Tag Archives: connection

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.

Students’ advice to students: Buch Method Revision

by Nigel Graham

This is a special guest blog from a student in the Fall 2015 Revising and Editing (WRIT 152) class. His assignment was to write advice for other students about a specific writing or revision strategy.

While there are many revision strategies to choose from, I have found one in particular that works well for me. This is the Buch Method Revision strategy. This method has worked so well for me because it has helped me develop the content and details of my writing. These are areas that I have previously struggled in. I have found that using the Buch Method Revision (BMR) strategy has helped me to improve my writing. This strategy helps add depth, which makes my writing a lot more persuasive and clear. I think using this strategy can greatly improve your writing as well.

BMR starts by focusing on a certain paragraph. From there you will add a new sentence after each sentence in the paragraph (starting after sentence #2). The new sentence should expand on the previous one. Then, you repeat this process for each sentence until you have a paragraph that is much more detailed than the original one. Lastly, look at the paragraph as a whole to see and remove any sentences that are redundant. Not only will the paragraph be more complete in terms of factual content, but it’s likely you’ll find ways to add needed analysis.

I have used this particular method in writing my grant proposal in Revising and Editing. This was an important strategy to use for the proposal because the assignment required my writing to have lots of detail and be very clear for the reader. BMR helped me make my sentences say what I wanted them to while making clear to the reader what the message was. I have also used BMR in non-persuasive pieces. When reading the final version after BMR had been applied to my proposal, I found that my writing had a much nicer flow and was also more interesting to read since the details made the paper easier to understand. I recommend that if you use BMR, you should also do a peer review session. By doing a peer review session, my partner and I were able to pick out and remove the weaker, redundant sentences.

Nigel Graham is a senior majoring in business administration and minoring in sustainability and management information systems. His grant proposal focused on his great passion of waterskiing.

Organizational issues? Rip it up!

by Haley Schabes

Have you ever been so frustrated with a paper that you just want to rip it up? It turns out that you can—and have it be helpful.

When writing, sometimes I struggle with the direction and the clarity of my paper, or I struggle to keep all the information straight. For example, there might be paragraphs that have overlapping material or points that I feel like I can’t connect well. In cases like these, when I revise my paper, it feels like the paper is either repetitive or not cohesive. It can be frustrating as a writer to have all your evidence there, but seemingly jumbled on the page. But there is a fun and easy solution to this!

  1. Take some scissors (yes, scissors!) and “rip up” a hard copy of your paper by cutting between paragraphs.
  2. From there, find a big open space (like a table or the floor) and place your introduction and conclusion on opposite ends of the area.
  3. Begin experimenting with the remaining paragraphs’ order by placing them between the two. This will help you see what information connects and flows together.
  4. If there is a part of a paragraph that does not fit and should be moved, just take the scissors, carefully cut away the sentences, and slide them to a better position. In some cases, you may find that you need to create a new paragraph.
  5. When you are satisfied with the flow and order of your paragraphs, make the changes in your digital copy.
  6. Double check to make sure your thesis and topic sentences still hold despite having rearranged information. You may need to place additional transition sentences or make small edits to topic sentences to solidify connections between your thesis and other paragraphs.
  7. Read through your paper to make any further changes, finalize it, and celebrate!

This hands-on exercise allows you to visualize your paper’s direction more easily. By seeing all the components side-by-side (instead of just on the computer screen), you can see your thought process throughout the entire paper. This exercise can help you rearrange your evidence from a new angle, understand which material should be taken out, unveil where more transitions are needed, and improve the clarity and flow of your paper.

But remember: changes do not need to be revolutionary! Sometimes just changing the order of your paragraphs can make a big difference. By the end of this exercise, your seemingly jumbled information should be presented in a clean and logical order. For another take on this strategy, click here!

Happy organizing!

Haley Schabes is a junior majoring in business administration with minors in economics, Asian studies, and education.

Students’ advice for students: Issue trees

by Stuart McFall

This is a special guest blog from a student in the Fall 2015 Revising and Editing (WRIT 152) class. His assignment was to write advice for other students about a specific writing or revision strategy.

I think that when it comes to revising and editing, a writer should have a strategy that works well for them to structure and develop their ideas. I think it is important to have a well-organized piece of writing so that the content is more easily understood. A great strategy that writers can use is called an issue tree. Issue trees make it easy for a writer to expand on their ideas, revise their content, and organize their work into a well-structured piece of writing. It is important for a writer to have a well-structured piece because it makes the reader’s job a lot easier. It also helps a writer expand on the main idea to write a fully developed piece of writing.

Making an issue tree is very simple. Take out a sheet of paper and a pencil. (You’ll need a pencil with an eraser to make any changes to your issue tree.) Draw a small circle at the top of your paper large enough to fit the topic of your paper in it. Write your topic, or your thesis if you have one, in that circle. Now draw more circles below your topic for each of your main points. Once you have done this, expand on each topic by drawing more circles underneath each main idea-circle. Fill this third tier of circles with specific statements, ideas, or questions you have for each main point. Continue to expand each idea and sub-idea into more circles until all your topics are expanded to your satisfaction. Finally, organize your tree into a structure that makes sense for the topic of your paper. If this means you need to take out parts or move parts around, do so.

