Category Archives: Academic Writing

Why write well?

Non-English majors in undergraduate composition courses may wonder why writng well matters. Teachers and tutors can argue for future usefulness until we’re blue in the face, but I think we might do better to answer students’ apprehensions with an example.

In a section of her book One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, journalist Rebecca Mead describes a decrepit old house in a tiny Wisconsin town:

One splintered house at the low end of town, near the riverbank, seems some time ago to have buckled to its knees like a drunk, and having decided there was nothing much worth standing up for after that, simply stayed in that position.

Let’s ask our students what the difference is between the preceding sentence and this one: A house near the river has started to collapse.

Then, we address their concern directly: You should endeavor to write as well as you can because … well, why wouldn’t you?


How Can I Avoid Plagiarism?

Many tutees — and academic writers, in general — are concerned about plagiarism. Not only are they (rightly) intent on making sure their own arguments are not lost among or confused with those of their sources, but they also are keenly aware that the penalties for plagiarism are numerous: failing grades, removal from courses, and lingering stigma in one’s academic community. Therefore, students spend much of their composition time agonizing over summaries, paraphrases, and direct quotations, often sacrificing time that could be used developing their own arguments.

Sadly,¬† because the stakes are so high, many writers develop anxiety about proper documentation. Here are a few online resources I’ve found so far that I hope will assist writers in the never-ending quest to avoid plagiarism.


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