The Importance of Second Opinions

Categories: Updates

If you’ve ever been in a writing class of any kind, it’s likely that you’ve heard a version of the following phrase:

Good writers know the importance of feedback.

I know from experience that depending on the situation, the feedback we often get might not be exactly what we’re looking for. We’ve all been in those classes where professors schedule peer-review days and your partner leaves you little feedback but “This is good!” or “Fix this comma.” If you don’t consider yourself to be a “good writer” or if you get nervous when you’re asked to share your writing, asking others for feedback—really, desiring feedback at all—becomes even more difficult. Instances and circumstances like these can turn us off to turning to others for feedback, but the aforementioned quip, as you’ll often hear in the Writing Resources Center, is actually 100% true.

Speaking as a writer, a writing instructor, and a writing coach, I know it’s imperative that you get a second opinion on a piece of writing. It doesn’t matter what it is: a second set of eyes, a fresh perspective, someone to ask you questions when things don’t make sense…it’s often exactly what we need to take our writing to the next level.

Personally, I don’t ever submit a formal piece of writing, whether it’s to a blog or to a professor, without getting a second opinion. As an experienced writer, I understand that I often can’t see past my own opinions and mistakes, and that’s ok. The first draft (or drafts) are what Linda Flower calls “writer-based prose,” where I’m writing just for me and sorting out my ideas. In writer-based prose, it doesn’t matter if there are issues with clarity or cohesion because I’m the only person who is likely going to see it. My end goal for almost any piece of writing, though, is to turn it into reader-based prose: something easily readable and understandable for a reader, leaving nothing open to confusion. It takes revision to turn my messy, writer-based prose into the finished piece of reader-based prose, but I often spend so much time and brainpower on a single piece of writing that it becomes difficult for me to find typos myself or recognize when I’m not being as clear and direct as I should be. Even as a writing tutor I spend a lot of time in my writing process getting feedback. In fact, I have a writing partner who is interested in similar subjects to whom I send my writing, and he tells me where my writing may have everything from gaping holes in my argument to minor typos and awkward sentence structures. If I didn’t get his opinion, I might submit a piece of writing with a glaring mistake. This is where it becomes critical to obtain feedback from others.

This feedback doesn’t necessarily have to be from an academic or an experienced writer (this is particularly helpful, which is why we always recommend WRC services as your second opinion—but it’s not the only option). You can talk to your best friend, who is an engineer, and ask her if you’ve explained yourself clearly. Talk about your paper with your grammar nerd parent, who might be able to help with the proofreading and editing. So long as you’re getting that second opinion, giving yourself an opportunity to remedy glaring issues that you’re too close to the writing to see anymore, you’re putting yourself in the best position possible to submit an excellent piece of writing.

Of course, one of the easiest ways you can get feedback on your writing is by visiting the Writing Resources Center. A one-on-one appointment with a trained tutor can give you professional advice you may need, with the added bonus of keeping you from bugging a busy parent or roommate for feedback. So what’s stopping you? Come and visit us today and get that second opinion! We’re happy to help!

— Breanne

Conjunctive Adverbs & Prepositional Phrases

Categories: Updates

Today I am going to introduce two grammatical concepts to you: conjunctive adverbs and prepositional phrases. These are easy enough to understand; in fact, you most likely already use them in your writing without even realizing it!

Being asked to use these can feel like this:

But after you read this blog post you will feel as proud as this dog:

Conjunctive Adverbs:

The job of a conjunctive adverb is to connect two clauses within a sentence to one another. Here is a list of some of the conjunctive adverbs that you may run into:

Conjunctive Adverbs




You might be feeling like “What!?” but I am going to show you how to use them. As I said before, the job of a conjunctive adverb is to connect two clauses of a sentence to one another. It should look like this:

Clause 1; Conjunctive Adverb, Clause 2

Please note that you MUST use a semicolon after clause one.

Here is are some example sentences that uses conjunctive adverbs:

I would really like to go shopping; however, I do not have any money. #collegeprobs

I need to harvest all these turnips; furthermore, the cows need to be milked. #farmerlife


Prepositional Phrases:

Another tricky grammatical concept is the prepositional phrase. You might be trying to figure out what a prepositional phrase is, furiously googling it like this cat, but I’ll save you some time.

