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


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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,

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,

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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Reading Strategies for the GRE

By Pamela Hong


Remember taking the SATs and/or ACTs before applying to college for your undergraduate degree? Did you stress profusely for a few weeks, and then felt utterly hopeless once you got a subpar score back after trying your best on test day? If you’re thinking about (or certain about) graduate school, here is your second chance at that experience!

Now, let’s talk GRE:

First off, take it step-by-step this time. Taking the GRE is more about preparing yourself by sections, much like the SATs. As the title alludes, I’ll be giving you some tips and skills for the “reading” part. The reading section of the Graduate Record Examinations test is simply made up of a short piece of text followed by a set of questions about it—tone, the author’s purpose,  definition based on context, etc.

Under the time constraints, however, it may be more beneficial to practice how to answer the questions rather than understanding the content thoroughly. Here are eight different types of questions you will see in the Reading Comprehension section:

  1. Main Idea Questions

What they might look like: In this passage, the author is primarily concerned with…?

What they’re asking: The overall purpose/message/theme of the passage

How to answer: As you read, try discerning the main idea throughout the paper without focusing too much on the minutia of the story’s details. Is the message about hope? Overcoming adversity? Perseverance? This question is asking about the passage as a whole, so what is the one thing you take away from it?

  1. Tone of the Author Questions

What they might look like: The author’s attitude towards contemporary cinema can be best described as…?

What they’re asking: Author or passage’s tone (mood, voice of the writing)

How to answer: Read the indicated quotation of the question in context of the passage. Make sure to pick up on signal words/phrases around the indicated section, like “gloomly stated” or “stated with a grim grin.”

  1. Specific Fact Questions

What they might look like: The author refers to “example phrase” in line X, primarily in order to…?

What they’re asking: A simple truth/purpose of a certain section in the passage

How to answer: These questions ask about the way the passage is written and why it’s written that way. The best technique to answer these types of questions is to also analyze the quote in context of the passage. What purpose does it serve? These are more likely questions where you can literally point to the answer in the passage.

  1. Implication Questions

What they might look like: The passage suggests that if the prediction of the geological department were to be true, it would be…?

What they’re asking: Basically, an implication. These questions call for your best judgment on identifying an implicit idea’s purpose in the passage.

How to answer: Utilize context. Implications are difficult to see point-blank, so read and reread and reread the indicated passage and the sentences around it to divulge what the implicit meaning is.

  1. Structural Questions

What they might look like: Which of the following best describes the structure of the passage?

What they’re asking: Identify the writing tactics that the author uses to convey his or her point.

 How to answer: Look at the indicated lines that the question points to and analyze those lines’ organization. These questions are more straight-to-the-point, so make sure to know definitions and terms!

  1. Extrapolation Questions

What they might look like: Which of the following situations is most closely analogous to the situation described by the author as an irony in lines Y and Z?

What they’re asking: These questions require you to compare the author’s writing to other situations that are comparable to the indicated plot line.

 How to answer: Get into an analogy mindset. You have to be able to relate this section of writing to another situation or to another section of the passage.

  1. Negative/Exception Questions

What they might look like: The passage states all of the following about mitochondria, except?

What they’re asking: What does NOT belong? These questions want to know which out of the five choices is not like the others.

 How to answer: Figure out which choices are related. Once you deductively lower your choices to two options, pick the one that is the farthest from the group you have already deduced to be similar.

  1. Contextual/Definition Questions

What they might look like: The term “inchoate,” used by the author in line Q, refers to?

What they’re asking: These questions want you to define an unfamiliar word by using the phrases, words, and context around it.

 How to answer: Again, utilize context. Really read around the word and figure out what is the central theme of the sentence or even the central theme of the paragraph as whole. Then, look at your choices and see which one is most related to the theme you have deduced.

Using these tips and tricks will help you know how to answer the question rather than focus too much on knowing the answer right away.

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Looking Past the First 10 Results: Tips for Filtering Sources Effectively

By Isabella Comin

You have an assignments that requires you to use 8-10 sources. You’re probably thinking, “Do I really need 8-10 different people to tell me I’m right?” Well, as it turns out, you do. And who you recruit to back up your viewpoint is almost as important as your argument itself. Using sources with weak or no credibility can actually invalidate the argument you’re trying to make. In this blog, I’m going to show you a couple ways to choose the best evidence to support your research projects.

