Tag Archives: writing process

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.





Need some motivation?

By Camille Pruvost

“Mind alone possesses all faculties, perception, and comprehension.”

– Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy 488:23 –

It’s that time of the year again. Papers and projects have begun piling up, the sun is setting at 5:00pm, the weather has turned chilly, and you’re soooooooo done with school. But before you start dreaming of turkey and Christmas trees, remember those papers aren’t going to write themselves!  If you’re having a difficult time motivating yourself to start working, here are a few tips to kick yourself into gear:

#1 Stop dwelling on it!

Thinking about how much work you have left to do isn’t going to make it magically disappear. I know, college life is tough. But seriously, stop thinking about it. Having a lot of obstacles isn’t a problem if you know how to react to obstacles. It is what you do that makes you successful or not.

#2 Clean your room

Dead serious. Put on some funky music with a beat, throw in a load of laundry, organize your desk, sweep the floor, and make your bed. While cleaning your room isn’t as intimidating as a paper (I hope), it gets you up and moving forward. Plus, an organized room is usually more conducive to productivity.

#3 Grab a bite to eat

When was the last time you ate? Was it nutritious? Set yourself up for success and feed yourself! At least make it a snack of yogurt, nuts, or fruit.

#4 Take a gratitude walk

Nothing like a brisk walk in chilly air to wake you up and get the blood pumping. While you’re strolling along, make a list of all the things/people you’re grateful for and why. Spend some time feeling this sense of gratitude. Think about how amazing you’re going to feel when you finally finish that paper. Happiness in the present is requisite for success in the future.

#5 Take a shower

Sometimes, that’s all you need.

#6 Block all social media

Drastic times call for drastic measures. Take the plunge, and block off all social media and websites that drain your time (ahem, Netflix).

#7 You’ve got this!

Finally, realize that you can do this. Motivation will never come from outside of you. Ultimately, you’ve got to make a choice. The good news is that you are fully capable of finishing the semester strong and with a smile on your face.

Camille Pruvost is a Christian Science nurse in her junior year majoring in music and minoring in religion. Her music ministry serves to inspire faith and to facilitate ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. This winter she will be traveling to Vienna, Prague, and Paris on the Music abroad to further her studies.

Make this database search your best yet!

by Maddi Demaree

Has anyone else had that sinking feeling when you type your search term into a database and there are thousands of results? Or the fear that strikes through your heart when only a couple resources about your topic pop up? While we have a wealth of scholarly information at our fingertips thanks to the Principia College library online database system, sometimes it can feel like too much!

I’m sure none of you have the time or the desire to sift through thousands of articles and books on your topic—so why not let the computer do your work for you?

There are three special words (AND, OR, and NOT) called “Boolean Operators” that will help you narrow or broaden your search quickly and easily. Utilizing these words as part of your search terms will inform database more specifically about what you’re looking for.

I’ll give you a few examples of how to use each word.

AND – narrows your search

You use “AND” to specify two terms that you want to appear in the same article. For example, if I am writing a research paper about domesticated cats, I might make this my search term:

cats AND domestic

               OR—broadens your search

You use “OR” if your initial search did not produce enough results. Using “OR” will bring up all the resources for both of your search terms. For example, if I am writing a research paper about the realist theory in political science as applied to the Gulf War, I might search with

“realist theory” OR “gulf war”

so that I can find all the resources on realist theory and on the Gulf War.

NOT—narrows your search

You use “NOT” to specify a term that you do not want to appear with the rest of the results. This is probably a pesky term that is not actually related to the topic you want to research. For example, if I am writing the same paper about domestic cats, but resources about jungle cats keep appearing, I might search:

cats NOT jungle

This search would keep resources about jungle cats from appearing, because it is telling the database to look for all the resources about cats, but to exclude any resource that mentions “jungle” cats.

Using these three terms will help you refine your searches to make them efficient, effective, and, your best one yet!

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

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.

Write the introduction last

by Samantha Bronkar

Writing an introductory paragraph can be daunting, especially if you try to write it first. Introductions are the first part of the paper, but they do not have to be the first part you write!

You could start by writing your introduction, but you may run into some obstacles, such as:

– not knowing how to introduce a paper you haven’t written yet
– not knowing how to handle a blank document
– not knowing which points you should include in the introduction, and which ones you should leave out

Before you begin to write, choose a working thesis or, in other words, a thesis that certainly may change. As you learn more about your topic, your thesis may become more complex, or you may decide to change your thesis entirely.

Because your initial thesis may change throughout the writing process, writing the introduction first may not be the best approach. If your thesis changes, you may have to rewrite your entire introduction.

