Give It a Rest

Give It a Rest

Have you ever slaved away on an essay or other writing project, only to find yourself unable to think clearly, concentrate, or focus? Probably—most of us have. This is due to the simple fact that no one can do an activity constantly, without rest. If we try to do so, our ability to hone in on exactly what we’re doing becomes impaired.

Management professionals have known for decades that a worker who goes non-stop for several hours will not be as productive as someone who takes an occasional break. Why? We are designed in such a way that, unlike some purely mechanical machines, we’ve got to stop once in a while.

Here are some tips to help with all this.

Find your optimum break time:
It has been recommended that if you’re reading, it’s a good idea to rest your eyes (by simply not staring at a page or a screen) after 20 minutes. How long should you rest? For a few minutes—at least two, but probably not more than five. But different people are different, so you need to find the amount of time that works best for you to first work, then have a break, and then return to work.

Activities for your break
The main thing here is that you can do just about anything, as long as it’s different from what you were doing. For example, since you would have been sitting at a computer, thinking, typing, and staring at a screen, you should now do something totally different. Here are some possibilities:

  • Get up and walk around
  • Lie down (be careful with this one if you have more work to do)
  • Have something to eat or drink
  • Talk to someone
  • Pray (not a bad idea, especially if your essay is important)

Some things you should not do include watching TV (which is staring at another screen), reading, or thinking deeply about anything.

So, remember to give it a rest, once in a while. You’ll end up being more relaxed and efficient, and your essay will likely show it.

The Importance of Organization


Okay, so you’ve got a paper due in a week. Will you get it done on time? Sure! Well, I think so. I mean, maybe, if I don’t get too caught up with other stuff. Um, actually, I don’t know, but hopefully I can pull it off.

If you’ve ever been in a position like this, you may realize the importance of being organized. In fairness, this is something that most of us struggle with. However, deadlines are deadlines, whether you’re a student or an employee. Here are some tips to help you make sure you don’t miss the deadline for your next essay.

Consult your syllabus:
Most syllabi will tell you when important papers are due, and how long they should be. You may want to ask the teacher how much preparation time will be needed. Then you can plan for this project weeks in advance, setting aside time to get it done.

Start immediately:
This doesn’t mean to necessarily start writing or researching immediately. Rather, it means that as soon as you are assigned the paper, you adjust your schedule and plans right away to accommodate it.

Since you probably have several classes (and some kind of a life, job, relationships, etc.), you can’t just shut out everything all the time. By putting things in their proper place, however, you can be sure to have a good plan that will work, and will enable you to meet your obligations while still enjoying life.

Be careful not to get sidetracked:
Yeah, I’ve got this paper due, but I don’t want to miss Gilligan’s Island tonight. It’s that one real cool episode with…Come on. You can find a million reasons not to do the work, but when it actually comes due, you’re going to want to have it done. And getting it done doesn’t happen by accident. Stay focused.

Reward yourself as appropriate:
If you stick to your schedule of working three hours on your paper tonight, you deserve a treat! Let yourself have fun. Give yourself positive reinforcement for doing the right thing.

So, be organized, enjoy yourself, and good luck on your next essay!

Vetting Your Sources


If you’re writing a run-of-the-mill, two- or three-page essay for an undergrad class, you might get away with citing just any old source. Plucking quotes from different websites is not difficult, and in so doing, you can create a paper that, to someone who didn’t know better, would think that you’ve written a scholarly, professional work.

From your perspective, it seems fine. Your research took all of a half-hour, and you’ve pulled plenty of quotes and citations from professional-sounding organizations and people. But what if you happen to run into a professor who, in addition to having a great deal of knowledge (if you’re at the university level, your professor will almost certainly have a doctorate), also has the time and inclination to actually check the reliability of your sources?

This could be embarrassing for you if it is discovered that the ultra-professional-sounding organization you cited in your paper happens to be a kook fringe outfit with zero credibility. As bad as this would be for an undergrad class, it is inexcusable for graduate-level work.

Thankfully, there are some easy ways to double check that your sources are reliable. Here are a few:

Use well-recognized sources:
If your paper is full of quotes from obscure or little-known groups or individuals, you’ll have to verify that what they say is true—and this can be time-consuming. However, if you cite sources that are widely recognized as being reliable, you’re in good shape from the start.

Avoid agenda-driven sources:
Impartial and unbiased sources are not always easy to find. After all, every person or group has an opinion. However, many groups exist simply for the sake of performing research in the pursuit of truth. These usually make excellent sources, especially if they are well-known.

Check sources against other sources:
If Group A says one thing, you may want to see if equally reliable Group B says something else. (Of course, if Group B is a bunch of nutters, you can safely ignore them). But it’s wise to present the opposing point of view, if it has any merit, as this will lend credence to your own argument.

So, be careful to ensure that the sources you use are reliable—especially if you’re doing graduate-level or professional writing. The credibility you preserve will be your own.

That’s the Breaks

That's the Breaks

As an editor, I’ve seen plenty of papers with pages that were separated by the writer hitting the enter key as many times as necessary to put the cursor on a new page. When this is done, it looks fine—until the writer later makes changes to the document. Then what happens is that there are suddenly all these spaces, but now they’re in the wrong place. So, delete delete delete here and enter enter enter enter enter enter enter enter there—and the whole process starts all over.

There’s a much better way for getting to the next page in your document: use the Break feature in MS Word. Actually, several possibilities exist for adding a break to your paper. We will discuss the two most commonly used: page break and section break.

