The Rose State Writing Lab provides one-on-one help with any Rose State writing project at no charge. It's open to all students; no referral is required.
A quiet, comfortable place for writers to work, the Writing Lab is staffed with qualified lab instructors and faculty members. They are prepared to help with any Rose State writing project and can provide tutorials to help students evaluate and correct common punctuation, grammar and writing problems. Lab instructors are pleased to assist students with assignments by helping them brainstorm, outline, draft, edit, and proofread; however, we cannot correct an entire essay for the students. We will provide examples and assist as the student makes appropriate improvements.
The Writing Lab is located in Humanities, Room 137 and we are also available online! Visit us during lab hours or get help online with a response within 24-48 hours, Monday through Thursday. We've put together some commonly asked questions below. You can also use the Ask an Instructor Form to attach an essay and tell us your concern about the assignment.
The Writing Lab provides access to ONLINE Merit Software Tutorials to guide students through basic grammar and punctuation review. Students must sign up in the Writing Lab, HU 137. There is no cost to the student. After signing up the first time, students can access the program from any computer – on campus or off campus.
A vocabulary program is also available.
Students who need weekly tutoring sessions will be referred to Tutoring Services.
Fall & Spring Hours
Monday-Thursday: 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Closed during the first week of classes, during finals week, and between semesters.
Monday-Thursday: 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Humanities Building, Room 137
Starting, Organizing & Writing
How do I get started?
Make sure you understand the writing assignment instructions. Look for key words in order to determine your purpose in writing:
- Analyze: To identify the parts of a subject and discuss how they work together
- Argue: To give reasons and support them with evidence (An argument either convinces someone of your position or persuades someone to take action.)
- Compare: To look for similarities
- Contrast: To look for differences
- Critique: To point out both the positive and negative
- Define: To explain the meaning of a term or concept
- Describe: To tell what something or someone looks like; also, to give an account of
- Discuss: To look at the pros and cons of something
- Evaluate: To judge the quality of something according to clear criteria
- Explain: To make clear something that is not known or understood
- Illustrate: To make clear by using example, comparisons, graphs, charts, pictures
- Interpret: To bring out meanings not immediately apparent; subjective judgments
- Justify: To argue in support of something
- Narrate: To tell a story or to relate a series of events
- Outline: To organize and explain according to category or important points
- Prove: To establish as true by using logic, facts, and examples
- Report: To survey, organize, and objectively present available evidence
- Review: To reexamine the main points of something
- Summarize: To state the main points in a text, theory, or other work
- Trace: To show a sequence of how or why something happens
- Determine whether your subject is specific or general. If it is general, look at your interests and experiences in order to select a specific topic. What subjects do you already know something about? What have you read, viewed, or heard that interests you? What is important to you? Which subjects would you like to better understand?
- Determine who your audience is. Consider as many of the following as are relevant to your subject: educational level, age, sex, occupation, social status, economic status, ethnic background, political beliefs, moral values, and general concerns.
- Discover ideas by using any of the following methods: freewriting, brainstorming (listing), clustering, using the journalists' questions (Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?), journal keeping, observing. If research is required for the paper, keep a research journal with dated entries. Write about the following: sources you consult, sources you may want to find, difficulties or problems you encounter, new directions in which you may want to go with your research. The research journal is for tracking and developing your own ideas.
- Narrow the subject to a question. Ask a specific, focused question. For example, "What are the advantages of online classes?" Or you may ask, "What similar character traits do Ma Joad and Tom Joad have in The Grapes of Wrath?" Or "Why do microalgae emit toxins?"
- If research is required for the paper, the information you find in sources can also help you to narrow the subject.
How do I write an effective thesis statement?
The thesis statement is the controlling idea of your essay, usually expressed in one sentence and usually appearing toward the end of the introductory paragraph. If you have narrowed your subject, you can begin drafting a tentative thesis statement. The thesis statement has four functions:
- It limits your subject to a single topic (idea).
