External Strategies to Improve Writing

By Zoey Rosen

Whether you love writing, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, the task of writing can sometimes feel like an insurmountable chore. There have been times where I was so into the paper I was writing that the hours clicked away, and it wasn’t until it was dark outside that I realized that so much time had passed. Later that same week, I had logged 7 long hours into another assignment and was still on the first page. While we cannot always choose what and when to write, there are ways we can make writing less awful.

  1. Find some music that will not distract you but will, instead, help you gear up for the task ahead.
    • Music is a proven mood-booster. Playing something that helps you focus or makes you feel more creative could help you get over that initial mental block that comes with starting an assignment.
  2. Light a good smelling candle reserved for writing.
    • Sense memory is a powerful tool to utilize with writing. You may begin to associate the familiar scent with writing, which could get you into the mood of writing faster and more efficiently. Plus, candles smell awesome, so everyone wins.
  3. Schedule rewards into your writing process.
    • Sometimes the only motivation you need is knowing that you have a good snack coming after this paragraph. A few gummy bears or apple slices can give you short-term or long-term energy that will ultimately help keep you writing.
  4. Take a break!
    • Writing is arduous when you make it so! Get up, stretch out, and shift your focus to something new for a few minutes. You might get the idea that connects your entire paper together when you’re simply outside for a few breaths of fresh air.
  5. Talk with others about what you’re writing.
    • In every major, your classmates and friends will have to write. Even if they are writing a different paper, it will help to discuss your ideas together. Talking through your plan will help you see what steps you have left and acknowledge all that you’ve already completed. Your friends could also ask some questions you had not considered and help bring some clarity to the end product. You might just do the same for them too!

You can make the most out of writing, even when it isn’t the first thing you want to do. Being aware of your writing process is extremely beneficial and can tell you what methods work to overcome writer’s block. Good luck, and happy writing!

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Finding Your Style: The Reasoning Behind Common Citation Styles

By Ellen Israel

Deciding on a citation style can be overwhelming. There are so many to choose from, and to make things worse, each one comes with a complex set of rules and idiosyncrasies. It would be much easier if you could write without worrying about the format of your works cited page or about the placement of headings. Citation styles aren’t even that important — after all, they’re only used to prevent plagiarism, right?

Actually, it’s more complicated than that. With each citation style comes a unique culture suited to specific disciplines. Once you understand what these cultures require from a citation, picking one becomes much simpler.

Perhaps the most familiar citation style to college students is MLA (Modern Language Association). MLA is appropriate for the humanities as there is an emphasis on the use of quotes. To cite a quote in MLA, the format is usually (author page). This format makes the location of the quote clear and easy to find and accredits the quote appropriately. Recency does not matter in an MLA-cited source, so the date of publication is not included in the in-text citation. Whether you are quoting a sonnet from the 16th century or one of the best-selling novels of the year, what matters is that you sufficiently analyze the quote in relation to your claim.

APA (American Psychological Association) is another common citation style and is used more often in the social sciences. APA puts more emphasis on the date the source was published. In APA, the format for an in-text citation is generally (author, date). Unlike MLA, APA requires the date of publication in the citation because the recency of the source matters. This style is most often used for research and scientific papers, so you want to be sure that your ideas are backed up by the most up-to-date scientific knowledge. The more recent your source information is, the more legitimate your claims.

Chicago is used in the social sciences, humanities, and history. This style differs from both MLA and APA in that there are two ways sources can be cited. You can use either the Notes-Bibliography (NB) system or the Author-Date system (which is similar to MLA). In the NB system, superscript numbers are used in place of parenthetical citations, and the reference information is listed at the bottom of the page in footnotes. In Chicago, the strength of your argument is bolstered by the credibility of your sources. This is especially true for the NB system since all the reference information is visible on the page.

Next time you are confused about which citation style to use, try asking yourself about what kind of culture you are writing for: Does it pride the use of quotes and their analysis or does the recency of your source matter most of all? Does the strength of your argument depend on the credibility of your sources or your analysis of them? By asking yourself these questions, you may discover more about what kind of writing you have to do in addition to what citation style you need to use.


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Within Word Limits

By Bailey M. Gamberg

For some writers, a low word count limit means there is less work to complete. For others, this threshold impinges upon their ability to fully answer what a prompt is asking. A barrier like this can make the writer feel as though they don’t have enough space to fully address a prompt, explain a concept, or analyze a text. Cutting down your word count and making your writing more concise can be a daunting task, but most of the time you don’t have to cut out any major pieces of your argument. Below are some editing tips to help you eliminate extra words and fit your argument into a specified word limit.

