Tag Archives: solution

Writing for a reason

by Jessica Barker

As the semester comes to a close and deadlines quickly approach, the thought of having to write a paper can become daunting. But it doesn’t have to put a damper on the rest of your semester. If you start to feel discouraged or question the value of writing, remember that there is a lot of good that can come from it. Really!

Explore a topic that interests YOU

One of the best things about writing in college is that you are usually able to choose what YOU want to write about within the context of the class. Writing doesn’t have to be an excruciating process. Look for connections to the topic that interest YOU. They’re there, but it might take a willingness to look on your part. Plus, when you are writing about a topic that you are passionate about, the writing process can fly by!

Good practice for college and beyond

If you find yourself writing about a topic that you don’t find particularly interesting, it can be difficult to enjoy the writing process. But this work is not pointless. Honest! You might end up developing a new skill or learning about a subject that you wouldn’t have otherwise researched. You never know, this knowledge might come in handy one day. There might come a time when you need to use research skills, or when your growth as a writer benefits you in another class or in a job after college.

Contribute to the academic community

Although it may seem as though your professors just want you to regurgitate information, most of them would rather read about your discoveries and your ideas on a topic. If you write with this sense of curiosity and discovery, whatever you write about stands to affect your readers and therefore impact that field of study. That’s empowering. Your work is not worthless, and it is not busywork. It is valuable, and it can be powerful!


Jessica Barker is a sophomore majoring in theater and minoring in sociology and anthropology. After college she hopes to use theater to create social change and empower others.





The art of annotations

by Samantha Bronkar

Have to read an article for a class? You could just read it—but what if you could have a conversation about it instead?

Often, we can expand our own thoughts and ideas when we talk about them out loud. You can think of annotating an article as having a conversation with the author. If you are reading an article that appears dense or uninteresting, physically taking notes on the article (along the margins) helps you to actively engage with the article.

When you annotate, you can (and should):

  • Ask your own questions
  • Paraphrase or summarize what the author claims
  • Take note of your own thoughts
  • Underline or highlight key phrases, quotes, individuals, dates, and ideas*

*Tip: You may find it helpful to color-code your annotations. For example, you can use an orange pen to note questions you have, a blue pen to note the author’s claims, a green pen to note your own thoughts, and a red pen to underline key dates, figures, etc.

Rather than reading text and trying to absorb it as you progress, annotating gives space for pausing, reflecting, questioning, and connecting ideas or themes you notice. This space can help readers learn, understand, and remember.

The beauty of annotations is that they give you permission not to understand something the first time you read it. I repeat: it is okay to not completely understand something, especially the first time you read it. In fact, having questions is a sign that you are critically assessing what you are reading, and that’s great!

As you read, take notes in the margins about things that confuse, interest, and inspire you. That way, you can easily locate those ideas in class or when studying in order to discuss them in greater detail. It’s also a good tool if you need to revisit a source when writing a research paper: your annotations will help you remember and work with a source you haven’t read in a while.

Happy annotating!

Samantha Bronkar is a junior majoring in English and will be participating in the Prague abroad next fall. She will be dearly missed.

Beating writer’s block

by Sydni Hammar

We’ve all had it happen: we receive some daunting writing assignment and we resist the work like a little kid refusing to eat green beans at dinner. Of course, we can only avoid an assignment for so long. Eventually, we sit down to write…and stare at the blank screen for what feels like an eternity.

In these horrifying moments, we feel paralyzed. This writer’s block can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • We simply don’t want to put in the time
  • We don’t know where to start
  • We’re not interested in the topic
  • We’re so passionate about our topic that we’re afraid we can’t do it justice

Oftentimes, the longer we wait to begin, the more daunting the work becomes. But in remaining passive by making excuses to procrastinate, we allow our writer’s block the space to intensify.


In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield discusses the idea of resistance, explaining that it functions as a paralyzing roadblock between a writer and his work. He asks: “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign…like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it” (57).

Pressfield shows us that if a writing assignment feels daunting—paralyzing, even— then it must be very important. This also tells me that accomplishing the assignment will be all the more satisfying. As Pressfield puts it, “the most important thing…is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying” (121).

