Chicago Manual of Style realizes it’s the 21st Century, notices the internet is a thing, gets woke.

The 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is coming out this fall, and there are some monumental changes in store for history majors as well as anyone who loves footnotes. The change that is sure to cause the most ripples is the direction to no longer use “ibid” when citing a source you just cited. For those of you who don’t know, “ibid” is an abbreviation of the Latin “ibidem,” which means “in the same place.” It’s super useful when you are writing about a single source. Still, the powers that be at the Chicago Manual of Style think that “Latin” is too dead of a language for “whatever generation comes after Millennials,” so they showed “ibid” the door. As for me, I like “ibid,” and lament its loss. It makes me feel academic and historical.

Another change in the new edition is sure to cause seismic waves in the academic community (P-Waves, not S-waves). The bigwigs in Chicago have decided that it is no longer necessary to capitalize “internet,” and there is no longer any reason to insert a hyphen in “e-mail,” so “email” is now the approved syntax for electronic mail that you receive at your blank@blank.blank address. Welcome to the future, Chicago! Say hi to my mom. She’s been here for years.

The other change of note that is setting academia on fire is the proscription that the pronoun “they” instead of “he or she” is discouraged for formal writing. OK, nothing new there, but wait…there’s more! Should a human person mention that he or she would prefer the pronoun “they,” then it is ok to use since they wish it. Congratulations, Chicago. You’re accepting of the idea that gender is not binary, and may in fact be fluid, depending on the perception of the person being written about. I mean it when I say, “Welcome to the future.” You’ve been holding us back.

About that “ibid,” though…

-Patrick Botts



How to Use a Tutor

Usually when students come to the Writing Center, they sit down with a paper and a tutor asks them what they would like to discuss. However, sometimes it is helpful to interact with a tutor in other ways. Below are some of the additional ways in which you can make use of a Writing Center tutor, organized by when in the writing process you’re visiting.

Before You Have a Draft

  1. Pace Yourself. Always waiting until the last minute to write your paper? It may help to come up with a game plan ahead of time. A tutor can help guide you through the process or help create an outline.
  2. Get Mentored. Ask questions about terminology, mechanics, writing conventions, or anything else. A tutor will work with you to find the answers.
  3. Have a Sounding Board. Ever just need someone to bounce ideas off of? Then this is for you! No draft required.
  4. Ask a Specific Question. Not sure about your thesis statement? Or your transition sentences? A tutor can help you narrow your focus.
  5. The Silent Dialogue. Have a writing conference … in complete silence! Write down your conversation with your tutor, and you will be forced to state your ideas clearly and concisely. When you finish, you will have a complete transcript of your thought process.

With a Draft in Hand

  1. Specify Feedback. Ask specific questions about the parts of your paper that you would like to focus on. For example, don’t ask: “What do you think about my paper?” Ask instead: “What do you hear me saying?” or “Have I hooked you?”
  2. Hear Your Words on Another’s Lips. It may be helpful to have a tutor read your paper out loud to see if it sounds the way you intend. This helps you see if you’re being clear and getting your point across.

Once Your Draft is Returned

  1. Conduct a Post Mortem. Confused by the comments on that recently returned assignment? Bring in a paper after it’s been written, submitted, and graded to help you recognize patterns of strengths and weaknesses in all your writing.

Have a Writing Personal Trainer

  1. Make a Writing “Date.” Need some company while you write? A tutor will be your “date” — doing work alongside you and being available when you have questions or need help. Warning: tutoring is unlikely to result in a romantic relationship.
  2. Grammar Self-Assessment. Don’t know when to use a semicolon? You’re not the only one!  Save yourself from grammatical blunders by participating in a grammar self-assessment to help you learn your own strengths and weaknesses, all while sharpening your own skills.


Outlining Methods

Today, we’ve compiled some great outlining methods for writers to use in any kind of project, whether it be major projects, a final paper, a story, etc. These methods are detailed below, so enjoy!

The Synopsis Outline

 This outline is helpful when you need to ensure that you are writing a cohesive paper.

