Category Archives: WriteHereWriteNowWriteOn

Space: Why the environment you work in matters

Do you have a favorite place to get homework done? Is the place you study the same place you go to hang out with friends? Let’s face it. We’ve all had nights where we want to sit and socialize, but also have mounds of work to get done–and getting together with friends tends to check the socialize box while completely derailing the homework train. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in college, it’s to separate where I work from where I play. Otherwise, I’m risking getting distracted and severely minimizing my productivity. But guess what?! There’s a way to have a productive space, while also creating a fun, comfortable environment. It’s called a WISE workshop.

WISE stands for Write-In SEries. It’s a place created to help students through the writing process, whether you’re in the brainstorming phase of your FYE paper or polishing up your senior capstone. WISE workshops happen throughout the semester in the third-floor library classroom.

When you come to WISE, you’ll find one fantastic research librarian, one stellar Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) faculty, and one trained peer writing tutor. You can ask for help, but you don’t have to. There’s ZERO pressure! There’s no requirement for silence (and it rarely is completely quiet), but there are options for silent study/writing if you need. You can get help with any writing assignment you can imagine, or you can just sit and work solo. You can even work on other projects (like art, or math, or anything you need).

What makes this work? You’re in a stress-free environment where people are casually chatting and enjoying their time, but they’re all getting work done–even the faculty! It’s more fun than studying alone, but far more productive than getting together to “do homework” with friends.

So, come to WISE! Work on anything you desire and know that there’s help (and cookies!) at the ready. See you there!

Brooke Engel is a senior. Last time she wrote a blog she had two majors and one minor. Now she only has one major–art. People change. She still loves dogs.

A way for tutors to embrace our peers better

by Jessica Barker

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the International Writing Centers Association conference (IWCA) in Atlanta, Georgia. The theme of this year’s conference was “The Citizenship Center.” Appropriately, most of the workshops and sessions during the conference focused on diversity within the writing center and English as a second language (ESL) students. I found a couple of these workshops particularly enriching.

One of these workshops, “Words Matter: Conveying Writing Centers’ Commitment to Social Justice through Student Satisfaction Questionnaires,” was presented by a student writing consultant from Iowa State University. The writing consultant began her presentation by introducing the feedback forms that students fill out following their consultant sessions. These forms essentially serve the same purpose as the forms that we use here at Principia (see below for the Principia version). They provide tutors with valuable feedback, which is then used to better both the tutor’s individual work and the work of the writing center/the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

Principia’s Current Evaluation Form

After the consultant introduced the concept of Iowa State’s feedback forms, she explained that there was nothing inherently wrong with their current form, but she was curious about what could be done to improve it. Specifically, she wanted to know how she could alter the questions to improve the consultants’ feedback regarding diversity and the inclusion of all students. The consultant explained that she began this process by collecting the feedback provided by the original form and creating graphs. These graphs gave the consultants a general sense of the students’ feedback, but it did not give them any in-depth information , as most of the questions only had “yes” or “no” options. This was troubling to the consultant, so she changed the questions to the following:

  1. Check all that apply (with a list of different races/ethnicities, plus an “I’d rather not answer” option)
  2. Did your tutor listen attentively to your concerns? Please explain.
  3. Would you describe the writing center as a welcoming and inclusive space? Please explain.
  4. Your voice matters to us! How can we improve?

These new questions essentially touched on the same points as the original ones, except these new questions were a bit more nuanced. They prompted the students to respond thoughtfully rather than just asking them to circle “yes” or “no.” Also, they gave the consultants a better sense of who was attending the writing center and how welcomed those individuals felt. This information has helped the consultants reassess their approach and has inspired them to work towards creating an atmosphere where all students feel welcomed and supported.

