Good to Go Blog
At St. John's, good knows no bounds. It's greater than great academics. Here are snapshots of what it means at the Prep. Something amazing happens when you're open to good!
HOW TO WRITE BETTER IN FIVE EASY STEPS
At St. John’s, we believe that the more students write, the better they write. As they’re exposed to different styles across disciplines, each student has a chance to develop his own writing voice and maximize his comfort level with composition.
This overarching mission is supported by the Prep’s Writing Center, which offers students one-on-one consultations with full-time, trained writing coaches to assist with any stage of the writing process. The mission of the center staff is to guide students toward becoming confident and independent writers who will succeed at the Prep and beyond.
We asked them for their top five secrets to writing success...
KNOW YOUR ASSIGNMENT
It’s critical to print out a copy of any writing assignment so you can have an eyes-on approach. This tactic will allow you to identify and break down the specific requirements of the project. It’s also helpful to highlight or underline precise components of what is expected for the successful completion of the assignment. Students who visit the Writing Center report that switching back and forth between screens to check the details of a writing assignment is unproductive and can even result in unpleasant discoveries once they print out the requirements and give them a close read. Use this tip to avoid moments like: “Oops! I needed five sources, not three.”
PRE-WRITE, THEN WRITE
Give yourself 10 minutes (by all means, use a timer) to scribble any thoughts and questions about the topic that come to mind. Feel free to make a mess. By creating a list of all possible ideas, you're doing the hard work in a low-stakes format. This technique makes it easy to filter out the junk and spare yourself the heartache of writing into a dead end once you compose an actual draft. Jumping right in to typing into a Word doc puts unnecessary pressure on every writer to come up with quality content right away. That’s a recipe for a whopping case of Writer's Block!
STAY ON TARGET AND DO, DO, DO READ ALOUD
Once you land on a good thesis, highlight it in a bright color within your draft. This way, it's easy for you to loop back as you tackle your body paragraphs and ask yourself that critical question: Am I really proving my thesis? (P.S. It’s normal to tweak your thesis as you draft). Reading your draft out loud is an excellent way to catch errors on your own. Writing Center staff at the Prep frequently ask students to read their work in front of them before a formal discussion session of the paper begins because it’s so important for students to understand how their writing sounds. Better to have those cringe-worthy, what-the-heck-was-I-trying-to-say moments before you hand in your paper.
FOCUS ON YOUR VERBS
Dull verbs make for dull papers. If you slow down and think, it usually results in generating two or three better alternatives to boring verbs like “is” or “have.” Sometimes, upgrading your verbs requires you to restructure your sentence, but fear not, it’s worth the effort. The more varied your word choice and sentence structure, the stronger and more readable your writing becomes.
SIGNAL PHRASES ARE YOUR FRIENDS
Learn signal phrases and use them. A signal phrase is a phrase or clause (or even a complete sentence) that introduces a quote, indicates who is speaking or sets up the delivery of information. Many students err by inserting “drop quotes” or “quote bombs” in their papers, which results in a lack of proper context or missing transition that is necessary to distinguish a shift from their own writing to someone else’s. Signal phrases are the cure. The Writing Center provides its student clients with a sheet of handy MLA signal phrases as a reference. Some examples (with sample citations):
- At the end of the novel, Paul reflects, “I should have grabbed that trophy when I had the chance” (Smith 80).
- According to John Bigmouth, “Only 15 percent of young adults prefer talking on the phone to texting” (18).
- When Chen finally discovers her biological father, she laments, “The stroke had robbed him of his ability to speak. For all I know, he could have washed away four decades of mystery with a simple sentence” (Chen 243).
The Writing Center’s services include discussion of texts and writing assignments, assistance with planning and outlining, grammar and mechanics support and strategizing for meaningful revision. Available to writers in grades 6 through 12, at all levels, the Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and is located within the Prep’s Center for Learning and Academic Success (CLAS).
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