Write a brief summary of your essay that concisely presents only the most important points of your argument. Highlighting your key focal points will allow you to stay on-topic and omit any information that is irrelevant to your topic. Think of it as a “highlight reel” of your argument or a “recap” on ESPN/Sports Center.

  1. Start with the basics. Lay out the ‘building blocks’ of your argument.

Explicate the purpose of your discussion — write a clear thesis and/or topic sentence.[1]

Make a mental note of your paper’s audience; who is your reader?

  1. Identify any major connections between the main components of your supporting claims.
  2. Examine any underlying elements of your essay.

Consider thematic aspects; determine whether you have used any rhetorical devices or a specific theoretical lens that guide your discussion. If so, adhere to that approach when further developing your position.

  1. Consider the implications of your subject matter.

Does your conclusion effectively communicate the desired outcome of your discussion?   Consider the impacts of the presented outcomes.

By condensing your thoughts into a short summary, you give yourself a chance to realize what you want to focus on most, which allows you to get rid of what isn’t necessary to developing your argument. You highlight your main theme, topic, idea, or premise to demonstrate that the content of your paper’s discussion is original, interesting, and well-developed.

The In-Depth Outline

   Details, details, details! This outline is helpful for those who need to write a draft ‘on-the-fly.’

Write a detailed, descriptive summary of each point you intend to present in your argument. Pin down important details of your position. Define any/all key words and technical jargon and organize your thoughts.

Depending on the length requirements of your paper, you might need

to aim to write (up to) 10,000 words for this kind of pre-writing/outline.

Potentially prioritize outlining the elemental features of your paper like this:

  1. Sourcing your information (e.g. research, references)
  2. Developing your discussion
  3. Defining Premise(s) and approach
  4. Organizing your thoughts, details, supporting evidence, etc.



The ‘Journey’ Method

   When you want some ‘wiggle-room’ while drafting.

Discover the link from Point-A to Point-B as you write, research, and develop your draft. Identify your introduction and your (desired) conclusion. Write only these out and develop the body of the paper as you go.

  1. Define your main premise, topic, or focus.
  2. Map out the desired direction of the essay before developing a supporting argument.








       To make sure your supporting details stem from your topic and are equally effective.

Draw ‘tree-branch’ ideas, that ‘stem’ from your main topic, to visualize the interconnectedness of your thesis, main points, and supporting details. Seeing where your details fit best will help you logically organize your discussion and identify any areas of your argument that are under-developed.

Any tree-branches that are ‘sparse’ indicate the need for more information/support … (These are the branches that have less ‘leaves’ (supporting details) than the others) … You can either choose to (a): further develop that branch/point, or (b): omit that specific concept from your evidentiary claims. Whether these points are removed or further explained is up to you.


The Snowflake Method

Helps you focus on getting the ‘basics’ (fundamental points) before expanding on your topic.

See the ‘how-to’ guide here:


The Reverse Outline

Reverse outlining is an extraordinarily magical outlining method which can help any writer make sure their organization is on point, and, at least in my opinion, is one the simplest ways out outlining a paper after-the-fact.

  1. Reverse outlining only really works if you have a draft already written.
  2. Go paragraph by paragraph and pull out the main topics
    1. Start with the intro, look at your thesis. What did you argue? What were the main points you said you were going to discuss?
    2. Continue with this for each paragraph
    3. The conclusion can be tricky, as they all seem to look different. My best advice is so make sure you bring back your overall argument in a way that is not a replication of your thesis, or introduction. Tie everything together and point your reader to either a call for action, or for more research to be done.
  3. Look at the list you’ve created, are there any overlap between paragraphs? Are you repeating yourself?
  4. This is where cut and paste comes in handy… on a computer, once you’ve looked at what your paragraphs contain, you can move around information as you wish so it fits into your organizational structure.
  5. A tutor can help you decide if info is relevant, concise, or redundant.
  6. Success! Your paper has been reverse outlined, and is now organized properly, and your brain can be happy about the work you just did to keep yourself on track.



