The Oxford Comma Serial Killer: Part Two

By Trent Unruh, Edwin Tran, Kaitie Christensen, Rendle Williams, Ana Santana, and Melissa Waters

Chapter 2: The Cliché of Crime Investigation 

HQ made mention of a murder. It was related to some ongoing case about this “Oxford Comma Serial Killer.” However, the gruff and rather stereotypically jaded veteran detective’s mind was never in the right place.

Instead, Howard Phillips was one thousand nine hundred and twenty one kilometers away, metaphorically of course, from the conversation at hand.

“Jesus Christ Phillips, you’ve been sitting there for a good thirteen minutes just staring off into God only knows what. It’s almost like your thoughts were jumbled and disorganized, lacking any way to separate them in a more cohesive way that elicits clarity and understanding. Are you listening or are we gonna be sending ya’ off to the mental sanitations by the end of the day?”

Phillips nodded automatically. It was the usual go-to and often worked when he dealt with his neighbors, his banker, and more often these days, his lawyer and/or psychiatrist. He regarded the presence of the young recruit rather sardonically. He tried not being too caustic with the man, though child seemed to be more of an apt description of the badly bearded ideologue standing before him.

“Charles, I am rather aware of what you’ve been saying. You needn’t say it in so many words though.

“There’s been another murder. A. Murder. Do. You. Hear. Me?”

“It is the old weaver’s place.”

With those few words, they hurried off together towards a narrow network of small corridors and alleyways that seemed to be rather haphazard and without any semblance of planning.

They arrived at the scene of the crime and began the cliche mystery crime investigation. Of the most “obvious” signs of murder was a note hidden in the far recesses of a tiny cabinet. It read simply as follows:

“A man, a typewriter, and a grammatical mistake walk into a room. Only a man leaves alive. Always remember your rules, kiddos. The Oxford Comma Serial Killer has struck again.”

Chapter 3: The Vital Nuance of Grammar

Back in their office at HQ, the two detectives went over the evidence, having made notes of the gruesome scene; the overturned typewriter, the frantically fluttering pages, the man on the floor, and the note in the cupboard.

“What do you make of this, Charles? ” Phillips asked. “We’re looking for a motive…” He trailed off, staring into the middle distance, as was his habit.

“Well,” began the novice detective, “clearly the man was stabbed. He must have been working at the typewriter when the struggle began. The typewriter was overturned, there was paper everywhere, and the calluses on the man’s fingers indicate-”

“Cut to the point,” interrupted Phillips, emerging from his stupor. “The evidence that really matters is…” he grabbed a notepad and began to write, “the stab wound, the page and the note in the cupboard. We can see from the way that man was dispatched that the killer is experienced, skilled and attentive to detail-”

“Wait, there wasn’t another page in the cupboard, was there?”

“No, you idiot, I never said that. Anyway, the killer may strike again-”

“Yes, you did, just here; you wrote, ‘the page and the note in the cupboard.’ The page in question was on the man’s chest, not in the cupboard with the note.”

“You know what I mean,” Phillips retorted.

“I might be able to understand, but this is evidence of a MURDER, Phillips, we have to be precise. You would need to use a comma between ‘page’ and ‘and’ in order to accurately present the evidence as it was at the crime scene. We can’t afford confusion,” Charles said, as he corrected the note with a flick of his pen.

“Eureka! That’s it! Look here, at the page we found on the dead writer’s chest,” Charles began to read the final sentence aloud. “The famed chef found true solace and serenity from the mad race of London in cooking his family and his friends.

“I see nothing wrong with it,” grumbled Phillips; although he saw clearly the same issue Charles had corrected in his note moments before.

Charles began to explain, “Here it says that he would cook his loved ones (now, wouldn’t that be quite the murder case), but it can be assumed that he didn’t mean that. The author must have meant…” cooking, his family, and his friends, Charles scratched into his notepad.

“So you’re saying that the lack of this simple, trivial punctuation mark could have been the motive for a serial killer?” asked Phillips incredulously.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying!” Giddy at his own brilliance, Charles tripped on his way over to the bookcase and fetched back the Oxford English Dictionary. “Not only is it his motive for this murder, it’s his whole motive for being a serial killer. Look at this: the Serial Comma, also known as the Oxford Comma, is a comma immediately preceding the conjunction in a list of items.”

“Makes sense. He couldn’t very well call himself the Serial Comma Serial Killer, could he,” laughed Phillips. “And if he styles himself a serial killer, he must have done this before. You’re too young to remember, but we had a number of cases, if I recall, that went unsolved– something like this with papers, in private homes and offices…” He trailed off again and mindlessly followed Charles downstairs to the basement where the archives were kept.