Page break:
This feature is fantastic (and very easy). Let’s say you’ve just written the abstract for your essay. Generally, abstracts are short—often less than half a page. So, when you start your actual paper, you’ll want to have it begin on the next page. But instead of hitting the enter key 10 or 15 times, let’s use the page break feature. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Insert
  2. Select Break
  3. Select Page break

When you do this, your cursor will jump straight to the beginning of the next page, which is right where you want it.

Section break:
Breaking up a document into sections, by using the section break feature, is a powerful word processing tool. You can format different sections in different ways. For example, in the introductory portion of your paper, you may want to use lower case Roman numerals. Then, in the main body of the paper, you want to start the numbering over and use standard Arabic numerals. No problem:

  1. Go to Insert
  2. Select Break
  3. Select Section break

Do this for the first section, and then do it again (wherever and for as many times as you choose) to create a new section. There are also different types of sections you can create; the Help feature (and some experimentation) can tell you more.



Contractions are, of course, shortened versions of two word phrases. The meaning of “contract” is to shorten, lessen, or shrink. Contractions are used more often in conversation than in written work, and, in fact, they are considered inappropriate in most academic and business writing. Nevertheless, it is important to know how to spell and how to use them.

Contractions are generally created by dropping a letter or two from the second word of a two-word phrase, inserting an apostrophe in place of the deleted letter or letters, and then combining the two words into one. Here are some common examples:

  • Do not becomes don’t
  • Is not becomes isn’t
  • You will becomes you’ll
  • It is becomes it’s

Before I continue, let’s (a contraction of let us) consider it’s. That contraction is often incorrectly used when the possessive pronoun its should be used. Here are examples of the correct uses of it’s and its:

  • We decided not to go to the beach because it’s about to rain. (contraction)
  • The dog found its way home. (possessive pronoun)

The confusion involving the use of its and it’s lies in the fact that apostrophes are used for possession, as in That is my friend’s house. Therefore, it might seem logical that apostrophes should be used in possessive pronouns too. But…they are not. The following are possessive pronouns: its, his, hers, yours, theirs, and ours.

Now, to return to the use of contractions, it is important to use the correct contraction in terms of number, meaning singular or plural. For instance:

  • It is incorrect to write: He don’t want to eat his dinner. It should be He doesn’t want to eat his dinner.
  • They isn’t going to be ready is wrong. It should be They aren’t going to be ready.

Some contractions seem to be different from the typical ones. For instance, can’t is not derived from the contraction of two words, as in the case of other contractions. It is the contraction of one word, cannot. By the way, that is how that word should be spelled—as one word. It is incorrect to write can not. In fact, there is no such word combination as can not. Another odd one is won’t. It is a contraction of will not. Most people in the U.S. do not use shan’t, but it the correct contraction of shall not.

And, remember, while contractions are normally used in conversation, they are generally considered to be inappropriate in academic writing. In other words, during a chat, it is fine to say, Sometimes, it isn’t possible to communicate an idea to other people. However, in a college paper, you would write, Sometimes, it is not possible to communicate an idea to other people.

Good, Better, Best

Good, Better, Best

The homelessness situation in Chicago is the worst.

Well, you may ask, what does that mean? It does not mean anything because of two serious, fairly common mistakes. They both have to do with the use of the word worst. Worst is the superlative form of bad or troublesome or some other adjective that refers to a negative situation or condition. In order to understand what is wrong with the use of worst in that sentence, and before it can be corrected, you must first understand how and when to use comparatives and superlatives.

Adjectives and adverbs can be used to convey three levels of influence. Let’s discuss adjectives first. When you are describing a person, place, thing, or idea, you should use the regular form of an adjective, such as happy, angry, or hungry. Look at the following examples:

The boy is smart.

Florence seems to be angry.

If you want to move the expression up a notch in terms of intensity, you would use the comparative form of the adjective, as in the following:

The boy is smarter than his brother.

Florence seems to be angrier than she was before.

In both cases, the comparative form has to be weighed against someone or something. It would not be correct or meaningful to write The boy is smarter or Florence seems to be angrier.

Now, if you wanted to express the fact that the boy’s intelligence or that Florence’s anger is beyond comparison to that of everyone else’s, you would use the superlative form:

The boy is the smartest in his class.

Florence seems to be the angriest that I have ever known her to be.

When you are using a superlative, it must be compared to others—not to one other, but to at least two others or to more than one situation. Since the boy’s intelligence is being compared to that of the other children in his class, it is assumed that there are at least two other children. That is why smartest is used. Florence’s anger is being compared to more than one other instance of anger. That is why angriest is used.

The father of two children, for instance, should not say or write, She’s my oldest daughter. That implies that he has at least three children. He should say, instead, She’s my older daughter. In that case, the comparative form of the adjective old is being used in reference to his two daughters.

Comparatives and superlatives are used with adverbs also, as in the following examples:

The little boy ran quickly. (Positive form)

The little boy ran more quickly than his friend. (Comparative form)

The little boy ran the most quickly out of all of his friends. (Superlative form)

Again, the comparative form must be used in relation to one other person or instance of something, and the superlative form must be used against two or more persons or instances.

Now, let us return to the original sentence:

The homelessness situation in Chicago is the worst. It would be correctly written in either of the following ways:

The homelessness situation in Chicago is worse than it was last year. That is a correct use of the comparative form.


The homelessness situation in Chicago is the worst that it has ever been. That is a correct use of the superlative form.

To sum up, something can be good; one thing can be better than another; one thing can be the best out of three or more things.