Improve your writing with this one weird tip redux

Here’s another (shorter) list of writing tips and suggestions that I compiled for the Canadian Studies course for which I am a marking / grading Teaching Assistant. The tips strike me as generalizable to a few contexts (including internet comments), so in the interest of sharing the usefulness and redirecting future students here, I give you (with only a few redundancies):

Amanda Murphyao’s Fun Happy Good Times Writing Tips & Suggestions Part II

(The lengthier Part I is here.)

Title pages are your friend. Some people handed in assignments without their name(s) anywhere on the document. Not cool!

— Annotated Bibliography —

Try to avoid phrases in your annotated bibliography (and in general) like “This source contained lots of information” or “This source was very accurate.” (I was happier to read annotations that began: “This source was useful because….” and then concluded with a relevant justification.)

Annotations should be longer than one sentence, and should serve to justify your source’s inclusion in your essay

Generally, stronger papers had MORE SOURCES. Using three sources was generally just about adequate, but using only one or two generally made for weaker / less substantial submissions.

Choose a style of citation and stick with it.

— Cite Your Sources —

Put quotations around direct quotes! Otherwise, you are plagiarizing, which is Not Cool and also gets you in trouble. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. For more information, you can read about Academic Integrity.

PROVIDE FULL CITATIONS FOR INTERNET SOURCES. Dropping a URL on the page is insufficient, because URLs can change or expire and websites can move. Provide at least the title of the page, the title of the article or document on the page, the date accessed, and the name of the author or organization publishing the document (where available).

Don’t cite Proquest. That’s not a publication! It’s a database! Visit your friendly neighborhood librarian or subject specialist for more information. Any bibliographic entries that included parts like: were not useful, because those are your search-specific URLs that can’t be followed by another person. Providing a publication date and title is much more important than the unusable library search URL.

Avoid broad sweeping generalizations and CITE YOUR SOURCES for any facts or factoids that can’t be gleaned from Wikipedia. For example, you could argue that everyone knows that Ottawa is the capital of Canada (even though that’s not even true), but you couldn’t really argue that everyone knows about statistics on human trafficking in Canada, so you should cite your source(s).

Provide analysis of key quotes. In an assignment this short, lengthy block quotes (for example, using more than two pages of quotes) were generally not as useful as contextualization, analysis, and synthesis of key sources.

For statements like “Canadians are the most generous,” I would like to see some quantitative data as well as a qualitative definition of the term “generous.” You can argue that (if it is relevant), but you need to support it. Canadians are generous compared to what, exactly? Since when has Canadian generosity been on the rise? How does this supposed benevolence apply to the topic you are writing about? Qualifiers (like “not so great” or “amazing”) have their place, but a stronger essay will avoid these terms, instead demonstrating with examples and evidence what is “awesome” or “bad” about various historical policy initiatives.

— Style Tips —

Avoid “etc.” and other abbrevs. If a list is relevant, provide the list. If it is not, highlight only the relevant bits. Reading a style guide can be (perhaps shockingly) useful. The Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style by Strunk & White are two helpful ones.

For the future, assignments should be double-spaced with numbered pages. Deleting the extra gaps between paragraphs is wise because then it doesn’t look like you messed around with the page requirements and it means that you at least took two seconds to go back over your work and delete the gaps, which is generally a strategy that will warm the frozen heart of your TA. Also, don’t mess with the margins, especially on an assignment that you submit digitally. I can see the margins in Word.

AVOID COLLOQUIALISMS (such as “at the end of the day”). Choose your words carefully and thoughtfully.

Canada is not a “she.” Canada is a country. Yes, yes, countries are gendered in a lot of writing, but your writing can overcome this limitation. Refer to countries by their name rather than gendered pronouns. Does Canada do things, or do Canadian politicians enact legislation? Does Canadian identity cause things, or does broad Canadian identification and engagement with specific facets of national belonging lead to policy changes over time? Specific details set stellar essays apart.

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One Response to Improve your writing with this one weird tip redux

  1. Pingback: Improve your writing with this one weird tip | This dissertation is going to be fun, like dessert

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