by Donika Rexhepi.
Is it supposed to be “their” or “there” or “they’re?” Does the sentence need a comma or a semi-colon? Students often struggle with these kinds of questions on writing assignments.
Chanei Patterson says that her problem is careless mistakes, especially when it comes to “tense.” “I have a hard time with staying either in the present or past tense in my writing,” says Patterson, a bio med science major at CCNY.
Like many CCNY students, Patterson would like to make her writing stronger. To help, late last semester, the Writing Center offered a workshop to teach students to find and fix common errors quickly and efficiently. “I have noticed that students have trouble with moving from the present to the past in their writing,” states Professor Laura Kallen, pinpointing Patterson’s problem.
“I see this often: Students use the wrong vocabulary because they don’t check the dictionary,” adds Kallen, who conducted last semester’s workshop.
Wanda Craceta, a bilingual extension major, has a different concern. “I use passive voice a lot,” she says, “which makes my writing boring.”
That’s another common problem agrees Kallen. Too many students think that by speaking in passive voice they sound more academic and profound, she explains, but in reality their writing is dull.
Just in time for the beginning of another semester, Kallen offers a list of five ways to improve your writing.
1. Spend 10-15 minutes organizing your ideas before you start writing.
2. Avoid passive voice. Use “active voice,” which is simplier and makes your writing more interesting. For example:
Boring: The seminar was taught by the professor.
Better: The professor taught the seminar.
3. Stay in the present tense, especially if you’re prone to switching back and forth between past and present.
4. Proof read slowly and carefully, and not right after you finish your paper. These are common, fixable mistakes students make. Even better, read over your assignment several times.
5. Be orderly when checking your work. Start with largest issue (like passive voice) then move on to the next largest issue (like misspellings and careless typos.)
If you need extra help this semester, go to the Writing Center and schedule an appointment with a specialist. http://www1.ccny.cuny.edu/prospective/humanities/writingcenter/