I have used this strategy before in an assignment for Fiction Writing class. We had to write a personal story from someone else’s perspective. I built my issue tree, organized it, and then wrote my paper from that issue tree. It helped me organize the plot of the story really well so that it was easy for the reader to follow. It also helped me expand each of my main plot points for the story. I felt the issue tree really helped me write something great, and that’s why I use this strategy for a lot of my papers. I hope you try this out with your own writing and see how well it works for you.


Stuart McFall is a junior majoring in business administration and minoring in economics.

“I don’t get it”

by Shannon Naylor

“I don’t get it” is a sentence I used a lot as a student. Sometimes it was uttered in exhausted frustration after hours of striving to understand a challenging text. But more often than not, I said it reflexively when I encountered something new, and it became shorthand for “I don’t want to make an effort.” When I said “I don’t get it,” I refused to engage with the material, so I never had any hope of gaining understanding, and I risked doing poorly in those classes.

The trick I developed for getting past that roadblock-type thinking was to tack one little word to the end: “I don’t get it…yet.” Yet is a promise that there is hope, that there’s an opportunity for change. But the material wasn’t going to suddenly make sense all on its own. I had to change how I approached it.

So how do you make the change happen? Here’s one method: Ask questions.

  • When you encounter difficult material that you “don’t get,” start by writing questions.
  • Keep reading or listening to see if they get answered. If they do, jot down the answers.
  • Identify questions you can answer for yourself: words you can look up definitions or key concepts you can Google or find in an encyclopedia.
  • Find questions you can puzzle through or make a hypothesis about, based on what you do know and understand.
  • If it’s appropriate, ask a peer or your professor any questions left unanswered.

This is a simple way to engage with difficult material. You move past the generic, dismissive “I don’t get it” and start to identify the gaps in your knowledge and understanding. Once you know where the gaps are, it’s a lot easier to begin to fill them. This doesn’t mean that it the material suddenly becomes easy and you don’t have to actively work at learning it. It will probably remain a challenge, but I hope that this strategy will make the work seem less daunting.

Shannon is the CTL post-graduate intern.

Taking notes like a pro

by Meg Andersen

Learning how to take notes effectively is one of the best skills to master in college. Whether you prefer taking notes with pen and paper or using programs such as Evernote or MS OneNote, here are a few strategies to help you retain the right information when taking notes in class:

Be organized.

Have separate notebooks (physical or digital) for each class. Whether you organize your notes by chapter, topic, or date, be consistent about how you store your notes. You will be glad you did when it is time to study for the test! One advantage about using Evernote or MS OneNote is that you can search your notes for keywords. Being able to quickly find something in your notes can make studying much more efficient.

Do the reading.

This may sound obvious, but coming to class prepared makes taking notes much easier. It’s hard to recognize the most important points of a topic that you aren’t prepared to discuss. Being prepared might take more time, but you’ll feel less stressed and more confident about engaging in the class. And you’ll learn more.

Listen for cues.

If you’re listening to a lecture and feel lost as to what you should be jotting down, try listening for some basic cues. First, listen for the big ideas. What is the main topic of the lecture? Professors generally emphasize points by

  • repeating them,
  • giving specific examples, or
  • summarizing them at the end of their lecture.

If you are viewing a PowerPoint, it’s okay to politely ask if the PowerPoint will be available on Blackboard. If the presentation will be viewable later, spend more time listening and less time writing down everything on every slide. If the presentation will not be on Blackboard, don’t worry—just record the key points. They are probably headings or in a bolder typeface.

Separate ideas.

When taking notes, most students prefer the rough outline format. With any format, be sure to leave space between points so that you can add other ideas later on, if needed. Taking notes in a slightly more spread out format can also leave room for jotting down questions that you think of during the lecture which can be asked at an appropriate time.

These are just a few ideas that have been helpful in my experience! I recommend checking out Evernote or MS OneNote if you haven’t tried them, and do what works for you!

Meg Andersen is a business administration and global perspectives double major, and she plays on the tennis team.

Getting your thoughts onto paper

by Bailey Bischoff

It can be daunting to stare at a blank page and realize that it’s up to you to fill it. It can be an even more daunting task when you aren’t sure where to start or what to say. You may have a thesis but feel unclear about how to structure your argument; or maybe it’s difficult to think about how all of your research and conclusions will flow together throughout your paper. During times like these, I find it helpful to take ten minutes or so to do a little pre-writing before I begin. It makes it easier to start writing if I have a general idea of what information I want to put in my paper.

While there are multiple techniques for pre-writing, from outlines to free writing, I will focus on a mind map here. Sometimes, in order to delve deeper and really see and analyze what you are thinking, it is good to let go of writing conventions and worrying about grammar, which may hold you back. Mind maps can help you do this because they rely on arrows and colors to relay information and connections.