1) Eliminate Redundant Words

Sometimes using adjectives and adverbs can help increase the quality of your writing, but when concision is the goal, they can often cause problems. For example, phrases such as “Past history has shown…” and “The armed shooter ran…” contain describing words that are repetitive. The reader already knows that history is in the past and that the shooter had a weapon. By combing through your work and looking at each word’s individual purpose, you can catch instances of unnecessary repetition like these.

2) Use Active Voice

Active and passive voices focus on the relationship between the subject, verb, and direct object within a sentence. Sentences in the passive voice are not grammatically incorrect or unintelligible, but they can be wordy. For example, the sentence “The hamburgers were eaten by Susan” isn’t technically wrong, but it is lengthy and awkward. “Susan ate the hamburgers” is a more concise, straightforward way of writing the same message using active voice. By putting the terms in order of subject-verb-direct object, you can eliminate excess words such as auxiliary verbs and prepositions.

3) Reduce the Introduction and Conclusion

Although it is important to not jump immediately into the body of the paper, introductions and conclusions are not meant to be the bulk of an assignment with a small word limit. Your reader—whether that be a professor or a scholarship committee—knows that you have a word limit and will be looking at how you support your argument in a limited amount of space. Introductions and conclusions shouldn’t be more than a handful of sentences each so that you have more room to get your point across.

The most important thing to remember is to not be intimidated by a word count limit. As long as you focus on the content of your argument and make your point clear, staying within the maximum word count is possible. Always feel free to come down to the Writing Center or book an e-consultation appointment if you need help!

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Why Wikipedia isn’t All Bad

By Shay Digenan

It’s probably nothing new to hear that Wikipedia is not the most reliable source on the internet. It’s been pounded into our brains since junior high, and I would venture to say, with the expansion of technology, first and second graders these days have begun to hear it already.

While Wikipedia can be a decent reference for finding out quick, easily-checkable facts, like when your favorite band toured their first album or how long Brad and Angelina were together, it should never be a go-to for a direct quote or paraphrase in an academic paper. Even though Wikipedia is not a viable source when writing academic content of substance and quality, it does provide one major advantage that too many people overlook—the references section at the bottom of each page. The references section often provides a plethora of sources that you might actually be able to use in an academic paper. Citations for Wikipedia articles can include basically anything, but it’s a great start in finding credible material that meets your academic needs.

Let’s take a look at the Wikipedia article about the 2012 election of the President of the United States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2012), which has 163 items listed in the references section. Most of these sources are from news sources like the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, and local/state newspapers, which are acceptable sources for an academic paper. By starting at this Wikipedia article instead of Google, you can bypass a search that might have returned extraneous articles that simply contain references to this election, how it compares to 2016, etc.

A Wikipedia article doesn’t need to have 100+ references to be an excellent starting point on sources, though. The article on protein biosynthesis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_biosynthesis) is much shorter than the one on the 2012 election and has a grand total of 3 references. However, the first link takes the reader to a 9-page journal article published in Cell Reports that explains the entire scientific process and its contexts.

While at least Wikipedia acknowledges the obvious fallacy of being an encyclopedia that anyone can edit, the risk that one runs by relying solely on Wikipedia for credible information is too large to ignore (especially taking into consideration that your grade is on the line). It’s also not enough to rely solely on whatever sources Wikipedia provides. Use this same method of checking references for journal articles to add even more reputable sources to your paper and improve your knowledge of that particular subject.

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Toul-me About It: Using the Toulmin Method of Logic in Writing

By Emily K. Tudorache

Every university student has been told at one time or another that college is about developing new opinions. One way that we as students develop these new opinions is through argumentative writing. Professors are constantly asking us to make a claim and defend our honor for the sake of higher education. Organizing our thoughts into a coherent argument can be pretty daunting, but fortunately there is a way to potentially make it easier: the Toulmin Method of Logic.

Stephen Edleston Toulmin was a British philosopher who dedicated his life to the study of ethics and moral language. He developed the Toulmin Method as a way of organizing the individual aspects of persuasion into a web that would address the parts necessary to constructing a convincing argument (“Stephen Edleston Toulmin,” 2009). Although his method was designed to be a tool for analyzing and understanding the arguments of others, we can use it to develop an outline for a persuasive paper.

