Policies and procedures for the course

Here's what my successful students do (or don't do)
Avoid using these in your writing

Common writing assignment errors


Sending E-Mails

  • Please send all emails through the Columbia e-mail system to me at gwilkerson@columbiastate.edu. I will answer all of your messages and grade your papers as quickly as possible--usually within 48 hours.

    All messages and assignments are important to me and I try to respond to them in a timely fashion. But marking messages and assignments as “high priority” does not speed up the process. Save that for emergency messages when you absolutely must have an immediate response.

  • Use only one email address throughout the entire semester. In an emergency (i.e. you cannot access the computer you usually use) make sure to put your name in the subject line of the email and address a copy of the message to yourself at your regular email address. This gives you a copy for your records and it enables me to send my reply to your regular email address. That saves time and enables me to respond to your message quicker.

  • Do not send the same email more than once unless you are sure that it didn't get through the first time. (If that happens you will usually receive a message from the server.) After a reasonable amount of time (at least 48 hours), if you are not certain I received an email, you can call me (615.457.1635) to ask about it.

  • If you change your email address during the semester, immediately send me an email from the new address and put something like this in the SUBJECT line: Email Address Change for Julie Doe. If your email address changes after you have already sent me an assignment and you haven't received an acceptance notice, send the assignment again from your new email address. It's better that I receive it twice than not at all.

    Naming Files
    If you submit a paper via e-mail, this may be the most critical guideline of all. Since I frequently receive papers for the same assignment, but from different students, it's important that the name of each file containing the paper be unique. (If everyone submitted the first assignment in a file named PAPER-1.DOC, I would only get one person's paper (whoever was the last one to submit it) since the computer will record each newly submitted document OVER the old one, thereby erasing it. Therefore, it's important that you follow these directions.

    The name for the file for each paper should consist of three parts:

    1. Your last name
    2. The assignment number
    3. Whether it's NEW or a REVISION

    Each part should be separated by a hyphen: -

    For example, if Julie Doe is submitting the third assignment, the WORD file would be named:


    When I return the paper I will add an "R" to the end of the file name, like so:


    If Julie is submitting a revision of the third assignment, the WORD file would be named:


    And when I return that paper I will, once again, add an "R" to the end of the file name, like so:


    This way, there will never be two papers that have exactly the same file name. And though it shouldn't make a difference, I prefer that file names be in UPPER CASE.

    IMPORTANT NOTES: The above refers to the name you give to your WORD file when you save it.

    Formats for Papers
    Papers should be submitted as a Microsoft WORD or Rich Text document file. (In other words, the extension on the file name should be DOC or RTF.)

  • Type your name, the course number, and the paper number at the top left of the firstpage of each assignment (before the title). Don't put quotation marks around the title. (The only proper place for quotation marks is around the names of other authors' works.) Here's an example of how your heading should look:

      Julie Doe
      English 1010
      Assignment 1: Claims & Research

      Capital Punishment is not the Answer

  • Do not send your paper typed into the body of an email.

  • Please make certain all of your essays are at least the required minimum length before you submit them. The minimum is the least acceptable number of words; anything less will receive an 'F'. So you can assume that if your assignment is right around the minimum, the best grade you can expect for it is a 'C'.

    Writing Style
    This is a college level writing course. Your paper should be written at that level. Conversational language is not appropriate. For example, a student wrote the following: "Honestly, I would never want to send my loved one off to war ever." While you might express yourself this way when speaking to someone, a friend or relative, it's not very scholarly. The student should have said something like: "Sending a loved one off to war is never a joyful event." (Notice that the first person [I] was removed.) And conversational words and phrases like "honestly" or "nowadays" should not be used.
          The other side of the coin is the tendency to become too formal. Some students, in an effort to "sound" academic introduce unnecessary verbiage that does nothing but confuse matters. (For example, saying "with regard to" instead of "about.")

    Submitting an Assignment
    You may submit only one assignment at a time unless I specifically tell you otherwise. Any essay returned for revising or rewriting must be resubmitted and accepted before you submit the next assignment. BUT, just as soon you finish one assignment, there's no reason you shouldn't begin working the next one.

  • If a reasonable amount of time has passed (at least 48 hours) and you haven't had your assignment reviewed and returned to you, you may e-mail me to inquire about it. Do not post the same essay more than once.

    Sample Papers
    Some sample papers are provided for you to get an idea of what I'm looking for. Note that these are provided as illustrations for your reference only.

    Over the past fifteen years I've accumulated a list of things that my successful students do. These are practices which, if followed religiously, will not only get you the grade you want, but the grade you deserve. Some of these points come directly from research in education, others from my own experience.