Knowing how to (re)search is one of the major keys to success when it comes to collecting sources for an assignment. There are various search tools that, if used correctly, will yield valuable results. The most common search technique people use is the natural language search. This is when you ask a question to a search engine the same way you would to a person (e.g., “What are alternatives to radiation therapy for cancer?”).  However, a lesser known and underutilized technique available when looking for specific information in search engines is the Boolean search. This search technique uses key words to comb through all possible sources in a database, usually returning only the most relevant results. More information on this search method can be found in one of our  blogs: Boolean Operators: Getting the Most out of your Googling.

When you review your search results for quality, try using the C.R.A.A.P. Test. To start this test, check any potential source for Currency. For example, if you’re taking a stance on the viability of stem cell research in the United States, using sources about beliefs and medical practices published in the early 20th century probably won’t provide a strong backing for your argument. Similarly, old information and research has a strong potential to have been proven wrong since the original publication. Because of this, it is important to use recent research to support your position.

Relevance is another element to evaluate. Is the source you’ve chosen relevant to your topic? Just because a paper contains a key word in the title doesn’t guarantee that it will be useful for your argument. Reading the abstracts of journal articles will help you identify relevant sources without having to go through the entire paper. Furthermore, will the source you’re looking at be used to directly support your argument or will it be used as a counter-argument? If used as direct support, what is its connection to your thesis? If used to counter your position, will you be able to argue against the source and defend your position? These are all important questions to ask when combing through sources.

Authority is the next thing to look at. Who published the article? Is there an author? If there is an author, consider the educational background, experience, and affiliations of that author. If it’s an online source, consider the suffix of the website. If the site is .com, there is commercial intent, and acquiring one of these domains is easily done by anyone. If the site is .edu, the website is affiliated with a college or university and, in most cases, this information can be deemed trustworthy. Sites with the suffix .org are run by non-profit organizations, so research the mission statements of these entities to see if they are a reliable source. Government-run websites end in .gov and are written and maintained by government personnel. Understanding the intent behind postings on these various kinds of websites can help you better sift through information that will aid you as you formulate your argument.

Checking for Accuracy is important, too, as it helps you identify the type of source you’re looking at. Is the article an experiment or a meta-analysis? Have the results of the study been peer-reviewed? These questions are important because sources that aren’t primary or haven’t been peer-reviewed could potentially contain bias or nonfactual information that can discredit your argument.

Finally, thinking about a source’s Purpose will help you recognize why a particular article was published and how reliable the information is. Does the article aim to teach the reader by stating facts, or is it meant to persuade? Can you spot bias in the source? Knowing the purpose of an article can help you identify potentially false or misleading information that you may want to leave out of your paper.

While there are other ways of conducting research, applying the appropriate search techniques and using the C.R.A.A.P. Test when evaluating potential sources will prove to be invaluable in your academic writing.

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Five Steps to Transition from High School to College Writing

By Jordan Dynes


Imagine this: it’s your first day of college. You’re enjoying yourself and making tons of new friends. Then, on the very first day, your professor assigns an essay. You don’t sweat it because you aced all of your high school essays without trying too hard. You proceed to procrastinate until the night that the paper is due only to find out that the writing that you did in high school was almost entirely different than what the prompt sitting right in front of you requires. After visiting your university’s writing center website, you stumble upon this blog. Lucky for you, I’m here to give you some tips for transitioning from high school to college writing.

  1. Organization

In high school, do you remember your teacher telling you that all essays should be five paragraphs? In college, the organization of your paper is different than that. Limiting yourself to five paragraphs can cause you to suppress some of your best ideas. Take as many paragraphs as you need to answer the prompt (making sure you stay within page requirements for that assignment). Furthermore, everything in your essay has a purpose. Each sentence should be placed strategically to defend your argument, also known as your thesis statement. 

  1. Thesis Statements

A thesis statement for a paper in college might look different than the ones you created in high school. For example, in high school you may remember assembling a three-pronged thesis statement similar to this one: “Pizza is great because it is easy to eat, can have many toppings, and is inexpensive.” Now that you are in college, all of the ideas in your thesis statement should fall under one argument or one idea. Here is a thesis statement that might be more acceptable in college: “Although many food critics argue that pizza has its drawbacks, pizza is ultimately the best food.” This thesis statement is argumentative because food critics say that pizza has its drawbacks, and you can argue why pizza is the best food in your body paragraphs.

