Online Writing Resources
Our favorite resources and guides to all things writing, organized by topic and curated from around the web.
- Sentence-level Clarity
- Punctuation and Mechanics
- Understanding Errors
- Varying Sentence Structure
- Nouns and Pronouns
- Idiomatic Expressions
Writing in the Disciplines / Genre
- Writing in the Disciplines
- Analysis and Review
- Standard Essay Forms
- Business Writing
- The Scientific Report
- Oral and PowerPoint Presentations
- The Application Process
- Email Etiquette
Understanding the Assignment: Sometimes essay prompts can read like the instructions for building an Ikea dresser: unnecessarily mind-boggling. Below are some useful tips and definitions to help you understand your assignment and stay on topic.
- How to Read an Assignment
- Common Assignments
- Key Assignment Terms
- Interpreting “Discuss” and “Analyze”
Getting Started: The first draft is difficult for everyone. If you find yourself banging your head against a blank computer screen at a loss for how to start, consider breaking up the writing process into simpler tasks.
Critical Reading Skills: Being a good writer means being a good reader. Critical reading entails entering into a conversation with a text—allowing the text to inform your thinking, and your thoughts inform the way the text is read. It’s a give-and-take between you and the material. Here are some useful definitions and practical advice for developing your reading mind.
- Definition & Approaches
- Advice on Note-Taking
- More Advice on Note-Taking
- Moving from Reading to Writing
- Example of Close Reading
- More Examples of Close Reading
Critical Thinking Skills: The strength of your essay’s argument depends largely on the integrity of your logic and the accuracy of your analysis. If you’re vague, overly emotional, or simply nonsensical, then your reader will not be persuaded. Thus, it’s wise to study up on important analytical terms and typical logical fallacies.
Developing/Complicating Ideas: Professors often tell us that our ideas are undeveloped or too simple. But what does it mean to develop or complicate an idea? How can you move from a statement of fact that tends to repeat itself to an idea or argument that takes an entire essay to articulate? Below are some practical strategies for moving from the obvious to the complex. Note: the following advice is not relevant to all essay assignments; you’ll need to first know what kind of essay you’re writing before taking advantage of the below skills.
- Moving Beyond High School Writing
- More Advice on the College Essay
- Complicating Your Thesis
- Posing an Academic Problem
- Complicating Thesis for Research Paper
- Presenting a Counterargument
- Example of Counterargument
Thesis: At some point in our writing lives, we’ve all been told that we need a stronger thesis. But what makes a strong thesis? What’s the difference between a fact, an opinion, and a thesis or argument? How do you come up with a thesis?
Audience: Typically, we tend to write either for ourselves or for the actual person who will be reading our work. But academic writing is geared to a wider audience, not just you or your professor. More importantly, knowing your audience will help make your writing clearer, more concise, and more focused.
Organization: You can think of an essay’s organization as the scaffolding of your paper: a solid structure holds up your ideas; it gives your argument shape. In general, all essays have a beginning, middle, and end (or an introduction, body, and conclusion). In turn, most essays have a thesis (usually at the end of your beginning), topic sentences, evidence, and analysis of evidence. However, beyond these basic structural requirements, there are a number of ways to effectively deliver and order your information.
- Basic Structural Requirements
- Writing an Effective Introduction
- Writing an Effective Conclusion
- Strategies for Organizing Your Body Paragraphs
Paragraphing: Paragraphs are the building blocks of your essay. And as with blocks (if you remember playing with them as a kid), a weak foundation will cause the entire structure to tumble down. Here are the basic elements of nearly every paragraph you will be asked to write in college:
Transitions: Transitions from sentence to sentence are the glue of your paper, cohering your thoughts and clarifying your logic. To do this effectively it’s useful to have a database of transitional words. Transitions from paragraph to paragraph, however, are often more complicated than plugging in a transitional word; they might be a few sentences or even a paragraph, and often hinge on an important concept. In turn, these key concepts should be referred to throughout your essay to remind the reader of your primary focus — an organizational device that is often called “sign-posting.”
- List of Transitional Words
- Transitioning from Paragraph to Paragraph
- More on Paragraph Transitions
- Sign-Posting & Topic Sentences
- Example of Transitions
- Example of Sign-Posting
Support/Evidence: Like prosecutors, policemen, and scientists, writers rely on evidence to validate their claims. But what do we mean by evidence in context of writing? Is it just a gathering of facts or something more? How can you find evidence in something as seemingly impartial and story-driven as a novel or short-story or even a poem? Below is a description of the uses and types of evidence you may encounter in your college career, as well as advice on how to incorporate this evidence into your own essay:
- Evidence and Its Uses
- Evidence in Business Writing
- Evidence in Literary Essays
- Examples of Evidence Usage
Contrastive Rhetoric: You may have noticed how people from different places speak differently. Someone for Brooklyn sounds vastly different than someone from Los Angeles or an English-speaker born in Beijing. The same is true of writing. Our cultural backgrounds shape the way we think and construct our thoughts; this is known as "contrastive rhetoric." Thus, it’s helpful to understand what different cultures value in writing, as well as what exactly tends to defines the American style of the academic essay.
