Category Archives: Clarity

Adding a counterargument

by Lydia Pierce

Do you ever feel like you’re talking to a wall? Like no one is listening to your writing, or as if what you’re writing doesn’t matter? Adding a counterargument may be a quick solution to find a place for your ideas in the greater academic conversation.

A counterargument is a short deviation from writing about your main thesis. Similar to the bridge in a song, it is a break to the normal pattern. A counterargument is a way to explore the arguments of those who might try to discount you, and it adds context to your writing. After presenting the counterargument, it is important to explain why your argument still holds.

Why should I add a counterargument?

Adding a counterargument into your writing can strengthen your piece greatly. A counterargument proves that you are well-educated about the subject. It shows that you aren’t blindly stating your opinion, but rather are thoughtful and aware about every aspect of the topic.

A counterargument may often start out with “however” or “some may argue.” When you begin this way, you may follow with a reference to another scholar who does not agree with you. Finally, circle back to your original ideas by stating how your argument holds strong in the face of this opposition.

What if I can’t think of a counterargument?

The best way to find a counterargument may not be to look for it, but rather to come across it during your research. When doing research, I will often find some sources that support and some that negate my argument. I end up using the ones that contradict what I’m trying to argue as my counterargument in my paper.

By adding a counterargument, you add context to your writing. This allows you to contribute to the ongoing academic conversation between scholars about different topics. Being a part of the academic conversation is what makes your writing matter because it is contributing to the progress of thought in society.Don’t be afraid of the opposition, embrace the counterargument!


Lydia Pierce is a sophomore majoring in mathematics. She loves to swim, mark books, and ride her bike.

The art of art citations

The art of art citations

by Zoë Mahler

We all know that adding images to papers doesn’t impact the page number of our writing (and if you didn’t know that, then you’ve just received your first tip). That being said, as an art history major I have learned over the years the importance of correctly citing images in papers and all the mechanics that lead to a perfect citation.

I once wrote a paper for a 300-level art history course that included twelve different paintings by three separate Impressionist painters. It was a lot, and writing about all of them (while also making sure I wasn’t mixing any of them up) was quite the hassle.

Here are a few simple tips and tricks for properly citing images in an art history paper using the Chicago Manual Style. Let’s use the Mona Lisa as an example.

First things first: There are a few things to remember the very first time you mention an image. 1) Make sure you are presenting the reader with the full name of the piece, the artist, and the date of the painting. 2) Whenever you address the work of art, it must always be italicized: Mona Lisa. 3) Make sure to place (Figure 1) in parentheses after the image. This way, when you cite the images at the end of your paper, the reader can see which painting correlates to the writing. The only time you use (Figure 1) is after you introduce the painting the first time. For the rest of your paper, just call it by name, as with the Mona Lisa.

Bringing all these pointers together, here is an example of what the final product may look like:

In his 1503 painting, the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci creates his own natural background behind the smiling woman to complement her color palette (Figure 1).

Now you are at the end of your paper: After your bibliography, insert a picture of the artwork into your Word document. All your artwork will be the final pieces in the order they appear in your document, starting with Figure 1.

But how and where do you cite these artworks? It’s pretty simple. The only place you need to cite your photos – unless it is something you saw in person for a gallery talk – is after the bibliography (as mentioned before). You do not cite photos of your artworks in your bibliography unless you went to the museum yourself and saw the painting firsthand. For this example, I obviously have not gone to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, so the only place I am citing this photo is below the image. You can simply follow this format:

Format: Figure no. Title of Artwork, artist, date, name of gallery, City.

Example: Figure 1. Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1503, the Louvre, Paris.

You will not always know where a painting is being held, and sometimes it may not even be on exhibit. Because of this, it’s okay if you only have the first three criteria.

Correctly citing your artworks or pictures in a paper not only lets the reader know what they should be looking at or imagining from your writing, but it also helps you categorize what you’re working on for your own benefit. If I hadn’t been establishing which figure was which while I was writing my paper, I probably would have gotten pretty confused from time to time. As long as you follow these guidelines, your paper should be a pristine work of art itself!


Zoë Mahler is a senior with an art history and mass communication double major, and a religion and sociology double minor. She spent her summer on a Principia Abroad program studying archaeology and prehistoric Neolithic temples in the United Kingdom and Malta.

