Personally Speaking: The Personal Statement

Categories: Updates

Summer is finally here! Classes are out, and most of us are making plans for the fall while we enjoy a much-deserved break from all of the essays and labs and exams. Well, unless your fall will consist of preparing application materials for graduate and professional schools. In that case, your summer will likely be spent writing one of the most important essays of your life: the personal statement.

The personal statement is one of the most difficult parts of applying to graduate school. Take it from me: I wrote 26 drafts (yes, you read that right…26 drafts) of my own personal statement for graduate school applications last fall. It’s time-consuming, the pressure is high, and it’s so hard to write about yourself. It almost feels wrong to spend 1-2 full pages telling a graduate committee how awesome you are. All of this pressure can pile up and leave you feeling frantic, and if you’re like me, you might even procrastinate until just a few weeks before applications are due (and trust me, this is not a good idea).

Never fear, though. I’m here to give you some tips on how to craft a stellar personal statement: one that will help you stand out from the crowd of applicants and help you feel confident heading into application season.

#1: Develop an argument

This might seem like a weird thing to suggest. After all, personal statements aren’t argumentative essays, right?


The purpose of a personal statement is to show a committee why you belong in their program and why you’ll make an excellent colleague and professional in the field. You need to convince your reader that you’re the best choice compared to all other applicants. If that’s not an argument, I don’t know what is.

Before you even start outlining and writing, ask yourself these questions:

Why do I want to go to graduate/professional school? Why will I make a good colleague/professional in this field?

These are sometimes difficult questions. I, for one, found myself saying “Well, because I want to!”—not an adequate response when you’re up against a couple of hundred people who have the same response. If you need to, take some time and freewrite, i.e., writing down anything and everything that comes to mind in about 10 minutes or less without stopping.

#2: Choose the right information to share

Chances are, if you’re applying for graduate/professional programs, you’ve done a lot of prep work during your undergraduate years, and even if you haven’t, you still need to prove you have an interest in the subject/field. You don’t want to spend the entirety of your statement rambling about awesome things you did and awards you won unless they’re relevant. If these things don’t somehow support your argument, it’s a waste of valuable space, so it’s imperative that you identify the right information and anecdotes to include.

Return to your answers to the questions in step 1, then make a list of your incredible achievements. Have you interned at a company in your area of interest? Have you traveled? Have you won any awards or honors? Have you been published or participated in a research forum? What clubs have you participated in? What leadership roles have you held?

Once you have your list, pare it down. You likely can’t include everything, so ask yourself how each activity, award, or experience has prepared you for the program. Focus on the experiences that make you stand out; i.e. if you worked an internship at a corporation but you want to go to dental school, you should either communicate how that internship has influenced your decision, or choose a more relevant anecdote.

#3: Revise, revise, revise

Obviously, I’ve skipped a few steps here. For the sake of time (and because I know you don’t want to read my rambling for another 500 words), here’s the middle bit in sum: outline, draft, cut the stuff you don’t like, repeat.

After you have a solid draft, you’ll want to revise it over and over again. Even when you feel like you’re done, revise it more. Read it aloud for typos, awkward phrasing, and unnecessary words, and ask your mentors and friends to read it. Understand that the first draft is going to be nothing like the final draft if you’re going to produce a really good statement. That’s the writing process, though: it just gets better and better the more you revise. Write 26 drafts if you have to. That’s what I did (PSA: it worked).

The final step of your revision process is the tailoring. In most cases, if you’re applying to multiple programs, there may be different requirements; one school may want a shorter version, one may want one that addresses specific questions. Regardless, you need to tailor each statement you intend to submit to the specific program. Mention the program directly. Discuss professors you’d like to work with and why. Explain why the program is the perfect fit for you. Do the work for the committee and just tell them outright. Directness is always best.

Ok, that’s all, folks. I hope you find these tips helpful. Of course, don’t forget that the WRC is open all summer and we love personal statements! Bring it in and our tutors can help you develop it into the perfect advertisement for you.