- It asserts something specific and significant about the topic.
- It conveys (or at least implies) your purpose in writing.
- It usually names the subdivisions of the topic in the order in which you will discuss them.
The practice of restorative yoga helps a person to relieve the effects of chronic stress by moving the spine in all directions, reversing the effects of gravity, and soothing the internal organs.
Limited topic: the practice of restorative yoga
Assertion: helps a person to relieve the effects of chronic stress
Purpose (implied): to explain
Subdivisions: moving the spine in all directions; reversing the effects of gravity; soothing the internal organs
How do I organize my ideas?
An essay includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. The body paragraphs can be arranged in various ways, depending upon your subject, purpose in writing, and audience. Some choices for organization are the following:
- Chronological (time order)
- Spatial (top to bottom, left to right, etc.)
- General to specific
- Specific to general
- Order of importance
- Make an informal outline to begin. Include key general points in the order they will be covered. Under key points, list specifics you can use as support.
Thesis Statement: The practice of restorative yoga helps a person to relieve the effects of chronic stress by moving the spine in all directions, reversing the effects of gravity, and soothing the internal organs.
- Use of props
- Stretch long muscles of lower back
- Antidote to bad posture
- Relieve tension on intervertebral discs
- Reversing the effects of gravity
- Inverted poses
- Three basic
- Heart function enhanced
- Soothing internal organs
- Forward bends
- Backward bends
- Blood movement
- Enhanced exchange of oxygen
How do I make a formal outline?
A formal outline includes main ideas and supporting ideas. An outline uses systematic indenting and labeling. Topics of equal generality appear in parallel headings. Since nothing can logically be divided into one part, all subdivisions must have at least two parts. All headings must be grammatically parallel.
Thesis Statement: The practice of restorative yoga helps a person to relieve the effects of stress by moving the spine in all directions, reversing the effects of gravity, and soothing the internal organs.
- Moving the spine in all directions
- Use of props essential
- Long muscles of lower back stretched
- Bad posture remedied
- Tension on intervertebral discs relieved
- Reversing the effects of gravity
- Three basic inverted poses
- Enhanced heart function
- Soothing internal organs
- Blood movement
- Forward bends
- Backward bends
- Enhanced exchange of oxygen
- Some instructors may require that you indicate the introductory and concluding paragraphs in the outline as well.
How do I put all my notes together?
Arrange your notes into groups of related ideas and information according to the subject headings of your informal outline. Each group of notes will correspond to a main point or idea that supports your thesis statement.
If a group of notes looks skimpy, perhaps you need to either add more support or eliminate that point.
If most of your notes fall into only one or two groups, perhaps your ideas or points are too broad and need to be divided.
Within each group of notes, identify the main ideas and supporting ideas. Arrange them accordingly.
Some writers color-code their notes according to main points (a red mark or check for the first point, a green for the second point, etc.).
How do I overcome writer's block?
- Give yourself plenty of time to complete an assignment.
- Write and erase possible ideas in your head. At some point, one idea will keep returning.
- Read over your notes, outlines, etc. Then immediately write whatever comes to mind.
- Pretend you are writing to a friend about your topic.
- Start in the middle.
- Open the dictionary, point to a word at random, and use it in a sentence. Keep writing.
- Write nonsense until something makes sense.
- Go away for a while. Write later.
What makes an effective written argument?
- The thesis statement makes an arguable claim.
- The supporting evidence is accurate, relevant, representative, and adequate.
- Reasoning is logical. Logical fallacies are avoided.
- The content appeals to the readers' beliefs or needs.
- The response to opposing views clearly explains those views and either demonstrates the argument's greater strengths or concedes the opposing points.
- The argument is organized so that it clearly moves from one point to the next.
Revising, Editing & Proofreading
How do I revise my paper?
Use the following checklist for revision:
- Does the paper fulfill your purpose in writing?
