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by Kerry Boland and Brittany Clemens, Writing Consultants.
Writer's Web

Success in college English classes requires students to learn to analyze texts closely and then communicate their ideas effectively in writing. Long gone are the high school days of plot summary and the five paragraph essay! Many students find the transition difficult, especially if they are not sure of the professor's expectations for their work. In the following interviews, Dr. Suzanne Jones, Professor of English and Department Chair at the University of Richmond, discusses common mistakes writers make, English faculty "pet peeves" and considers how English majors read differently than others, as well as offers tips to advanced literature students pursuing research. Key points from the responses can be found below each video.

What are the most common mistakes beginning writers make when writing for English?

"In college, especially in writing papers about literature, sometimes three points are not enough."

  • The standard five-paragraph essay no longer works in college.
  • Think of the introduction as the thesis paragraph. The thesis does not have to be just one sentence!
  • Organize papers logically according to your analysis, rather than by the chronology of the text.

What "pet peeves" do English faculty have when it comes to student writing?

"I remind them that they can overcome these problems because I let them know that writing in strings of prepositional phrases was something that I did once."

  • Focus on developing a fluid and rhythmic writing style.
  • Be careful of repeating the same words too often or including an over-abundance of prepositional phrases.
  • Paragraphs should be no more than a page in length but more than just a few sentences.

How is reading different for literature students? What reading practices support strong writing?

"English majors often become that pragmatic reader, who can read in a number of different ways."

  • There are different stages of reading from childhood through adulthood.
  • Literature students are reader-interpreters who enjoy analyzing how a text works.
  • Read with a pen in your hand. Mark what interests you.

Can you offer tips for writing research papers for English? How can writers be sure that their own readings of texts are not drowned out by outside sources?

"Make sure you understand what your personal stake in the text is."

  • Focus on the primary text. Take many notes. Notice what excites you about the text!
  • Determine what you think about the text before you do any research.
  • Let critics help you make your points, but remember to make your voice the most prominent one.

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