The two detectives worked late into the night, pouring over the evidence of the London’s unsolved murders of years past, while somewhere in the heart of the city, the Oxford Comma Serial Killer tossed and turned in his sleep.


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The Oxford Comma Serial Killer

By Trent Unruh, Edwin Tran, Kaitie Christensen, Rendle Williams, Ana Santana, and Melissa Waters

Prologue: Frustration, Agony and Utter Confusion

I am the Oxford Comma Serial Killer because I thought Serial Comma Serial Killer was too confusing. It doesn’t matter what I’m reading; almost every newspaper, book, magazine, blog, and post forgets to add a comma where it is SUPPOSED TO BE.

I love reading, but I love understanding what I’m reading even more. I cannot describe the frustration of comprehending every bit of a text to only be met by a monstrous, vile, and repugnant pile of nonsensical information. Each time I come across a list without a comma before the penultimate (last item in a series) item, it makes my blood boil and my vision blur to the point that I can no longer read.

I’ve been struggling to hold my frustration back, but I just don’t think I can anymore. I don’t think anybody understands the pain, frustration, agony, and utter confusion I face everyday. I tried explaining what an Oxford Comma was to my therapist, but he didn’t understand what I was talking about and wrote me a referral to a psychiatrist instead. They all ignore me when I talk about Oxford Commas. They don’t see the lack of clarity that invades their minds everyday. The whole world is blind and needs to learn, and fear, the Oxford Comma. I have been chosen by the grammar gods to find, hunt, and eliminate all of those who oppose clarity while listing items. I am their instrument.

It took me a few days but I was able to round up masks, gloves, a dictionary, and a red pen. Now, I have everything I need. If you see red marks across the writings of the recently deceased, you know I have been there.

Chapter One: The Subtleness of Comma Sophistication 

The typewriter laid turned over on its side, its black sheen lost in the fading flicker of the lantern light. The keys grinned their broken grin, not at all seeming to mind the fresh splattering of blood on their worn lettering. London’s winter breeze sliced through the shattered panes of the study’s broken window, and the last page in the typewriter ruffled desperately, as though trying to escape the unrelenting grip of the grinning, turned-over beast. Though the light was dim and the wind relentless, the last typed sentence stood out as a hideous monument on the final page.

The famed chef found true solace and serenity from the mad race of London in cooking, his family and his friends.

The page stopped its frantic attempts at escape when a black-gloved hand closed over the top of it. The hand tightened its grip and pulled hard. A mechanic screech that sounded more like a high-pitched scream came through the grinning teeth of the typewriter as the page was torn out of its grasp. The wind itself seemed startled into silence, though whether from the cold presence of the intruder, or the sudden scream of the typewriter, was unclear.

Their grip so tight it nearly tore the page in half, the owner of the black gloves sneered behind the scarf that covered half their face. In the silence of the wind, a new sound rose from the floorboards. It was faint, shaken, and stained with fear. The author lying on the floorboards squinted over the top of his shattered spectacles at the intruder, only able to see their piercing grey eyes. He flinched when those eyes turned from his final sentence to the author himself. The movement brought a fresh wave of pain to the still aching bruise on the back of his head.

“Did you actually believe this to be clear writing?” the intruder said. Though their mouth was covered, their words were so full of ire and contempt, they came through clearly enough to make the author recoil as though he had been kicked in the chest.

The author opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was an uncertain croak. The intruder stared. The wind was back, unperturbed, screaming distantly and faintly through the jagged shards of the broken window.

“Please,” the author finally managed, barely audible over the crying of the wind. “Please, I have money, you can help yourself to anything of mine.”

The intruder knelt next to the author, looking back at the page in their hand. The accursed sentence quivered in their crushing grip, as if it could feel the burning rage that simmered off of the intruder. In a quick motion, the page was suddenly held in front of the author’s face. He flinched. The smell of fresh ink and old paper wafted into his face, and what normally brought comfort and satisfaction, brought only despair and terror.

“I asked you a question,” the intruder said. The author shuddered at how words spoken so softly could sound so angry and hateful. “Did you believe this to be clear writing?”

“I – yes, I did,” the author said, his voice barely above a whisper.

Understandable writing?”


“Following all of the nuances of grammar?”

“Yes!” the author said with a sob, his paralyzing terror breaking and sorrow overcoming his heart. The page and sentence in front of him were unfazed by his tears and whimpers, and they fell away. Grey eyes bored into the author, but he could not bring himself to meet them. All of this was becoming too much, and he felt his resolve and strength wilting away like fresh ink caught in an unforgiving rainstorm.