- Is the purpose consistent throughout the paper?
- Thesis Statement
- Is the thesis statement clear and focused?
- Does the paper stray from the thesis?
- Do all the major points in the paper support the thesis statement?
- What are the main points of the paper?
- Does each point effectively support the thesis statement?
- Are the paragraphs organized in the most effective, logical way?
- Is each paragraph supported with details, examples, or other relevant evidence?
- Is any of the information unnecessary?
- Is any of the information skimpy or confusing?
- What is the tone of the paper?
- Is it appropriate for the purpose in writing and the audience?
- Is it consistent throughout the essay?
- What does each sentence and paragraph contribute to the thesis of the paper?
- Does the paper flow smoothly from one sentence to the next and one paragraph to the next?
- Can transitions be added or improved?
- Is the title descriptive?
- Does it announce the topic clearly and briefly?
- Does it avoid restating the assignment or thesis statement?
- Does the introduction focus the readers' attention?
- Does it help the readers make the transition to the body of the paper?
- Does the conclusion provide the readers with a sense of completion?
How do I edit my paper?
Use the following checklist for editing:
- Are the words and phrases appropriate for the purpose in writing and the audience?
- Are the words exact?
- Are any words or phrases awkward, vague, or unclear?
- Are the sentences structured correctly? Correct any sentence fragments, run-on or fused sentences, and comma splices
- Are any sentences choppy?
- Can any sentences be combined where ideas are closely related?
- Are any sentences wordy or dull?
- Are all adjectives and adverb forms correct?
- Are all modifiers and identifiers clear and correctly placed (especially almost, only, even, just)?
- Are sentences strengthened through the use of parallel structure?
- Are the sentence patterns varied?
- Is sentence length varied?
- Are transitions smooth?
- Do all subjects and verbs agree?
- Are all verbs complete and in the correct tense?
- Are the verbs primarily in active voice? If passive voice is used, is it used appropriately?
- Do all pronouns and antecedents agree? Are inconsistencies in person avoided?
- Are all demonstrative and reflexive pronouns used correctly?
- Are all pronouns in the correct case?
- Are any vague pronoun references avoided, especially it, they, this, that?
How do I proofread my paper?
Proofreading means reading your paper carefully. Proofreading requires a line-by-line reading of your work.
First, use the following proofreading techniques:
- Read a printed copy. Most people read more accurately when reading type on paper rather than when reading it on a computer screen. Print out your paper in 14-point type so that you can see every word and punctuation mark.
- Place a ruler under each line as you read it so that you must look at only one line at a time.
- After you have read from beginning to end, read again. This time, start at the end of the paper so that you can look at each sentence out of context and as a separate unit.
- Read the paper aloud, very slowly, and distinctly pronounce exactly what you see.
- Read against copy, comparing your final draft one sentence at a time against the edited draft from which you copied it.
- When checking punctuation, circle any mark that seems questionable, and make changes after you have checked a handbook for punctuation rules.
Second, use the following checklist:
- Is all end punctuation used correctly?
- Are commas, colons, semicolon, and dashes used correctly?
- Are apostrophes used when needed?
- Are quotation marks used correctly with other punctuation marks?
- Is capitalization conventional?
- Are all words spelled correctly?
- Are numbers that can be expressed in one or two words spelled out?
- Are figures used for large numbers or exact references?
- Are abbreviations avoided except for titles, names, dates, and some businesses?
- Is the paper free of typographical errors?
- Were any words omitted, repeated, or wrongly copied during the typing of the final draft?
- Does the word at the top of a page correctly follow the word at the bottom of the preceding page?
- Are the following appropriate for your particular writing assignment: margins, type font and size, line spacing, line breaks, indentation?
Punctuation, Sentence Structure, Grammar & Numbers
How do I use the comma?
Look at the following comma rules and examples:
- Use the comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, yet, or , nor, so, for) joining independent clauses. (The orchestra began to play, and the audience listened in awe.)