With that in mind, here are three rules that I swear by when it comes to a daunting paper assignment:

  • Don’t like your topic? Change it! Developing a genuine curiosity as we explore an assignment is half the battle. Once we recognize how important and rewarding our assignment is, it is easier to be disciplined in our engagement with it.
  • Block off some time to work on the paper every day leading up to the due date. This amount of time could be 10 minutes or several hours. Be reasonable with yourself and your time, but be disciplined, too.
  • After you spend time working on the assignment, allow yourself to step away from the work. If you practice this, then you can truly look at your writing and ideas with fresh eyes when you come back to it. This space is important as your paper and ideas develop.

Remember that writing is very process-oriented. Any amount of time you spend wrestling with ideas is progress, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Fighting writer’s block with small, practical steps is a surefire way to get your paper to where it needs to be.

Sydni Hammar is a junior and an English major on the Creative Writing track.

Outrun those run-on sentences

By Katya Rivers

What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that have been joined without appropriate punctuation or a coordinating conjunction. Dividing a run-on sentence into concise, meaningful units can help to clarify your message.

First, an independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone as a sentence. You can tell because it has both a subject and a verb and forms a complete thought. Second, a coordinating conjunction is a word that joins two independent clauses. You can remember these as FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

How do I find it?

  • Locate the independent clauses; it may help to underline the subject-verb pairs.
  • Make the separation clear by drawing vertical lines between independent clauses.

How do I fix it?

  • Use a period and proper capitalization to separate the independent clauses into two (or more) complete sentences,
  • OR use a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction to connect separate but related independent clauses,
  • OR use a semicolon (;), colon (:), or em-dash (–) as appropriate to separate related independent clauses,
  • OR change one independent clause into a dependent clause and join the two clauses, using appropriate punctuation,
  • OR rewrite two fused independent clauses as one cohesive independent clause.

Let’s see it in action:

Incorrect: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice it can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction A: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice; it can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction B: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice. Frequently, guidance can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction C: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice from someone with more life experience.

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.

Rainbow revision

by Shannon Naylor

I recently finished a draft of an important research paper. Like most of my first drafts, it needed many improvements before it was ready to be turned in. I printed out a copy, grabbed a red pen, and started editing. By the time I was done with the first page, I could hardly distinguish between the different edits, notes, and proposed additions that littered the page. Frankly, it was a mess. What to do?

Good revision, like a good paper, is organized so that you can make sense of what editing needs to be done. On my first pass, I hadn’t been looking for specific things to fix, and I had made the edits difficult to read. Here’s the revision strategy that I’ve been using since then in order to polish my papers.

This particular strategy works best with a hard copy of the paper. It allows you to have a tactile interaction with the process, but you can achieve something similar with Microsoft Word if preferred. I find that it is easiest to use three differently colored pens and a highlighter. Any colors will do so long as they are readable, but I like to use red, blue, and green pens with a yellow highlighter.

  1. Skim through your paper without making any marks to determine what its weaknesses are. (In mine, I needed to fix typos, add commentary, remove repetition, and edit for sentence clarity.)
  2. On your next pass, cross out typos and poorly phrased or unnecessary sentences with the red pen.
  3. Write in changes and additions with blue pen.
  4. Use the green pen to make marginal notes about what each paragraph says and does. (See Put It in Reverse for details on this strategy.)
  5. Go through with the highlighter to mark structural issues or patterns that need to be made visible. (This may change from paper to paper. For example, in one paper I marked places where I repeated words with a highlighter, but in another I used it to indicate where I already had commentary, where it was missing, or where I needed to add more.)
  6. Celebrate!

By the end of this revision process, you should have a good understanding of the current state of your paper as well as how you intend to fix it. You’ll be set to have a radical time revising!


Shannon is a junior studying theatre and English with a focus on creative writing. She is looking forward to studying and performing Shakespeare with the England Abroad in the fall.

Ever-so-helpful hyphens

by Haley Morton

A curious thing has happened in the recent weeks. It has come to my knowledge that as a spring semester senior, I have a serious grammatical problem. Punctuation problem, really. Hyphens. They’ll be the death of my capstone.