Then it happened.

The typewriter’s broken grin never faltered. If anything, it seemed to grow wider as it witnessed its owner fall beneath the silver dagger the intruder produced from his sleeve. The typewriter stared its mechanical, unfeeling stare when the intruder dropped the author’s final page of writing onto his unmoving chest. Rain began to cut through the shards of broken glass and mingled with the fresh blood that ran down the keys of the typewriter. The mechanics of the typewriter all but groaned at the onslaught of water, as though the keys had already begun to stiffen and rust, but that hardly seemed a concern anymore.

After all, it had just seen the Oxford Comma Serial Killer strike again.

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Writing Wars: Chapter Two

By Raelynn de la Cruz, Chasen Fayeghi, Jordan Knowles, Nathan Lachner, Charis Nixon, and Haley Reineman

Planet Ebsco

Luke Skywriter’s idea wouldn’t stop squirming and making incomprehensible noises. His idea was strong and seemed to be sustainable, but he knew he needed to learn more about his idea if he was to finish his quest and become a Writing Master.

Skywriter felt a familiar pull on his gut, “The Force,” he thought.

It had been so long since he had felt it, but he could sense it now stronger than ever. It was pulling him back to his ship. A hologram from his Writing Master, Obi Wan Composition, was waiting for him when he arrived.

“Luke, I am sending this to you in hopes that your quest is moving forward. There is some resistance here in the Council. It seems that there is a new organization rising up against the Writers. They call themselves ‘The Doubt.’ Please be wary of their presence as we are unsure of the reach they have. As for your quest, I am hoping you have caught your idea—they are hard to find sometimes and capturing one is a great accomplishment. Now you must learn more about your idea on Planet Ebsco. It’s a utopian planet. You won’t find anything there unless you are concise and specific with what you are looking for. You’ll find Planet Ebsco already in your navigation in the Metonymy Falcon. Be strong young Skywriter. You can do this. May the Writing Force be with you.”

The hologram cut out. The idea of The Doubt sent shivers down Skywriter’s spine. Nevertheless, he continued his quest. He selected Planet Ebsco from his navigation and immediately felt the numbing and pulling sensation of going into light speed.

As the Metonymy Falcon slowed to orbit Planet Ebsco, Skywriter looked out the window at a fantastical sight. The entire city was chrome and clean, nothing out of place anywhere. He landed, exited his ship, and began making his way to the immense, silver tower in the middle of the city. Upon his entry, he saw a service desk at the back of the room titled “The Search Bar”and decided to make his way there. A robotic-looking woman appeared out of nowhere.

“Can I help you?” asked a voice that didn’t quite seem human.

“Yes! How do I find more information on my idea?”

“Well, it depends on what you want to know. But the Search Bar is the right place to discover where you need to go. Our systems are very picky, which can make searching tricky. You must be very specific with what you want to know. If you aren’t, you will have no information with you when you go or you’ll be overwhelmed with information. Follow me, and I will show you the way. I can feel the Force within you—don’t dismay.”

Overwhelmed, Skywriter followed the woman to a massive elevator, stepped in, and began his search. The elevator slowly made its way up.

“Please insert your idea,” a voice boomed from the elevator, startling Skywriter.

An opening appeared in the wall of the elevator. Flustered, Luke pulled the idea from his bag and put it into the opening. A screen lit up on the elevator, “Is everything reliable?” it read, with three locks below the question.

Unsure of how to proceed Luke muttered, “Not everything is reliable. What if it hasn’t been reviewed by others? ”

The first lock opened. He must have done something right! He continued to think aloud,
“If the information is too old, it won’t be relevant anymore or may contain misinformation.”

Another lock unlatched. Luke struggled to think of more concerns. He sat down cross-legged and contemplated what else might make an idea unreliable.

“Incomplete information is always dangerous, so just reading an abstract is never good enough. The people who write abstracts are also not always the people who wrote the article, so the information isn’t always accurate. The introduction, results, and conclusions are sections with the most reliable information. However, the abstract is good place to start.”

The final lock unlatched and the door opened. Skywriter looked at the room overwhelmed with the volume of information. Inside the room were thousands of computer screens, each with a different article on it.

The booming voice returned, “Pick the the correct articles, and you will have completed the tasks.”