  1. Conclusion

Now that the first draft of your paper is drawing to a close, it is time to write the conclusion. You might remember your teacher in high school telling you that you should summarize the entire essay in your conclusion. While you can reiterate some of your key points, the conclusion is much more than that. In your conclusion, you should restate your thesis statement and then say why the idea that you have been arguing was worth reading and why it is important to the world. Bring a call to action to the audience. Why should pizza be recognized as the best food?

  1. Revising/Editing

If you’ve only ever completed one draft of a paper and turned it in for grading, then it is time to consider changing that habit. Revising and editing your paper  is crucial to the success of your essay. Revision is important because you might discover a new point that could enhance your argument. You could also go back through your paper and realize that one point just does not fit. It is also wise to check your paper for simple mistakes. Spell check cannot catch every error, so it is important to go back and look for sentence structure flaws, in addition to making sure that your ideas as crisp and concise as possible.

  1. MLA Formatting

Congratulations! Your final essay is almost complete. Now you have to make sure that you followed correct MLA formatting. Most of your English essays will require MLA formatting, so here are a couple of tips. Make sure that your paper is double spaced, has 1 inch margins, and is typed in size 12 Times New Roman font. Also, make sure that you obtained quality sources from places such as Google Scholars and the UNR Library Website. For your works cited page, Purdue Owl is a good resource to make sure that you are following correct citing rules. Now go complete your essay, and happy writing!

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Moving Away from the Five Paragraph Formula through Expansion

By Scout Garrison

If you went to high school, chances are you’ve written five paragraph essays, especially if you participated in any sort of AP course. Many of us simply adopted this format of writing for convenience. If we followed the rules, then we were granted an A. However, many of us never gave a thought about why we use a five paragraph essay format in the first place.

In college, these kinds of essays seem to completely disappear. If that’s the case, then why use them in the first place? Well, one reason we used five paragraph essays in grade school is because of time constraints. The AP tests, for example, were only a couple hours long and required you to write multiple essays that were expected to cover a breadth of topics.

More importantly, we were taught the five paragraph structure to learn about organizing our thoughts and ideas. This organization begins with the first and most important piece of the five paragraph essay: a “three pronged thesis.” Many teachers taught us that our thesis should include a claim and three arguments that support this claim. This structure allowed us to easily organize our thoughts and create an effective road map. An example of a three pronged thesis is “The Civil War occurred not because of slavery but as a result of the Missouri Compromise, westward expansion, and the Southern economy relying heavily on cotton.”

Once we created that thesis statement, the three following paragraphs would talk about the Missouri Compromise, westward expansion, and cotton, but there is opportunity for more expansive writing. A five paragraph essay is designed to be two to three pages, but in college, assignments can easily surpass ten pages. In order to meet this requirement, you’ll need a lot more than five paragraphs, but you can still utilize the same thesis you crafted.

The thesis you created for a five paragraph essay is still relevant for a ten page paper, but instead of one paragraph per “prong,” you can do two, three, or sometimes much more. In fact, a thesis for a longer paper may include only one “prong.” Our previous thesis statement may become “The Missouri Compromise was the impetus needed to start the Civil War.” Now instead of having one paragraph that relates the Missouri Compromise to the Civil War, you create one paragraph defining what exactly the compromise was. You lay out the date it occurred, who wrote it, its purpose, etc. Then perhaps you can identify how it affected different populations. An entire paragraph may be dedicated to the Missouri Compromise and its effects on the North, then a paragraph for the South, then a paragraph for minorities. Soon you’ll find that the Missouri Compromise may breach into all aspects of antebellum America, from politics to religion. Only after you have defined all of these ideas can you properly relate the Missouri Compromise to the Civil War.

After you show how the Missouri Compromise caused the Civil War, you are able to write a conclusion. Luckily, the ten page paper’s conclusion is similar to the five paragraph essay’s conclusion. You will redefine what you wanted to prove, and then you will concisely explain all the ways the Missouri Compromise lead to the Civil War.

And you are done! To recap, the best way to move away from a five paragraph essay format is to write a concise thesis and then expand in every possible direction. Don’t keep yourself limited to those three body paragraphs!

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