A prepositional phrase is a preposition, its object, and any modifiers between them.  For example: through the looking glass; “through” is the preposition, “looking glass” is the object, and “the” is the modifier.

A preposition is a word that indicates location, such as in, around, or through. The object of a preposition is the noun or pronoun that the preposition is talking about. A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that provides description in a sentence. Prepositional phrases generally look like this:

Preposition + Noun, Pronoun, or Clause

For example: over budget; “over” is the preposition and “budget” is the noun.

Preposition + Modifier + Noun, Pronoun, or Clause

For example: through the spooky forest; “through” is the preposition, “the spooky” is the modifier, and “forest” is the noun.
Here are a couple example sentences with prepositional phrases in them:

Amy can’t move because of all the squats she did at the gym yesterday. #beastmode

Jessie learned how to use prepositional phrases in the Writing Resource Center. #GOALS

Now, go and write using ALL the conjunctive adverbs and prepositional phrases!

And remember, if you need more clarification or just want to practice using conjunctive adverbs and prepositional phrases in your writing, stop by the Writing Resources Center! Our tutors would love to help you learn to use these concepts.

— Melissa


Resources for more help with conjunctive adverbs:




Resources for more help with prepositional phrases:





Categories: Updates

Understanding genre is the key to successful writing.

“Yeah right!” I hear you say. “It’s not that simple!” And you’re right! Understanding genre is complicated because it is so layered. Knowing your purpose, audience, tone, and structure all links back to genre. Being confident in all these areas seems impossible, but this blog post is here to guide you through the intricacies of genre and have you feeling as confident as a 80s dance aerobics instructor:

So what exactly is genre?

A genre is the label given to the type of writing you doing. You will encounter various genres throughout your academic career and beyond. Some examples of these include: lab reports, SWOT analyses, research papers, inquiry papers, and many more. Writing a lab report is extremely different than writing an inquiry paper, and distinctly labeling these as different helps discern the expectations of each of them. Genre is the easy way to identify a type of writing and the conventions that are expected within it.

So what?

Well that is all fine and dandy, but why should you care?

Understanding the genre you are writing within will help guide you in successfully meeting the requirements of the assignment you have been given. Let’s take the example of reflective writing. This is a genre that is extremely different from the stereotypical academic assignment. Generally, in your academic papers you distance yourself from the topic to remain an authorial, objective voice; however, being distant from the subject matter throughout a personal reflection would make for a pretty dull read!

This is where adapting your writing skills to the genre you are working within can be the key to your success. Knowing and conforming to the genre expected of you demonstrates your understanding of the assignment, while also ensuring that you meet your instructors’ requirements.

Moreover, it is important to know that genre is not completely rigid. Some genres are more flexible than others, such as a history research paper versus a lab report, but generally genres have wiggle room to account for difference.

How do I know what genre I am writing?

If you’re still screaming at your computer, hopefully this section will help!

Take, for example, this blog post. I am writing informally and conversationally to you about genre. I am using personal pronouns and contractions, I am writing directly to an audience, and I am far from academic in tone with my descriptions of genre. Why am I doing this? If I wrote this post about genre in a highly formal tone I’d still convey my message to you – but it’d be a lot duller of a process for you as my target audience. Blog posts are largely not a formal piece of writing. They are spaces to explore, reflect, convey, and engage with an audience. So, it is well within the parameters of this genre for me to write the way I am. If I was writing a paper in class for my professor about genre, I would not be including 80s dance aerobic GIFs. You can conclude that this piece of writing is different from a formal paper because of the writing style. You probably even absorbed that information unconsciously, recognizing this type of writing as an informal blog post without my even telling you.

Let’s think of some other easy ways to identify genre.

If a piece of writing was identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to a business, it is more than likely that the piece of writing is a SWOT analysis. If we are handed a piece of paper that has writing in two columns on a page and snappy title, we’re probably reading a news article. If a long academic paper does not come up with a direct solution or neat conclusion about a topic, then we are probably reading an inquiry paper, not a research paper.

Genre is much more than what is written. It is how it is written (tone and structure), it is how it is formatted (you won’t encounter many English Literature papers formatted in APA), and it can even be how it is consumed (GIFs are a waste of time in a printed newspaper unless you’re a part of the wizarding world!).

Does this all make more sense now?