[1] See our “What’s the difference between a topic sentence and a thesis statement?” handout for more information on this. Available in The Writing Survival Guide and/or MSU Denver’s Writing Center(s)!       [COMING SOON]

Eliminating Fluff

“Wordiness” causes a whole variety of negative consequences. Efficiency can make your reader feel entertained, welcome, educated and most importantly, engaged.


Active vs. Passive Voice

Writers fall into the trap of passive voice frequently. This results in side effects like disengagement or chronological confusion.  This is not to say that passive voice is useless; writers just often overuse it. Say a writer wants to make a point definitively, they can say:

Patricia is wrong!

Although passive, the statement reflects a ‘matter-of-fact’ attitude.

Passive voice affects efficiency when it proves to be unnecessary.

Why say:

A ball was flying through the air by a pitcher who was throwing it to the catcher.

When you could just as easily say:

A pitcher threw a ball to the catcher.

Passive voice takes the subject (A ball) and has an action happen to it.

Active voice gives the action to the subject (A pitcher). It’s a matter of perspective.

So, the sentence structure looks like:

Subject-Verb-Object (Something does something to something else)

Rather than

Subject-To Be Verb (Something happens to something)

To spot passive sentences, look for To-Be Verbs:

Be, Am, Is, Are, Was, Were, Being, Been

Active voice eliminates extra words AND contains more information.




Writer’s often try to pack as much information into a sentence as they can, giving their readership as much context as possible. Writers need to trust their audience to understand what they say. Throwing in more information than necessary causes readers to feel as if they are being talked down to or makes them feel bogged down.


The doctor visited her patient.

Conveys nearly the same amount of information as:

In the hospital, the doctor, who had her PhD in Medicine, visited her patient, who was not feeling well, in a room that had a hospital bed inside.

The added prepositional phrases cause a reader to suck in a bunch of information that they could have just assumed from the simplified version. Writers must ask themselves:

Is this information necessary for my reader to understand what I am trying to say?

If it is not necessary, cut it.

Of course, prepositional phrases and dependent clauses often prove useful, but an efficient writer pays attention to when it’s useful and when it’s not.




Words like:

Really, Very and So

And even words like:

Extremely, Extraordinarily or Incredibly

Often do not convey as much information as writers intend.

Take these sentences:

The cyclops was huge.

The cyclops was really huge.

The cyclops was so huge.

The cyclops was extremely huge

Does the image change that much with each new iteration? Not really. A writer will do their readers a favor by either giving them something practical:

The cyclops towered fifty feet tall.

Or use figurative language:

Looking at the cyclops made me feel like a beadle staring up at an oak tree.

Or… cut it.

The cyclops was huge.

It’s okay. I promise. Your reader will pick up on what you are saying without ‘very’ or ‘extremely’.


Other strategies for eliminating fluff exist, but it all boils down to a writer scrutinizing their own words and asking themselves two questions:

Is this necessary for my audience to know?

If not, cut it. Please, don’t be afraid to cut.


Can I say this same thing in fewer words?

If so, do it.


Write efficiently, my friends.

William Hunter

Overcoming Writer’s block 2.0

It’s a bane of every writer’s existence. You’re chugging along, everything’s going fine, your story or essay is looking amazing, the ideas and words are just flowing, then boom! You run into a metaphorical brick wall and the idea is gone. No more words to finish your project and you’re not even halfway done. And it’s due either tomorrow or in the next hour. If you’re lucky, maybe it’s a fun project with no deadline. Doesn’t make you any less stuck, but hey! No deadlines!

Yeah, it really doesn’t make it any better.

I’ve been there before and I know how nasty it can be. Writer’s Block, caps required, is truly the bane of every writer’s existence. A running joke around some writing circles is, “You know you’re on something good when Writer’s Block gets in your way.”

So, what can you do?!

Here’s some of the best of advice I’ve gotten to break down Writer’s Block.