- Use the comma to set off introductory elements from the main part of the sentence (Preparing for the Easter holiday, toy stores increased their inventory of stuffed animals. Because children like bright colors, their parents will buy green rabbits and magenta chicks.)
- Use the comma to set off nonrestrictive elements in a sentence. A nonrestrictive element is a word, phrase, or clause that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. (Dr. Everson, an English professor, is giving a special lecture this morning. Susan Johnson, who is my journalism teacher, will attend.)
- Use the comma to set off words of direct address. (We are happy, sir, to have you with us. Students, our guest has a surprise for you.)
- Use the comma to separate coordinate adjectives. (Television advertising is full of misleading, trivial information.)
- Use the comma to separate the parts of a date. If the date appears within a sentence, use a comma following the last item in the date. (He was born on Wednesday, November 23, 1983, early in the morning.)
- Use the comma to separate the parts of an address, including the name of a place, and use the comma to follow the last item in an address within a sentence. (Her address is 8755 North River Street, Phoenix, Arizona.)
- Use the comma to separate numbers of more than four digits. (More than 122,000 signatures were on the petition.)
- Use the comma to set off absolute phrases. An absolute phrase modifies a whole main clause. (Their profits already declining, many businesses cannot afford recycling.)
- Use the comma to set off phrases expressing contrast. (The essay needs more specifics, less humor.)
- Use commas with direct quotations according to standard practice. (Dr. Marks said, "My platform includes opposition to the proposed changes in the law.")
- Use the comma to prevent misreading. (On page 431, 101 places were named.)
How do I avoid comma splices?
A comma splice is a form of run-on or fused sentence. A comma splice is two sentences (two independent clauses) that are run together with only a comma to separate them.
Example: The storm approached, the wind suddenly became cold.
Methods for correction of comma splices include the following:
- Underline or circle the main clauses (independent clauses) in your paper.
- When two main clauses fall in the same sentence, check the connection between them.
- If nothing falls between the clauses or only a comma does, use one of the following to correct the error:
- Add end punctuation at the end of the first main clause and begin the next main clause with a capital letter.
- Use a comma and coordinating conjunction to join the main clauses.
- Insert a semicolon to join the main clauses.
- Insert a semicolon and conjunctive adverb to join the main clauses.
- Make one of the ideas subordinate and use a subordinating conjunction to connect the subordinate idea to the main idea.
- The storm approached. The wind suddenly became cold.
- The storm approached, and the wind suddenly became cold.
- The storm approached; the wind suddenly became cold.
- The storm approached; in addition, the wind suddenly became cold.
- As the storm approached, the wind suddenly became cold.
- As you can see, you will need to use the method of correction that best makes your ideas and the relationships between them clear to the audience.
How do I use the semicolon and colon?
Use the semicolon only occasionally. It can give your sentences some variety, but it should not be overused. Here are the three main uses of the semicolon:
- Use the semicolon to join independent clauses (main clauses) that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction. (I enjoyed the physiology course; I learned more than I had expected.))
- Use the semicolon to join independent clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb. (The entire class read the assigned chapter; however, some of the students did not understand the information.))
- Use the semicolon to separate items in a series if those items contain a number of commas. (The custody case involved Nancy Adams, the child; Pat and Bill Adams, the parents; and Ruth and Edward Sherman, the maternal grandparents.))
The colon is usually used to introduce a list or an explanation. Do not use a colon more than once in a sentence. The sentence should end with the element introduced by the colon. Here are the four main uses of the colon:
- Use the colon to introduce items in a series (The discount store sells three popular brands of watches: Fossil, Guess, and Seiko.))
- Use the colon to introduce an explanation or amplification. (The college has one goal: to educate students to be responsible citizens.))
- Use the colon to introduce a series or statement with the following or as follows. (In remote areas of this developing nation, simple signs of human habitation are as follows: a narrow dirt path, a few huts, smoke from a cooking fire.))