The good news is that the History Department allows its ever-so-diligent capstone students to turn in two drafts before the final. Thank heavens for drafts because this is where learning happens. For me, this “learning” meant acknowledging my inappropriate lack of hyphens throughout my 92-page capstone.

By doing a little research, I learned that the rules behind hyphens are rather straightforward. There are two rules you should note.

  1. Hyphens are used to mark compound adjectives. Compound adjectives are two are more adjectives that are all used to modify the same noun. If the adjectives come after the noun, a hyphen is unnecessary. For example:
  • Necessary hyphen: He had a bullet-proof vest.
  • Unnecessary hyphen: The vest was bullet proof.
  • Necessary: …ever-so-diligent capstone students…
  • Unnecessary: Capstone students are ever so diligent in their drafts.
  1. The use of hyphens can also change meaning. In other words, without hyphens in the needed place, your reader can confuse how you intend to modify the noun. For example:
  • “Small-state senator” is not the same as “small state senator.”

It’s entirely possible that you never find the need to use hyphens. Or, if you’re anything like me, maybe your lack of hyphens is an indicator of a serious punctuation problem only to be manifested in one’s capstone.

Happy editing, and make sure you use those fool-proof hyphens!


Haley is a senior at Principia College and a political science and history double major. She has spent the last four years writing, studying, and running cross country and track. She is almost finished working on her capstone about Title IX and women in athletics.

Slaying writer’s block

by Shannon Naylor

Every writer, however serious or casual, experienced or novice, will encounter writer’s block at one point or another. To some it feels like suddenly running into an insurmountable mental wall. To others it means not knowing where to start. The thing about writer’s block is that you can always chisel away at it. The question that remains is: how? Here are some strategies that I like to use in my own writing.

#1: Don’t give up. This is less a strategy and more of a philosophy, but it’s important.  Writing is not an activity that you can limit to times when you feel inspired. When you encounter block, acknowledge it and challenge it to a write-off. You will win every time.

#2: Talk to someone. It can be a friend, a roommate, even your cat. If nobody is around, talk aloud to yourself. Generally, we are accustomed to putting ideas into words verbally, but sometimes we block ourselves by thinking too hard about writing our ideas down. So take your ideas into an environment that they are comfortable in and put them where you can hear them. Test how they sound out loud. I often record myself talking through ideas when I’m struggling to write a paper because I’ve discovered that once I play it back it gives me a better understanding of what I want to say.

#3: Put your ideas in a different shape. I find that this is most useful when I’ve been working with an idea for a while and I’ve run out of fresh ways to approach it. So I draw my paper as a picture. Try dancing your essay, painting your story, drawing a map of the term paper. This will force you to examine your writing from a new angle and will hopefully generate new ideas about it. At the very least, you will have given your brain a way to recharge through a creative outlet.

So be brave, fellow writing adventurers, and slay your writer’s block.

Bonus feature: What follows is a model of the combination of strategies 2 and 3, slaying writer’s block by talking to someone and putting your ideas in a different shape. Enjoy!

Sir Stu Dent makes his way through the canyon along the winding way to the peak of Mount Capstone when a massive dragon lands in his path. The dragon’s name is emblazoned across his belly scales, a customary vanity among their kind. Wrytur Blok—a dragon that had claimed this peak as his home and terrified many of the knights who had come before.

Though Stu trembles before Wrytur Blok, he knows that the beautiful Princess A awaits him at the peak of Mount Capstone and he makes the bold choice to face down the dragon. He isn’t sure he knows how to defeat the beast, so he calls upon his trustworthy, wise companion—a magical talking book called Tudor.

“Tudor,” Stu cried. “How can I get past this accursed dragon, Wrytur Blok?”

Replied Tudor, “Quick, duck down behind yonder rock. He won’t see us there and we can form a plan. Dragons are susceptible to the human voice. If you speak at length, you may lull him to sleep.”

“Brilliant as always, Tudor,” said Stu, as he dodged a fireball and dove behind the rock.