Run-on sentences: Crossing the finish line

by Greta Johnson

I am one of the many students who are prone to writing run-on sentences. Many that I compose feel like a never-ending race with the finish line far down the track. So, when the professor of my WRIT 350 course assigned a group project to present a grammar lesson, my partner and I chose this topic. As the saying goes, “teaching is the best way of learning,” so I figured that I’d be able to fix this issue in my writing while informing others about it.

I used to think that I needed to write in more concise sentences to avoid run-ons. However, as I did further research, I realized that going back to the basics of what makes up a sentence is the key to avoiding writing run-ons. And there are multiple ways to fix run-ons besides writing shorter sentences.

Sentences must include the following: a subject, a verb, and an expression of a complete thought. If these are not clear to you in your writing, then you likely have a run-on sentence.

There are many ways to correct a run-on sentence, such as these:

  1. Use a comma and a FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) coordinating conjunction between two independent clauses (for more on these, see “Outrun those run-on sentences.”)
  2. Use a semicolon between independent clauses
  3. Separate the clauses into two independent clauses with a period
  4. Rewrite the sentence

My partner and I put these principles to the test when we had to create examples for our peers to practice. Here’s how we did it:

First, we created a run-on sentence like this one: The fog was thick he could not find his way home. Then, we corrected the run-on using the methods described above:

  1. The fog was thick so he could not find is way home (FANBOYS conjunction).
  2. The fog was thick; he could not find his way home (insert a semicolon between the independent clauses).
  3. The fog was thick. He could not find his way home (separate the independent clauses with a period).
  4. He could not find his way home due to the thick fog (rewrite the sentence).

Unfortunately, during our presentation our professor corrected one of the examples that I wrote (don’t worry, these ones are all correct J). I felt embarrassed at first, but soon brushed it off. I realized that I did not have to take on the role of an expert on the topic of run-on sentences and that this presentation was just as much of a learning experience for me as it was for the students watching.

From one developing writer to another, do not fret if you feel like your sentences run on and on down a track with a distant finish line. This line is actually closer than you think once you realize there are ways to draw it closer to you.


Greta Johnson is a sophomore double major in theatre and educational studies with a concentration in theory and practice. When she’s not doing homework – because she somehow has A LOT – she loves assisting tap dance classes in University City and being on the improv team on campus, Lazy Zipper.


Pronouns that can get you in trouble

by Ariana Dale

I recently sent a text to a friend to tell him how grateful I was for his presence in my life. I started by telling him about some difficult things I’d been working through, then I transitioned into my gratitude with “It all started with….”I re-read the text after I sent it and was horrified. By using “it” without defining what I was referring too, I had basically just told my friend that all the difficult things that had happened started with him! This was the absolute last message I wanted to convey.

So how can you make sure that you’re using pronouns correctly? Try this:

  1. Find all of the demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, those, it, etc.) in your paper. You can circle them, highlight them, put a massive star in the margin to help you remember…but find them. Find them all.
  2. Figure out what subject you’re actually referring to. You can keep note of it in the margin.
  3. Find a word that concisely describes what you’re referring to and add it after your pronoun. For example, if you say, “This was really confusing,” you might want to clarify this by saying, “This concept in astrophysics was really confusing.” (If you’ve already clarified your pronouns, give yourself a big thumbs up!)

Here’s what I should have done.

My original text looked something like this:

“Lately, I have been having a really difficult time balancing work, school, and personal life. It all started with our conversation and your note of encouragement.”

In this example, it is referring to the difficult time I had been having. As I said earlier, this text I sent was meant to give gratitude, so the way I wrote it was sending the wrong message! What I intended to say was that our conversation, especially his encouragement, was the start of a positive change.

Here’s how I could have written it:

“Lately, I have been having a really difficult time balancing work, school, and personal life. A positive change all started with our conversation and your note of encouragement.”

Now, my overall text could use some polishing up, but at least this way I’m not telling my friend that he’s the source of everything awful!

Sometimes it’s easy to disregard grammar in a text, but this mistake was a good reminder to me that grammar is important in all forms of writing!


Ariana is the post-graduate teaching intern (PGTI) for the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). This spring, she started grad school at Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville (SIUE) and is working toward a master’s in education in instructional technology.

