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All this week, Turnitin is hosting our annual, spring virtual conference, called Writing X Tech and themed "The Writing Mindset". Join us for eight, free, 45-minute sessions with thought leaders, industry experts and champion educators.

The Writing Mindset explores how thinking differently about writing can engage students and set them up for success.

Sign up for the sessions. All of the sessions will be recorded!

Sessions include:

  • "Connecting Great Reads to Great Writing"
  • "How to Reach More Readers While Still Looking Smart"
  • "Beyond Integrity: Why We Cite"
  • "A Picture is Worth a MILLION Words! Motivating Students to Write with Digital Storytelling"
  • "Mimicry & Plagiarism: A Place for Copying in Learning"
  • "Teaching the Writing Brain"
  • "Beyond Thumb Typing: Supporting the Writing Process with Mobile Devices"
  • "What's the Story Behind Why We Write?"


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Written by Jincy Kornhauser at Pearson Tutor Services



Compare these two passages:

  1. I looked at him one day and realized that I loved him.
  2. I looked at him one day, and he was tying his shoes, really concentrating hard, like a little kid, with the tip of his tongue sticking out between his teeth. He was completely unaware of anything but just tying that shoe. "I love you," I told him, and was shocked to realize that I meant it.

Both passages describe the same event: the moment when the narrator realized she loved this guy.

In the first passage, the narrator just tells you what happened. In the second, the narrator shows you what happened.

In the first passage, the narrator stands in front of the event, blocking it from your view.  You can’t see around her. You just have to take her word for the event.  In the second, you can see (sort of) how the narrator came to the conclusion that she loved him; you can see the event unfold because the narrator is showing it to you.

Showing and telling are two very different ways of conveying information, and each has advantages. Telling doesn’t take up as much space on the page as showing, while showing provides the reader with supporting evidence for the claim being made, strengthening that claim.  Showing provides details; telling sums up their meaning.

Showing/telling are important skills for the academic writer as well as for the creative writer.  Compare these two passages from an expository essay—an essay intended to inform:

  1. Dogs are bred for very different uses.
  2. Hounds are bred for tracking and hunting. Terriers are bred for killing.  Herders, as their name implies, are skilled in moving large numbers of domestic animals from place to place. Retrievers assist hunters by fetching downed birds.

The first passage simply tells you something about dog breeds: it makes a general claim about why there are so many of them.  The second passage shows some different breeds and their uses.

In an academic essay, “showing” means “providing illustrative examples and supporting details.” Note that if you took the above passages and put them together, you would have a brief but well-organized and informative paragraph:

Dogs are bred for very different uses. Hounds are bred for tracking and hunting. Terriers are bred for killing.  Herders, as their name implies, are skilled in moving large numbers of domestic animals from place to place. Retrievers assist hunters by fetching downed birds.

Not all essays are written simply to inform.  Some are written to take a position on a controversial issue and persuade the reader that this position is correct.  Compare these two passages:

  1. Experimentation on animals should continue to be allowed to further medical research.
  2. Computer models still do not provide enough testing information for medical research. Animal experimentation can be conducted humanely with minimal suffering. Humans and other animals are not equal in moral importance.

The first passage stakes the writer’s position in the animal testing controversy.  The second passage lists specific reasons for taking that position: Each reason shows the reader why the writer’s position is persuasive.  Together, the first and second passage make the writer’s ideas clear.

Experimentation on animals should continue to be allowed to further medical research. Computer models still do not provide enough testing information for medical research. Animal experimentation can be conducted humanely with minimal suffering. Humans and other animals are not equal in moral importance.

In each of these academic paper examples, the “telling” sentence could function as the topic sentence of the paragraph; the “showing” sentences illustrate and support the claim made by the topic sentence.  Note, too, that each of these passages could function as a thesis, preparing the reader for the purpose of an essay as well as the order and focus of its body paragraphs.

In order to write effectively, you need to do both things: to make general claims of fact (or statements of your position on a controversial topic) and to support those claims (or that position) with supporting evidence, showing your reader what your general claim means (or why the reader should agree).

So:  Telling without showing is not sufficiently enlightening nor persuasive.  Showing without telling burdens the reader with details and arguments without explaining what they mean.  Whatever your purpose for writing—whether you’re writing a short story, or a research paper about the Horsehead Nebula, or an essay arguing the abolition of beauty pageants—take care to both show and tell.


Writing Skills

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Written by Jincy Kornhauser from Pearson Tutor Services

The argument essay is a common writing assignment. Typically you are asked to read up on a controversial issue, decide which side you find the most persuasive, and write an essay arguing for that side.  Sometimes you are assigned a specific topic and a specific side. Whatever the specific assignment, completing an argument exercise successfully requires that you understand its purpose and its worth.

Why argue? Don’t we get enough of that in the real world?

We get more than enough bad arguments in the real world: shouting matches and online flame wars that basically consist of name-calling and unsupported facts.  This is why writing an argument essay is worthwhile: it shows us how to argue persuasively and to do so without resorting to obnoxious insults and exaggerated claims.

What if I don’t have a “position on a controversial issue”?