The Toulmin Method goes like this (featuring an example from Harry Potter, complete with spoilers):

  1. Claim

Here you identify the main claim of your argument, whether it is your thesis that encompasses the whole paper or a subclaim for a supporting paragraph. A clear and concise claim will make the rest of this process go smoothly and make generating the thesis and topic sentences easier.

For example, if my main point was to argue the negative effects of the horcrux inside Harry, one subclaim I could make would be that the Dursleys were awful to Harry as a result of being exposed to the horcrux for so many years.

  1. Reason

This is where you elaborate on the reasoning behind your claim. It should be an explanation of the logic you developed to reach the claim you’re making, not cited evidence from an outside source. Your own thoughts are important here.

A reason behind the subclaim about the Dursleys could be this: “Horcrux exposure can alter people’s moods, making them more irritable and cruel.”

  1. Evidence

Provide a piece of evidence that supports your reasoning. Now, this is where you bring in sufficient and reputable facts from an outside source. These can be statistics, quotes from experts, testimonies, and other forms of concrete evidence. In more personal narratives, it’s possible that these pieces may be an anecdote or memory.

My evidence for this example would be: “When Ron had to wear Slytherin’s locket in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he became resentful of Harry and lashed out at his friends, eventually causing him to leave the group.”

  1. Counterclaim

In this step, identify some possible arguments against your claim. The strongest arguments include acknowledging the “other side” and their views. By being able to recognize how others may see the issue and effectively argue against it, your own stance becomes harder to refute.

One counterclaim against our little fan theory points out that Professor McGonagall stated at the beginning of the first book that the Dursleys were already bad people, so there’s no way to determine that their behavior was a result of being exposed to the horcrux in Harry.

  1. Rebuttal

Address your opponent’s counterclaim by respectfully providing the evidence and reasoning you have against it. Pointing out a counterclaim and not providing a rebuttal makes your own argument weaker, so this part is critical to fortifying your stance against the opposition.

A respectful rebuttal to the counterclaim may sound like this: “It’s true Professor McGonagall did find the Dursleys distasteful, but this does not totally explain their behavior. Although Petunia is shown to have disliked her sister’s magical qualities, evidence is given throughout the books to support the notion that Petunia did care for her sister, so it’s unlikely she would severely abuse her nephew—who was only a young child—simply out of spite.”

There you have it—the five basic steps of building an argument using the Toulmin Method of Logic. You may repeat this process as many times as is necessary to construct an argumentative essay of the proper length or complexity. Now go forth, student, and show the world—or maybe just your philosophy professor—your freshly honed argumentative skills.


Stephen Edleston Toulmin. (2009). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Stephen-Edelston-Toulmin.


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Confusing, Complicated, Curious Words We All Mix-Up Sometimes: Part 2!

By Ash Thoms

I would advise you to heed the advice in this blog post.

“Advice” is a noun indicating a recommendation from a person who is usually in a place of authority. For example, you gave me some great advice on how to get through my classes this semester. “Advise” is a verb which means to offer suggestions about the best course of action. My mother advised me to go to bed before two in the morning. When we advise someone on something, we are giving them a piece of advice.

The bare ideas of this post are easy to understand, although the confusing words create issues for many. If you bear with me, I’ll try to give you as clear of a description as I possibly can.

“Bare” means basic or simple in the context of the sentence above. The bare essentials of my outline are ready to be expanded into a full essay. It can also mean uncovered or not clothed. My bare hands are freezing in this cold winter weather. “Bear” as a verb means to tolerate or be patient with. Please bear with my thought process, as it can get a little confusing. As a verb it can also mean to support or carry. Let me bear the weight of your anxiety so you can get through this week. Finally, bear as a noun is an animal that you really don’t want to mess with. Look out behind youthere’s a bear!

I want to ensure that you have a clear idea of what these words mean after this blog post is over. After all, this post is the only way I can insure you against the perils of misusing words in your writing!

“Ensure” means to make certain that something will occur. I ensure my success in my economics class by regularly attending class meetings and doing my homework. “Insure” means to protect someone or something against a possible contingency. I am insured against theft and fire damage in my new house through my renter’s insurance.

I don’t mean to be coarse in trying to clarify the use of these words. I sincerely hope this post doesn’t come across as such. At least the course of this blog post is nearly at its end.

“Coarse” in the above sentence means a rude manner of speech or a rude person. You’re being quite coarse today, Mr. Buttons! It can also mean a rough texture or grain. This fabric is quite coarse, and I don’t really enjoy the feeling of it. “Course” refers to the route or direction of an object. We’re off course—get us back where we belong ASAP! A course is also another word for a class. If you can take a course with Professor Professorson, you should do it. Course can also be used as a verb to mean moving without obstruction. The water is coursing through the streets today as the flood continues (#NVFLOOD17).

