All Knowledge Helps

All Knowledge Helps

When writing an essay on, say, recommended marketing strategies for a startup business, you might think that only business, financial, or other directly related knowledge will be helpful. But consider some other factors, other areas of knowledge that may be useful:

What? Yes, philosophy. Every business has one. In short, it’s simply the way of thinking that translates to how a business decides to conduct itself. Its marketing, management, HR, and other components will necessarily adhere to a specific philosophy.

In today’s world, some computer knowledge is almost indispensable. For example, in marketing a business, you’ll probably want a website. You might also want to invest in search engine optimization (SEO), so that your site will rank higher in search engine results. A shortcut to this would be to use Google AdWords or something similar.

Arts and Literature:
How can this possibly be business-related? If you are a wordsmith, your advertising and other copy will read better—this is true for websites, promotional materials, sales letters, etc.

If you are up on tax law and other regulations, you’re ahead of the game. Many small business owners find such things out too late.

So, let’s consider how the above skills may help in writing about marketing strategies for a startup company…

A company’s philosophy should more or less follow a utilitarian approach. In other words, do whatever works. However, an organization would also do well to adhere to the Categorical Imperative, which, in effect, is more or less a restatement of the Golden Rule.

This is certainly more colorful and interesting than the average essay instructors read. If you show knowledge and make your writing interesting, you’re more likely to get a good grade—and get noticed for your knowledge and writing skills.

So, be “well-rounded” in your essay writing, where appropriate. Let your knowledge in many areas shine through. Your paper will likely be much richer and more readable than many of your peers.

Address the Opposing View

Address the Opposing View

If you’re writing a paper about women’s rights, and your sources consist only of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Molly Ivins, you will no doubt be branded a committed liberal. On the other hand, if your sources are only Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh…well, you get the idea.

The point is, to write a compelling essay, you’ve got to tackle both sides of the issue. And face it—there are (at least) two sides to nearly every issue. Successful debaters know how to not only make the case for their own side’s views, but are also able to persuasively defend their position against the viewpoint of their opposition.

How is this done? With plenty of facts backed up by persuasive writing. But to be persuasive, it helps to acknowledge that there are other perspectives and that in some measure they may have a certain amount of validity—only your view happens to be better (and then explain why).

Do the research

Part of a teacher’s job is to play devil’s advocate to your position. So, you need to know what the opposing views are, and what their arguments are. You need to know their positions as well as you know your own, if you’re going to be able to defend against them.

Give the other side credit

Unless you’re arguing against something truly reprehensible (such as child abuse), the counterview to your position will likely have merit in some areas. Be sure to give due respect to these areas. If you don’t, your arguments will look weak, as though they cannot stand up to any serious scrutiny. You might also come across as mean-spirited or immature.

So, know your stuff. And know the other side’s stuff, too. Your writing will be far more interesting—and possibly persuasive—if you make the effort to be fair-minded and well-informed.

Information, Please

Information, Please

In the Information Age, it’s almost quaint to use a paper dictionary. It’s so much simpler to access information almost instantaneously from one’s computer, whether from the Internet or software programs such as Microsoft Word. If you’re not yet acquainted with such resources, here are a few tips for getting started.

Remember that in MS Word, you have access to a dictionary, thesaurus, and reference books—if you’re online. To get to them, just highlight a word or phrase, and then right click and press k. Or, you can go to Tools and select Research. Then, from the Search for list, you can select a reference book or (again, if you’re connected to the Internet) a reference website.

Even if you don’t have MS Word, and you’re using some other means to write your essay, help is available. Here are some of the most useful resources:

(Well, duh.) In addition to its obvious use a premier search engine, you can find images, news, video, maps, and much more.
This is a very nice, kind of all-inclusive site. You can type in a word, term, or phrase and get all the information you want. It will also offer you links to more or related information about what you’re searching for.
The site of Merriam-Webster (the dictionary writers). Look up any word or phrase to get the origin, pronunciation, and meaning. A thesaurus is also available.

What do you do if you don’t have Internet access? Well, you can always go to wherever you happened to see this blog, assuming you’re not just reading a printed-out version.

Seriously, though, there are some options available in case you don’t have ready Internet access. If you’re a student, your school will almost certainly have a computer lab you can use. Otherwise, the public library is a wonderful, free resource—and they even have paper dictionaries for those who want them.

Be Consistent with Your Citations

Be Consistent with Your Citations

How’s this for a bunch of acronyms: APA; MLA; CBE. Add Chicago to that, and what do you get? Several different methods for documenting your paper’s sources. Are they really all that different? Well, let’s take a look…

If you’re using APA, your in-text citations will look something like this:

Lowman (1995) points out that “there’s nothing worse than incorrect citations in an essay” (p. 4).