Out of sight of the fearsome dragon, Stu described his ideas for winning the hand of Princess A by completing his quest up Mount Capstone. As he spoke, he found that the faulty parts of his plan became clear and he was able to mold it into something more viable. And as he discussed these schemes with Tudor, the angry huffs and puffs from Wrytur Blok dwindled and ceased until the rumble of the dragon’s snoring shook the walls of the canyon.

Stu crept from his hiding place and examined his situation. Wrytur Blok was far less intimidating now, but his bulk was still filling up the canyon’s mouth, thus preventing further passage up the mountain. “What now, Tudor?”

“I used to know a spell that would transmogrify a creature. There are a few ways to do it. Let me see… You can’t very well dance in armor. We didn’t bring any paints. That means you must draw the spell. Take the stick and draw the path to the peak while picturing the fearsome dragon as something harmless.”

Sure enough, a few moments of artistic endeavor resulted in a very bad-tempered frog hopping down the canyon and Stu hastening onward to win the hand of Princess A where she lived at the top of Mount Capstone.

Shannon Naylor is a junior studying creative writing and theatre. She performed most recently in Principia’s production of “Hush: An Interview with America.”

Use WIRMI when you’re squirmy

by Ellen Sprague

A student just left my office, the third this week to whom I’ve touted what is fast becoming my favorite revision strategy—WIRMI. When students come to me feeling squirmy about their writing; when they are confused and uncertain about why their professor has told them to “clarify” or “explain”; when their professor has dared ask “What do you mean?” in the margin—that’s when I like to pull out WIRMI.

I learned about WIRMI in Linda Flower’s now out-of-print Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing in College and Community. That title zeroes in on just what WIRMI does; it solves problems.

WIRMI stands for this:






Here’s how to use it:

When you’re working on clarifying a thesis, just start with “What I really mean is” and follow with a direct explanation. You can refine the language once you get the right ideas  onto the page.

When you’re writing or revising a draft, WIRMI can act as a placeholder—again allowing you to get the ideas out before worrying how to craft them into graceful prose (which comes after other revision steps). After the paragraph, or perhaps in the margin, write “What I really mean is…” and complete that sentence simply and directly. The new sentence will likely serve as the basis for a clear and accurate topic sentence.

Don’t worry about the actual words “What I really mean is” cluttering up your paper. In some instances you can replace WIRMI in your draft with something like this, “This means that…,” and again, complete the sentence. It will flow. In other cases, you can drop the initial phrase completely because the rest of your revised sentence will be clear and say, believe it or not, what you really mean!

WIRMI will help your reader understand exactly what you mean because you’ll actually have to write it clearly. Quit squirming and give it a try!

Ellen Sprague teaches Principia College’s writing/research tutor training course, Teaching the Writing Process, and manages the tutor program and this blog. She holds an MA in French from Middlebury College and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Remember who’s the author!

by Heather Libbe

Every single experience we have, be it academic or otherwise, provides opportunities to learn more about the allness of God and our oneness with Mind. Remembering who is the author is the best writing “advice” I can give!

During spring quarter of my junior year at Principia College, I learned a very valuable lesson that has stuck with me ever since. I found myself very overwhelmed by a personal situation with a friend off-campus, and this caused me to quickly fall very behind in my work. I felt like I was just digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole looking at all my assignments piling up. One afternoon I couldn’t even get myself out of bed. As I was sobbing to myself and hit a point where all I could think was “I can’t do this,” I heard an angel message that I will never forget: “You know, Heather, you’re right—you can’t do this.”

I’ve found that idea to go really well with this Bible passage: “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). At the time, I was trying to do it all on my own, which, of course, seemed overwhelming. So I was very grateful to be woken up to the fact that I was not doing the doing. God was!

Needless to say, I was humbled.

Four years later, I was in a similar situation with a graduate school paper that needed to be written. I just couldn’t seem to make any progress with it. I had read the entire book that I needed to in order to complete the assignment but felt as though I didn’t even know where to begin. I was overwhelmed by the topic, length, deadline, and so on.