In Conclusion...

Categories: Updates

There’s no way around it: writing a strong conclusion is tricky. For one, there are many different elements the concluding paragraph must have if the reader is to leave satisfied. A writer needs to ensure their main points are addressed in a concise way, not merely rehashed. Also, if a writer is working on a paper where a claim has to be made and defended, emphasizing the thesis again is crucial so the writer can leave a lasting impression on their audiencebut this needs to happen without sounding redundant. You don’t want to end with a fizzle, but with a bangand this has proven to be harder for some than most.

Luckily, at the WRC, our tutors are more than capable of helping a writer craft an all-encompassing conclusion that leaves the reader feeling complete. When you think about how a paper is composed, the introduction and conclusion are virtually the most influential sections because they set up and wrap up your narrative, respectively. Think of them as the boundaries or frame that your picture needs to stay within, and the body of your paper is the image that fills it. Taking this approach emphasizes the importance of the boundaries you’re setting, with the main points of your argument defining this unique border.

Our friends at writing centers across the country have published similar works that aid in writing a conclusion, all emphasizing how paramount having an ending with sufficient closure is, as well as some helpful hints of what works well when crafting a conclusion:

Ending with a sense of closure, linking the first paragraph back to your conclusion, will answer all lingering questions that may have surrounded your paper (Harvard). In order to bring this closure, you can evoke a vivid image that allows the reader to clearly envision your point (Richmond). Also, to make sure your conclusion is serving its purpose, remind the reader of your thesis statement and answer the question, “So what?” (Webster). Finally, you should aim to synthesize, not summarize: Include a brief summary of the paper’s main points, but don’t simply repeat things that were in your paper. Here, you should show your reader how the points you made are supported and how the examples you used fit together (UNC-Chapel Hill). These are just a couple of strategies that have worked well for writers when forming conclusions, and the WRC always keeps these tools in mind.

However, as many ways as there are to compose a well-written conclusion, there are just as many ineffective methods. For instance, beginning with an unnecessary, overused phrase such as “in conclusion,” “in summary,” or “in closing” could be detrimental to the momentum of your paper. Although these phrases can work in speeches, they come across wooden and trite in writing (UNC-Chapel Hill). To keep your conclusion concise and on-track, you should also avoid introducing a new idea or subtopicthis will distract the reader and potentially undercut your previous arguments (Richmond). Another note to keep in mind if you wish to maintain a level of credibility is to not apologize for what has been written. By the time you’ve finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you’ve produced. Repress those doubts. Don’t undercut your authority by saying things like, “This is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . .” (Harvard). A writer should have confidence in what they’ve written, and your conclusion should put to rest any doubts a reader may have had.

(In Conclusion) This is the part where you’ve exhausted yourself writing this paper, and you’re at the home stretch. The finish line is in sight, and instead of gearing up to finish strong, a lot of writing feels drained and limps en route to completion. Luckily, if your road seems unending, WRC tutors can help you cross the finish line with confidence. Tutors at the WRC are capable of helping you find what did or did not work, bring these facts to light, and help you piece together a conclusion that brings everything full circle.

— Peter


Punctuation: Em Dashes vs. Colons

Categories: Updates

Have you ever wondered when to use an em dash or a colon within a sentence? What’s the difference, if any? Well, it really depends on how you want to present your information. Have no fear—I’m going to show you when it’s appropriate to use each of these pesky forms of punctuation so you can feel more confident when writing.



There are three ways to use a colon within a sentence: 1) in-sentence lists, 2) bulleted lists, and 3) pointing.


In-Sentence Lists

Ha! I just showed you an example of setting up an in-sentence list with a colon, but here’s another one so that you can see it more clearly:

Before I can go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, I have to: 1) save up enough money for a ticket, 2) request specific days off at work, and 3) buy a suitcase.

