Writing Tips
How and Why to Become a Better Writer
James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Geography
Revised: January 19, 2007


Examples Organization Writing Better Format
Common writing problems from students, my own writing, and even publications. This is a guide to the marks I put on student papers. How to use headings, outlines, and paragraphs effectively. Avoiding mistakes is not enough. Becoming a good writer is a lifestyle choice. Because I evaluate hundreds of student papers each year, I must insist on a simple and common format. Please -- use a staple!

Good writing is the best evidence of clear thinking.
Good writing is also hard work!
It pays to be articulate!

Good writing can lead to better speaking.

"Writing enables one to take ideas floating in the brain and give them a tangible existence."
~~Anonymous student in Dr. Crawford's EN102-H1 Class
"Those who do not read are no better off than those who cannot read."
~~Abigail "Dear Abby" Van Buren 
"The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

~~Dr. Seuss, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut

In studies of what causes people to fail to obtain jobs, poor writing is always cited as a leading reason. In my own experience, excellent writing is a prized skill in the workplace. The purpose of this document is to help students in my courses to use the writing assignments to improve their writing. For more comprehensive help than I provide here, I encourage you to explore the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.

I also highly recommend Ricciardi's Chocolate Cake for Dinner Rules, by Bridgewater Professor Cynthia Ricciardi, in which she explains why and how to make writing leaner and better.

Hayes-Boh's Five Writing Peeves

Over the course of a semester, the exchange of assignments and feedback enables students to improve their writing. The "Examples " page is a guide to many of the common problems with student writing that we address through this process. Some problems are more important than others, and I want to eliminate them from the outset. Papers will not be accepted if they involve any of the following:

  1. It's: This is not a word. See the it's example for an explanation. Professors actually talk about this at parties, so peeved are we!
  2. My paper is going to be about ...: Apparently this is a common way to introduce papers in high school, but it is not acceptable in professional or academic writing. Besides using the first person, it creates a very weak opening. It is better simply to introduce the topic directly. Variations such as "The article I chose is about ..." or "The topic I chose is ..." are also not acceptable.
  3. Folded corners. Papers need to be stapled in the corner, as indicated on the format page. Folded corners or paper clips are not acceptable.
  4. Lack of citation. Failure to cite sources fully is plagiarism. A citation -- whether of an article, a book, or a web site -- must be complete enough to lead the reader back to the source. A domain name or web site address is not the same as an URL. For example, webhost.bridgew.edu is not the URL of this page. The complete URL is http://webhost.bridgew.edu/jhayesboh/NOT13TH/writing.htm.
  5. Misidentified titles. Articles and books are not cited the same way. Learn the difference at the titles example .

Becoming a Better Writer 

Return to my Not-the-13th-Grade page.
Any questions? Contact me at jhayesboh@bridgew.edu .
James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
Bridgewater State College