After attending this presentation, I began to wonder whether we could implement similar changes to our feedback forms here at Prin. Since our campus has a fairly diverse student body, I think it is important for us to ensure that all students feel welcomed and supported by the peer tutors and by the CTL. However, I am left wondering whether or not these types of feedback questions would work for our community. Is it appropriate to ask about a student’s racial or ethnic identity on a tutor evaluation form? Would students want to take the time to fill out a more extensive form? Would these questions actually make tutees feel heard? If not, it would be interesting to explore other ways in which the tutors could gauge their overall impact. If you have any suggestions, comments, or general feedback about Principia’s approach to tutor evaluation/feedback forms, I would love to hear from you! Please contact me at or Ellen Sprague at


Jessica is a senior from Massachusetts who is studying theatre and sociology/anthropology.

Take a step back before moving forward

by Mackenzie Batten

Sometimes when I am writing a paper, I get so excited about the subject that I start writing down anything and everything. In high school when I would do this, I would have to go back afterwards and read sentence by sentence to make sure everything fit. My FYE tutor, however, taught me a more efficient way of making sure my content relates back to my thesis and that thoughts are in the right order.

It is called the reverse outline, and I am going to explain how I use this helpful tool!

In order to fully take advantage of this technique, I start out by writing a complete rough draft. (You could also use a partial draft if you want to review the organization of what you have so far. If you have not started your paper, a normal outline would be more helpful.)

Once I have something to work with, I make the reverse outline. At the top of the paper, I like to write the main thesis of the writing so that I can reference it later. For each paragraph, I construct a sentence that summarizes the main idea. Sometimes I just use the topic sentence of the paragraph, when it accurately represents the contents. But when it doesn’t, I write a new sentence that expresses the main purpose of the paragraph.

It is useful to number the paragraphs and the sentences in the outline for easy reference.

Now that the outline is complete, I can ask myself questions to improve the organization and content of the paper. Some questions I ask myself are:

Does every paragraph have a purpose? Or are there too many important points in one paragraph? Sometimes a paragraph doesn’t have a clear purpose, so I either need to further expand on the subject or combine it with another unfinished paragraph. But occasionally the paragraphs work better separated if there are too many ideas in one section. Breaking up or combining paragraphs so each contains one complete point is the goal.

Do the main ideas of my paragraphs relate back to my thesis? If not, should I alter my thesis because I see I’ve made a new, important point? Occasionally, I like what I have written so much that I choose to alter my thesis to match the subject of my pre-existing paragraph rather than change the paragraph to match the thesis.

Does the order of my paragraphs make sense? This is when numbering the paragraphs becomes very useful! Paragraphs are moveable, so be open to reorganizing.

I hope this reverse outline technique helps you organize your thoughts! I know this technique has helped me revise my papers and make sure I am producing my best possible writing! (For more ideas on reverse outlines, check out “Reverse outlines to get you to the finish line”  and “Put it in reverse.”)


Mackenzie Batten is a political science major. She enjoys competing in Principia’s Moot Court and on the Mediation Team.

Commenting with commas: When and where to use them

Commenting with commas: When and where to use them

by Daniel Christianson

Commas can be intimidating. When I was younger I just threw them in wherever they seemed to fit. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t always work out well, and I often ended up creating choppy sentences out of perfectly acceptable ones. Recently, I got the opportunity to present a lesson on how to use commas with a variety of modifiers in sentences: transitional and parenthetical modifiers, in particular.

The comma usage that I learned most about is parenthetical expressions. Basically, this comma rule involves inserting non-essential information into a sentence and sectioning it off with commas. This sentence, for example, uses the parenthetical phrase “for example.” As you might imagine, this can be quite useful. For example: “John, who is 86, goes running every day.” The “who is 86” could be excluded from the sentence without ruining the grammar. However, it adds extra information for the reader. While this can be done to similar effect with dashes or parentheses, “John (who is 86) goes running every day”, I want to focus particularly on commas because they are the most common usage. What really made these phrases stand out to me is how they are different from transitional, restrictive, and nonrestrictive phrases. (For more on restrictive/nonrestrictive modifiers, see this blog post.) For more on transitional expressions, keep reading!

Transitional phrases are similar to parenthetical phrases; however, they involve different words, such as “however,” “additionally,” “on the other hand,” and “ordinarily.” These “phrases” are limited to those transitional words, so while they might seem similar to parenthetical phrases, they are distinct because their function is, in part, to connect the current sentence to the previous one.