You might be thinking: “Can’t you just list those items normally with commas?” Yes, reader; you can. However, setting up an in-sentence list like this creates emphasis on the list itself. You can use a colon before an in-sentence list when the list is the most important part of your sentence. Also, the numbers before each item are optional, but I would recommend them if each item in your list is longer than five words (or if any of the items in your list contain any of the FANBOYS conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so).

Bulleted Lists

In-sentence lists are used more in formal writing. If you’re wanting to put lists into informal writing, you can use a bulleted list, like this one:

Marvel Studios, which famously adapts popular Marvel comics into film, has announced the production of the following films that are set to be released within the next four years:


  • Doctor Strange
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Avengers: Infinity War Part I
  • Black Panther
  • Captain Marvel
  • Avengers: Infinity War Part II
  • Inhumans

Be sure to include the colon at the end of the phrase before you insert a linebreak to start your bulleted list. If you’re trying to decide whether to use an in-sentence or bulleted list, bulleted lists are great for lists that are more than five items long. It would be daunting to read all of those movies in the same sentence, right?


The last way is pointing. Pointing is when you want to establish a close relationship with another part of the sentence by “pointing” to it with a colon. For example:

There’s really only one way to describe my brother’s room: a mess.

See? The colon is used here to emphasize your main point by establishing a close relationship. One of the great things about colons is that they’re optional; there are many other ways you can use emphasis in your papers. There’s no need to force them into a sentence, but hopefully knowing these rules will allow you to be more confident when using colons. The tutors at the Writing Resources Center are also happy to help you decide what type of punctuation works best within your sentence-in-question.


Now, onto dashes!



There are several types of dashes out there, which makes the whole usage thing frustrating. The types of dashes are defined by size. I’m going to show you how to use an em dash—the one you use within a sentence—so that you can be better prepared for your academic endeavors. If you’re interested in how to use the en dash—which is smaller than an em dash—you can find more information here. There are three ways to use an em dash in a sentence, and they can be remembered with “PAL”—pointing, appositives, and lists.


Just like colons, em dashes can be used to emphasize the main point of your sentence by “pointing” to it. However, colons establish a closer relationship than dashes do. Here’s an example of pointing with an em dash:

There’s only one thing I want from you—an RSVP to my S Club party.

Like the example of pointing with a colon, the em dash is used to “point” to the most important part of your sentence. However, the em dash is arguably less formal than a colon in this context. You’ll notice that there are no spaces on either side of the em dash—it physically connects the phrases on either side of it.


You can also use em dashes for appositives within sentences, which are casually referred to as “asides.” Appositives are phrases that sort of interrupt a sentence to give you more information or provide clarification. Here’s an example:

The season premiere of Game of Thrones—which is my favorite show—airs on April 24, 2016.

The appositive is found between the two em dashes in this example. The sentence would still be a complete, coherent sentence without the appositiveThe em dashes here act as an interruption.

In-Sentence Lists

The last way to use an em dash is in an in-sentence list, which is structured similarly to the in-sentence list of a colon.

When I visited the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, I got to sample how Coke tastes in various countries—Japan, France, Australia, Canada, and many more.


The Final Countdown: Em Dashes vs. Colons

Before I leave you, you may have noticed that colons and dashes can be used in similar ways. Don’t forget that a colon establishes a closer relationship to the sentence than a dash does. Think about how Turk and J.D. from Scrubs are such good friends that they’re never apart and they’re practically the same person. They’re so close that they complete each other: that’s a colon relationship.



Now think about how Michael and Dwight from The Office (U.S.) are friends (and work together), but you wouldn’t call them best friends. Dwight idolizes Michael and jumps at the chance to spend time with him in any way, but Michael only really comes to Dwight when he needs something. You could even say that Michael keeps Dwight at arm’s length (with some exceptions). They’re connected, but not as connected to each other as Turk and J.D.—that’s a dash relationship.