1. Take a breath. 

All of us, myself included, have encountered writer’s block. It’s a normal thing for writers writing anything, and we can tackle it together. But panicking tends to make everything worse. Lean back and take a few deep breaths. Heck, look up that awesome gif circling Facebook that you can breathe too. By breathing, your brain gets fresh, wonderful, oxygen and your heart rate slows. Let the panic go. We can get through this.

2. Walk away. 

Seriously. When deadlines loom, it causes panic, and panic causes writing blocks. Reversely, you have no deadline but you have been working on this thing for so long that you can’t see anything but it. Taking a moment to not think of the thing allows you to see it in new eyes when you come back. It’s okay to walk away for a bit. Really.

3. Do something that calms you for at least 15 minutes. 

Since you’re walking away, take that time to literally stop thinking about the writing. Nearly everyone has that one, calming, brain-numbing thing that you do when you are panicked, worried, or overstressed. Take a timer, set it for 15 minutes and let yourself relax in that thing. You need to take care of your mental state first before working on your writing.

4. Change your scenery. 

We’ve all been there. Hunched over a computer or a pad of paper in that one corner of the library or your home where normally, you are able to tentatively tap out your paper or story. But right now, you’ve been staring at the same spot on the wall and nothing is happening. Change it up. Take your laptop, full battery please, and go outside. Find a cafe outside your comfort zone and haunt it for a while. By changing your place of writing it gives your brain a chance to stop, find that wall, and chip away at it.

5.  Find your ending.

You have a start. Maybe you already have an outline. But you are still stuck. Instead of looking at the beginning, what’s your ending? Look over your writing as it is and see if you can find it. Or use your outline to find it. Either way, once it’s found, write it out. Sometimes, having that ending helps you get there.

6. Note card or journal your project.

You have something down. You know what you’re wanting to talk about. . . most of the time anyway. Take what you have, even if it’s the most basic information, and put it on note cards. It makes arranging your ideas flexible and gives you a visual to work off of that can change as you need them too. Journaling works well too! It gives you a chance to just write. You know your project. So write down anything and everything that comes to mind about it.

7. Change up your sounds.

Many writers swear that listening to music while writing helps them. If you’ve never tried it before, anything instrumental is really great. If your writing has a particular ‘feel’ such as fantasy story or a dry paper, you can find a soundtrack that echoes your paper. With new sounds drowning out the craziness of the world, many individuals find they can concentrate better and the Writer’s Block is battered down.

8. Change projects. 

You’ve gotten nowhere with this one. Try switching to a different project, writing or otherwise. If you are writing a story, try googling up some writing prompts. Working through a new problem or prompt can sometimes serve as a battering ram to Writer’s Block. It exercises your brain and can occasionally give you new ideas to work with.

9. Take care of yourself for a moment. 

Seriously. Get food, go for a run or work out, take a nap, and have a shower. Be it a snack or a four-course meal, please eat. Working out or going for a walk helps your brain release the ‘feel good’ hormones. Sleep is needed too. And showers, while not needed, are refreshing. Many writers will drive themselves into the ground trying to beat up Writer’s Block. Do yourself a big favor and take care of yourself first. This alone can shatter that wall hiding your writing.

10. Ask for help.

You’ve tried everything you can think of on your own and nothing works. That’s where friends, family, classmates, and the tutors of the Writing Center come in. Giving your piece to someone else to read and talk over is immeasurably helpful. Even published authors have done this. If you don’t have a friend or family member to draw from, the tutors of the Writing Center are happy to be that sounding board.

11. Last and most importantly: Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft.

It will be okay. Not one single writer is perfect. Somedays the stars align, your luck is perfect, and you are able to write a great project on the first try. When those days come around, buy a lotto ticket. Many times, the first draft is the worst. And that’s okay! You got the first draft of your thing, DONE. You can always edit or rewrite it later. Just get a draft on paper.

Writer’s Block is a horrible thing. And no matter what happens, it’s going to come around again. By giving your brain a break, it will reward you by tearing down that wall and letting your creativity flow.