However, the same quotation in MLA formatting would look like this:

Lowman points out that “there’s nothing worse than incorrect citations in an essay” (4).

Why the difference? In using MLA, the Works Cited page (where you list all the works you cited in the paper) will contain all the details about Lowman’s writing that you’re making reference to. So, it will be clear to the reader what you’re referring to when you use the author’s name and page number. Note: the APA equivalent of a Works Cited page is a References List.

Many students (understandably) have trouble keeping all the rules straight. For example, a student may cite a source in MLA fashion in one section of the essay, and then use APA formatting in a different section. This is not intentional, of course, but it does become confusing for the reader (normally a professor who will be assigning a grade).

Which citation style should you use? The most important thing is to use the same style throughout your paper. But most instructors will say which style they prefer for a given assignment. If they don’t have a preference, you will most likely want to use APA or MLA. These are the two most widely recognized (and more-or-less intuitive) styles.

In general, it is standard to use APA for social sciences, while MLA is used more for work in the humanities. However, most professors, unless they specify a style preference will be quite happy if you just make sure to use your style of choice throughout the paper.

Incidentally, if you don’t have time to deal with the tedious job of putting in all those citations, you may want to consider an online editing service such as Papercheck.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Feedback

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Feedback

Sometimes when we write, we really don’t want to face criticism for our ideas. This can lead us to be overly insular, shielding our work from honest review. After all, it can be tough to hear that there are problems with what we’ve written, especially if we’ve invested a lot of time and effort into it.

It would be a mistake, however, to take constructive criticism as a personal attack. No one can know everything, and sometimes the infusion of a different viewpoint can be just what a paper needs. It is, therefore, a sound idea to seek and give due consideration to the perspectives and advice of others.

Here are some helpful tips to remember when seeking feedback:

Remember that other people have a life, too. It’s best to avoid giving them too short notice. Try to allow for at least a couple of days, as this will also give them enough time to really look at your work and give a worthwhile evaluation.

Everyone may have an opinion, but…not all of those opinions are going to be worth listening to. While it’s true that you can learn something from just about anyone, it’s best to primarily seek feedback from someone qualified to give it in the area you need it. You can ask a history professor about how to unclog your drain, but wouldn’t it make more sense to ask a plumber?

Don’t be afraid to actually use the advice you get. When you started your paper, you may have had a pretty clear idea about what you wanted to do. Then, after inviting feedback from a well-informed person or two, you see that their ideas about your work have merit. At this point, you can either embrace your pride and ignore what they said, or you can choose to benefit from their knowledge; the latter approach is recommended.

So, don’t be afraid (or too proud) to use feedback. In fact, time permitting, it’s a good idea to make it a habit when writing essays. Who knows? Someday someone may ask you for help in writing their paper.

Customizing AutoCorrect

Customizing AutoCorrect

Microsoft Word has some of the most amazing features. Writers of yesteryear could only dream of having your spelling and grammar mistakes pointed out as you type. Now, however, MS Word does that, and even corrects some mistakes automatically (such as changing didnt to didn’t, i to I, etc.).

Most MS Word users are already familiar with the red or green squiggly lines that appear, respectively, underneath (perceived) spelling and grammar mistakes. And the Autocorrect feature mentioned above is also pretty well-known. But there are some neat little tricks that not every Word user is aware of. These include customizing Autocorrect.

As mentioned above, MS Word automatically corrects common errors, changing typos such as alwasy and alwats to always. But did you know that you can add your own Autocorrect words?

Here’s an example. Unless you’re writing a very scholarly paper, you’re unlikely to use the word cant (cant means jargon). So, you can “train” your Autocorrect to recognize the fact that you have a habit of forgetting to put the apostrophe in can’t. Here’s how.

  1. With your Word document open, go to Tools
  2. Select AutoCorrect Options
  3. Choose the AutoCorrect tab (you’ll probably already be there)
  4. Where it says “Replace:” write cant
  5. Where it says “With:” write can’t

Then, every time you write cant, Word knows you really meant to write can’t, and will automatically correct this for you.

You need to be careful with this, however. For example, if you set AutoCorrect to replace every instance of mildew with milder, and there comes a time when you actually want to write mildew, it will try to AutoCorrect it to read milder. And then it’ll sound pretty strange when your sentence reads something like, “The new tenants liked the house, until they found its milder.”

So, make AutoCorrect do what you want it to. Select your own AutoCorrect choices—but be careful.