Skywriter scanned the different screens. He stepped back for a moment and closed his eyes. There it was again. That pull he had felt earlier—the Force had returned. It pulled him toward a computer screen that had another article on it. That’s when he noticed the date; it was published within the last five years, and it was peer-reviewed. He read and annotated the abstract to get an overview of the article and proceeded to the introduction, results, and conclusion. It was a good match, so he selected his first article. He repeated this two more times, looking for the criteria he had established. Once he found the last article, a tray flew out of the wall on a mechanical arm. It was the three articles he had selected, all relevant to his idea.

The voice boomed a final time, “Congratulations, you have completed your Ebsco tasks. You may think the worst is over, but there are more challenges to come. Now you must travel to Planet Drafting and create your thesis statement and develop supporting ideas. Planet Drafting is a difficult place, and it is easy to get lost and never find your way back again. I wish you luck young Skywriter—you will need it.”

And with that a large door opened leading outside. Luke stepped out, more confident but still anxious to continue his journey to Planet Drafting.

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Writing Wars: Chapter One

By Raelynn de la Cruz, Chasen Fayeghi, Jordan Knowles, Nathan Lachner, Charis Nixon, and Haley Reineman


After years of diligently training his Writing Force skills, one final test remainedthe student had perfected his sentences and later order concerns like spelling and punctuation; however, yesterday he received a new quest. He walked into the council of the Word and opened the large artisan doors engraved with the ancient font of Times New Roman. The student walked down the pristine, granite walkway until he stood before the council of the Word.

Chancellor Long Essay looked down at him and huffed, “What is it that you request of us today, Luke Skywriter?”

“I am ready to become a writing master. Give me my final quest so I can finally call myself a Writing Jedi,” he pleaded.

Chancellor Long Essay squinted his eyes and sat in silence for five long seconds, “Hmm…You will earn the prestigious title of Writing Jedi, but not until you have completed for me…the great research paper! You must research a topic and articulate it in precise and engaging language. This essay will need to be cohesive with a strong, guiding thesis!”

“But Chancellor!” he responded, “I’m not sure if I can succeed in this task. This paper has filled me with crippling self-doubt and anxiety.”

The Chancellor was displeased by Skywriter’s hesitation, “You have no choice. The deadline is set—you have one month to come back with your revised research paper or you will receive the most horrible punishment of the Writing Councilthe F.”

Skywriter shrieked, “No, it can’t be! Please spare me my life!”

“Now get out, and don’t come back empty-handed, Skywriter!”

Skywriter left the Writing Council, filled with doubt, and began searching his mind for an idea, delving into the chasms of his unconscious for hope and inspiration for the project to come.


Chapter One—Planet Brainstorm

Skywriter landed his Metonymy Falcon on the surface of Planet Brainstorm, a harsh planet with three suns that created an environment of constant, scorching daytime. The ecosystem consisted of sandy desert land with scattered shrubs along the dunes and a vast network of caves below.

Luke Skywriter sat on top of a dune with his 1000 UV protection sun goggles, peering out into the sandy mist of the world. Skywriter was looking for a reptilian hexapod called the “idea.” The ideas constantly hid from the gaze of idea poachers by burrowing into the sand and retreating into the caves below.

From the top of the dune, the young student could see a dark figure in the distance. Skywriter rode his hoverboard into the multi-solar sunrise. As he traveled into the distant horizon, he kept his eyes set on the dark, motionless figure ahead of him. It took him a few hours to get to the figure in the distance, and to his dismay, it was just tall, spindly shrub of Planet Brainstorm. 

The discouraged student sunk down onto his knees, as tears streamed across his dust covered cheeks. “I thought I found an idea,” he moaned.

But, that was just his first lesson. The first time a potential Writing Jedi thinks they have an idea, it may just be a desert shrub of Planet Brainstorm, but they must persevere. Rather than give up, Skywriter marched into the dust storms of the planet. He needed to spend several moments silently contemplating the task at handit was important for him to spend some time in silence to focus on the ideas that he wanted to capture. All of a sudden, Skywriter picked up a stick and started drawing in the sand, scribbling what he imagined an idea looked like.

After sketching in the sand and organizing his ideas, Skywriter set out to find another idea. He pulled out his high-powered electronic binoculars and spotted a scaled beast at the mouth of a desert cave. When he got closer, the idea retreated into the mouth of the nearby cave, and Skywriter followed closely behind. His heart was bursting as he chased the idea through the subterranean cave network of the Planet Brainstorm. Skywriter pulled a huge net out of his bag and threw it over the idea. He stood in the shadows of the cave, looking at the idea that he had just captured, but that was only the beginning of his quest.