If you’ll excuse me, I have a wall of my own to tear down. Happy Writing!

-Neko Sawyer

English Composition: What can it do for me?

Will English Composition make you more successful? It certainly can in many facets of life, today I’ll only highlight 3, however rest assured the answers to this question are nearly limitless. Through out my writing journey, I have found that, as I improve in my composition skills, more doors open up for me.

1. English Composition skills can help you stand out while applying for jobs
Whether you’re on the hunt for a blue collar job while you’re attending school, or you’ve just graduated and you’re looking for your first job in the professional field, being able to convey your want and your need for a job, is incredibly important. Cover letters and strategically arranged resumes are a must to make you stand out in the job field in which you wish to be apart of. Knowing how to utilize your strengths in written form is something many people struggle with, including this author. However there is a ton of advice out there, not only in a bookstore, but online, and bonus, if you’re a student, you can ask one of your fantastic professors some advice. After all, their resume landed them a job at the university you chose to attend, they might just have a really great piece of advice for you. Employers know what they want in an individual who may work for them. They have a perfect job candidate in mind, which is why job postings and descriptions can be so specific, but through composition and a bit of reading, you can build a cover letter that speaks directly to the hiring manager, letting them know that you took time out to think about the company’s needs, and how you fit into that mold. Composition can be the tipping point between landing that perfect, and having to continue to look for something else.

2. English Composition can help with organization
There are many ways that writing helps with organization, however I will only highlight a few. A lot of times our busy lives fluster us into disorganization, but writing lists can be a great way to not only figure out what you have to do and when it needs to be done, relieving the brain of unwanted stress is good for the mind and body alike. Many people think that composition consists of writing great prose, or writing down the next profound piece of literature, but that’s not all it is. Sometimes, just like a great essay, which properly organized and tied together neatly, organizing the life requires a much different kind of composition. One that is quick snippets of information to make the life easier, and these snippets can make a world of difference later on when you do have to write those long essays. Knowing how to organize your brain in written form can aid in the knowing how to structure things like outlines (which are just thoughts) into easy road maps for essays.

3.Communication Skills
The English language is an interesting language, oral and written communication are directly tied together, and there is no lack of the study of what language is and what it does. When we communicate with one another, we do it in a few different ways now, online platforms, through text, over the phone, or face-to-face (which includes things like face time and Skype). Yes there are other ways, but these are the most popular in 2018. Most often than not people connect with others through social media like Facebook and twitter, and because of this written communication is one of the strongest communication choices we utilize. We have changed the way we communicate because of these entities, with things like shortening ideas so they are concise enough to convey over Twitter. Learning how to be as concise as possible through written communication is not something that was always popular, but still seems to be way a huge amount of our population chooses to communicate. Composition is a great way to connect through these sites with people who are across the country or across the world, which globalizes us more and more each time we reach out with our writing.

Of course, writing is my passion, and of course, I want it to be yours too. English Composition is so amazing in its ability to get you what you want in life. Communication is vital to our society, and knowing how to be successful through writing is a necessity in life. Happy Writing.

-Aubrey Baucum


They haunt class announcements and announcement boards. They haunt CV categories. They haunt department-wide or even campus-wide emails. They are…Conferences!
Yes, those dreaded events that are the combination of rich citations, boring topics, and public speaking. Those pillars of privilege in which ivory tower nerds can use 5 syllable words to discuss two lines of a poem in its original Genovian or whatever. And yet, professors herald them as the key to networking, to a job, and to nirvana. Okay that’s far but you get it.
Conferences seem these daunting figures that hold the key to career success. Whether networking for creative publication or academic pursuits, a key step seems to be speaking at these events. But are they truly that terrible? What kind of genius insight or idea must one slave over to earn a spot? And is it all dry shut ins getting in fights about Elvish translation? Having freshly returned two weeks ago from the Southwest Pop Culture Association Conference (hereon referred to as Swapaca) in ABQ, NM, allow me to give my thoughts on the process.