- Use a colon if you introduce a long or formal quotation with a complete sentence. (By the mid-eighteenth century, paleontologists had reached a correct consensus: "Hysteroliths were internal molds of brachiopods.")
How do I avoid the most common pronoun mistake?
The most common pronoun mistake is pronoun-antecedent agreement, particularly for indefinite pronouns. Here is a list of the indefinite pronouns that are always singular:
- anybody neither
- anyone nobody
- anything no one
- each one
- either somebody
- every someone
- everybody something
Example: Everyone is going to the banquet with his or her date.
Everyone is the indefinite pronoun (and the antecedent), and it is singular. Consequently, the verb that goes with it must be singular, is going. And the pronouns referring to everyone must be singular, his or her.
Some indefinite pronouns can be singular or plural (all, any, more, most, none, some).
Example: All of the managers go to their favorite restaurant.
The phrase of the managers indicates that all is plural because more than one manager is involved; consequently, the pronoun referring to all must be plural, their. Notice that the verb is plural, go.
How do I avoid the most common subject-verb mistake?
The most common subject-verb mistake is one in agreement. The verb must always agree with the subject in both number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third). Here are three problem areas:
- There are words between the subject and verb. In this case, it is best to cover the intervening words when you proofread so that you can see the subject and verb only in order to make sure they agree. (A list of employees is on the supervisor's desk. The phrase of employees does not affect the agreement of the singular subject, list, and the singular verb, is.)
- The subject has more than one part. If two-part subjects are joined by and, they are usually plural (Researching and organizing take a great deal of time.) If the two-part subjects are joined by or, nor, either . . . or, neither . . . nor, or not only . . . but also, the verb will agree with the subject closer to it. (The sparrows or the cardinal eats the seeds left on the snow. Since cardinal is singular and closer to the verb, the verb is singular. Either procrastination or many demands on my time prevent me from finishing the report. Since demands is plural and closer to the verb, the verb is plural.)
- The subject is an indefinite pronoun. See How do I avoid the most common pronoun mistake? for a list of indefinite pronouns. (Each has finished the assigned project. Each is singular and takes a singular verb, has finished.)
When do I spell out numbers?
In academic writing, spell out numbers of one or two words (twelve countries, twenty-two thousand people). A hyphenated number may be considered one word.
In most business writing, use numerals for all numbers over ten (12 countries).
Round dollar or cent amounts of only a few words may be expressed in words (fifteen dollars).
When the word o'clock is used for the time of day, express the number in words (nine o'clock).
Spell out numbers that begin sentences. If the number requires more than two words, reword the sentence so that the number falls later in the sentence and can be expressed as a numeral.
How do I avoid plagiarism?
Library Research Tips - Plagiarism
General Information on Plagiarism
- Avoiding Plagiarism PDF from the Univ. of California at Davis
- Paraphrase Write It in Your Own Words
- Plagiarism: What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It
This includes specific examples of acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing.
- Plagiarism and Academic Integrity at Rutgers University
This is a slide show with audio demonstrating some of the temptations of plagiarism.
- Plagiarism Prevention for Students at Cal State San Marcos Library
- Safe Practices in writing (Purdue Online Writing Lab)
- Online Tutorial on Academic Integrity - Plagiarism
How do I use direct quotations?
Any paper must be based on your own ideas, not numerous direct quotations patched together. The two most important things to remember are (1) to keep direct quotations as short as possible and (2) to make sure a direct quotation includes only material relevant to a point you are making. The following guidelines explain when using direct quotations may be appropriate:
- The source's original language is unusually vivid or inventive.
- The direct quotation cannot be paraphrased without a distortion of original meaning.
- The words themselves are at issue in your interpretation.
- The direct quotation represents the view or opinion of an expert.
- The direct quotation reinforces one of your ideas or interpretations.
