Professor B's Blog

Writing Tips

Here are some general writing tips to keep in mind.

Here are some tips about the overall structure of your essay.

  • Do not start your paper with “I decided to write my movie analysis on …” or “For my interview essay, I decided to speak to …” and so on. Do not repeat the assignment prompt.
  • Every paper/essay should have a purpose/goal/point/argument/theme.
  • The opening paragraph should introduce your theme. The following paragraphs should supply the evidence and discussion.
  • The title of your paper should incorporate or reflect the theme. “My Observation Essay” is not an acceptable title.
  • Every paragraph should have a topic and every sentence in the paragraph should be related to that topic.

The best advice for every single essay you write is SHOW, DON’T TELL. For example, instead of this…

The movie has music that fits the mood of the characters.

…try this:

When the main character, Jack, thinks about what has gone wrong in the relationship, you can hear Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” playing on the radio in the background. As Adele’s voice rings out with “we almost had it all,” Jack, in his despair, drops his head into his hands and his shoulders begin to shake.


And now for my pet peeves.

  • Avoid unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” —Mark Twain

 In other words, “very” is almost always unnecessary and should be removed. Other words that indicate a similar problem include:


  • Avoid semicolons. Most of you are using them incorrectly and should be using a comma or colon instead.
  • Ending punctuation almost always goes inside quotes. For example, when a quote appears at the end of a sentence, the period goes before the ending quote marks. When a quote appears at the end of a clause that is separated from the next part of the sentence by a comma, the comma goes before the ending quote marks.

The lyrics of Tracy Chapman’s “Talking ‘Bout a Revolution,” which Art Napolean translated into Cree in 2010, paints a picture of despair through phrases and words such as “crying” and “wasting time.”

 An important exception is the quotation is at the end of the sentence and a citation follows. For example:

By the time the blues emerged as a category in record company catalogs in the 1920s, the style had been present in Southern musical communities for at least a decade. The record companies were simply making a “commercial choice designed to link them [rural guitarists and singers] to the popular recordings of the blues queens” (Wald 13).

  • Your writing will be stronger and clearer if you avoid phrases such as the following:
    • according to (especially “according to the book I read”)
    • in the article the author says
    • in her book she talks about
    • the book talks about
    • is why (for example, “The age of the girl is why they have that ceremony.”)
    • there is no denying that
    • many different types of
    • not only are there <x> but there are also <y>
    • this supports the fact that
    • anything with I, my, or me.
    • as stated before or as I said above or as stated previously or as i mentioned before
    • as you can see
    • I focused on
    • I decided to write about
    • In my research I found that
    • One interesting thing I realized
    • I decided to see if
    • I thought it would
    • I was in awe.
    • That shows that…
    • I really enjoyed…
    • I learned something…
    • …what with…
    • seeing that…
  • The words below often indicate a situation in which you should cite a source.
    • thinks
    • believes
    • says
    • views
    • reports

For example, “Some people believe that the ritual is used for cleansing purposes.” Who believes this? How do you know this? If it’s important that there is a difference of opinion on the issue, then you need a source.

  • Avoid broad generalizations. If someone can produce a counterexample, then you have probably gone too far in your statement. Here are some examples:

Everyone loves music. [Who is everyone? My grandmother could have cared less about music.]

All Native Americans are peace-loving people. [What about the Apache who were known as fighters?]

  •  Avoid overly sentimental statements and ideas. I call this the “Unicorns and Snow Pony style of writing.” The level and style of writing for this course requires that you maintain an objective view when assessing and presenting your research or ideas. Here are some examples:

The music lets them know there is a brighter tomorrow and they will be okay.

His music really brings people together and unites them as one in their mission for peace and goodwill.

Her recording is really beautiful and the flute is like an angel singing.

That was the best concert I’ve ever been to because it was so totally amazing and everyone could really feel the vibe.

  • “Things” and “stuff” – you can think of better words.
  • If you don’t know the difference between its and it’s or they’re and there and their or your and you’re, please look it up.
  • Most music genres are not capitalized, including rock, hip hop, rap, soul, jazz, blues, and folk. The exception is when the genre is an abbreviation, such as EDM or R&B.
  • Decades and centuries do not use an apostrophe:

 Wrong: 1960’s, 1900’s

Right:     1960s, 1900s

Paying close attention to this list will help you and your grade considerably!


  1. This was very helpful to review, I made sure to bookmark this to review later during this semester.

  2. After reading this, I no longer have any confusion as to what is required and not required in my essays. It is helpful to know your pet peeves so I know when to avoid them.

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