1. Conference selection and Concrete Abstraction
The first step is finding out who is looking for writing and/or what genre you’re interested in presenting. Find an interesting journal in Auraria Library? Odds are they have a conference. Definitely ask around campus or journal editors to find conferences friendly for first timers. Being at Auraria Campus, there is a bounty of options including one coming this April taking submissions through March 11, submit today!
If you are inclined toward presenting in the ABQ I can say that Swapaca is very kind to its presenters.
So, let’s say you’ve found a friendly looking conference. Now comes the hang up of what to present. Your old papers were so specific, and few care about the exact fandom in which you find yourself. Well, let me tell you about calls for paper. There are calls for near every type of paper imaginable. Medieval LGBT poetry? Got it. Science and Harry Potter? Got it. Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the Culture of Riffing? Got it, in fact it was this one that caught my gaze in October 2017. I had spent too much time watching riffers on YouTube (still do by the way) and figured the least I could do was count it all as research and present my abstract. While I am no master in the genre of abstract (as I’d figure no one could be), my simplest research confirms every recommendation before it. Explain your argument or summarize your story concisely without needing to fill the 500-word standard. Both of my accepted abstracts centered around 250 words.
And I am aware of the crucial modifier there, “accepted.” Hearing your submission has been rejected can break your heart. And it has happened to everyone. Your peers, your professors, and even your author have been rejected. Just as in a job interview, know that their decision is not rooted in failure or perception of intelligence. It is simply a matter of hitting a topic their audience will dig.
2. Uncredited Homework and Financers
Congratulations! Your abstract has been accepted! Now fork over a couple hundred so we can let you present. I admit the costs associated with conference travel and the event itself do nothing to help the image of the elitist academic. A good option provided a couple of hours work is asking for money from the Student Travel Committee with a faculty advisor, other students, and conference cost stats in tow. (Note: coming in with a group is always preferable to a solo student, both financially and marketingly.) Several conferences have scholarships for travel as well. Otherwise, start saving and plan on a diet of power bars during the trip.
The other thing your acceptance has given you is a two-part homework assignment: 1) complete a more-than-competently polished piece of creative or academic work and 2) be able to talk about it engagingly for 10-20 minutes. Going into the conference I figured most would opt out of part 2 but was pleasantly surprised as a majority of presenters talked about their research rather than reciting it. Accompanying PowerPoints may have varied in quality, but as a whole all of the scholars presented their work as if it were something they actually cared about and hoped you would too. A scholar reading head down in podium will be forgotten, so learn to engage with your topic and make it engaging.
3. The Main Event
Accompanying this may be a bad travel video that I implore you to avoid. Carpooling is always preferable to the solo road trip. But that’s really irrelevant to the whole process and at least provides a rest bit to gather your thoughts. The key things to pack is an adapter if you’re using AV and your paper. Whenever you arrive, take a second to swing by the room you’ll be presenting in. If at all possible, try practicing your piece. Having a solid view of the room will calm nerves. Get a good night’s rest, eat breakfast, and wear something that makes you feel like a boss.
Attend as many panels as you can and diversify. By seeing other presenters you can get a good feel for the tone of the conference. Often there are sessions that are more interactive than listening to a series of papers. At Swapaca I attended a panel on teaching that used a Dungeon Crawl to teach philosophy. It was baller. The hour before your presentation, it is a-okay to take time and practice your presentation and get hydrated.
Now, I hate to be the pragmatist, but I do need to address one thing that would have helped me going in. It is okay if only two people show up. It is worth it to present and hear your own labor unfold. To see your peers from across the country or the world and absorb their passion as well. It also will be okay if your room is cramming to fit in. These people are here largely because they are interested. There are the few who want to pick a fight or prove their superiority. But that’s in their bucket. Keep to your points, look up every now and again, and remember to breathe.
Congratulations, you have presented at a conference. You now have the right to advise others as if you truly know what you are talking about.