- The direct quotation is a graph, diagram, or table.
How do I find sources on the Web?
To find sources on the Web, use a good search engine, one that catalogs Web sites in a series of directories and conducts keyword searches. For a good range of reliable sources, try out more than a single search engine; try at least three or four. Remember that the Web warrants caution. It should not be the only resource with which you work.
Dozens of search engines are available, but here are some that may help you:
For some frequently used government sources, try the following:
How do I cite sources?
Interactive Citation Web Sites
The following links provide fill-in-the-blank options for formatting Sources Cited pages.
- EasyBib.com: Only MLA cites are free.
- Knight Cite: Includes APA, Chicago and MLA citations.
- MLA Citation Center
- NoodleTools: Requires a free personal log-in.
- BibloBouts is a classroom game on citations.
Check the online databases. Many of them print and save citations in various citation formats.
Word 2007 and 2010 have a Bibliography and Work Cited Tool. References and Citations in Word 2007 Tutorial
Library Research Tips - Additional Citation Links
- Citation Styles: Example of how to cite MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.
- APA Formatting and Style Guide and APA Youtube Video Series from Purdue's Online Writing Guide.
- APA Exposed: Online tutorial from Harvard College
- Citing tips using the Chicago Style. See the Ohio State University's: Chicago Manual of Style Author-Date and Notes-Bibliography Guides for examples.
- Learn APA Style Tutorials
- MLA Formatting and Style Guide and MLA Youtube Video Series from Purdue's Online Writing Guide.
How do I take an essay exam?
- Make sure you are ready for the test both mentally and physically. If you have taken careful lecture notes, read the assigned texts critically, and reviewed regularly, you are ready.
- Also, get a good night's sleep before the day of the exam.
- Listen carefully to the final instructions of the instructor. How much time do you have to complete the exam? Do all the questions count equally? Can you use any aids (dictionary, handbook)? Are there any changes or additions to the exam?
- Read the exam all the way through at least once. Do not start answering any questions until you have read them all.
- Weigh the questions. Determine which questions seem most important, which ones are going to be most difficult for you, and approximately how much time you will need for each one. Do not spend so much time answering one question that you run out of time to answer the others.
- When you are ready to turn to an individual essay question, read it at least twice. Pay attention to key words. For an explanation of key words, see How do I get started?
- Spend a few minutes planning your answer before you begin to write.
- Rephrase the question into a thesis statement (controlling idea) for your essay answer.
- Make a brief outline of the main ideas that will support your thesis statement.
- Polish the thesis statement, making sure that it responds directly to the question and includes the main ideas (supporting evidence) that will be discussed in your answer.
- Use a logical pattern of organization and a strong topic sentence for each paragraph.
- Support each point with specific, relevant information.
- Write concisely without using abbreviations or nonstandard language.
- Avoid wordiness, padding, or unnecessary repetition.
- Keep your test paper neat with reasonable margins. Readability is a must!
- Revise and proofread. Correct any errors, and make sure your thesis is accurate. Did you write about what the thesis said you would write about?
Ask An Instructor
If you have a question, use the Ask an Instructor Form below. If you have an attachment, make sure that it is saved in MS Word or in Rich Text Format.
In order to be able to best help you, we ask that you save any documents submitted to the Writing Center either as a MS Word document (.doc or .docx) or in Rich Text Format (.rtf). If you are not using MS Word, you will need to change the document type to Rich Text Format. When you save your document, use the "Save As" function in the application's file menu. When the Save As window opens, choose where you want to save your file and create a file name. Then, make sure to change the Save As Type to rich-text format. Then click Save. Upload this file to the Ask an Instructor form.
You can expect to receive a response via email within two College business days, so be sure to check your email for messages after you submit a question. The Writing Lab instructors are not responsible for class deadlines or due dates. If you have not received a response to your request within two College business days, please contact Lacey Veazey-Daniel at (405) 733-7508.