Phew! That was a lot of information, but I can tell you’ve absorbed it all. Keep in mind that since the use of em dashes and colons are optional, it’s important to be wary of how many you use in a single paper. A happy paper has a balance of punctuation (em dashes, colons, commas, semicolons, etc.). Still not as confident as you’d like to be? The Writing Resources Center is here to help guide you through those pesky punctuation decisions. Make an appointment today!

You can also check out these great resources to refer to when you come across dashes and colons within a sentence (and outside a sentence too!):


Good luck and happy writing!



Textual Balance: Beefing it Up // Trimming the Fat

Categories: Updates

When first starting writing for the WRC blog I was extremely eager to tackle all things writing. I grew increasingly anxious at the opportunity to help writers with common pitfalls, and hoped to channel my own experiences into something practical and productive that the Writing Center could be proud of sharing. However, this task proved more daunting than I anticipated, and I found myself running out of ideas. I was never at a loss for words when tackling concepts I knew, but there can be no words if there’s not an idea to accompany them. Then, some colleagues shared a problem they experienced that seemed to be quite different than mine: they needed more words.

Being more loquacious myself, I’ve been surprised to realize that both clients and tutors can struggle to come up with enough text to fulfill an assignment. But, that challenge is two-fold–not only do writers need enough words to meet the minimum requirement, they also have to ensure those words don’t equate to “fluff.” What’s great about the WRC is that tutors can help clients draft a more substantial text that doesn’t feel too long or too short, but rather, just right.


For a lack of a better term, “beefing it up” is known as the practice of inserting additional words into works once writers have seemingly run out of things to say. Tutors see it all the time: writers come in and have ostensibly exhausted every way they can support their case en route to completing the required length of their paper. Inversely, “trimming the fat” is a technique that is necessary when a writer has already said too much and is in desperate need of condensing their work. These two practices operate as a unique duality within the writing world, in that they highlight the different approaches tutors must be aware of when assisting writers.

adv time beef

Tutors at the WRC encounter both of these instances quite frequently, and we love to see all sides of writing. We look for places in your writing that may seem redundant, dance around the point you’re trying to make, or feel long-winded in nature. These are normally places you can cut down your words and really sculpt a clear, concise message. However, if you’re like many of the unsure writers that consult the WRC, beefing up a work can feel like a daunting task.

If this is the case, our tutors can help clients identify places where you can strengthen a central point made, further elaborate an argument, or better define something to provide a concretely image. Some writers may not be able to do this on their own accord, so having an extra pair of experienced eyes always helps. These additions do not have to be monumental, as including paragraphs of nothing but fluff will only undermine your previous points; however, when a writer is presented with an opportunity to expand their thoughts, we believe the more detail the better.

Whether it’s including details that help a text reach the fullness it was lacking or cutting the excess elements that keep a text from being effective, there is always work to be done after the initial stage of writing. The process of drafting, proofreading, and applying strong writing techniques can be a laborious one, but a rewarding one nonetheless. When writers strive for their work to achieve textual balance, they will find more often than not the words they were searching for were always there.

With an honest attempt at digging a little deeper into what your goal for the paper is, many instances for revision will reveal themselves. After inspection, you will be able to craft the exact message you were looking to express. Coming into the Writing Resources Center and working with tutors who are concerned with your work being well-rounded and in-depth is a great tool students have at their disposal, and we do so while showing you how to keeping your work clean and concise.


Compound Adjectives and the Multiple Adjective Test

Categories: Updates

Have you ever had a list of adjectives in a sentence and wondered if you’re supposed to combine some of them with a hyphen? Or are you just supposed to put commas between them? I mean, are there rules for this? Or is it supposed to be like finding the right wedding dress and you just know? HOW CAN YOU JUST KNOW?!

I understand the frustration, but I’m here to help. When two or more adjectives are conjoined with a hyphen to modify a noun, they become compound adjectives. The easiest way to figure out if you should hyphenate your adjectives is with what I call the “Multiple Adjective Test.” If you have two (or more) adjectives modifying your noun, test them out one at a time to see if only using one changes your meaning by following these steps:

  1. Find the noun.
  2. Find the adjectives modifying the noun.
  3. Test the adjectives with your noun one at a time to see if it changes the meaning.
  4. Hyphenate the compound adjectives.