-Cassie Reid

From Spoken to Written Word: the Quest for Clarity

There is a difference between the way we speak and the way we write. There are several reasons for this, and when we write, we must shift into a different mode of expressing ourselves in order to effectively convey meaning. When we speak, what we say is guided by the contributions of the person/people we’re conversing with. When we write, what we say is guided by our imagined needs of the reader; we must be clear and succinct without the immediate feedback of someone else. We don’t know how our writing will be interpreted, so we have to work a little harder to be clear right off the bat. In a quest for written clarity, one of the most profound differences between spoken and written communication is the establishment of context.
Everything we express happens within in a certain context. Often, we speak in the context of shared knowledge with someone or group of people. You don’t have to verbally provide context when you’re interacting with someone who already shares prior knowledge with you. For instance, you might be cooking a meal together with family. Your cousin is chopping onions while you’ve been measuring other ingredients, and you ask “Done yet?”. “Done yet?” is a question without a clear subject or object, but we don’t have to say “I was wondering if you were done chopping the onions yet,” because all of that additional information is knowledge you already share with your cousin. You share the same context. Your cousin knows you’re referring to the onions when you ask “done yet?” even though you don’t say it explicitly. We don’t have to be so specific when speaking within a context based on shared knowledge.
In contrast, clear writing requires specificity when your audience doesn’t share prior knowledge with you, because it will be read out of context. If we were writing about this cooking situation, we would need to establish context for the reader: “I was cooking with my family last night and my cousin was taking a long time to finish preparing the ingredients. Impatient to eat, I asked him ‘Are you done chopping those onions yet?!’” The information that is missing from spoken context must be incorporated into written communication.

What you write will be read in the context of your reader’s subjective experience. It will be read in the context of their day, their mood, their life. Your reader isn’t likely to be invested in what you’re saying unless you have done the work to establish a different context for them. Once something is written down, it takes on a life of its own. It is something from your mind that has been defined and made manifest into a shared reality, with a potentially infinite audience. Writing is how our internal thoughts, ideas, and feelings are given voice and become part of concrete reality. Someone could stumble upon your writing 100 years from now and its meaning could be and completely misconstrued. It isn’t enough to write so you’ll be understood; you must write so you won’t be misunderstood. Written material can be read repeatedly and closely analyzed, so clarity is paramount for avoiding ambiguity and misinterpretation.
When we speak with one another, what we say and the order we say things is usually governed by the person/people you’re in a conversation with. When we write, we have to anticipate the needs and curiosities of the reader to guide what we say, instead of having someone prompt us for clarification or additional details. When we speak to someone, we have an idea of how well the other person understands what we’re saying based on their questions:
A costumer might ask a salesperson “I’m looking for new headphones, can you help me?”, and the salesperson asks “Over-the-ear or earbuds?”. The customer says “earbuds”. The salesperson then asks, “What is the most important thing to you when it comes to headphones? Comfort? Sound-quality?” and the customer replies “comfort”. Through someone’s questioning in a conversation, we provide more and more detail based on the other person’s need for understanding. When we write, however, we must determine ourselves what details to include based on our imagined needs of the reader. If someone was to write on social media to get feedback about headphones, they would need to set a context and provide detail within their writing: “Looking for new earbuds, comfort a MUST. Any suggestions?”. All of the information gathered over the course of a 3-question conversation must be included in the written piece all at once.

Writing must also be more succinct than speech, because when we speak, we have the opportunity to quickly correct ourselves. When we write something, we have made a definite statement. When we speak, we will often arrive at our intended meaning by correcting ourselves several times over the course of a conversation. In conversation we might say something like: “I don’t really listen to EDM that much. I mean, kind of. I guess I sometimes listen to it, but not, like, all the time. Maybe every other day? But sometimes I’ll get in a mood and listen to it every morning when I get up”. Or someone might say “I think Washington Park is my favorite park. Oh, wait. No. I mean Cheesman Park, sorry, I always get those two mixed up”.  If we wrote all of the self-corrections we make in speech, our reader would struggle to keep track of what we’re saying. We expect that writing has already boiled down our ideas to their most accurate and succinct form. Writing is a longer process than speaking, because it can be really hard work trying to figure out exactly what we’re trying to say and translate that into complete, coherent thoughts.