To be continued…

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Important Verbs in Assignment Prompts

By Iris Saltus 

Have you ever received an assignment that was difficult to understand? If there comes a time when you’re unsure of how to respond to an assignment, take a look at the verbs used in the prompt. The verbs in an assignment prompt often clarify your instructor’s expectations, and they determine the particular goal of your writing product. Below are descriptions of verbs that are commonly used to guide your response to an assignment prompt.

  1. Summarize. When you summarize, you demonstrate your general understanding of a topic by restating its information. In your own words, describe the topic’s main argument and supporting points. Make sure your summary answers the question, “What is this about?”
  2. Analyze. A simple summary won’t cut it. When you analyze, you need to interpret the meaning of a source’s information by examining particular elements of its subject matter or structure. Your analysis should “unpack” pieces of evidence. Ask yourself, “How does this source support its argument?”
  3. Evaluate. While this verb may seem similar to analyze, it means to form an assessment of how effective or ineffective a topic is. When you evaluate, you determine the quality of a topic. Your may try to answer, “How well does this topic support its argument?”
  4.  Apply. In this situation, you take a concept that you’ve learned in class and use it to produce your own original work. When you apply, you create a unique argument using a particular theoretical framework or school of thought. Ask yourself, “What does this concept suggest about a specific topic?”
  5. Compare. When you draw a comparison, you need to identify the similarities and differences between multiple topics. Once you’ve made those identifications, you should also discuss their significance. Try to answer the question, “Why is it important to recognize the parallels (or conflicts) between these topics?”
  6. Defend/Argue.  Pick a clear position on a topic and support that position with concrete evidence. As you craft your argument, you should recognize a counterargument and debunk it. Keep in mind that argumentative writing typically requires analysis. You can monitor your argument by considering, “How does this evidence justify my position on this topic?”
  7.  Reflect. Whereas the other verbs prompt you to make an objective interpretation of a topic, this verb prompts you to record your opinions and/or reactions to a topic. You may ask yourself, “How do I feel about this topic, and why do I feel that way?” or “What did I learn from this?”

Your instructors are not limited to using these verbs in their assignment prompts, but this sampling should give you an idea of what you need to do for your assignments. Keep in mind that you will (almost) always need to integrate examples and/or evidence into your writing—even if you’re not explicitly instructed to do so. When in doubt about an assignment prompt, you should seek the advice of your teacher. You can also schedule a face-to-face or online consultation at the Writing Center to review your assignment’s fulfillment!

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Graduate Writing

By Emily K. Tudorache

If you’re thinking about going to graduate school, I’m sure you have a list of misgivings as long as the thesis you’d be expected to write. Pursuing a graduate degree can be a challenging endeavor, partly due to the volume and type of writing involved in graduate school. Lucky for you, the University Writing Center has plenty of graduate students on staff who have been there before and can help any current or prospective grad student tackle the obstacles ahead. To get you started, I interviewed one of my graduate student colleagues about her writing process; maybe her answers can help you quell those anxious thoughts.

Kari is pursuing her M.A. in English with a focus on postcolonial literature. She hopes to work for a non-profit before (maybe) going back to school to earn her PhD. I asked her some questions about her experiences writing and researching in graduate school.

  1. What kind of writing do you have to do in your field?
    I usually have to write typical analysis essays, but conference papers, which are 10 page conversational pieces usually presented at academic conferences, are also common. I do find myself writing 20-25 page papers as final projects for classes that may be geared toward becoming an article for an academic journal in a topic I am interested in.
  2. What kind of environment do you prefer to be in while conducting research and writing your paper? Do they differ? Why or why not?
    I like to research and write in two main places: home or in a quiet place, like a library or my office. I prefer to do my research at a library, so I can check out books as I go. I think it’s important to try to break away from online sources because print sources have so much to offer. For the rest of the process, I like to switch up my location, especially during longer research papers, otherwise the work can become monotonous.
  3. If you could describe your typical writing process in a few steps, how would you sum it all up?
    My first step is to start with jotting down any and all of my ideas, usually in a list format. I then pull out a few resources to get started but hold off on using them until I have fleshed out my analysis. My third step is to focus on drafting 3 pages a day until I have a full draft for the desired length of the paper. After that, I focus on revision, so I don’t need to stress about reaching the page count during the fine-tuning of the paper.
  4. For you, what is the most daunting part about writing in graduate school?
    For me, just starting and getting those first few pages done is the most daunting task because, even though I write papers all the time, it’s still nerve-wracking to think about all that goes into such a project. I tend to second-guess my ideas before I really get started.
  5. What do you wish you had been taught in undergrad before going into grad school? If you had any advice for the aspiring graduate student what would it be?
    My advice for a first-semester grad student is that grad school may be daunting but don’t forget that you didn’t just get in on a fluke—you earned your place. For the aspiring grad student, it’s good to find a faculty mentor who can guide you in the process and help you with your application by making suggestions and writing letters of recommendation. Look for that personal connection.


