Writing Quality

Hi All,

Welcome to your writing quality resource page

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  This page is meant for all students of any age, but most specifically for those taking any of my classes.  I would like everybody to immediately begin a writing improvement project and keep that going until each paper has a solid argument, logical organization, evidence from peer-reviewed journals, and is free of all basic grammatical and mechanical errors.

Think about writing like you think about dressing for important events.  Important events require clean, matching clothing that fits the occasion.  It is embarrassing to wear stained or mismatched clothing.  Like clothing, our writing makes an impression on those who view it.  Unlike clothing, it may not be very easy to see which parts of our writing are ugly or damaged.  The reason writing can be difficult to improve is that there are more than 300 different elements whereas a minimalistic wardrobe has about 35 items.  To help reduce the problem space for writing improvement, please see my “Writer’s Improvement List” below.  This list contains the most common problems and solutions I’ve seen while teaching undergraduate and graduate psychology courses.

In spite of the challenge, just decide that you want your writing to look like a good suit or dress rather than a pile of dirty laundry.  Impressions matter and if you make a good first impression with your opening statements, people will continue to read.  The more people read, the more of your voice people will hear.

Requests to student authors:  I would like every writer to focus on clarity and conciseness.  As a reader, I want to see clearly stated arguments, logically organized supporting evidence, evidence from peer-reviewed journals, and the author’s interpretations and conclusions along the way.  I do not want to see basic writing errors, word usage errors, disorganization, or jargon and unnecessarily fancy words. If you have an excellent vocabulary and wit to match, then by all means have fun and write as you will.  However, I am much more interested in being able to rapidly assess student papers for topic comprehension and writing skill.

Do not worry about being a great writer, just worry about getting the right message to the right audience in a way that makes you seem credible and worth listening to.

Please make weekly efforts to find and improve at least one element of writing.  Please make this your first priority.

Why focus so much on writing? The main answer is that few people will care if you have any specific piece of knowledge, but many people will care if you are able to organize thoughts, think critically, and explain ideas clearly.  General thinking and communication skills are simply more important than raw knowledge even while we need to make strong and consistent efforts to expand our knowledge base.  Weak communication skills also disparage the knowledge you work very hard to obtain.  Nobody will listen to poorly constructed, poorly articulated messages.  If you want people to pay attention or if you need to advocate for anyone, pour your efforts into the study of reading, reasoning, argumentation, and writing skills.

I hope you are now committed to starting and maintaining your personal writing improvement plan.  However, where should anyone start?  What elements should any person work on?  The easiest way to find the elements is to begin looking through every module on the Purdue Writing Laboratory’s general writing guides and APA format guides.  There are about 300 modules so don’t expect to view them quickly.  Instead, just pick one per week and improve your writing one manageable step after the next.  You will be amazed with your improvements over the months and years.

Whose job is this?  Writing improvement is up to you.  Each student needs to analyze their own writing for everything from the big picture to the smallest details.  After writing a first draft, these quality control concerns become the top priority.

Quality checking the big picture includes asking yourself (or others) if readers can quickly and easily identify the primary message and each of the major supporting arguments.  Does the introduction begin by catching the readers attention, identifying the topic, presenting the thesis and setting expectations for what will come next?  All papers must be about something so begin by clarifying the big picture, primary goals, and setting expectations for what readers will see.

The mid-level concerns include the logical organization of sections, arguments, paragraphs, the use of accurate sources and proper referencing (scholarship).  Note that scholarship does not matter much if the ideas are as well organized as a bowl of spaghetti.  I get quite a few spaghetti papers that have some of the right ideas, but those ideas were just dropped onto the paper in the order they appeared to the writer’s fatigued mind.  “Done is better than perfect”, but expect low grades for disorganized thought.

Quality checking the micro level is our final concern and includes improving sentence structure, sentence clarity, word order within sentences, spelling, correct word choice (vocabulary), and any other grammatical or mechanical errors noted on the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory.  Subject/verb agreement is one such micro level problem that many student papers contain.

Action Items for Current Students

To make regular progress on your writing improvement plan, please take the following actions.

A) Begin a weekly journal for improvement actions and outcomes.  Add at least the following information to your journal entries:

  1. Your personal discoveries from researching and writing each paper – what was new to you?
  2. Your list of writing improvement goals for the week OR for the class – your choice (For guidance on typical goals, please see the spreadsheet of skills below.)
  3. Your self-assessment of improvement on those goals. How much did you improve that element of writing?  For example, if your goal was to improve paragraph structure, how well organized are your paragraphs compared to prior work?
  4. If the assignment has a rubric, please include your self-assessment of how work fits the grading criteria as noted on the rubric.  This serves 2 functions: focusing writer’s on the requested written products, and ensuring that everybody sees all parts of the assignments.

In addition to working on standard assignments and topics given to you, I also encourage everybody to write personal essays on topics that interest you.  Create a portfolio of your positions on topics that matter and as you write for yourself, this should help you write for others.  It will also capture many of your ideas while prompting new ones.  Systematically examining beliefs leads us to many useful questions, new research, new opinions, and the ability to articulate these ideas to others.

Additional thoughts on writing and free online resources.

Writing is one of the most powerful forms of human thought and communication. It is an art, a science, a tool, and an end in and of itself. This page is devoted to helping students become better writers.

For most college-level writing, the point is to choose and grow an idea to its full conception. To achieve this goal, writers will find or create an idea to discuss, expand on the supporting points, arguments and evidence, and then refine the work for a specific audience. This process of ideation, expansion, focus and editing can be illustrated with Salvidor Dali’s painting at right. I encourage everyone to write papers that efficiently make the range of necessary points for a specific audience.

To gain respect and communicate clearly, writing must be a) about one or more clear ideas, b) concise (no unnecessary words), c) logically organized, d) thematically organized, e) factually accurate, f) fair and balanced, g) nearly error free (grammar/mechanics).

Please use the ideas here to progressively improve your writing. The following documents and information maps show you what most people need most help with. Fix these first and your writing will become respectable, your thinking more clear, your messages will more likely be heard, and your grades will improve.
  [Free images from https://pixabay.com, thanks Pixabay!!]

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Resources

Use the link below to self-diagnose your papers. Find and fix the category of mistake or the specific mistake.

Writer’s Improvement Topic List

Visual Map of Sites

 

Writing Quality, by pag101

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