Genre is beneficial to us all. Genres develop over time and are constantly evolving to better suit the needs of their consumers. You as a writer and a consumer of various genres are participating in the creation and molding of them! Remember that while the conventions are there to help guide you, you are also adjusting and adapting genre conventions to suit the needs of you and your readers.

Genres are there to help, not hinder you. Utilize them to your benefit!

— Amy

Higher Order vs. Lower Order Concerns

Categories: Updates

Here at the UNC Charlotte Writing Resources Center, you will often hear many of our tutors refer to “higher order concerns” and “lower order concerns,” or “HOCs” and “LOCs.”

Have you ever wondered exactly what these terms mean and why tutors use them? Well, this post will teach you all about it!

According to the Purdue OWL, Higher Order Concerns (HOCs) are elements that make up the “bigger picture” of your paper, like your thesis statement, your hypothesis, your audience, your purpose, your focus, organization, development, etc.   

Lower Order Concerns (LOCs) on the other hand, are more minor elements that make up your paper, like grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, citation style/formatting, etc. Working together, both HOCs and LOCs are the foundation of your paper. If you don’t focus on HOCs and LOCs when you write and revise, then mayhem may ensue. I am exaggerating of course, but to better understand HOCs and LOCs, let’s imagine this scenario:

Let’s pretend that your professor assigned you two papers to read that were written by fellow (anonymous) classmates, and asks you to write one paragraph summarizing each.

  • Paper #1 has perfect grammar, punctuation, citation style, etc., and addresses all LOCs… yet you still have trouble reading it. You try to highlight a thesis statement so you can better understand the author’s argument, but you cannot find one because the author is arguing multiple different, contradicting points. Even though this paper seems perfectly fine if you just glance at it, you realize it has some serious issues in regards to content. You make it to the end of this paper and cannot even understand what it is about, so you struggle to write a few sentences about it in response.
  • Paper #2 has a few grammar and punctuation mistakes scattered throughout it, but as you read, you find yourself simply overlooking and even auto-correcting those mistakes. Even though there are mistakes, you clearly understand the author’s argument and even find that you learn some new things! Because the author, when writing, made a point to address all the HOCs, you are able to make it through this paper easily. When you finish reading, you have a solid idea of the purpose and argument of the paper, and you have no trouble writing one paragraph (even though you could write more!) summarizing the paper.

When you return to class next, your professor asks you which paper you prefer. So, which paper would you choose?

Okay, so I can’t know which paper you would actually choose, (I wish I were psychic!) but if it were me, I would choose paper #2. Why?

Well, paper #1 did have perfect grammar, punctuation, spelling, citation style, etc., it’s true! However, paper #1 still had some serious HOCs that the author didn’t address as they wrote and revised, which made the paper almost illegible and the meaning almost meaningless. Even though paper #2 did have some LOCs that the author failed to address, its content was understandable, and overall, that’s what matters most!

You’re probably wondering, why is this important? And why are these concerns demarcated as “higher” and “lower” order? Shouldn’t a writer take both HOCs and LOCs into account when they write and revise?

HOCs are “higher” order because they are more essential to the meaning of your writing. As you saw in the example, paper #1 may as well have been written in an ancient code! Because the writer of that paper did not address HOCs as they were writing and revising, the paper wasn’t as efficient as paper #2, which did address HOCs. Paper #2, even though the author missed a few LOCs as they wrote and revised, was at least understandable. The audience of paper #2 may have noticed the grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes, but what mattered most was that they could understand the thesis, purpose, and overall argument of the paper and hear the author’s voice. In the end, that’s what is most important.

Yes, in an ideal world we would all take HOCs and LOCs into account as we write and revise, but hey—nobody’s perfect! We can’t all address every single detail of everything we write, so it’s always a good idea to have another pair of eyes on the lookout for HOCs and LOCs, in addition to your own.

So, now you know exactly what HOCs and LOCs are all about and why we use these terms in the WRC. Now that you know this, go forth into the world! Keep HOCs and LOCs in your mind as you write, revise, (and revise, probably multiple times again,) and they will definitely help you out!


Works Cited

“Higher Order Concerns (HOCs) and Lower Order Concerns (LOCs).” The Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab. 1 March, 2013, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/690/01/


Helpful resources about HOCs and LOCs:



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

Sources: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/conclusions/




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.