I hope this blog post has complemented your already vast amount of knowledge. And yes, saying you already have a vast amount of knowledge is quite the compliment.

“Complement” can be either a noun or a verb. As a noun, it means a thing that completes. Graham crackers are the perfect complement to marshmallows and chocolate (now I want s’mores). As a verb, it means to add to something in a way that improves it. A good book complements a rainy day. “Compliment” can also be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it is an expression of praise or admiration. I got the best compliment about my hair today! As a verb it means to politely congratulate or praise someone for something. I compliment people on their sense of style all the time.

Hopefully the advice given in this post has been useful and put you on the course towards using these words correctly! This blog complements the original post about confusing words quite well, and hopefully ensures your success in using these words in your writing!

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Self-Awareness: Tips for Being an Observant Self-Editor

By Justin Patrick

It’s 11 p.m., and you have a seven-page paper due at midnight. You have been hurriedly writing for the past several hours, kicking yourself for not getting started on it sooner. With the midnight deadline quickly approaching, it appears that you will have no time to make any revisions or edits. However, a few simple changes to your writing process could have given you time for those necessary revisions.

It is incredibly easy to ignore editing your writing because, for many, reading what you have already written is exhausting and seems unnecessary.  Unfortunately, skipping the editing stage often means that painfully visible errors litter one’s paper and can lead to a poor grade. To avoid this scary reality and become a better writer, here are some tips for becoming a more observant self-editor.

  1. After completing a paragraph or page of writing, read it out loud to yourself or someone else.
    • It is extremely common for writers to notice simple mistakes they have made in their writing upon reading it back to themselves out loud. Missed punctuation, run-on sentences, incorrect tenses, and other errors of the like can be spotted after reading the writing out loud. When reading silently, the mind tends to skip over these mistakes and make corrections automatically so that the sentence makes sense. For example: “Can you you read this phrase?” Reading silently, the reader will often read over the second “you” in the previous sentence. Did you catch it? Reading out loud can do wonders for improving your writing and editing skills.
  2. Set the writing aside for a while and come back to it later.
    • Writers can get caught up in their work after writing for an extended period and suffer from the side effects of writing fatigue. For instance, after working hard on your essay for five hours straight, it is significantly more difficult to be objective with your editing. You will want to assume that everything you have written is correct. This means that you run the risk of neglecting how other readers may encounter your writing. Similarly, you are susceptible to ignoring simple errors after staring at your writing for a long time. Along with the previously mentioned benefits, allowing your writing to sit for an hour, a day, or even a week can do wonders for the clarity and coherence of your work.
  3. Take time to pick out specific trouble areas.
    • There are many issues that plague new and experienced writers alike. It would do you well to keep an eye out for these issues. Try to avoid unnecessary words like “really” or “very,” and keep in mind that passive voice should be avoided in certain disciplines (see our blog on passive versus active voice). Comma usage, along with other punctuation, also has the tendency to cause issues for writers. To combat this, read up on commas, semicolons, and colons and then proceed to make a conscious effort while writing to only include them when and where they are necessary. You could use the search function in Microsoft Word (Ctrl + f) to look for and double check the words or punctuation that give you the most trouble.

Keeping these strategies in mind while writing and editing will make your paper more polished and help you become an all-around better writer. While there are many more things you can do to make yourself a better self-editor, following these tips is a great first step!

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Citing Sources with the MLA Update

By Erin Goldin

In early 2016, the Modern Language Association (MLA) updated their guidelines for documenting sources. Though they made small changes in a handful of places, the biggest difference is in how we write citations for the Works Cited page. These changes are MLA’s answer to the rapidly shifting era of digital publication and media. Aiming for simplicity and flexibility, MLA now uses a universal set of guidelines that can applied to any source—digital, print, whatever.

Let’s take a look at what these new guidelines look like when put into practice.

Works Cited: The Core Elements

To create a Works Cited entry, we need to start with MLA’s list of “Core Elements.” These Core Elements are pieces of information common to most publications and are the building blocks for all of your citations, regardless of the publication format. All of your sources—whether they are books, websites, videos, scholarly articles, or speeches—will follow this list of Core Elements.

Identifying the Elements

In order to put together a citation, you first need to identify all of the Core Elements for your source. If you are missing one of the elements—like an author—skip it and move on to the next one.