Hitting the mark

by Camille Pruvost

As a writer, it can be disheartening to learn that 93% of all communication pertaining to feeling and attitude as nothing to do with words (Mehrabian). Words are literally the only channel through which writers can reach their audience, so how do we overcome this supposed handicap? Subtext.

When an archer aims at a target, she must make a number of calculations to hit the bullseye. While she may not have been consciously aware, she takes into account distance, speed of the arrow, friction against the air, gravity, breeze, etc., which all affect her primary goal: to hit the bullseye.

Like the archer, each character in fiction writing has a main goal and other influences that determine their behavior or speech. These influences may include family expectations, societal standards, morals, insecurities, fears, etc.; they make up the subtext of a story and engage the reader by reflecting the complexities of human communication. Here are several ways you can begin playing with subtext so you can effectively communicate with your audience beyond words:


  1. Character description

Let your descriptions of other people set up expectations in the reader’s mind concerning their personality. For example, showing up to work with unbrushed hair, crusty-sleepy eyes, and unmatched socks may lead the reader to believe the character does not have her life together or is a bit scattered. The writer has the ability to make the reader like or dislike a character before she’s even opened her mouth.

  1. Setting

Choosing settings that have emotional significance to a character, sets up new dynamics of tension and conflict that add complexity and intrigue to a scene. The reader is invested in how the character will react. Will she break down, put on a brave face, ignore her feelings? Something else? The emotional value of the setting—be  it a feeling of safety, loss, failure, fear, love—connects the reader to the character and again sets up expectations within the reader as to what will unfold next.

  1. Motion

Fifty-five percent of feeling and attitude in a message is delivered through body language, so include body language in your writing (Mehrabian)! Give your characters actions that convey their intent and help them reach their goal. Often times, a gesture will communicate more than any single line of dialogue could. For example, your character’s teacher just finished explaining the homework a second time, but a student who wasn’t paying attention asks to have it repeated a third time. Your character rolls their eyes and lets out an exasperated sigh. That simple action conveys all the frustration within the character without having them explode on the student: “You’re so frustrating! Why didn’t you just pay attention the first time? Now the whole class has to sit through a third explanation because you couldn’t be bothered to pay attention!”

  1. Revealed Emotion

The reader can only make observations through the character’s point of view. Descriptions that reveal the mental state of the character are a wonderful way to include subtext about the character’s predispositions or biases. Readers learn about who the character is by how they respond and interpret the world around them. Picture your character on vacation in a cabin by a lake. Though most people would find that to be a beautiful and tranquil setting, your character (who is afraid of water) might describe the lake as dark, deceptive, hiding something, never-ending, or otherwise uninviting. Even without spelling out your character’s aquaphobia, their fear is clear in their description of the lake.

A good way to check if you have included effective subtext in your dialogues is to replace all spoken lines with gibberish. If the audience can still understand the intent and emotional state of each character, then the subtext is just right. If not, insert some subtext in the unclear portions.

Happy writing! 


Camille Pruvost is a Christian Science nurse in her junior year majoring in music and minoring in religion. Her music ministry serves to inspire faith and to facilitate ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. This summer she is traveling with Principia on the Ireland abroad.


Mehrabian, Albert. “”Silent Messages — A Wealth of Information About Nonverbal Communication (Body Language).” Personality & Communication: Psychological Books & Articles of Popular Interest, 1981,

Commonly confused words

by Shannon Naylor

Its/It’s || Your/You’re || Their/They’re

The trick to getting these words right is to remember when to use the apostrophe. Where most people get confused is that, in English, apostrophes are used to indicate both possession and contractions (when a letter is “missing”). But what happens when you aren’t sure which takes the apostrophe?

Just remember that the rule for contractions is stronger than the rule for possession. This means that “it’s,” “you’re,” and “they’re” mean “it is,” “you are,” and “they are” because the apostrophe indicates the dropped “i,” and “a.” And the possessives “its,” “your,” and “their” don’t take apostrophes because they have no missing letters.

Anytime I wonder if I’m using the right word, I ask myself if there are missing letters, and this helps me remember whether I should use the apostrophe version or not.

Pronoun Possessive Contraction
It Its It’s
You Your You’re
They Their They’re
There “There” is another commonly confused word, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the pronoun “they.” Use “there” when indicating a place or location.