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Dealing with Appointment Anxiety

By Ellen Israel

Writing consultants are confident and all-knowing when it comes to writing, right? Actually, this statement couldn’t be more wrong. Consultants are students too — we have our own insecurities and doubts, especially when it comes to writing.

For me, anxiety about my writing abilities prevented me from stepping foot inside the University Writing Center (UWC) before I started working there. I would have rather received a bad grade than have someone, especially someone I perceived to be more experienced and talented in writing, judge my papers. However, after working as a consultant and experiencing firsthand how much we can help struggling students, I regret not taking advantage of the UWC’s services before. My old papers lack organization, have incoherent sentences, and are constructed on weak thesis statements. A trip to the UWC would have rectified these issues and more. I know that instead of getting the help I needed, I let my anxiety get the best of me. I also know I’m not the only one who feels this way. If you’re struggling with anxiety, but still want to get writing help, it’s okay—it’s still possible.

So, how can you deal with anxiety about coming into the writing center? Here are some ways you can make your appointment less stressful and maybe even enjoyable.

  1. Search for a consultant with similar interests or a similar major. You can do this through our website—each consultant has written a bio describing their interests, major(s), and writing strengths. This will help you avoid the shock of meeting a total stranger when you come in, and you might be able to better connect with someone who shares your interests or major.
  2. Visit the University Writing Center before your appointment. Our lab area, complete with computers and helpful writing resources, is open to everyone. Even if you’re not working on a writing assignment, you’re welcome to come in and find a place to study. This way, you’ll be able to get a sense of what the writing center is like before you make an appointment.
  3. Schedule an online appointment. If you’re incredibly anxious about coming to see us, and meeting with one of our consultants is completely out of the question, there’s another way you can receive help from the writing center. We have an online system where you can upload your paper and get feedback. Hopefully, using our online appointment system will make the idea of coming in for a face-to-face appointment less daunting.

If you’re still scared to come in for an appointment, that’s all right! We’ll be here until you feel  ready. Remember—writing consultants are students just like you, and we’re here to help.


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Clarity’s Last Stand

By Nate George


Below we have the dark and twisted tale of the rise and fall of my dear friend Clarity. Please, be aware that this is not a story for the faint of heart. It follows Clarity, an essential yet often overlooked element of the English language. After decades of an adequate yet hardly remarkable existance, he has recently been made aware of a threat on his life. These threats come from the dark underworld known only as The Realm of the Misplaced Modifier. The inhabitants of this realm, once condemned to eternal suffering, have recently found their way into the real world. They threaten Clarity every day with the promise of total annihilation. On this day, the Misplaced Modifiers won the war.

Clarity wakes in the morning to birds chirping softly outside his window. “Today will be the day,” he whispers to himself. He quickly gets dressed, grabs a cup of coffee, and scoots out the door. The brisk autumn air brushes his cheeks, and he returns his car keys to his pocket. He softly chuckles to himself, “A nice morning like this, why drive to work?” He heads down the street, whistling a rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” and daydreaming about the comma he was at the bar with last night. “She really was something…” he mutters. As the song concludes and the daydream fog subsides, Clarity realizes that he doesn’t know where he is. Bieber’s mesmerizing vocals has led him unknowingly into a rough part of the neighborhood. As he looks around in search of a recognizable street sign, he spots a gang of Misplaced Modifiers stepping out from their hiding place behind a vacant building. “Oh sh—” he sputters as he turns to run. Before he can even complete his expletive, they are on him.

“I drank a hot cup of coffee this morning!” shouts one of the attackers.

“No, please!” begs Clarity “The cup isn’t hot—the coffee is! Therefore, you drank a ‘cup of hot coffee this morn—’” A looping fist connects with the soft flesh of Clarity’s cheek, abruptly cutting him off. Clarity spits, turning the pavement beneath him a dark shade of red. He continues, seemingly unfazed by the lack of his lateral incisor, “In order to avoid confusion, the goal is to keep the modifier as close as possible to the thing that it’s modifying in the sentence.”

“AAAGHH!” shrieks another Misplaced Modifier. “I saw a yard sale on the way here!”