Here, let’s give it a go:

My roommate adopted a seven year old chinchilla.

Now, follow the steps:

1. Find the noun: chinchilla

2. Find the adjectives modifying the noun: seven, year, and old

3. Test the adjectives with your noun one at a time to see if it changes the meaning:

  • seven chinchilla. (Ha! No.)
  • year chinchilla. (Definitely not)
  • old chinchilla. (This one makes sense, but how old?)

4. Hyphenate the compound adjectives: My roommate adopted a seven-year-old chinchilla.


Got it (maybe)? All right, you try one:

I have no idea what to write for this one page memo.

The adjectives are a little harder to pick out in this sentence, but just follow the steps and you’ll be fine!

1. Find the noun: memo

2. Find the adjectives modifying the noun: one and page

3. Test the adjectives with your noun one at a time to see if it changes the meaning:

  • one memo. (Maybe…)
  • page memo. (Nope, sounds weird. How many pages?)

4. Hyphenate the compound adjectives: I have no idea what to write for this one-page memo.


See? You got this!

Okay, let’s step it up a notch:

Employers need to see evidence of solid problem solving capabilities for prospective members of their workforce.

This one’s a doozy (thanks to Chris, our Senior Tutor), but take a deep breath and keep to the steps!

1. Find the noun: capabilities

2. Find the adjectives modifying the noun: solid, problem and solving

3. Read the sentence with only one adjective at a time to see if it changes the meaning:

  • solid capabilities. (Yes, that makes sense!)
  • problem capabilities. (This makes sense grammatically, but would employers look for problem capabilities? Not unless they like lawsuits.)
  • solving capabilities. (This one kind of makes sense, but what type of solving capabilities? Problem-solving capabilities, perhaps?)

4. Hyphenate the compound adjectives: Employers need to see evidence of solid problem-solving capabilities for prospective members of their workforce.


You’re getting good at this! I can tell.


Still aren’t confident? We’re here to help. The Writing Resources Center has plenty of tutors who are willing to assist you with those pesky adjectives and practice the Multiple Adjective Test. Stop by or make an appointment today!


There are also some great sources you can access online from other writing centers.


Waitshouldn’t “Multiple Adjective” be hyphenated?


Comma Here, Comma There, Commas Everywhere

Categories: Updates

When writers bring their work into the WRC, one of the most common requests we get is to help with grammatical errors, but more specifically, commas. A writer could be confused when to use them, as seen in: comma splices, after transitions, or even before conjunctions. Commas are tricky in that one can’t always be entirely sure if they’ve used too many, didn’t include enough, or know when they’ve included just the right amount in their work. What is meant to be used as a nice tool in a writer’s arsenal can soon turn against them, leaving even the most skilled writers unsure of their sentence structure, flow, and emphasis of ideasall at the hands of a little mark.

These confusing, yet all too necessary, punctuation marks can be used in a variety of instances, all with unique reasons behind them. The most common application of commas seems to be in the form of lists: using them when a writer needs assistance in crafting a comprehensive, logical, and complete thought. Sometimes commas can be used best when indicating a pause, allowing the reader a chance to break their thoughts up and improve flow. Or, they can be used following a transition that connects one idea to another. However, if you find yourself using them, be aware that one size does not fit all.


Writing Centers across the country have provided students with ample resources to help writers conceptualize the appropriate time and place to insert a comma. Some have offered a master list of grammatically appropriate places you should put a comma: ranging from arranging the proper placement in a street address to proper utilization of the infamous Oxford comma. The Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill has created an extremely helpful page that walks writers through any problems they may encounter, which can be found here. They’ve provided examples of popular comma myths, when to use them in relation to conjunctions, and even when to use them as interrupters, if you’re wanting to be extremely detailed.