To indicates direction or place. It’s also part of infinitives in English: to see, to go, to run.*

Too indicates a greater degree of something or an addition. You can remember this because it has an additional O.

Two is the spelling-out of the numeral 2.

Word Part of Speech Example
To Preposition I went to the grocery store.
Too Adverb I bought too many groceries.
Two Number I made two trips between the car and fridge.


* Unlike some languages, English infinitives appear as two words, but they function as one. This is why grammar sticklers will scold you for “splitting infinitives,” or putting words in between the two parts of the infinitive.

Split Infinitive: I want to definitely see that movie.

Intact Infinitive: I definitely want to see that movie.

Shannon Naylor is the post-graduate teaching intern for the CTL. 

Purposeful paragraphs

by Bailey Bischoff

To keep papers from seeming like an endless stream of words, we break them up into bite-size chunks through the use of paragraphs. Without paragraphs, readers would get lost in a sea of black and white. However, by using paragraphs, writers can help readers focus on the main ideas of the paper so that readers come away with an understanding of the writer’s organization, structure, and intent.

In order for readers to follow a paper’s ideas through the structure of paragraphs, each paragraph break must be purposeful. Inserting a paragraph break because you think there should be a break on every page or because it feels like there should be a break? Not the best strategy. Instead, you should focus on communicating one idea within each paragraph. This means that when you introduce a new idea, you should probably start a new paragraph.

Another way to think about paragraphs is to determine how the main idea in each paragraph relates to your thesis. The paragraph can support, negate, concur, analyze, or expand upon your thesis for the paper. One reason paragraph breaks are there is to make sure that you aren’t doing all of those things at the same time.

So here are some tips for improving paragraphs:

  1. Know what you are trying to communicate.

If you are unsure of what you’re trying to say, then you’ll have trouble saying it. Take a moment to think about your paper (or free write!) in order to gain a better understanding of the purpose of your paper as a whole.

  1. Know what’s happening within each paragraph to serve your paper’s purpose.

Is the purpose of the paragraph to support? Negate? Concur? Analyze? Expand? Make sure your paragraph has one purpose and contains one main idea.

  1. Let the introduction sentence lead.

The first sentence of the paragraph should give the reader an idea of where the paragraph is headed. Strengthening the first sentence will strengthen the paragraph.

  1. Read your paragraph and write down what you think is the main idea.

When you read the paragraph, does the main idea that’s actually there match up with the main idea you had in mind when you were writing it? If not, try restructuring your paragraph.

Purposeful paragraphs make for powerful papers.

Bailey Bischoff is a junior majoring in political science and is serving as student body president.

Using “you” less

by Bailey Bischoff

We use the word “you” a lot in our everyday speech. However, when writing a paper for class, it is often inappropriate to use “you” as the subject of your sentence. Engaging with your reader by using “you” (e.g., You should wear a rain jacket when traveling in the rainforest.) is called using a second person narrative voice. Whether you are writing in first person, second person, or third person is determined by which pronouns you use in your writing.

First Person:

Pronouns – I, me, we, mine, us
Example – Last week, I wrote a research paper about which type of music Principia students like to listen to at the pub.

Second Person:

Pronouns – you, your, yours
Example – It is probably surprising to you to learn that George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood, but were made instead of bone, ivory, and human teeth.

Third Person:

Pronouns – he, she, his, it, they, theirs
Example – In Professor Shimkus’s article, she argues that the globalization of markets contributes to increases in the amount of cross-continental human trafficking.

For formal academic writing, it is best to stick with a third person narrative, although some fields and assignments may be excepted. Third person narrative is more formal and professional, which is why we use it for academic writing. Of course, formal and professional isn’t the point. Being clear and specific is. Avoiding “you” helps you be precise for your readers.

How can you transition your writing to third person when you’re so used to speaking in first and second person?

Sometimes, cutting out “you” from your sentences happen naturally as you write more clearly and concisely.

Ex. When flying across the country, you should always pack a book for the plane ride.
Ex. Packing a book for an upcoming plane ride often makes long flights more enjoyable.

You can also substitute “one” for “you”, to give your writing a more formal tone.

Ex. When flying across the country, one should always pack a book for the plane ride.

