Tutoring writing has been one of the most enriching and eye-opening experiences I have had in my college career. It has identified several common pitfalls, ways to overcome frequent hurdles and tips for being able to get it all out.
1). Just write-don’t think about it-just write however you’re thinking it
One thing I have found regardless of the subject I’m tutoring (from romanticism to science to freshman introductory writing to fictional writing and everything in between) is that most people can say their paper: they can look at me and have a conversation with me about it, telling me every idea, thought, source and conclusion…they just can’t write it out. Honestly, the best way to overcome this is to either say it out loud while you’re typing it (probably a good idea when you’re not in public, people tend to look at you a little funny when you talk to yourself) or to write it exactly how you’re thinking it without worrying about rules, format or sounding “good” or “professional”.
2). Read your paper out loud
This will help you figure out where things are confusing, when you start to get repetitive (either in point or in word choice) and where you’re missing information. Again, maybe not in public.
3). Use your voice…make it sound like you
I had a professor tell me “When I write my articles I pretend like I’m having a conversation with my sweetheart. I write it out exactly how I envision myself telling her about it. That way my reader will feel like I’m talking to them…and it doesn’t sound forced”. That’s one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given, and one of the best ways to start a paper if you’re stuck…just talk about it (see number one)
4). Show and tell are two different things…showing is always better
Think of presentations you’ve had to sit through….a majority of them have some sort of visual along with the person talking, and more often than not the visual aid is more interesting than the speech. Add to that the quote “a picture is worth a thousand words” and visuals begin to become more and more important. Writing is unique in that it can create visuals without using a picture. Instead of telling your reader flat-out “it’s cold out” show them…describe it “it was the kind of chilly that made citizens long for a fireplace and a cozy blanket”. Descriptions are the most powerful and engaging tools in writing
5). Your sentence shouldn’t be longer than your attention span
Your reader pays about as much attention as you do-maybe even less. Having a sentence be a paragraph long will not only be confusing and cause the reader to re-read it several times, but it will likely make people want to quit reading. Don’t be afraid of using a period: it’s not an invisible wall that disconnects thoughts entirely and forces people to stop reading…they really will continue reading if there’s a period there.
6). Give examples and think of real life
I was tutoring a girl who was trying to describe a six-year-old girl and used the word imploringly…that word, in my mind, should never be associated with a child because they would have no idea what it means. Use words that relate to your subject: bubbley, innocently, excitedly, eagerly….descriptions like “smelled like bubblegum” or “stickily” or “she ran so fast she thought her legs would fall off”…not imploringly.
Examples will almost always clear up any confusion around the point you’re trying to make…you may not understand my rules, but the example might make sense to you. Try to use examples whenever possible: some people just need them to relate.
Whenever you write try to write how you would speak, and write something you would like to read…chances are it’ll come out much better than if you focus too hard on trying to be perfect or professional. You can always go back and edit it later, what matters is getting it on the paper.