Let’s take a look at one common type of source: online articles. Here’s a screen shot of the article I’ll be using as an example.

Now, let’s go through that list of Core Elements.

AUTHOR: Most (but not all) online articles have an author. Again, if there’s no author, move on to the next element. This article was written by Judith Warner.

TITLE OF SOURCE: The title of the source, in this case, is the title of the article: “The Why-Worry Generation.”

TITLE OF CONTAINER: “Container” here means the larger work that your source is a part of. So if your source is a scholarly article, the container is the journal the article is in, and if your source is a book chapter, the container is the book. The title of the container for our example is the name of the online magazine: The New York Times Magazine.

OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: This is where you would list an editor, translator, illustrator, or maybe the person who uploaded a video posted to YouTube. The article we’re using doesn’t have any other contributors, so we just move on to the next element.

VERSION: This article doesn’t have an edition to note, so we can skip ahead to the next element.

NUMBER: Here’s another element we can skip over; there’s no volume or issue number to include.

PUBLISHER: The publisher can sometimes be tricky to find on websites. The publisher is often also the name of the website—but not always. A good place to look is at the very bottom of the webpage. In the case of our example article, the publisher is listed with the copyright information: The New York Times Company.

PUBLICATION DATE: Our example article has the publication date listed right next to the author’s name: May 28, 2010.

LOCATION: For online articles, like this one, the location means the URL. Scholarly articles you find through the Knowledge Center’s databases may have a DOI (digital object identifier) instead.

Building a Works Cited Entry

Now, let’s put all those pieces together. Here’s what we need to do:

  • Arrange each element in the order that they’re given in the list of Core Elements.
  • Use the punctuation shown in the list of Core Elements.
  • Format the citation with the hanging indent that MLA Works Cited entries always use.

And here’s what the finished citation looks like:

Warner, Judith. “The Why-Worry Generation.” The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Company, 28 May 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/magazine/30fob-wwln-t.html.

For those of you familiar with previous versions of MLA, this citation probably looks pretty similar—and it is. The differences for some types of sources are minimal.

But what happens when we want to cite a clip of a television show that was uploaded to YouTube by a fan?

With the old MLA guidelines, we’d have to decide if that source should be cited as a YouTube video or cited as a television show—or cited as something else entirely. With the updated guidelines, however, it doesn’t really matter what type of source it is. All sources, no matter what kind, follow the list of Core Elements for their citations.

For what it’s worth, here’s a sample citation for a clip of a television show posted to YouTube:

“Argument Clinic – John Cleese and Michael Palin – Monty Python – English Close Captioning.” YouTube, uploaded by Mark Johnstone, 14 May 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUIA40uLlKw.

Find Out More

For more on MLA’s 8th edition, including more examples of citations and information about other format guidelines, check out the Writing Center’s printable resources on Style & Format, Citation Basics, and Tricky Citations or watch our video overview of creating your Works Cited using the new guidelines.


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Confusing, Complicated, Curious Words We All Mix-Up Sometimes

By Ash Thoms

Your brain is probably wondering why you’re reading this blog post.

Your and you’re are two words that are commonly confused in written form. When we use “your,” we’re talking about possession, as in it belongs to you. You shouldn’t let them use your toothbrush. When we use “you’re,” we’re saying you are. You’re an awesome human being (both a fact and an example).

I’m sure you feel like you have better things to do. There are plenty of activities with their own interesting topics and rules, and they’re all accessible to you. Yet, here you are reading what I’ve written about words that are easily confused in writing.

When we use “there,” we’re discussing a place, like we live over there, or using it as a dummy subject, like there should be more cookies. “They’re” means they are, as in they’re going to the store to buy cake. “Their” is possessive, as in it belongs to them. For example, their lives are so awesome.

Are you intrigued by the idea of what could be coming next? It’s a mystery; the content of a blog post has a mind of its own sometimes. It’s quite nice that you’ve joined in on its journey, though.

Using “its” indicates possession, as in something belongs to it. That dog has its own tail in its mouth! “It’s” is the contraction of it is. It’s really cold outside!

I hope this blog post is positively affecting your writing. If not, the likely effect of you reading this would be a feeling of disappointment. I truly hope you aren’t disappointed.

“Affect” is a verb which means to have an effect on or make a difference to. My poor grade on this paper may affect my ability to pass the class. “Effect” is a noun meaning a change that is a result or consequence of another action. Your actions have an effect on my well-being. (Side note: This one is a bit tricky because in certain instances “effect” can act as a verb and “affect” can act a noun. We’re just sticking to the most common usages here for simplicity’s sake.)