Even better, you can use the real subject of the sentence.

Ex. When flying across the country, travelers should always pack a book for the ride.

When it comes to writing academic papers, you should remember to use “you” less!
No, wait! Writers should remember to use “you” less.

Bailey Bischoff is a junior majoring in political science and is serving as student body president.

Take your language game from vague to powerful

by Maddi Demaree

In my time as a tutor, I’ve discovered that sometimes a few quick fixes can drastically change the tone of someone’s writing. To change the tone from chatty or informal to more scholarly and professional, it helps to eliminate words or phrases such as “really,” “very,” and “a lot,” which are usually symptoms of a lack of clarity. More than that, they show a lack of specificity, which is prized in scholarly writing.

Here’s one example:

1a) While there were a lot of factors involved in each side’s participation in escalating the conflict, one that is not often discussed is the actual living conditions and livelihood of the Irish people.

While “a lot” is rather innocuous, it doesn’t really have a place in academic writing. Somewhat better alternatives might be these: “many,” “a number of,” or “countless.” But if you know the number, state it!

1b) While there were countless factors involved in each side’s participation in escalating the conflict, one that is not often discussed is the actual living conditions and livelihood of the Irish people.

Let’s look at another passage:

2a) Great Britain really wanted to quickly gain control of the situation, so they suspended self-government in Northern Ireland. This took the power away from the elected Irish officials who possessed a knowledge of the varying sources of the conflict. This was their attempt to paste a very hastily constructed “peace” over the whole ordeal.

In this passage, “really” and “very” are unnecessary because the words “hastily” and “wanted” can stand on their own without emphasis. The only time the words “really” or “very” are appropriate in writing is to give emphasis to a word that does not have a stronger replacement. For example, instead of using “really hungry,” you can say “famished” or instead of “very tired,” you might say “fatigued.”

Other times you can just remove the troublesome words. Here, the passage has the same impact without “really” or “very”.

2b) Great Britain wanted to quickly gain control of the situation, so they suspended self-government in Northern Ireland. This took the power away from the elected Irish officials who possessed a knowledge of the varying sources of the conflict. This was their attempt to paste a hastily constructed “peace” over the whole ordeal.

Eliminating these colloquial words and phrases will immediately help take your writing from vague and general to specific and powerful.

Maddi Demaree is a passionate education major who loves helping others to realize, refine, and regain their innate writing abilities.

Drawing conclusions about tense (Part II)

by Anna Tarnow

This is a continuation of the previous post, which you can find here. Let’s learn about a few more tenses.

Present perfect continuous
This tense describes an event that began in the past and continues to the present moment. For example, “He has been painting for six hours.”

Anna Tense Present Perfect Continuous

Past perfect
This tense can appear in two forms.

First, the past perfect can describe a past even that both began and ended before a second event in the past occurred. For example, “I had eaten dinner before I went to the movies.”

Second, the past perfect can describe a past event that began before and continued to a more recent past event. For example, “The car had run until the oil line was cut.”

Anna Tense Past Perfect

Past perfect continuous
This tense is similar to the second form of the past perfect: it describes a past event that continued to a more recent past. However, this tense is used when a specific amount of time is referenced, and it uses a present participle instead of a past participle. For example, “The car had been running for ten minutes until the oil line was cut.”

Anna Tense Past Perfect Continuous

This tense indicates events that will happen but haven’t yet. For example, “He will brush his teeth.”

Anna Tense Future

Future perfect
This tense describes an action in the future that will be completed before another future action happens. For example, “You will have gone to the salon before you go to the party.”

Anna Tense Future Perfect

Future perfect continuous
This tense indicates that an event will be happening (starting in the past or present) up until a point in the future. For example, “You will have had a five-hour wait to get the pizza.”

Anna Tense Future Perfect Continuous

The tables you’ve seen here are simple breakdowns of many English verb forms, but for a more specific overview with visuals, check out, which is a very nice site. It’s designed for ESL students, but I (as a native English speaker) also find it very helpful!


Anna Tarnow is a senior majoring in English and enjoys working on the Pilot newspaper, where she is editor-in-chief.

“Verb Tense Tutorial.” Table. English Page. N.p., n.d., Web. 4 Oct. 2015. <>.