Tag Archives: organization

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.

Don’t be scared, just make an outline

by Bubba Sugarman

If you’re like me, a blank piece of paper and a writing prompt can be quite frightening. So much potential, so many things to say. But how, and in what order? It’s times like these when I remind myself to start with a simple outline. Creating an outline is an excellent way to start getting your ideas on paper. 

Start your outline by choosing a topic. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect yet; nothing is set in stone.) You want your topic to encompass ideas you find interesting and wish to discuss. As you continue to do your research and write your paper, your topic may change a little bit, and that’s okay.

Once you have your topic, begin to think about some ideas that support it. Think about the questions you have and how you will answer them. Start to group these questions into main ideas that you can explore. These main ideas will become the body paragraphs of your paper, so write them in order on your outline. Once you find your main ideas, organize them in a way that makes sense. I like the think of my writing as a conversation, predicting the reader’s questions and answering them before they ask. In this way, I arrange my main ideas to ask and answer questions in an order that flows logically.

Now it’s time for some research. Find information about your topic and remember that as you continue to do research, you may find unexpected ideas to include in your paper. The more you know about your topic, the stronger your paper will be, so don’t be afraid to chase leads and learn all you can. From the information you gather, find evidence that supports your main ideas. The more supporting evidence you find, the more concrete your ideas will become. Remember to make a note of where you found the supporting information; it will help you find it again when you write your paper. In your outline, write supporting ideas under their respective main ideas.

Now, with your developed outline, your paper will write itself. Just start writing. Use the outline you have made as a roadmap and work your way through your paper by letting your outline guide you. Answer the questions that your main ideas inspire, and use the supporting evidence you have gathered from your research to support your ideas.  Always remember that an outline is a great way to beat that scary blank sheet of paper.


Bubba Sugarman is a business major who also happens to be a writing tutor. You can find him playing cello in the Principia Orchestra, fighting fires with the Principia Fire Brigade, or playing rugby with the Thunder Chickens. Bubba spends the little free time he has skeet shooting, flying planes, djing, woodworking, riding horses, and of course studying.

Annotated bibliographies: assets to the writing process

by Bailey Bischoff

Writing annotated bibliographies can seem like busywork. After all, if you found the article or data from a reputable source, why do you need to talk about its validity? However, annotated bibliographies can be used for much more than just proving a source is valid and relevant. Annotated bibliographies are one of the best ways to getting a jumpstart on writing a paper.

What is an annotated bibliography, and why is it so useful? Let’s break it down. Each annotation should include a summary of the source, an evaluation of the validity of the source, and the relevance to your eventual paper.

1) Summary: The summary should detail the content of the source, as well as the purpose and intended audience. Through describing the source and intended audience, you will start to get a better idea of how the source will fit into your paper. The more you know about your sources, the more you will be able to easily incorporate them into your paper!

2) Validity: Evaluating the validity of the source is essentially an argument that your paper will be supported with the right kind of information and can help you identify whether or not you have a good variety and number of sources needed to write a thoroughly researched paper. This section includes gauging the author’s bias and authority, which means you might have to do some background research on the author. Also, take into consideration when the source was written and whether that affects relevancy to your topic.  Understanding the scope of your research (and identifying any holes) can save you from doing last-minute research after writing your paper, only to find that it your paper wasn’t as well-researched as you had intended.

3) Relevance: Establishing the relevance of the source is really just summarizing the value of the source to your specific project or purpose. Writing on the relevance of the source forces you to think about how the information it provides fits into your paper. Touching on the relevance in an annotation can get you thinking about the organization of your paper, an important pre-writing step which will help your paper flow together better.

Summarizing and evaluating the relevance and usefulness of each source gets you to think about how each source will fit into your paper. After writing an annotated bibliography, you should be ready to write an outline and identify where more research is needed. Instead of being an unnecessary, meaningless task, writing an annotated bibliography is a great way to start writing a well-rounded, thoroughly researched paper!


Bailey Bischoff is a political science major in her senior year of college.

Jump start your research

by Anna-Zoe Herr

Do any of these descriptions fit you?

  • I am not sure where to start in my research for a specific topic.
  • I only have a vague idea about the area I would like to explore deeper.
  • I don’t have a thesis or any background knowledge on my chosen subject.

Then the frustration has an end right here and now! Here are three starting points:

  • Key Terms
    Sometimes we underestimate how key terms and search words can help us in starting the research process. We can use them to understand what we are really researching, to establish the parameters of our interest, and to find the right material for a stellar paper. Sit down for five minutes and make a list of terms—synonyms and ideas that float through your mind about the general area of your interest.
  • Book Reviews
    Once you have your key terms, use a database appropriate to the discipline of your topic and refine your search. Your key terms can help you locate articles on your topic, and find sources that give you some more general information to help you move forward: reviews and book reviews. Just check the boxes telling the database to search for these in addition to articles. This has been some of the most helpful advice as I search for material for my capstone. Book reviews typically give you background on the topic or general area, names and further key terms, a list of resources besides the one reviewed, and a summary or in-depth information of the area you are interested in. All of that in a small number of pages. In other words, book reviews are essential to expanding your understanding of a topic, finding resources, and knowing where you want to go next in your research!
  • Definitions and Encyclopedias
    There are many encyclopedias and dictionaries found through our Principia Library website* that you can access for in-depth articles on specific words. These articles often explain the heritage of the word but also give a lot of history, context, and further resources to consider. Having a solid understanding of the key terms will help you branch out into new areas you might not have considered before and will plant you on a solid foundation in order to deliver a bullet-proof argument. Examples of excellent dictionaries are the Encyclopaedia Britannica or Gale Virtual Reference Library. These resources are amazing because, since you’re a student, you can access them for free! Don’t underestimate the power of definitions.