Here are some examples of each.

Parenthetical expression: “George was, as usual, unwilling to leave.”

The sentence flows just was well if it were written, “George was unwilling to leave.” What the parenthetical expression tells you is that this is a usual occurrence. The sentence doesn’t need the inserted information to flow properly. Since you don’t need the parenthetical expression, you must put commas around it. You are effectively pausing the sentence to add extra information before continuing on.

More examples:

“The Arctic, although cold, is actually quite sunny.”

“I think that, as tutors, we need to be able to have good sample sentences ready for our tutees.”

Transitional phrase: “George, on the other hand, was unwilling to leave.”

Instead of providing extra, inserted information, a transitional phrase alludes to the previous sentence. This is what makes transitional phrases different from parenthetical phrases. Their primary use is for maintaining the flow of the paper rather than inserting information into a sentence.

More examples:

“The Arctic is frigid. For that reason, you need a big parka there.”

“As a rule, I think tutors should have good sample sentences ready for our tutees.”

The basic difference between these two writing elements is that parenthetical expressions are inserting something into the sentence while transitional phrases are used to connect ideas, sentences, and paragraphs.

Overall, I really enjoyed learning about commas and I hope that you were able learn something from this too.

Daniel Christianson is setting up an independent accounting major with a business minor. In his free time, he enjoys horseback riding, crocheting, and running!

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.


It’s the little things: Formatting your paper

by Brooke Engel

As a writing tutor and an all-around lover of writing, I encourage all my friends to visit the writing tutors for help on their assignments. The thing is, most of my friends believe that they don’t need help from a writing tutor. However, when they get their assignments back they often get lower grades than they hoped for because of small formatting mistakes.

It may seem frustrating that a professor would mark off points for something as small as an incorrect cover-page or a missed placed heading, but in reality it’s their job to ensure that students are prepared to succeed in an academic setting—and in academia, how you format your paper is just as important to your grade as the thoughts you express!

Here are some tips I’ve learned when it comes to making sure my paper is clean and polished:

  1. Figure out what format or style guide you’re required to use. This is the most important step because it impacts everything from where you write your name on the page to how your sources need to be formatted. Your professor will have specified this requirement in the assignment—if it’s not there, it’s most likely in the syllabus. Always ask your professor if you are uncertain!
  2. Find a trusted resource. The Principia Library website has everything you need to know about citation and formatting, and usually even has course guides tailored to your specific class! The “Cite Site” in the library also contains a lot of information you may need in regards to your formatting style. Lastly, check out Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), my personal go-to source for all things writing. Purdue OWL can answer many of the questions you may have about the finer formatting requirements that are unique to each style type—including things like page numbers, cover pages, and block quotations.
  3. Come see a writing tutor! We can work on formatting your paper together, or we can help look over your paper to make sure you’ve followed the proper formatting for your required style. It’s less likely that you’ll miss formatting errors if you have someone like a writing tutor look at your paper with you, so don’t miss out on the extra, free help!

Don’t lose out on significant points towards your assignments for something as small and easy to fix as page numbers. There are plenty of resources to turn to, and you can always ask a writing tutor if you’re unsure where to go next!

Brooke Engel is a junior studio art major who loves playing with dogs, writing essays with dogs, and taking naps with dogs. She has enjoyed meeting all the dogs at Principia and considers them to be her best friends.

Let’s agree to agreement

by Mackenzie Batten

One of my most traumatic writing experiences in high school was when my literature teacher senior year told me that for each incorrect subject-verb agreement, he would take off ten percent of my final paper grade. When I graduated, I thought the harsh grading was over—but here at Principia, I have had professors with similar rules and grading patterns as my high school teacher.

Subject-verb agreement is when the subject and the verb of a sentence match—that is, a singular subject must have a singular verb and a plural subject must have a plural verb. I believe that subject-verb agreement is crucial because it helps the clarity and the flow of your writing. If you write using a singular subject and then use a plural verb, it might confuse the reader as to how many people you are writing about. So to avoid confusion and impress your teachers—here are some of the rules I have learned while trying to master this skill.