  • Never give up!
    Research in education has shown that persistence or, as it's better known, stick-to-it-ive-ness, is the single most important factor in student success. Most of the time, if you "hang in there" you'll make it. (And that's especially true in this class. As long as you stick with me, I'll stick with you).


  • Ask Questions
    Don't be embarassed or reluctant to ask a question. Remember, you're paying for this course. You have a right to an answer and I will do my level best to respond promptly and as clearly as I can. And if that's not good enough, ask again.


  • Have Foresight
    Students who succeed look ahead. Many will write assignment due dates and schedule other items, like the days to post to the Discussion Board, on their calendar. If you're computer savvy, you can put them into your online calendar and set up a reminder.


  • Make full use of the Textbook and other Resources
    In addition to the textbook, which is your essential resource, there are a number of documents on the BlackBoard site and also at the Dr. Write Site. These include the Syllabus, Lectures, Frequently Asked Questions, and Checklists. Successful students print these out and keep them handy as a reference during the course.


    Take A Position
    Following the basic information about the reading, state your position on the topic (but DO NOT say "I think...," "It seems to me...", "I believe..." or any other phrase of that sort. Since you are the author of your essay, it's clear to the reader that any comments are yours. For example, you might say this:
      Jonathan Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal" presents a drastic solution to the problems of hunger and poverty in sixteenth century Ireland. Swift's proposal is anything but modest. In this essay he proposes that children be cooked and eaten. At first glance, this sounds like a strange and bizarre idea, but further study reveals that Swift has his tongue firmly planned in his cheek and does not mean to be taken seriously.
    But not this:
      Jonathan Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal" presents a drastic solution to the problems of hunger and poverty in sixteenth century Ireland. I thought that Swift's proposal was anything but modest. He proposes that children be cooked and eaten and the first time I read it I thought it was a strange and bizarre idea, but then I realized that Swift had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek and didn't mean to be taken seriously.


    Do Some Research
    While research is not likely to be necessary for most of the assignments, your position and comments are a lot stronger when you back them up with support from outside sources. Therefore, broad claims and assertions will not be accepted without some kind of support behind them. For example, you should avoid saying things like:
      "People in Poe's time must have been outraged at the idea that someone would kill another person just because they felt insulted. No one would think ."
    Instead, remarks like these should be supported (or not made at all), like so:
      "Fowler's History of Early America states that when Poe's story was first published many people were disturbed by the idea."

    In the first example, you are making an unsubstantiated claim. In the second example you are documenting a fact.

    Papers are returned with review comments at the top and edits in the body of the paper. The comments are of two types: CONTENT AND COMPOSITION. My goal is always to provide you with information which will guide you in any revision you have to make and let you know what you'e doing right as well as what you've done wrong.

    Many of these errors can be avoided very easily by following two simple rules:
    1. Turn on the Spell Checker
      When there's a spelling error, it appears in red. Highlight it, then go to the TOOLS menu and select Spelling and Grammar and you'll get alternatives. Don't leave any red words in your paper.

    2. Turn on the Grammar Checker
      When there's a grammar error, it is underlined in green. WORD isn't as good with grammar errors as it is with spelling. It simply shows you where there's a problem. You'll have to play with it to get rid of the green. (And note that sometimes you may not want to do that. For example, if you're quoting the opening sentence of Huckleberry Finn ("You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,' but that ain’t no matter.") You want to leave the errors in because they are not yours; they are the intentional errors of the author, Mark Twain, who has written that way to give the character's voice a realistic "sound."

    Minimum Means "the least"
    If an assignment says the minimum number of words is 300 that means that the instructor can't conceive of anyon being able to accomplish the assignment in less. It doesn't mean to write 300 words and then stop. It means that the best students might be able to do it in 300 words. And leads us to another rule...

    Occasonally, student errors produce some comical results. Check Dr. Write's Blooper's, Gaffs, and Goofs for some examples.

    Rewriting and Revising
    Any paper that receives less than an ‘A’ may be revised and resubmitted to try to raise the grade. When your paper is returned to you, if you wish to revise and resubmit it, you must do so within 10 days of its return.

    When you submit the revised paper, you must also turn in the original version. I will compare my comments to the new version to see if you understood and followed my directions. Sometimes I find errors that I missed the first time, but I don't penalize you if you haven't corrected these.

    The objective of this process is to provide you with the information you need to become a better writer. If you wrote "Swifts essay quickly reaches it's conclusion," and I change "Swifts" to "Swift's" and "it's" to "its", I not only expect those to be changed in the revision, I expect you to understand why I did it and to avoid those kind of mistakes on future assignments. And if you don't understand, I expect you to get in touch with me so I can explain further.

    Eliminating some words and phrases can make a world of difference in the readability of your assignment. Here's a few of the major ones to avoid.