Instead, write the body paragraphs—or the detailed argument—first. This process will take more time than writing your introduction, but it will allow you to build your argument fully and freely, without being limited by what you stated in your introduction. And it will save you time on your introduction when it’s time to write it!

Once you finish writing your body paragraphs, you are ready to write your introduction!  By the time you finish writing the body of your paper, you can decide what you feel are the most important points of your argument.

You can think of your introduction as a guide for the reader to understand the main points of your argument before moving into the body of your paper. Make sure to include essential background information and key points you will discuss in your argument, now that you know what they are.

Saving the introduction for last can also ensure that your conclusion matches your introduction. While they are not the same exact paragraph, they should identify the same main points. Once you’ve finished up your introduction, you’ve got a complete, unified draft!

Samantha Bronkar is a junior and will be in Prague next fall studying creative writing and visual art.

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.

Staying ahead of the curve

by Anna Tarnow

Bad news: getting better at writing is a lot of work. Good news: anyone can do it!

Being good (or even excellent) at writing is not some magical skill that some people have and others don’t. Good writing is the product of dedication and energy, just like pretty much every other skill. Some people may seem astronomically better at things, but they just have a lot of cumulative practice, which is something that anyone can have given time. And to me, at least, that’s encouraging! You can make serious progress just by working a little each day.

Here are some of my top strategies for long term improvement:

  1. Give your written work some percolation time (usually around a week, maybe two or three), and then come back to it. Notice odd quirks or repeated mistakes in your writing, make a list of them, and start checking for them every time you write.
  2. Use ctrl+f or cmd+f to search for words that you overuse. I used to write “really” in every other sentence, but I’ve learned to suppress that urge.
  3. Focus on structure, especially if you’re fresh out of high school, where structure is usually skimmed over. Each point should lead logically to the next, like a chain of stepping stones.
  4. Make sure you’re using the right word! People, myself included, will often throw in words that they don’t actually know to make themselves sound smarter. This is a trap because using the wrong word looks worse than using smaller words correctly.
  5. But do work to expand your vocabulary! There are plenty of apps that can help you do this. I like Magoosh’s products.
  6. And finally, find something you like to write about. Whether it’s complaining about politics, predicting the outcome of sports, or talking about MAC products, something in this world probably gets your gears spinning. So use that, and have fun!

Anna Tarnow is a senior majoring in English and enjoys working on the Pilot newspaper, where she is editor-in-chief.

Creating and controlling

by Anna-Zoë Herr

“Writing calls on the ability to create words and ideas out of yourself, but it also calls on the ability to criticize them in order to decide which ones to use.” (Peter Elbow, p. 7)

There is no doubt: the quality of the papers and essays we write depends on the depth of thought that lies behind them.

Have you ever had a moment where you confidently bashed out a large paper the night before it was due because you had a sudden flash of insight? Those moments are great when they happen, but you can’t rely on a sudden flash of insight to produce high-quality writing.

Nobody is born being a perfect writer; rather, everyone learns how to write with time and practice. That’s actually the fascinating thing about writing, you aren’t a writer simply because you are talented. Everyone has to practice to become a good writer.

You are secretly a writing machine, but you may not realize that yet. Peter Elbow has discovered that at least two distinct stages are necessary for a written piece to be excellent: creating and controlling.

He noticed that we often neglect our creating process because we are already self-censoring, which in return curbs our creativity.

While the process of controlling our ideas in order to shape them into a coherent paper needs the critical eye of the detached artist, the process of generating ideas needs a faithful listener.

If you are sitting in front of your computer, staring at an empty word document, start like this:

1) Create, create, create. That means brainstorm, entertain impossible ideas, believe in your text and yourself as never before, make notes, write drafts, make mistakes, and even jot down ideas that don’t make any sense. Don’t judge yourself. Believe in your ideas.

2) Control. Now sort through what you have. Be critical with the ideas you find. If you find an idea that’s interesting, think through it and enlarge it. Look at your ideas through the lens of your end-goal. In this stage, you also do the editing and proofreading. You are your own critic.

These stages can be mixed and mingled while you write your paper—and they should. The important thing is that they represent different states of mind when it comes to writing. We need to give time to each.

We spend time as the biggest fan of our ideas in order to develop them fearlessly, then switch to being a critic to identify the best ideas and look for ways to improve them. By separating these two mental processes we save ourselves from disappointment with our own writing and also avoid writer’s block.

 Anna-Zoë is a double major in global perspectives and studio art. She has studied in a university in Germany prior to coming to Principia, where she also studied to be a writing tutor.


Elbow, Peter. An Approach to Writing in “Writing with Power”. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.