Here are the four main scenarios where confusion arises. To help demonstrate these concepts, the subjects will be bolded and the verbs will be italicized.

  1. In a sentence where the subject includes more than one noun and there is an “and” between them, use a plural verb.

Nancy is selling her house this summer.

Nancy and Bruce are selling their house this summer.

In the first sentence, “Nancy,” singular, agrees with “is,” because “is” is also singular. But in the second sentence, there is an “and” between the two singular nouns, making them a plural subject, so the plural “are” is used. That wasn’t so hard, was it? But it gets trickier, so stick with me.

  1. In a sentence where the subject uses more than one singular noun and there is an “or” between them, use a singular verb.

Emily or Ava is in the room with Barrett’s guinea pig.

In this example, the use of “or” makes the singular nouns of “Ava” and “Emily” a singular subject, so “is,” a singular verb, is correct. I know that that idea can be confusing, but just remember that the use of “or” between two singular subject means a singular verb!

  1. In a sentence where “or” is used in between a singular noun and a plural noun, the verb should agree with the closest noun.

Either Charlie or his friends work at the pub every day.

In the first sentence, the verb agrees with the plural “his friends” because it is closer to the verb. Just remember—whichever subject is closer is the one that needs to be in agreement.

  1. In a sentence where there is a quantifier—a single subject that refers to multiple people—have the verb agree with the quantifier, rather than the noun it is referring to.

Everybody knows about Principia’s rugby team.

“Everybody” is a quantifier, since it is a singular subject, it is correct to use a singular verb. I know that seems backwards because “everybody” refers to multiple people, but it is actually singular!

I hope this helped! Please come to visit any of the writing tutors if you have any more questions!

Mackenzie is a political science and economics double major. She enjoys competing in Principia’s Moot Court and on the Mediation Team.

It’s all just communication

by Jessica Barker

While working on a paper, have you ever thought to yourself, “This would be so much easier if I could just discuss the topic, rather than write about it”? If you have, you are not alone. Recently, I spent some time working with students in an FYE class, and a number of them expressed that that they felt much more comfortable discussing than writing. When this comment first came up, I didn’t quite know how to respond. However, after sitting in on a graded discussion, I realized something—speaking and writing aren’t actually that different from one another!

Speaking and writing are both basic forms of communication, so the skills needed to have a fruitful discussion are similar to the skills needed to write a successful paper. This became clear to me while I was working with the FYE. At the beginning of class, the professor asked the students to brainstorm a list of discussion strategies in preparation for the graded discussion. As the students brought up different discussion strategies, I noticed I could use many of these same strategies in my writing.

The students mentioned the following discussion strategies to take note of:

  • The importance of supporting ideas with quotes from the reading,
  • The value of connecting your comments to other’s comments.
  • The benefit of listening to others’ ideas.

We regularly apply these three skills to both our casual conversations and our academic discussions, which are tools that help us communicate effectively.

Like many writers, I include these skills in my writing for the same reason. Writing, like talking, is just another form of communication. When I write, I

  • include evidence from different sources in order to back up my points,
  • use transition words to move from one idea to the next, and
  • expose myself to a variety of sources to develop a well-informed argument.

All of these strategies help me successfully communicate my ideas with the reader, just as they help me communicate with my peers in a discussion.

So why are these similarities important? Well, for starters, being able to see the similarities between writing and speaking can help us to rethink the way that we approach the writing process. It can be useful to think of writing as a conversation, because that mindset puts the focus on communication, and when we focus on communication, we tend to strive for clarity. In some cases, writing is literally part of a conversation because some papers, like research papers, can add to a scholarly conversation within a particular field. This is something that one of my professors mentioned to me during my freshman year, and it has stuck with me ever since!

Thinking of writing as a way of communicating could give you a greater sense of purpose, or improve the clarity of your writing, so give it a try next time you start to dread the idea of writing.

Jessica Barker is a junior from Massachusetts studying both theater and sociology.

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.