I explained all this to a friend who asked how things were going as we randomly ran into each other in a Boston crosswalk that afternoon. He shared an idea from Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy that I’ve held to ever since: “Mortals are egotists. They believe themselves to be independent workers, personal authors, and even privileged originators of something which Deity would not or could not create. The creations of mortal mind are material. Immortal spiritual man alone represents the truth of creation” (262). Those four statements really woke me up to rediscover that divine Mind was completing the assignment and I was just there to reflect. As I prayed with that idea and sought to be Mind’s scribe as opposed to thinking of myself as a creator, the heaviness of the assignment just lifted and I completed it with joy. I think I even got a high mark on it, too.

Now, whenever I need to write something, be it in correspondence, an article for the Christian Science periodicals, or a piece for an organization, I continuously remind myself—before, during and after—who is really the Author. As the image and likeness of Mind, I am at one with the source of all creativity and intelligence.

Moreover, how wonderful it is to know that

  • Perfect grammar reflects Principle
  • Creative new ideas reflect Mind
  • A well-thought-out format reflects Soul
  • Different punctuation marks reflect Spirit
  • Diversity of word choice reflects Life
  • Proper citing reflects Truth
  • Editing an assignment before handing it in reflects Love

Starting and ending with prayer, with some prayer in between, has helped me over the past few years complete assignments with ease. Writing has also become even more enjoyable because it is exciting to see how the final product reflects all those beautiful spiritual qualities such as order, intelligence, logic, right reasoning, knowledge, and flow.

Happy reflecting, everyone!

This guest post is from Heather K. Libbe, CS, who was a writing tutor before graduating from Principia College in 2011. She is a Christian Science practitioner who is currently in Australia.

A problem-solving approach to introductions

by Shamus Jarvis

I find it helpful to think of writing as a vehicle for problem solving. But before I can offer a solution to any given problem, I have to first gain a reader’s attention; otherwise I have no audience that can respond to the solution that I provide. The most effective way to ensure that a paper will both engage a reader—be it a fellow student or a professor—and establish the foundation for any claim or solution that a writer will defend in the body of the paper is to provide an intriguing and thought provoking introduction. The late Joseph M. Williams, in Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, insists that an introduction should include three primary components: shared context between the writer and the reader, a description of the problem, and the writer’s solution or claim.

By establishing a shared context with the reader, the writer explains why the reader is or will be affected by the problem presented within the paper. If the reader perceives that the given problem is unrelated to his or her own life, it is unlikely that that reader will be interested in reading about a solution to a problem that he or she does not perceive as a threat. The writer must convince the reader that he or she has something to gain or lose that is related to the central issue. This concept of gain and loss is related to a problem’s cost.

According to Williams, a problem is some event that is associated with a perceivable cost. If a condition, situation, or event has no cost, then no problem exists. Every problem has at least one or more consequence(s) that results in some unwanted or unintended result. Within a paper, it is important for the writer to present the consequences of an event in order to explain why that event should be recognized as a problem. As much as possible, the writer should endeavor to relate the consequences directly to the reader. Remember, if the reader believes that he or she has nothing at stake, there is no reason to continue reading. Imagine a reader asking, “So what?” after being presented with a problem. It is the writer’s job to answer the reader’s hypothetical inquiry in a way that clearly identifies the consequences of a problem and how they affect the reader.

Additionally, it is important for a writer to recognize whether he or she is attempting to solve a practical or a conceptual problem. When dealing with a practical problem, the writer will encourage the reader to execute a specific action that will either totally resolve or at least mitigate the problem. Conceptual problems often lack solutions that require specific actions. Instead, solutions are typically theoretical and require the reader to understand the larger context of the issue. Within the college environment, students are commonly asked to solve conceptual, rather than practical problems.

After the writer has presented a problem and its significant consequences or general cost to humanity, he or she should provide a solution or claim that addresses at least one of the problem’s consequences without introducing any additional ones. Obviously, the proposed solution should not magnify the intensity of the original problem. The solution or claim serves as the foundational point which the body of the paper will aim to support.

(Works Cited: Williams, Joseph M. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 9th ed. New York: Pearson Longman,    2007. Print.)

Shamus Jarvis is a junior at Principia College studying theatre and English. Hear him sing aboard the Titanic on November 14, 15, and 16 in Cox Auditorium.