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Language and Writing Center: Overcoming Writing Problems

Having Trouble Starting Your Assignment? Use a Chart to Demystify Your Assignment!

Breaking down the question(s) in your assignment

  1. Read your assignment question carefully as soon as you receive it. Make sure to approach your instructor if there's anything in the instructions that you do not understand. Delaying this process until the last minute usually leads to students too embarrassed to ask for clarification.
  2. Discern what type of assignment you've been assigned. Underline the central verb or verbs that describe the questions that you are expected to answer.
  3. Use the chart below to understand how your instructor wishes you to approach answering your question.
  Informational Relational Interpretation

 

What type of question is the instructor asking?

 

Information words ask you to show what you know about a subject. Think of these types of questions as asking about the 5 W's (who, what, where, when and why).                                                                                                                                                                

 

Relation words ask you to demonstrate how things are connected.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 

Interpretation words ask you to present and defend your own ideas. Do not just give your opinion on a subject without providing evidentiary support. You will be expected to draw from examples, principles, concepts and definitions from either class lectures, class readings or your own research to make your argument.

 

 

Active verbs, key terms to look for in your assignment's question.

Define

Explain

Illustrate

Summarize

Trace

Research

Classify

Compare

Contrast

Apply

Cause

Relate

Synthesize

Assess

Analyze

Interpret

Prove, Justify

Evaluate, Respond

Support

Synthesize

Analyze

Argue

Discuss

Evaluate

Reflect

 

Having Trouble Keeping Going? Try Establishing a Writing Practice!

Many writers struggle with completing their work.  Below are tips and articles on alleviating these difficulties through establishing regular writing habits.

  1. Identify the time of day when you feel most inspired or productive: Are you a morning writer? A night writer? An afternoon writer? Think about what time of day you're the most alert and able to devote time for writing. Keep in mind it is possible to write multiple times of day for different things. You can have a morning journaling practice and then be an evening academic writer. All is possible! 
  2. Identify a setting that works best for you: Some people work best in crowded coffee shops. Others work best in quiet rooms like library study rooms, home offices, or bedrooms. Wherever you work, feel free to set the scene. Do you work best with silence, or is there a type of music that puts you in the mood to write?  Are there particular objects, scents, lighting that inspire creativity? Think about what setting, sounds, and objects would help you feel most productive. 
  3. Ground yourself: Before beginning, sit in your chair, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. By inviting breath into your writing, you are doing the necessary work of grounding yourself. As mind and body become one, the sacred purpose of what you need to write gains greater clarity. Breathing is a great way to sublimate the anxiety produced by deadlines, imposter syndrome, and so many other things that become stumbling blocks to actually doing the work of writing. 
  4. Set a reasonable goal for how many words you want to write: Experts say 500 words a day is doable. Anything more is harder to sustain consistently. 
  5. Begin and repeat daily: The key to developing a writing habit is identifying the factors that will lead to success and being consistent.

Below are different perspectives on how to establish a writing routine:

Don't Know Where to Start? Just Start Writing!

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.

~Anne Lamott

In a section of Bird by Bird, her 1994 book on writing, Anne Lamott argues that writing "shitty first drafts" is not just common amongst writers, but is also an effective way of producing good final works:

1. Do some research.

2. Then, just write your ideas down.  They do not need to be terribly organized or well-written at this point.

3. Take a break.  Sleep on it if you can.

4. Return to the draft.  Cut out, fill in, add, and move around what you can to make it a little better.

5. Return to step 3 and re-proceed from there until you get to a good draft.

Tips to Combatting Writer's Block

Writers Block happens to the best of us. It is not because people are simply uncreative. The stressors of everyday living, the amount of things that demand our attention on a daily basis, can already compound anxieties and insecurities about our own writing. Yet writers block does not have to get you down. There are ways of utilizing brainstorming techniques, writing exercises, and organizational methods that get the brain going on writing that short assignment, research paper, or final paper.

Almost Finished and Worried You Missed Something? Make an Assignment Checklist!

Pilots and surgeons keep checklists to reduce human error.  Why not writers?

Completing assignments in seminary can be a daunting task.  Standards differ from professor to professor. The type and depth of writing one might be asked to do can vary from week to week.  It can be hard to intuit what are baseline expectations that can be applied across the board.  Moreover, we are all capable of making mistakes and overlooking requirements and errors.  One strategy for handling these difficulties is to devise a checklist for your assignment.

​​​Checklist PNG courtesy Halfwitty

  1. Did I read the assignment instructions carefully? Do I know the assignment due date? Do I understand what I am being asked to turn in?
  2. Did I give myself enough time to write my assignment? Did I plan in advance to do the necessary reading or prep work before sitting down to actually write?
  3. Did I stick to the parameters of the assignment? Page or word limits? Specific course materials that are supposed to be included?
  4. Did I use Turabian/Chicago (citation method) consistently throughout my assignment?
  5. Did I cite anything I referenced that was not my original thoughts? Even if its not a direct quotation?
  6. Did I clearly articulate my point of view? Did I avoid rambling, run on sentences, getting too far off topic? Did I answer the question?
  7. Did I include a list of works cited or a bibliography at the end of my assignment?
  8. Did I proofread or edit my submission before turning it in?