Writers may still find themselves unsure of when and where the best place to put a comma is, but there are a few practices to keep in mind while writing that can offer aid. In the WRC we’ve found that reading aloud can sometimes aid in determining if something sounds off, or there is a place that would benefit from a pause. Run-on sentences can be a problem for some writers, and once heard aloud they can recognize that the sentence could be modified. Finding a proper place to have your writing take a breath and really separate the ideas written will enhance your work. All in all, there are many different ways that writers can benefit from inserting these punctuation marks, and hopefully you’ll soon find yourself mastering the art of separation, utilization, and punctuation.

Starting a Resolution... And Finishing It! - Robert Boulton

Categories: Updates

On this most auspicious of occasions (the occasion being a new semester and a new year), allow me the privilege of making a suggestion or two that might be helpful in making it one of the most successful semesters yet. Around this time of year, when the previous ends and the next begins, it is customary in the Western world to make a resolution, or perhaps multiple resolutions, as promises to ourselves to improve something in the new year. Perhaps we promise ourselves we will lose weight or read more books.

Whatever the resolution may be, if you’re anything like me, you’ve faced this seemingly inevitable truth as the new year progresses: that somehow life gets in the way and these promises we make ourselves go unfulfilled.


This can be a discouraging and even depressing truth as we begin 2016 with high hopes and standards for ourselves. So how do we avoid this seemingly unavoidable disappointment? One option would be to not make any New Year’s resolutions. But what if you’re the kind of person who wants to better yourself? What if you’re the kind of person who wants to improve and expand your mind, like the kind of person you probably are if you’ve enrolled in a school of higher learning? What is another option?

I would suggest that if we want to be successful, we copy what successful people do in a situation where they want to set goals and fulfill them. We should make a list. And I don’t mean simply writing down the resolution you want to keep on a piece of paper; I mean, like the wealthy and successful, we should write down realistic and detailed goals for ourselves every day that will help us reach these ultimate goals of personal improvement to avoid procrastination and maintain focus and control (Corley).

A New Year’s resolution is a lot like a college writing assignment. It’s a goal that we all have the best intentions of keeping, but in many cases other responsibilities (or bad habits or simple procrastination) get in the way of our best intentions. If you feel yourself getting distracted or overwhelmed as a student and a writer with academic tasks this semester (or even if you don’t but want to prevent it from happening), I humbly offer the services of the Writing Resources Center. We can assist in various ways. We can help you outline your paper efficiently and effectively or help you map out your timeline for writing; we even develop strategies curtailed specifically for you. This will help you reach your writing goals with the least amount of stress.

So when you set those New Year’s resolutions, and you’re presented with a new semester’s writing assignments, don’t try to take on these challenges without a plan. When it comes to writing, let the writing center help you design this plan. The tutors in the Writing Resources Center are eager to help you at any stage of the writing process, including initial brainstorming sessions and researching. Although it may seem difficult to keep up with the goals we set for ourselves, when we actually follow through, we are left feeling better than before. Don’t leave those resolutions unfulfilled; let us help you take the first steps towards a happy and successful academic year.

Happy writing!



Tom Corely. “Resources A Peak at the To-Do Lists of the Wealthy.” 2013.

Transitioning Into Winter Break

Categories: Updates

What do you do at the end of the road? You’ve walked just as far as you can go, the earth stopping at your feet, the horizon stretching across your view. Across the way you see land– the next stop on your adventure. Only problem is, how do you get from here to there, logically and safely? Enter the bridge, a timeless tool that has helped people get from place to place. Transitions in writing are like your bridges, and at the Writing Resources Center we’ll help you build them piece by piece.

I’d like to think of transitions such as however, additionally, furthermore, nonetheless, and on the contrary to be simple, yet effective ways that bridge one idea to another. So often in writing there are ideas worth inserting in a paper, but not as many ways to make these ideas correlate. You don’t want your thoughts to sound choppy, but sometimes run-ons feel unavoidable. There’s a fine line we, as writers, must walk in order to achieve this textual fullness and cohesiveness professors expect.