*To find the lexica or dictionaries on the library website, scroll down on the homepage to the first box, then click Dictionaries & Encyclopedias.

Anna-Zoë is a first semester senior working on her final studio art portfolio and global perspectives capstone. She just returned from the Prague Abroad is excited for the last two semesters at Principia.

Strategies for tackling long-term assignments, part 2

by Maddi Demaree

Part 2: What if I don’t know how to start?

More techniques for tackling challenging assignments can be found right here on our blog, WriteHereWriteNow, but I’ll give you a few as well.

  • Make a list of the tasks that need to be accomplished. A list of these tasks might look something like this:
    • Decide on a research topic
    • Make a hypothesis/thesis
    • Gather resources (print, online)
    • Research & gather data
    • Write intro
    • Write body paragraphs
    • Write conclusions
    • Edit
  • Write these tasks into your calendar so you have a schedule to hold yourself to.
  • Meet with a writing tutor to discuss potential topics or how to find resources.
  • Schedule a meeting with your professor so they can give you feedback on the work you’ve accomplished so far.

But remember, the key to success with long term assignments is to “Start Early and Start Often.”

Maddi Demaree is a junior majoring in education and political science. Last spring she traveled on the Finland Abroad.

Strategies for tackling long-term assignments

by Maddi Demaree

Part 1: Start Early and Start Often

Well, you’ve made it through syllabus week, congratulations! The good news: you won’t have to hear the same spiel about attendance again for another seven months. The bad news: you probably received at least a couple long-term writing assignments. Especially in upper-level classes, these papers are ubiquitous. Now, flash forward to week 13. You’ve known about this assignment since the beginning of the term, but all of a sudden you only have five days to complete something that should have taken you all semester. Is it possible to avoid such a troubling fate as this?

Yes! The best way to avoid the desperate eleventh-hour cram session is to do something I like to call “start early and start often.” If a professor assigns something to you at the beginning of the semester that is due towards the end that means they you want you to be working on it all semester – starting now! The earlier you start, the better it will be. I have a few techniques I use to motivate myself to work on assignments even if their due date feels far away.

Start Early

  1. Begin your work on this assignment NOW. No seriously, right now.
  1. Don’t just look at the assignment one time today and then remember over Spring Break that you should have been working on it this whole time – putting focused effort (even if it’s not for long periods of time) will ease your burden later in the semester.

Start Often

  1. Put in on your calendar.

Scheduling time into your day or week to work specifically on an assignment will help make working on it a habit. If you have a weekly calendar, schedule in 30 minutes every couple days to sit down and work exclusively on that project.

  1. Have someone help you stay accountable.

Tell a friend, roommate, or even your RCE about your goal to work a least a bit on this project each week. Ask them to check in with you at the end of the week to see if you worked on the project. Sometimes, just telling other people about goals makes us more accountable about working on them.

Stay tuned for some tips if you just don’t know how to start that long-term assignment.

Maddi Demaree is a junior majoring in education and political science. Last spring she traveled on the Finland Abroad.

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.

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.

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.

Crafting a conclusion

by Meg Andersen

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed when trying to wrap up your paper, you aren’t alone. It isn’t always easy to know what to include in your conclusion paragraph. Perhaps it feels repetitive, or you feel that you’ve exhausted all of your points and have nothing left to write. To make this process easier, here’s a simplified guide to writing effective conclusions:

Purpose: The conclusion helps readers know what to take away from the paper. They should reach the final word and have a clear idea of what you’ve told them and why.

The structure:

  • Restate your topic and thesis (your claim), but in a new way
  • Highlight the major points you made in your body paragraphs
  • Show us how those points fit together
    • The sum of the paper can be greater than the parts
    • You are synthesizing ideas, not just summarizing
  • Close with a statement that shows the reader the importance of your claim

How to make it happen:

  • Echo your introduction
    • Close the paper by incorporating a theme, quote, claim, or style from your introduction paragraph
  • Think big
    • Papers tend to start general (intro) and get specific (body paragraphs)
    • In your conclusion, you can go from specific to general
      • Start with the specific ideas from your paper and then zoom out to show the larger importance of the topic/idea
    • Look to the future
      • Looking to the future is another way of thinking big—it gives the reader something to chew on after putting the paper down
    • Defend your case
      • Close with a strong statement that supports your big idea—the “so what?”—without simply restating the thesis

Conclusions can be very helpful when wrapping up your thoughts at the end of a paper. I often find that my ideas become clearest when I get to the conclusion, because it forces me to ask the “so what?” question. Why did I make that point in paragraph three? What am I really saying in this essay, and why is it important that others read it?

For this reason and many others, conclusions really can be quite helpful, both to you and to the reader. Enjoy the process, and remember that you can always come see your trusty writing tutors in the library if you’re feeling stuck!

Meg Andersen is a junior and a Business Administration major. She loves travel, art, and breakfast food, and lives in San Francisco.