A burst of pain rips through Clarity’s abdomen as he is hit with a Louisville Slugger. “No…” he musters. He draws a short breath and croaks, “Was the yard sale headed over here? Have yard sales suddenly become sentient and moving? No? You were the one who was coming here, so the correct sentence would be ‘On the way here I saw a yard sale.’” He draws another pained breath, the coppery taste of blood now present on the back of his tongue. “Remember, adjectives, adverbs, and phrases must be as close as possible to the noun they are modifying. If this isn’t done correctly, clarity is adversely affected and a misplaced modifier is formed. This is where a noun other than the intended recipient of an adjective/adverb/phrase is affected.”

The Misplaced Modifiers, far past the point of coherency, show no signs of slowing. “She served dinner to her parents on fine china!” squawks a Misplaced Modifier with the words “Big Nasty” tattooed on his face.

Paralyzed now from the waist down, Clarity speaks, his voice barely above a whisper, “Her parents are not located on top of fine china. You should have said ‘She served dinner on fine china to her parents.‘ Generally, you should try not to put other words between the modifier and the thing it’s modifying.”

A Misplaced Modifier named Flea lands the final blow.  “Tired from running all morning, Bill’s exhaustion forced him to take a nap before lunch!” he wretches.

Now welcoming death with a loving embrace, Clarity uses his final dying breath. “How is Bill’s exhaustion tired from running? Since when did physical states have emotion? I believe that you meant to say ‘Tired from running all morning, Bill was forced to take a nap before lunch because of his exhaustion.'”

Clarity lies on the asphalt for a few moments before his eyelids slowly slide shut. “I tried,” he whispers. “I tried…

And just like that, Clarity has been killed by the Misplaced Modifiers.


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How to Tackle the WebCampus Discussion Post

By Pamela Hong

If the task of responding to your class discussion post on WebCampus is intimidating to you, you’re reading the right blog post. If the task isn’t intimidating to you, you can still take away a few tips and tricks to help you on your next discussion post assignment—so read on.

1.) Formatting

Make sure your post is easy to read. Serif fonts are the best choice for online writing. Formatting is not the place to stand out—avoid bright colors and loud fonts. Your post’s formatting should be consistent with the rest of your classmates’ responses.

WebCampus can be tricky—consider drafting your post in a text editor, e.g. Word, and then copying and pasting the response into the discussion thread. Using a text editor ensures that can save your work as you write and helps you avoid technical issues. Additionally, text editors have more features for formatting and editing than WebCampus.

2.) Content

The first step is to dissect the question your professor posts, because ultimately, you want to make sure you answer what you are expected to. Are you arguing for a stance? Are you expanding on a statement? Are you suggesting ideas to the group? It seems self-explanatory, but it’s very easy for a class to stray off topic as more people post responses. Much like the game of Telephone, a discussion can shift completely from what was originally intended; therefore, it is crucial to properly dissect the question for what it is actually asking before starting your own response or reading others.

In the next step of actually posting your response, you should strive for an answer that is an original, intelligent, and complete response to the discussion question.

Make sure to read what has already been posted (if there are any posts) before blindly responding with ideas that have already been said. It might even seem like you copied another student’s idea, regardless if that is true or not. The tone of your response should also be professional and constructive. When disagreeing with a previous post,  argue your own viewpoint in a respectful and eloquent fashion. Incorporating personal experience can be an effective way to connect with your audience; however, you should remain on topic.

Your response should also be touching on all the points or parts of the question. Rather than answering one part and calling it finished, try re-reading the question and seeing if the entire discussion response you’ve drafted has every component that your professor wants you to answer.

3.) Replies

Replying to your classmates’ posts is often a component of WebCampus discussion assignments—don’t forget to use your classmate’s name when replying. You can facilitate discussion in the replies with open-ended questions. Depending on your instructor’s requirements, try and respond to as many posts as possible.

4.) Finishing Touches

Add some extra flair to make your post stand out. Consider including multimedia such as photos, video, or audio. Additionally, you can provide links to related articles. WebCampus has a hyperlink feature that allows you to easily embed these links. If your post requires a title, make sure you create something clear and informative that will catch your instructor’s and classmates’ attention.

Finally, when you have your final draft ready to be posted, re-read it, then re-read again! Did you completely answer the question? Make sure your grammar is correct, that you answered the question or built upon another person’s response, and that you maintain a professional tone throughout your response.


Here’s an example of an original post and two replies:

Original Post: “The electoral college system is an accurate way of reflecting what the majority of the United States wants in a president because of its protection of the votes in smaller states.”

Weak Response: “The Electoral College is outdated, and anyone who thinks that it works is a no-good Trump supporter.”