At the WRC we encounter this more often than not, and clients can easily become frustrated. There is no cause to be discouraged, however, because there are many ways the tutors here can help you build the foundation of these bridges. When looking at points you’ve made throughout your paper, we look for a thread of commonality. If there’s any way you can relate one point to another, we will help you build your transition around that – leading to a logical and cohesive transition between ideas.


A major problem many people encounter is making their ideas flow together. You have your main points, the main things you want to say, but no way to connect them. When incorporating transitions into your paper, whether they be at the end of a paragraph, the start of a new one, or even somewhere in-between to connect ideas, they provide an avenue for everything to come together: bridge from place to place, idea to idea.

The WRC, as well as writing centers across the country, utilize various resources that help writers grasp and apply effective transitions into their papers.

In short, (see what I did there) if you have contrasting points in a piece of writing that need to be bridged, tutors at the WRC look to uncover how these ideas parallel each other. All tutors here are extremely effective at highlighting differences, putting our best foot forward when understanding your train of thought, and working towards building the correlation that will help you get where you want to go – one step at a time.

Malapropisms…or Why Reading Aloud can be so Malevolently Beneficial.

Categories: Updates

The English language is a minefield.  It’s an obstacle course.  It’s full of trips and snares just waiting for the right opportunity to twist our tongues and make us look foolish.  There are so many pitfalls when writing and speaking, we’ve even given them names and categorized them.  If you don’t believe me, keep reading.  We’ll cover just a few in this blog, starting with one of the most notorious (and incidentally, most entertaining): the malapropism.

When we use malapropisms in everyday language, we might refer to them as a “slip of the tongue” when we speak, and sometimes a “slip of the pen” when we write.  But malapropisms are really just a little trick of the mind where we replace one word (the right one) with another word (usually one that doesn’t fit at all). recently gave the example of a very knowledgeable scientist being referred to as a

suppository of knowledge”

rather than a repository of knowledge.1

As you can see, malapropisms can be pretty funny, but in real world settings they can also be frustrating.  And they can happen to anyone at any time.

It’s true.

You may have even been in a classroom or read a paper where someone may have talked about a very “pacific” issue that for all “intensive purposes” was “supposably” very important.

And this very “specific” issue would have been better presented for all “intents and purposes” if how important it “supposedly” was had been a little clearer without the malapropisms.2

So what can be done to insure an unassuming college student won’t fall into such a trap?  Well, at the WRC, we’d like to think we can help.  We use techniques that have been developed for about as long as people have been replacing the right word with the wrong one.  And studies have found them to be very effective.  The one I’d like to focus on today is one that if you’ve visited the writing center, you’ve probably encountered:  Reading out loud.  It’s a useful tool when combating the verbal minefield.

Of course, this minefield of mistakes and anomalies in our everyday wordification doesn’t stop with malapropisms.  Beyond the malapropism is the neologism.  And speaking of wordification, that’s exactly the kind of made-up word that would be a neologism.

And then there’s its cousin, the portmanteau.  This one is a combination or a blending of words to make a new word.  Using this technique, we get words like smog from the combination of smoke and fog.  The neologism and the portmanteau are fairly benign compared to the malapropism and some of each are often regularly accepted into the lexicon of the English language.

This doesn’t make the obstacle course any easier to traverse, however.

It’s…it’s inconceivable.


I suppose not, Inigo.  Inconceivable in this case is just another malapropism.  The word I was thinking of was more along the lines of confusing, bewildering, or perplexing.  Unfortunately, with the abundance of these sorts of traps in the English language, it’s not even remotely inconceivable.

With such a treacherous jungle of words to navigate, it’s no wonder writing centers recommend reading out loud.  Its benefits include (but are by no means limited to) addressing the issue of malapropisms and other “slips of the pen.”