So, when I gave feedback on your assignment that there were “too many vague statements”, I think the disconnect that may have happened was transitioning from the demands of verbal communication to written communication. Clarity is our top priority in all genres and situations when we write. Clarity in writing results from anticipating the needs of our reader. As we transition between spoken word and written word, we must be aware of the differences in our approach to communication. Establishing a context for your writing, providing relevant detail, and being succinct are ways to bridge the gap between what we speak and what we write. Writing clearly demands a shift mindset to one that constantly has your imagined reader in mind; assume they need thorough explanation, and that they do not already share your knowledge.

-Erienne Romaine

Thesis Statements and how to navigate them

As a tutor, questions about thesis statements arise constantly. Composing arguments, research classes, and classes outside of the English curriculum dictate thesis statements to be solidified objects in introductory paragraphs, normally occurring towards the end, and for the sake of basic academic style and format, I will agree. There are other places to put your thesis, but that will be a different post… When tackling a thesis statement, there are so many different paths to take, from picking a topic, to exploring the different perspectives within the argument you wish to pose, to defining the argument that needs to be addressed. Remember that a 1…2…3…list cannot be applied for all arguments, and it is always best to play around with arguments and pose them to your classmates, or mentors, or professors… (they hold specific interest in your thesis being awesome). Rhetorical statements are a crucial part to academic life, and it is necessary to understand and be able to implement certain methods to have a fail-safe approach to creating outstanding thesis statements throughout your college career. Below is some fantastic advice about different things to keep in mind when up against having to create an original thesis statement. And like always, if you, the reader, has anything to add, it is entirely welcome. We love to hear from our readers!

1. Know your topic:

How on Earth will you create an argument out of thin air that has merit? You won’t. The only way to start it to immerse yourself in research. When our teachers ask us for “at least 5 and no more than 7 sources,” there’s a reason for it…  When we read multiple articles on a subject we are inquiring about, it is for the purpose of knowledge and for the purpose of furthering or explaining the research. Reading your articles will help with your overall essay, not only your thesis, so it’s best to start here….

2. Create a general statement that can be argued:

Is your statement controversial, or is your statement common knowledge? Thesis Statements depend whether or not you can adequately argue what has been stated, and depending on the topic, theses can range from informational, to purely rhetorical or argumentative. Did you learn any new concepts or did you notice any themes throughout your research? A great tip to remember is, if you’re having trouble finding sources, look at your favorite piece of research and look at their reference list. This is a great way to find primary sources, and to find out how research originated. Another way, is to visit your college or local library and speak with a reference librarian. Reference Librarians have a degree that makes them absolute experts in the library and with all things research. At MSU Denver we are privilege to all the expanding services the Auraria Library is offering, including The Knowledge Market, Research Help, and a full array of Digital Collections to aid your research needs.

3. Hone

Once you have your general thesis statement and you turn it into your professor, they may come back with the response as to hone or “condense” or “edit” your thesis statement. This is totally okay, espeically since most professors ask to look at topics and thesis statements before any writing happens. This saves all writers from writing something that is irrelevant or incorrect. Please remember that ALL thesis statements are working statements and are not set in stone. This trips a lot of writers up… but just remember, everything you type or write CAN BE CHANGED!!!!! Nothing is set and if your research leads to a different conclusion than you originally thought, then GREAT!! All you have to do now is revamp your thesis so it fits the rest of your paper. (p.s. this is what writing tutors are for…)

4. Revisit

Once you’ve written your essay you can go back and revisit everything that your research has concluded… Once this happens, like stated above, you are able to revisit your thesis and see if it truly fits with the research you have provided on the topic. Tweak where necessary, and if you still aren’t sure with the final product, come to the MSU Denver Writing Center! We’ll give you a second opinion!


Happy Writing!

Aubrey Baucum••