Are you beginning to accept what’s going on here? We’ve gone over so many words, except we still have so many more words to cover. I promise it won’t be too much longer!

“Accept” is the action of agreeing or receiving. I accept the consequences of my actions. “Except” means not including. I remembered  everything except for my headphones.

We’ve certainly loosened the grip of misunderstanding about these words throughout this post. I hope we’ve been able to do so without you, dear reader, losing your mind!

Use “lose” when you are talking about being unable to find something or you cease to have something. I lose my keys all the time (yeah, it’s true). Use “loose” when you are talking about something that is not firmly or tightly fixed in place or not fitting tightly. I buy my shirts two sizes too big because I like them loose (in case you wanted more random facts about me).

I’m grateful that you’ve allowed me to hold your attention to this point. While I haven’t been speaking aloud to you, I hope you still take valuable information away from this blog post!

“Allowed” is the past tense of allow, which means to give permission to do something. I allowed myself to sleep in last weekend. “Aloud” relates to something being audible. Someone was reading aloud in the library, and it was very distracting.

If your confusion is still present, rest easy. Accept that these are challenging words. Let the grip of fear loosen—they’re all words you will adapt to using in time!

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Avoiding the Use of the First and Second Person in Academic Writing

By Dawson Drake

In academic writing, writers are often asked to step out of their comfort zone and take on new forms of writing. Many fields require writers to avoid the use of first person pronouns (I, we, me, and us) and second person pronouns (you and your). Many basic ideas are communicated using these pronouns. “I think…” is the simplest way of demonstrating a personal argument. “You can…” is the simplest way of demonstrating that a task can be performed by an individual. “In today’s world, we see…” is the most common way of demonstrating a grounded point about the world people observe around them. Unfortunately, given the constraints of certain fields (which are strictly enforced by some professors), these are all considered unacceptable. This is not something to be too concerned about, as there are straightforward replacements for any of these cases.

The first person, for the most part, is the easiest to fix. As stated earlier, conveying opinions is generally where a misplaced first person sentence shows itself. In argumentative writing, one can avoid this altogether by persuasively stating an opinion as subjective fact, as is the point of an argument. Here is an example of how a thesis can be salvaged from an “I think” statement:

“I think that flowers are the most beautiful plant because of their pretty colors.”
“Because of their pretty colors, flowers are the most beautiful plants.”

“We statements” can generally be replaced in the same way, by stating a clear and evidence-based act. Instead of saying:

“In today’s world, we see a growing number of people who love flowers.”
a writer can say:
“In today’s world, there is a growing number of people who love flowers.”

This is a simple solution. The “we see” phrase that is commonly used by writers is easily swapped with a more factual phrase, in this case, “there is.” This not only omits the use of the first pronoun but makes the statement seem more objective and can strengthen the argument to a reader.

The second person is often more difficult for students to overcome, as it is key in how individuals explain basic thoughts and actions to each other in everyday language. For the most part, when a person says “you can do this to cause this,” they aren’t necessarily referring to the person they are talking to or writing to. If a writer says, “You can get strong by lifting weights everyday,” they aren’t telling that specific reader that he/she can do it, but that anyone can. In fact, they are saying “anyone can become strong by lifting weights everyday.” This is a more realistic and general statement, as it says what the writer actually means and meets the standard of avoiding the second person pronouns by using the third person instead. In doing so, this method also sounds more professional. A statement such as:

“You should clean your house once a week because it will build discipline in your lifestyle.”
“A homeowner should clean his/her house once a week because it will build discipline in his/her lifestyle.”

In the second sentence, the idea of cleaning the house to have a better lifestyle is directed to more than one person, unlike the first, and becomes a more powerful statement as a result.

In every other Germanic language (and long ago in the English language) there exists a pronoun that is meant only to make general statements. In modern English, the equivalent of this is the word “one,” as in “one does this because of that.” The word “one” can be used to replace “you” sentences while still maintaining a greater generality than a specific word, similar to saying, “if a person…” or “if an individual…” Like before, a statement such as:

“You can fix most car problems with brute strength and the right tools.”
“One can fix most car problems with brute strength and the right tools.”

Basically, the exact same thing is said, except a general statement is made instead of a directed one, and if the second person is forbidden in a particular field of writing, this can be a writer’s best bet. Using “one” also sounds fairly eloquent.

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