So if a tutor in the writing center asked you to read out loud, don’t panic or worry about this, and definitely don’t let it stop you from taking advantage of a session at the writing center.  If you’re not comfortable with reading out loud, you don’t have to do it.  But know that reading aloud is a very useful way to literally hear the tone of your paper (whether it’s too formal or too casual, for example).

Malapropisms and other lower level usage issues aside (though you will be able to hear those better too), you’ll be able to better put yourself in the position of the reader and consider your audience’s needs more carefully.

If you do have the courage to read for your tutor, it helps us out as we act as an active member of your audience giving you our impressions and feedback on such issues as flow, content, clarity, and yes, even word misusage.  Together you and your tutor can listen for proper transitions between ideas and any gaps that may need to be filled in your text.3

If you’re curious, and you want to try out this theory, consider going back up to the top of this blog and reading the title out loud.  If you missed it the first time, did you catch the malapropism this time?  I hope this blog helped, and I hope none of your writing experiences are malevolent in any way.  For more fun with language and literature, check out the WRC’s Pinterest and Twitter pages, and for any issues you encounter in the writing process, we can help address and remedy those hiccups from malapropisms to structure and content.  Book an appointment today.

Happy writing!


Works Referenced

  1. net <>
  2. com <>
  3. The Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill <>

Battling Writer's Block

Categories: Updates

It’s 11:30 p.m. and you’ve procrastinated as long as you can. Staring aimlessly into the blank white screen, you know you’re facing a wall that’s impossible to climb. No thoughts magically pop up, you have zero direction on how to approach the material, nor the slightest clue what to write about or how to even start. Welcome to Writer’s Block. You’re not alone, it’s actually a more universal battle than you think. Yet, surprisingly enough, it’s a much more winnable battle than you’ve been lead to believe.

Everyone comes to a point with writing where what to say next, or what to say at all, is elusive. I’m sure there have been countless instances where you knew what you wanted to say, you just didn’t know HOW to say it. I mean, the ideas are right up there, why can’t I get them onto the page? If only writing your thoughts down in a clear, concise, and academically acceptable manner were as easy of a task as it should be.

It happens to everyone, even the best of writers. To be perfectly honest, it took me about 30 minutes to figure out how I could finish the previous paragraph and transition into this section. I feel your pain. No one is immune to writer’s block, so hold solace in the fact you aren’t alone in this tireless endeavor. That being said, it IS a winnable battle. As tutors, we love to see breakthroughs during our consultations when a client knows exactly how to tackle their paper ,and where to go from there.

At the Writing Resources Center we apply a variety of techniques that aren’t overly complex to our tutoring sessions that have helped students along the way. If you’re ever stuck wondering how to start, a great tool you can use is simply brainstorming the main points you want to say and writing them down. As tutors, we love to ask thought provoking questions about main themes, goal of the paper, and how you can transition from one idea to another. Each of these, along with the countless other questions we can ask, really make each client think about what their intended message is. We may ask:

  • “What did you feel was the main point you were trying to make?”
  • “How do you see these ideas correlating, and how can we relate them?”
  • “Are there any common themes you see between these ideas?”
  • Answering these questions will give your content a clearer direction.

writers block

We use visual aids like cluster maps, where we write all the main points or key words down and see how we can build bridges to effectively relate these ideas. We always try to see the client’s point of view before our own, that way we can gear towards your intended message, and then try to incorporate our own insight into the conversation. Letting ideas grow and develop in this collaborative setting really seems to help get clients over the proverbial hump.

No one likes facing writer’s block, but it just feels inevitable from time to time. If you find yourself stuck you can always take a step away from the computer, get some fresh air, and let your head clear out, but always try to keep the ideas flowing. At the WRC we understand the struggles you’re experiencing, because no one is immune to this uphill battle. Everyone has great insights to share, interesting points to be made, and stories worth telling – we just want to help you get it from your thought bubble onto the page, and we’ll do it one block at a time.

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