  • Avoid saying "SHOULD"
    I think it was Joe Ely who sang "Musta, Notta Gotta" and "shoulda, woulda, coulda" is in the same class when it comes to writing about Central Ideas. The word should implies a moral. "We should all love one another," is a nice 'message' but it's not a Central Idea.

    Avoid saying "WOULD"
    "Shoulda, woulda, coulda" are in the same class when it comes to writing. The word 'would' implies a negative. If you ask me "Will you read my paper?" and I say "I would..." you then expect me to say "...but..." So statements like "I would say that this article was informative" sound wishy-washy. It's much stronger to say "This article was informative." (Another example: "My favorite part of this would have to be the part where he fell down the stairs." How about: "My favorite part is where he fell down the stairs."
    How to catch this error? After you write your paper, do a search [CTRL-F] for "would".


    Avoid Excessive Verbiage
    That means using too many words. For example, a student wrote "Mark Twain is known to have made many great contributions to American literature." when he could have said "Mark Twain made many great contributions to American literature."


    Avoid "I", "ME", AND "YOU"
    Remember that the topic of your assignment is the subject.

    When you use 'I', YOU become the subject. The focus moves away from the topic and onto you. Sentences like this are not appropriate:

      "This essay made me sick to my stomach. I couldn't believe what I was reading."
    This tells us nothing about the topic, only that the person writing about it was sick and in disbelief.

    Likewise, you should not say:

      "This essay will make you glad you live in a time and in a country where you don't have to worry about famine and poverty."
    This shifts the focus to the reader. There's an involuntary, unconscious response; the reader thinks "Who? Me?" In this version, the important thing is not 'the essay' but the fact that the reader is going to be glad he or she lives in the U.S.

    So what's the right way to do this? There are a couple of options. You can put it in terms of readers:

      "This essay will make readers grateful that they live in a country where they don't have to worry about famine and poverty."

    Or you can use the more formal sounding "one."

      "This story will make one grateful to be living in a country where they don't have to worry about famine and poverty."
    But that's not my favorite solution. Ultimately, if you have this dilemma, you should reconsider what you're trying to say and put it in a way that maintains the focus where it belongs--on the thing being written about:
      "After reading the proposal presented in this essay, we can be grateful to be living in a country where most of us don't have to worry about famine and poverty."
    And notice how the use of "we" creates an inclusiveness. The writer (that's you) and the reader are brought together as participants in the experience.

    The rule concerning 'YOU' isn't absolute, but it's enough of a problem that it's easier to tell students to avoid it altogether. When we say 'you' we're talking to the reader. Did you understand that? (See? I was talking to you when I said that...you, the reader of this paragraph. In this instance I wanted to talk to the reader. But most of the time, using 'you' becomes distracting. Take a look at this paragraph from a student's paper:

      "This was a truly moving story. I had heard about it from friends who read it and now that I had the chance to read it myself I understood why everyone had reacted to it as they did. It's the kind of story you never forget."
    She starts out fine, using the first person to talk about the experience of reading the story, but by the second sentence the focus is on her (the writer) and away from the story itself. Then the third sentence shifts the subject from the writer ("I") to the reader ("you"). As the reader, my initial reaction to her statement that "It's the kind of story you never forget" is "Me?"


    Don't say ALMOST
    A paper I received, talking about a description, said "you can almost hear the bird singing." If you can almost hear the bird singing, you can't hear it. So what does it mean to say you can 'almost' hear it? (And the problem with saying YOU is explained elsewhere on this list).


    Don't say "IN CONCLUSION"
    Saying "In conclusion" is trite. It sounds like something from a speech: "And in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I'd simply like to say what an honor it has been to be here."


    Don't say I THINK or I BELIEVE
    If you are the writer, it's evident that the things you're saying are what you think. A statement like "I think the essay was well written," is weak. If you think the essay was well written, then simply say "The essay was well written."
    And leave beliefs to matters of faith. It's equally weak to say "I believe that the essay was well written." If you believe that Mohammed received his revelations over a period of 23 years from the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel)," it's OK to introduce the sentence with "I believe," but saying "I believe the purpose of the essay is Referential," is a way of 'fudging' on the matter. If you say you believe it's referntial and I say it's not, you can reply that you said you "believe" it was, but you didn't really mean to say it was.

    Here are some common errors I've found on many student papers. They're easy to correct with a simple SEARCH of your document before turning it in.


    It's Not Like You're Really There
    A phrase I see a lot on assignments is "It's like you're really there" or "It seemed real." Another one is "the writer paints a picture in your mind." The appearance of reality is one of the basic features of great literature. Those are the things we're studying this term, but phrases like this don't add anything to an analysis. In fact, they trivialize it. (I suspect they're leftovers from high school.) If you truly felt "really there" or that the author painted a picture in your mind, identify what the author did to cause you to feel that way and use the tools provided in the course to analyze that.