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When you “hate,” “dislike,” “are having a hard time starting” writing

When you “hate,” “dislike,” “are having a hard time starting” writing

by Della Christy

Sometimes working on a written assignment is the last thing I want to be doing, and maybe you will be able to relate. You might feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or disempowered regarding your abilities to write a paper. You might feel like you have no idea where to start, the work in front of you is immense, and you will not be able to get it all done, let alone get it done well.

If any of these are beginning attitudes for you starting an assignment, do not stop there. Don’t feel stuck. For me, it helps to start my paper outlining my feelings towards the process first. Yes, this might sound very off topic, but starting from a place of positive, encouraging thought will produce a paper that is more engaging and more worth reading and learning from.

So, I ask myself how I am feeling.

Am I overwhelmed?

Am I just totally not engaged in the subject matter?

Recognizing the roadblock and changing your attitude is one of the best ways to be the most productive and engaged for your assignments!

The best first step in making writing a more positive and beneficial experience, instead of a miserable obligation, is coming from a place of intellectual curiosity. If you are interested in the subject or see the value in learning about it, you will be more willing to engage in your research and actually come away from the assignment with new knowledge and a greater understanding.

We often limit ourselves to what we think are our possibilities and potential as writers because we shy away from deep, critical thinking. This is the act that we should be most excited about— the search to understand—and writing is an avenue to do that. Even when the subject matter is not particularly interesting to you, the writing process teaches you something new every time.

Della Christy is a sophomore studying global studies and creative writing.

Using parallel structure like a pro

Using parallel structure like a pro

by Marie Sherman

One of the most fundamental attributes of good writing is having clear, effective sentences. Strong sentences are made up of a few important elements, but I’m going to focus on just one: parallel structure.

Your initial question may be, what exactly is parallel structure? Basically, it means keeping the structure of your sentence consistent and balanced. Your objective is to put similar grammatical ideas in similar grammatical form—noun forms, verb tenses, etc. What this looks like in practice can be broken up into different categories.

First of all, parallel structure is used when writing about items in a series. Whether it is a noun, adjective, or a verb, it is important to use the same structure for each item.

For example, someone may write:

My best friend loves skiing, playing outside, and to write.

This sounds awkward and clunky. To make the sentence parallel, you must write all the verbs in the same form:

My best friend loves skiing, playing outside, and writing.

This sounds much better because all the verbs now end in -ing. You could also fix this scenario like this:

My best friend loves to ski, to play outside, and to write. 

Now all the verbs are in the infinitive form.

Another occasion to be aware of using parallel structure is when you use a coordinating conjunction (**quick refresher: the coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so**). This means the subjects between on either side of the coordinating conjunction should use the same structure.

For example:

Principia’s Tutor Cafe is a wonderful place to develop writing techniques and practicing research skills.

Once again, this sentence sounds awkward because the verbs are not parallel. (You might be tricked by the -ing on “writing,” but that’s just a noun form.) Let’s try this:

Principia’s Tutor Café is a wonderful place to develop writing techniques and practice research skills.

Now “develop” and “practice” are parallel, and the sentence works!

The final case to use parallel structure is in the case of correlative conjunctions (**quick refresher #2: these are conjunctions that connect equal grammatical elements, such as both…and…; either…or…; not only…but also; etc.). These come into play with parallel structure because you must make sure that the grammatical structure of the sentence remains consistent from start to finish.

Here’s an example:

The WISE workshops are not only a place to get help with assignments, but also work productively.

This sentence sound incomplete because it’s not parallel! Let’s fix that:

The WISE workshops are not only a place to get help with assignments, but also to work productively.

“To get” and “to work” balance each other out.

Hopefully those examples clear up any confusion you had about parallel structure. Now you can write grammatically balanced sentences with ease! Remember, if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to stop by the Tutor Café and ask!

Marie Sherman is a junior at Principia College studying education and global studies. She loves running, dancing, painting and orangutans.

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.

Getting back into the writing groove!

by Haley Schabes

After such a long and wonderful winter break, everyone is a little rusty with the whole school thing. You show up for classes and suddenly all the assignments start flowing in: papers, projects, labs, reading, you name it. Trying to get back into the writing groove and tackling these assignments can be tough, but here are a couple of tips to make the transition from break a little easier.

  • Plan ahead

As soon as a writing assignment comes in, put it in a calendar! It can be an electronic one or a printed planner. Whatever works for you! Make it more fun by color coordinating classes or assignments. Staying organized makes all the difference! If you are consistent and do this for all your classes, it will help you prioritize your long-term writing assignments and plan ahead.

  • One day at a time

Coming into the semester can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you have clubs or athletics on top of a full semester. Take a deep breath and take one day at a time. Make it a routine by setting aside specific periods of time each dayput reminders on your electronic calendar and don’t make excuses! Setting daily goals also helps you stay on track and prevents you from falling behind.

  • Know how you work best

I like to reward myself during a work session with a hot cup of tea and some relaxing music. It just gets me in the mood to write productively. I tend to be more productive in the mornings, too, so I try to schedule my working times in the later morning before lunch. Find out what helps you get motivated and you’ll find that you don’t dread completing assignments. Preparing your mind beforehand and hiding your electronics also assists in preventing distractions while writing. Complete tasks like sending emails beforehand so they don’t pull your focus away later. And don’t be afraid to take breaks; sometimes your mind will sort out what you’re stuck on when you change gears.

  • Don’t worry about perfection

When it comes time to sit down and start writing a paper, don’t get caught up on all the little details from the start. Take time to brainstorm and research and find a topic that truly intrigues you. If you’re interested, then it will be easier to keep writing. Once you actually start writing, keep going and don’t look back. Try writing for 30 minutes, or for a full page, or whatever amount works for you. Free writing helps with getting ideas flowing, and you can always go back and revise what you wrote.

  • Use your resources

You have a plethora of resources to draw on when tackling a writing assignment. Your teachers can help answer any clarifying questions you have, and using your classmates to discuss the assignment can be very advantageous. Be careful not to rely on your classmates too much; you want to be able to make this paper strongly individual. Last, but definitely not least, you have the writing tutors! We are here to be sounding boards and support you in any part of your writing process from brainstorming to revising. So don’t hesitate to stop by.

Happy writing!

Haley Schabes is a senior majoring in business administration and minoring in education, economics, and Asian studies. Her current aspiration is to teach English abroad after college.