You may be wildly uninterested in the usual topics, like mandatory public school uniforms and lowering the drinking age to 18; you may not be allowed to pick issues you do care about  (your instructor may be tired of reading essays on the commonest issues, like abortion and capital punishment). This does not mean that there isn’t a topic out there that could stir you to write.  Pick up a newspaper, or start reading about current events online, and  you’ll come across topics that interest you—stories which get you worked up. Do you think your property taxes should be lowered? Do you think juveniles should be tried as juveniles, or as adults? Should parents allow their children any privacy at all? Are American cars a better buy than foreign cars? You’ll find you do have strong opinions—positions you’re ready to argue for. The argument essay assignment will allow you the opportunity to sharpen your persuasive skills.

What does “controversial issue” mean?

An issue is controversial if reasonable people can disagree about it.  You cannot write an essay arguing that “murder is wrong,” because no reasonable reader would disagree with you.  (We hope not, anyway!) There is no one with whom to argue about that issue: it’s settled.  But you can write an essay arguing that murder in the heat of passion should be punished less severely than murder for profit.  Many people are inclined to agree with this position, but it would not be unreasonable to argue against it. When choosing an issue, make sure it’s arguable.

What if I don’t get to pick my topic, or my position on that topic?

Sometimes an argument essay assignment may require you to argue for a position you do not agree with. This assignment may not be the most enjoyable for you, but in the long run it may well be the most helpful.  Being forced to argue for a position you do not hold teaches you to see issues from different perspectives.  Doing so will help you greatly when the time comes to argue for a position you actually hold.   You cannot argue persuasively if you don’t give your opponent—the person you’re arguing with—credit for having solid arguments of his own. Anticipating those arguments allows you to decide how best to refute them. The more open you are to understanding both sides of a dispute, the more successful you will be in convincing your readers that yours is the more reasonable side.

Who am I arguing with in an argument essay?  Doesn’t it take two to argue?

You are arguing with your reader.

Writers often forget this. They are so wrapped up in conveying their own views, their own arguments, that they forget about their audience.  Remember, your purpose in an argument essay is to persuade your readers that you’re right.  Never assume that your reader is already on your side.  You’ve chosen a controversial issue, which means that your reader may well be one of those people who disagree with you.  Or your reader may not have made up her mind on the issue: she may be on the fence.  Your job is not to persuade a reader who doesn’t need persuasion.  Your job is to show these other unpersuaded readers why yours is the right position.  When brainstorming your arguments and drafting your essay, keep that skeptical reader in mind. Targeting that reader will go a long way toward helping you achieve your purpose.

So: Writing an argument essay teaches us to disagree intelligently and respectfully. We learn to construct careful and thoughtful arguments in support of our beliefs and to credit our opponents with the capacity to reason and learn.



Writing Skills

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What are the biggest writing mistakes that students make? Educator Summer Dittmer has put together a series of videos, based on her experiences in helping students and adults learn how to improve their writing skills. These videos provide quick yet valuable lessons on what NOT to do when writing an academic paper.

First up: never use 1st or 2nd person.

Watch the video (2:29):

Or read along:

The #1 Writing No-No is to never use 1st or 2nd person.

Why? In academic writing, it’s important to avoid personal bias.  Using “I” or “we” makes the essay about you and your experiences, instead of research and concrete details.

Before I give examples, let’s review the 1st person. 1st person uses I or We, as in “I am upset” and “We ran away.” Also stay away from using me, us, my, mine or ours.

Let’s also take a quick look at 2nd person. Second person uses you and your. When you use 2nd person point of view, you are directly addressing the reader, kind of like I am doing right now.  While this is okay when writing a personal letter, it is not okay in formal writing, especially essays or research papers.  Avoid using this pronoun at all costs because you never want to communicate directly with the reader.

Students often ask, “How can I use a hypothetical question as a hook to begin my essay if I can’t even use YOU?”  My answer is simple: you never want to use a hypothetical question in an essay either. An academic…aka YOU, who uses 2nd person, has not only written too informally, but he or she has also missed the target audience.  YOU indicates that you’re writing for the teacher only, but in an analysis or even just a book report, the student is writing for a broad audience.

My basic rule is this: First is the Worst...Second’s not the Best...Third is the Way You Can Pass the Test.

Let’s apply this rule to a few examples:

  • Instead of “I cannot believe how much tuition has increased,” try, “Tuition has drastically increased.”
  • Instead of “Don’t text while you drive,” try, “Don’t text and drive.”

Students are so used to using I, my, we, you and your, that they have a hard time weeding them out of their papers.  So, here is my tip of the day: Every writing program, like Microsoft Word, has a search function. Do a simple word search for each of the ones listed here [show visual of word list].  Once you see them, shift your point of view.

Thanks for listening, and good luck with your writing! Stay tuned for my next Writing No-No.

Brought to you by WriteCheck, plagiarism checker software. www.writecheck.com


When to use "I" and "one"


Videos, Writing Skills

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Writing Tip #15: First and third person: When to use “I” and “one”

Most people find writing in first person easy. We get a chance to write about ourselves, something we know quite a bit about! Difficulty often comes when the assignment calls for third person writing.

Using the word “I” is obviously writing in first person. To replace it, use the word “one” or use a person’s name or title, even if that person is you. Simply write your name and continue writing as an observer.

It’s an odd feeling the first time you write about yourself in third person, but the more you do it the more normal it will feel.

An example of using the word “one” in the third person is: “One can easily remove the hard drive from a computer.”

Using “one” instead of “you” or “I” immediately relegates the sentence to third person status instead of first. “One” also makes the sentence more academic or professional.


Passive and active voice

Types of plagiarism


Writing Skills

Published on by bcalvano.

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