is your own unique one.
- Embrace Mistakes!
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Your first draft will never be perfect, never; so don’t try to make it perfect. “Art is a million mistakes” and the art of writing may be comprised of a million and one. Get your ideas on paper and iron out the mistakes later during the review process. The most important thing is completing a draft that you can work from.
- Forget the Rules!
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There’s no such thing as the Tooth Fairy, Jackelopes aren’t real animals, and there aren’t any laws of writing. Now I wouldn’t recommend freelancing and doing whatever you want, but don’t be afraid to start a sentence with “and” because Mrs. Hicklebottom told you in third grade you couldn’t. Welcome to the big leagues of college where you can have some freedom and experiment with different styles. Don’t let the myths that were drilled into you as a child hold you back.
Way too often we overlook our daily accomplishments. I implore you to celebrate all of your small victories and accomplishments in your life, especially your ones related to writing. You finished that 10-page essay? Treat yourself to that Grande pumpkin spiced latte! You deserve it.
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–Duane, peer tutor
Have you ever gotten an assignment from a professor, planned out when you would begin it, and sat down at your freshly-cleaned desk with your laptop, a drink, and a healthy snack, only to find that you don’t understand the instructions?
This happens to everyone at some point. Sometimes professors’ instructions are vague (perhaps purposefully so); sometimes their prompts are multi-faceted and open-ended; sometimes the assignment is separate from the class material and therefore difficult to begin working on. Whatever the reason, writing assignments can be murky to navigate. So what should be your first resource (besides The Writing Center)? Your professor.
Talking to your professor can be intimidating, but the reasons why it can be intimidating are the same reasons why it can also be helpful. Your professor has an advanced degree and years of experience in their field. Their job is to be a resource. Also, your professor is the one reading and grading the assignment. They came up with it. They know what they’re asking you to do.
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So how should you go about contacting them for help? The answer is professionally, honestly, and sooner rather than later! Some professors have their preferred method of contact listed on their syllabi; usually this will be their office hours. If not, they probably prefer to communicate by email.
When you attend office hours, come prepared with specific questions about your assignment. What is it that you understand, and what is it that you don’t? Is a particular instruction confusing or vague? Are you uncertain about what the assignment is referring to? If your questions are numerous or don’t fall within the scope of what is covered in class, consider asking your professor for resources you can use to help you with the assignment (for example, The Writing Center often refers writers to the Purdue O.W.L. for help with citations!). If office hours don’t fit into your schedule, then try email—again including specific questions about the assignment.
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If you are able, it may even be best to draft your assignment (perhaps with help from The Writing Center) and then show it to your professor (well in advance) for feedback. You can find out what you’ve done right and what you need to improve upon—and besides, it shows effort!
Here at The Writing Center, we’re happy to help you break down your assignment, draft your writing, and contact your professor. After all, communicating is what we do! So don’t put off your next assignment because you don’t understand—get started today. (link to writing center website there)
-Sarah, peer tutor
Is your homework life full of diversions? Having trouble with that paper not because you don’t know what to write but because you can’t concentrate? Here are five simple strategies that, once implemented, may make a world of difference.
Wipe out any distractions
There are several apps and websites designed to block websites for a dedicated amount of time. Some are Mac specific while others are ensured to work in most browsers, no matter the operating system. Regardless of the application you choose, social media, games and other online interferences will be inaccessible.
Be sure to clear both desktops. While these apps may block any digital distractions, you’ll want to make sure your physical space is clear as well. It can be as simple as pushing all of the stuff on your desk into a drawer. If you’re not in the mood to clean (which can also help you focus: fun fact), there are plenty of spots on campus where you can plop down and get to work.
In general, water helps with everything. Dehydration can lead to lost focus, exhaustion, dry mouths and super yellow pee. You don’t want any of that do you? Water and other non-sugar filled drinks are important in keeping you healthy and in making sure your brain, and body, stays as functional as possible. Not only that, drinking water can strengthen your immune system so you aren’t sick while you work.
As you can see, there’s little to no reason to not drink water. And while you’re at it, eat something. Your body, like your paper, needs nourishment. It’s hard to focus on a prompt if your stomach is growling every 2 minutes.
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Many people use music when they’re exercising their bodies, why not use it while you’re working your mind as well? Music can also help block out surrounding noise, like screaming neighbors or the heart warming melodies of Flute Man from the gazebo (which, while beautiful, are also liable to lure you to sleep). Be sure to choose your music correctly. Classical music is often said to motivate people the most during studying but maybe it’s heavy metal, or slow R&B, or country that really gets your energized. Whatever you’re listening to, make sure it’s something that helps you focus.
Invest in the Reward System.
The Reward System is a simple way to boost your morale and you can customize it for whatever you’re doing. For every hour of work, give yourself 15 minutes of the Kim Kardashian game (does anyone still play that?). Or a gummy bear for every page read. The Reward System should be used sparingly, you don’t want to go overboard and end up indulging when you should be working. But, when used in moderation, it can still be used to self-motivate.
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Get up. Get up and go away.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to complete your paper is to stop working on it. Breaks can not only help prevent your head from spontaneously combusting but also allow you to look at your paper differently once you return to it.
—Melanie, peer tutor
Being a student-athlete means that you have a busy schedule. In just one day, you juggle classes, multiple practices and training sessions, homework, and let’s not forget finding time to eat–you’ve got to fuel that body to keep operating at such high efficiency! The dedication and self-discipline you exercise in your athletic lifestyle and every time you suit up are tools that can also help you succeed in the classroom. Just as you practice every day for athletic improvement, you can think of the Writing Center as your practice arena to train towards ultimate success in your academics.
As a swimmer, I’m in the pool with my teammates three mornings a week before school, and two hours every afternoon during the week after classes. On my own, I’m also responsible for completing five hours a week of supplemental cardio and weight training work outside of the pool. I’m joined in the Writing Center by Amber, Lauren, Kelsey as fellow student-athlete-tutors who know what it takes to balance school work and sports. As athletes, we all have our own crazy workout schedules, but one thing sports teach us is time-management, as we wouldn’t be allowed to practice and compete if we didn’t make the grade.
Each year, the Athletics Department brings McDaniel’s student-athletes together for a meeting to reinforce the idea of NCAA Division III athletics as an organization that fosters academic excellence through intercollegiate athletic programs. This mission statement rings true as McDaniel has an exemplary student-athlete population, demonstrated by the 115 athletes named to the Dean’s List and the four students named to the Green and Gold Honor Roll for fall 2013.
As athletes, we see our goals and envision success through the hard work we know is necessary for victory. The same philosophy should hold true for our work in class. Emma Wingerd, junior member of the Women’s Basketball team, frequents the Writing Center and says that “As an athlete, it’s hard to make time to sit down and do these things outside of class, practice, and meals, but those one hour appointments were the best decision I ever made to become a more successful student-athlete.” Wingerd expressed that she was surprised by how helpful the tutors are, especially within one hour sessions, as she was able to come in with a broad topic and leave with a specific thesis and an outline. Writing Center tutors also help you tackle resumes, applications, and scholarship essays for further academic success. In another session, Wingerd brought in her unorganized resume: “I came in with everything and the kitchen sink and came out with a polished resume that I am proud to use to represent myself.”
Writing can pose a difficult challenge as we are always trying to improve ourselves as students and scholars. Just as we put in the effort on the field, track, and in the pool, we know that we need to put in the same level of intensity into our studies if we want to be successful in life and remain eligible to compete. The Writing Center tutors are more than eager to be your writing coaches to help you succeed in the classroom so that you can achieve your academic and athletic goals as Green Terror student-athletes.
-Shannon, peer tutor