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Writing Center

Writing Resources

 

Habits of Effective Writers

 
 

1. Organize and argue. Good writing is about raising important issues, making persuasive arguments, and marshalling evidence. The key to expressing your ideas effectively is sound organization. Follow a logical design and build your paper with clear sentences and coherent paragraphs. See The Essentials of Writing, “The Writing Process” and on unity.

 “u”
unity

“ev”
evidence

 

2. Be concise. William Zinsser writes, "Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon." Ruthless editing of unnecessary words, phrases, and sentences will improve your writing dramatically.  See The Essentials of Writing on jargon; the Writing Center handout "Sentence Revision." "w"
wordiness
3. Write what you mean. Know what you mean, know the meaning of words, and choose the words that precisely express your thoughts.  See The Essentials of Writing on diction; the Writing Center handout “Commonly Confused Words.” "d"
diction
4. Write with force. Express your ideas directly and gracefully. Vague words hide good arguments, but they don't camouflage bad ones. Using strong verbs in the active voice will make your writing more forceful. Keep subject and verb close together.  See The Essentials of Writing on active voice;  the Writing Center handout "Sentence Revision." “awk”
awkward
5. Write for a reader. Your professors are a captive audience.  In your professional life, you will not have this luxury.  Most readers are busy and impatient, and you will lose them quickly if you make their job difficult. Develop the habit of reading your writing as another person might read it.  Read your sentences aloud.  Test your work on readers, including the peer tutors at the Writing Center.  See The Essentials of Writing on audience and primer style.  
6. Revise and rewrite. The bad news is that writing is hard work.  The good news is that with hard work you will become an effective writer.  Make drafts a habit, even when they are not required. In addition to editing on screen, edit hard copies of your drafts in the cold light of day. Use the Writing Center.  See Essentials of Writing, “The Writing Process”; the Writing Center handout "Revision Strategies."  
7. Avoid common errors. Rules of grammar organize communication, and your readers will judge you by your knowledge of these rules.  On the reverse side of this page are common errors.  Learn to avoid them. Learn other rules of grammar by paying careful attention to comments on your paper and asking questions about comments that you do not understand.  

Common Errors

 
1. Sentences.  A sentence has a subject and a predicate. Do not link two sentences with a comma or run together two sentences with no punctuation. See The Essentials of Writing on fragment and run-on. “f”  fragment
"r"  run-on
2. Punctuation.  Use a comma to separate two independent clauses separated by and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet.  Use a comma after an introductory phrase or clause.  Use a semicolon between two independent clauses not separated by one of these conjunctions.  See The Essentials of Writing ; the Writing Center handouts “Punctuation Patterns,” "Sentence Revision,” and “Five Comma Rules.” "p"
punctuation

 

3. Agreement.  A singular subject takes a singular verb; a plural subject takes a plural verb.  Use a singular pronoun with a singular antecedent and a plural pronoun with a plural antecedent.  Some singular pronouns to remember: anyone, each, either, everyone.  See The Essentials of Writing; the Writing Center handout "Sentence Revision." "agr"
agreement
4. Parallel Construction.  Sentence elements connected by idea should be expressed in similar form.  See The Essentials of Writing; the Writing Center handout "Sentence Revision." "pll"
parallelism
5. Tense.  Use verb tenses correctly and consistently.  See The Essentials of Writing; the Writing Center handout "Tense."  "t"
tense
6. Voice.  Use the active voice, in which the subject acts, unless you have a good reason to use the passive voice. See The Essentials of Writing; the Writing Center handouts “Sentence Revision” and “Use Active Voice.” “pv”
passive voice
7. Pronoun Reference.  Avoid the vagueness of pronouns, especially at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs. Rather than write "This is" or "It is," use as subject the noun that is the actual subject of your sentence.  See The Essentials of Writing; the Writing Center handout “Sentence Revision.” “p.ref.”
pronoun reference
8. Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers.  Misplaced modifiers are words or phrases that, due to incorrect placement, refer to the wrong word in the sentence.  Dangling modifiers do not refer to any word in the sentence.  See Essentials of Writing; the Writing Center handout “Sentence Revision.” “mp” “da”
misplaced or dangling
modifier
9. Citation. Use citations in the proper form to document your use of other writers’ words and ideas.  Plagiarism is a violation of the Hamilton College Honor Code.  See The Essentials of Writing; the Writing Center handouts “MLA Documentation,” “Footnotes,” and “Using Sources.” “cite”
citation
10. Other errors. “X” marks the spot for other errors.  Ask your professor what’s wrong, or do the detective work yourself. “x”
other errors