Strong Response: “While the Electoral College may seem like a measure to restrict larger states’ voting power, there are many flaws in the design and construct. Some of these flaws include the following: the electoral vote doesn’t necessarily reflect the popular vote, the electoral system incentivizes campaigns to ignore states with smaller amounts of electorates, and the Electoral College places a disproportionate amount of power in individual votes from smaller states. Therefore, the popular vote should decide who is president.”

The weak response simply posits an opinion without any supporting evidence. The stronger response states an arguable claim and supports this claim with specific evidence. The stronger response also acknowledges the opposing view without attacking the writer.

Even though these assignments can be tedious, try to take advantage of WebCampus discussion posts as an opportunity to engage with the course material and to facilitate conversations with classmates.


Happy writing!


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The Three-Pronged Thesis: Trials and Tribulations

By Kylie Lohmeyer

The college experience is far different from high school and making such an extreme transition can be tough. Though living without the comforts of home is nothing shy of awful, the true challenge of college is adapting to the expectations and rigor of schoolwork. Incoming students are expected to have developed critical thinking, reading, and writing skills upon enrolling in their first college courses. Students at all levels are constantly learning and adapting these critical skills into their writing; however, we often default to a three-pronged thesis/five-paragraph essay when faced with complex college-level writing. Understanding the structure and function of three-pronged theses as well as its advantages and disadvantages will help you decide the appropriate time to utilize this structure.

A three-pronged thesis is just what it sounds like: a thesis with three points or sub-topics that will support your main claim. Each of these prongs equate to one paragraph within your essay, setting you up to have three body paragraphs, an introductory paragraph, and a concluding paragraph (five paragraphs total).

For example, I want to write a three-pronged thesis to answer why ice cream is the best dessert. An essay utilizing this thesis would appear as follows:

Introduction: Brief discussion about a general concept that leads up to your thesis. Background information that your audience needs in order to understand the rest of your essay. For example, you could discuss the history of ice cream, the popularity of ice cream across the world, or even a brief anecdote about your personal experience with ice cream.
Thesis: Ice cream is the best dessert because it’s creamy, comes in an array of flavors, and can be eaten in a variety of ways.
Body: According to the three-pronged thesis formula, the first body paragraph will describe how ice cream’s creamy texture contributes to its popularity as a dessert, the second paragraph will detail ice cream’s array of flavors, and the third paragraph will explain the versatility of this dessert.
Conclusion: In this structure, your conclusion should summarize your final thoughts on ice cream. High school teachers often advise students to re-state their thesis and end with a connection to the “real world.”

Although three-pronged theses are straightforward and familiar, they should be avoided in college-level academic writing. In fact, three-pronged theses and the resulting five paragraph essay will never be structurally complex enough to capture higher level thinking. The three-pronged thesis approach can hinder you in the following ways:

  • The organization of your paper can feel disjointed. The three prongs of the thesis may address your larger claim, but they don’t necessarily connect or interact with each other. Therefore, your paper will lack synthesis and cohesion unless you can relate the subtopics together throughout your paper. If you’ve ever struggled with paragraph transitions, you were likely using a three-pronged thesis and failed to synthesize the three prongs.
  • This format may inhibit your ability to be creative since it forces you to present your ideas in a rigid structure. Writing is your chance to be original and showcase your voice. There are an infinite number of ways to present an argument and provide supporting claims—be creative!
  • You may have more than three important subtopics to discuss. Whether you like it or not, you will be tasked with writing a research paper at some point in your college career. These can be anywhere from 5-15 pages long (sometimes even longer). Five paragraphs are simply not enough to showcase months of research and to synthesize complex interpretations; you may need more than one paragraph to explain and substantiate a single claim.

More often than not, three-pronged theses are the wrong choice; however, this structure does have its advantages.

  •  A three-pronged thesis is the ideal choice if you are writing a timed essay where efficiency is paramount. This type of thesis will help you quickly organize your thoughts while forcing you to remain focused on the main claim.
  • Three-pronged theses can improve readability for instructors. Sometimes you’ll have an instructor who is not as interested in eloquent language or beautiful transitions, rather these instructors are solely interested in your ability to provide necessary detail and follow a strict set of guidelines (e.g. science classes, engineering, etc.). In this case, having a three-pronged thesis creates a simplified structure, making your professor’s life a little easier.

Remember, writing is malleable. There are always multiple ways to reach a destination in writing. Although templates come in handy for timed tests or particular professors, this format can narrow your options. Remember to use extreme caution when utilizing the three-pronged thesis because you will struggle to capture complex thinking with such a simplistic template.

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