A mind map is similar to techniques one can use for brainstorming. Essentially, you start with your topic, draw a circle around it, and then list all the information related to your topic in bubbles surrounding your central topic bubble. You can get creative and use different colored circles to show different types of information. You might write down a piece of information you got from a book and circle it in red, and then write down a connection you made between two pieces of information and circle it in blue. You can use arrows to help describe relationships between information as well.

The purpose of the mind map is to get your thoughts on paper and explore connections and relationships between pieces of information that you may not have even realized you were making. I find this technique especially helpful when I don’t know where to get started writing a paper, and I find myself so distracted about writing conventions that I don’t take the time to think about the argument or the connections I’m trying to make within the paper. This technique can free you from the worry of making coherent sentences so that you can focus solely on how you are thinking about your paper, your ideas.


After you have listed every piece of information connected to your paper, analyze what you have written and recognize the connections that now appear between pieces of information. Start filtering those pieces of information into more of a structured outline by dividing them into different categories, like introduction, body, and conclusion. Once you have a better idea of what your paper will look like, turn back to the blank screen; perhaps writing a paper won’t seem like such a daunting task anymore. After all, you have all of the information you need to write it.

Bailey Bischoff is a sophomore majoring in political science and global perspectives.

Line it out

by Carlie Sanderude

If I had to guess, I would say that most students think writing an outline before a paper is the biggest waste of time. Maybe that is a rather large generalization, but I think that a lot of students just jump into writing the paper itself because they want to get it done as fast as possible. But, in actuality, writing an outline will make the process much easier and less stressful! That’s why they’re my favorite, and I won’t write a paper without one.

So why is an outline useful? Isn’t it extra work? Nope.  Here’s why. Outlines

  • are the surest way to an organized paper. They allow you to clearly list the main topics that you want to cover in your paper and make sure that each topic connects back to your thesis.
  • allow you to present your material in a logical form. You can move ideas around to make sure that the logical progression of your paper works helps you prove your main idea.
  • really are helpful in just getting ideas down while you are in the pre-writing or research stages of your writing. Place information in the appropriate category within the outline and watch your paper grow while staying fully organized.

Okay, now how do you create an outline?

  1. Figure out what your thesis is and what you are trying to prove.
  2. Brainstorm all of the ideas that you might want to include in your paper.
  3. Place those ideas in a logical order. For some papers this might be chronological, while for others it might be more of a cause/effect idea or another organization scheme.
  4. Create main and sub headings from those ideas that will become your paragraph main ideas in your actual paper.
  5. Fill in the blanks with your information, research, and analysis!

The biggest benefit is that as soon as you fill in your outline, the paper is pretty much already written! Simply convert your bullet points in your outline to sentences (and don’t forget transitions, which will appear in another post one of these days).

All in all, outlines are great organizational tools, and they will always help ensure clarity and the logical ordering of your paper. An outline may make the overall writing process a tiny bit longer—but maybe not—and your organization will see major improvement in the end!

Carlie Sanderude is a senior at Principia College studying business administration and philosophy. She plays on the college’s soccer and tennis teams and has been a writing tutor for two years. This is her first ever blog post, so be gentle…

Revision strategy: cut your paper to pieces (seriously!)

by Liza Hagerman

So you’ve been told to revise a paper. What does that actually mean? Beyond making minor grammatical corrections, you need to make some significant changes to what you’ve written, considering your professor’s feedback. Often the toughest question that plagues anyone is: where to begin?

First off, don’t fret! Revising a paper isn’t so bad once you get started, and there are practical first steps you can take. I’ll tell you about my favorite strategy.

Print out a copy of your paper (without your professor’s comments) and find a large open floor or table space. Cut your paragraphs apart and spread them out so that they are each in different spots on the floor (or table) and won’t mingle. Then, cut your sentences apart in each paragraph, still keeping them in your separate groupings.

You’re off to a good start! Time to make some major improvements.

Focus on one paragraph at a time. Reorganize your sentences by moving them around. Try a variety of scenarios, and see what order makes the most logical sense. Each sentence should lead to the next, building upon one another. Physically moving them around will likely open you up to a new organization you haven’t thought of before but makes so much more sense!

See a sentence that’s irrelevant? Move it off to the side. Later you can see if it belongs in a different paragraph, should be the starting point for a new paragraph, or should just be removed.

Repeat the previous steps for each paragraph.

Once you finish reorganizing each paragraph, treat them like you did your sentences and make sure that they are presented in logical order too.

After taking these steps, you will likely have found sentences or phrases that you know you should rewrite. You also might have found logical gaps that need to be filled to clarify your argument for the audience. Rewrite these portions and fill the gaps, and don’t forget to proofread (multiple times)!

If you follow all these steps, chances are that you’ve written a solid revision!

Liza Hagerman graduated in May 2013 with a major in English; she served as a writing tutor for a year and a half, and was editor-in-chief of The Pilot as a senior. She is the English Department post-graduate teaching intern for 2013-14.

For another take on this strategy, check out Organizational issues? Rip it up!