How Do You Spell That?

How Do You Spell That?

The spelling of words in English is difficult because they do not always adhere to established rules. Part of the reason for that is that English is an amalgam of Latin, Greek, French, Germanic, and other languages, all of which have their own idiosyncratic spelling conventions.

While most words in English are spelled phonetically, a great many are not. Their spellings simply must be memorized. There are, for instance, words with silent letters, such as lamb, climb, rhythm, thought, and many, many others. There are also words which seem to defy their own rules. For instance, why don’t cord and word rhyme?

Then there are homophones, words which sound alike, but have different spellings and different meanings, such as principal and principle, there and their, and sail and sale. Of course, there are words which sound different when pronounced, depending on what part of speech they manifesting, but which are spelled the same. Think about record, as in I like this record and We should record that song. There are words which have two correct spellings, such as theater and theatre, although, in American English theater is preferred.

How about the fact that an initial g followed by an e, i, or y usually sounds like j, as in gentle, ginger, and gymnasium, but it has a hard g sound in get? Why is that the case? In order to spell words such as those correctly, you have to understand that the spelling and pronunciation rule has to be ignored sometimes.

Then we have the problem involving irregular verbs. They totally defy spelling (and pronunciation) rules. Take, for example, eat. When that word is in the past tense form, it is not eated. It is ate. Why? The past tense of jump is jumped, so why is the past tense of eat not eated? For that matter, why is the past tense of read not readed? Why is it read? Why does it not change spelling from present to past tense?

Ok. As if that were not confusing enough, how about plural irregular nouns? The plural of boy is boys. That’s simple enough. Boy is a regular noun. But, what about woman? Why is its plural women? Why is more than one wolf spelled wolves? Why is parties the plural of party, but the plural of donkey is donkeys? Why is it that we simply add an s to donkey, but we have to change the y ending of party to ies? Why is it, for that matter, that some nouns are not differentiated at all when they are pluralized? Examples of that strange spelling rule are sheep, shrimp, and deer. The spelling does not change whether you are referring to one or more than one of those. It is not correct to refer to a flock of sheeps.

Why don’t invisible and advisable have the same suffix? Both ible and able sound the same, but different words require different suffixes. How about rambunctious and conscious? The suffixes of those two words sound the same. Why are they spelled differently?

Is there a rule for these spelling (and pronunciation) exceptions? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The only way in which to know the correct words to use in spoken and written English and to pronounce and spell them correctly is to memorize all of the unusual pronunciations and spellings and meanings. Careful reading is very helpful. Once you have seen a word used and spelled correctly in print, it is generally easier to remember how to use it and spell it correctly. A good comprehensive dictionary (not a pocket version, although a few are very good—I like The American Heritage Dictionary) is invaluable. It will include all of the information that you need in order to know how to use words correctly and pronounce and spell them properly. The spell check function on your computer will generally catch misspellings and lead you to corrections, but not always. It may not, for example, distinguish between their and there.

If you are concerned about your use of language and spelling, as I suggested, you should read and observe what you are reading. Another alternative is to submit your document to for professional proofreading and editing.

Writing from the “You” Perspective

Writing from the “You” Perspective

With time being today’s most prized commodity, you need to be sure to capture—and hold—your audience’s attention. Generally speaking, the only chance you have to succeed at this is to write from your audience’s perspective.

In other words, you can write all you want about how this or that experience was good/bad/dull/interesting, but you have to escape from the persistent danger of your audience having the all-too-common reaction of “So what?”

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say you’re writing a paper about the benefits of owning a pet. Some writers might come up with something like this:

I like my dog. He’s a good dog. He has spots and a tail. He’s fun to be around and he likes to lick my face. I take him out for walkies and he does his job. It makes me happy to have good old Spot the dog as my best friend.

Other (perhaps more proficient) writers might instead write something like this:

They say that dogs are man’s best friend. Well, I think there’s something to that. My dog has been like a member of the family for many years; it’s hard to imagine life without him. Many studies have shown that having pets can add years to one’s life. Having enjoyed Spot’s company all these years, I can understand why. Life’s just better with a good pet.

Note that in the first example, the writer wrote entirely from the “me” perspective: I like my dog, etc. The second example, however, is much more interesting, as it brings a broader perspective. It better answers the question, “Why should I consider getting a pet?” While the first example tells how one person enjoys his pet, the second example is much more persuasive and complete.

So, consider your audience’s point of view. Don’t bore them by being too self-absorbed in your writing. Put yourself in the audience’s place and write from a perspective that will be relevant and interesting to them.