Drafting Strategies: In some of our classes, we’re assigned more than one draft before turning in the final essay to be graded. But how different are these drafts really? Do we simply change a paragraph, rearrange a few sentences, or fix the spelling errors? To make the most of the drafting stage, consider the following strategies.
Revision: A poor revision is often no more than cosmetic: fixing the mistakes our readers point out; changing the obviously awkward or grammatically incorrect sentence. However, most often, true revision requires us to transform the entire idea of our essay. Check out the below sites to understand what’s expected of a revision and to receive some practical advice on how to elevate your work to meet its greatest potential:
- What's Expected and Useful Strategies
- Reverse Outlining as a Revision Strategy
- Advice on Editing and Formatting Your Essay
- First Draft Common Errors
Editing/Proofreading Strategies: Almost nothing is more challenging than editing your own work. Like listening to yourself talk on an answering machine, it feels foreign and awkward to hear your own voice echoed back to yourself. Here are some easy-to-apply tips to constructively edit your work:
Grammar: Perhaps you’re just learning the rules or you know the rules intuitively; either way, very few of us have a solid grasp on all of English’s countless grammatical nuances. Nonetheless, the more aware we are of the rules, the stronger writers we can become. Grammar not only affects our clarity, but also can add authority, enhance meaning, and create a more sophisticated and thoughtful voice. Check out the following links for a list of common errors arranged by subject as well as a list of commonly asked questions and practice quizzes to test your comprehension.
- Article Usage Rules (written)
- Article Usage Rules (visual presentation)
- Article Usage Rules (special cases)
- Article Usage Quiz (easy)
- Article Usage Quiz (moderate)
- Articles Usage Quiz (hard)
- Article Usage Game
Comma Splices, Run-ons, and Fragments
- Comma Splices Rules
- Run-on Sentences Rules
- Sentence Fragments Rules
- Comma Splices, Fragments, & Run-ons Quiz
Problems with Sentence Structure
- Dangling Participles Rules
- Dangling Participles Quiz
- Parallel Structure Rules
- Parallel Structure Quiz
- Split Infinitives Rules
- Split Infinitives Quiz
Commonly Asked Questions
- Lay vs. Lie Rules
- Lay vs. Lie Quiz
- Which vs. That Rules
- Which vs. That Quiz
- Who vs. Whom Rules
- Who vs. Whom Quiz
Sentence-level Clarity: We’ve all heard someone (a friend, relative, or stranger on the subway) tell a confusing story. What make these stories confusing are largely the same issues: vague or unnecessary detail, a long-winded narrative, exaggeration, or cliché. The same is true of writing. Although the temptation is to pepper our sentences with big words, flowery metaphors, and smart-sounding phrases, less is almost always more in academic writing.
- Word Choice
- Trimming Your Sentences
- Avoiding Clichés
- Samples of Vague vs. Concise Sentences
- Practice Rewriting Wordy Sentences
Punctuation and Mechanics: Whether English is our first or sixth language, we all make mistakes when it comes to punctuation: a semi-colon in the wrong place; a surplus of commas; using a hyphen instead of a dash. Below are the basic rules for punctuation and mechanics, as well as practice quizzes to brush up on your skills.
Semicolon and Colon Usage
Hyphens and Dashes
Parentheses & Ellipses
- Capitalization Rules
- Capitalization Quiz
- Italics Rules
- Italics Quiz
- Punctuating Titles Rules
- Writing Numbers Rules
- Writing Numbers Quiz
- General Mechanics Quiz
Vocabulary: Certainly, the more access you have to words, the more expressive and accurate your writing becomes. Then again, misused or excessive wording can confuse your reader. As a general rule, use only the words you know. At the same time, continue to read and study to broaden your vocabulary and become more comfortable with varying your word choice. To help with this life-long process, here are some useful resources, helpful tools for vocabulary building, and lists of commonly misused words.
- Merriam-Webster (online dictionary and thesaurus)
- Visual Thesaurus (offers visual mappings of synonyms)
- Concordance Dictionary (offers closely related or linked words)
- Oxford English Dictionary (offers definitions, roots, and history of words; can have direct access through Baruch library website)
- Word Reference (online translator)
- Dictionary of American Idioms (definitions of American slang or sayings)
- Vocabulary Quizzes (beginner)
- Vocabulary Quizzes (intermediate)
- Vocabulary Building Strategies and Quizzes
- Quizzes on Word Parts, Vocabulary, and Reading in Context
Commonly Misused Words
Understanding Errors: Over the course of your writing life, you will receive an array of feedback from your readers. Such critique can be confusing, ranging from a seemingly hostile splattering of red ink to a frustrating collection of abbreviations that reads like a computer programming language. The important thing is to not take the comments personally and to remember that all feedback is an occasion to improve your writing. Check out the following sites to better understand your readers' comments and to make the most of them.
- Common Editorial Marks
- Decoding Professor's Comments
- Common Errors
- Common Errors (for ELL students)
- Reading and Asking for Feedback
- Creating a Self-Improvement Checklist
Syntax: If you’ve ever seen ‘syn’ or ‘syntax’ written in the margins of your essay, then you may want to pay more attention to your sentence structure. Syntax refers to the order of your words; and, like all languages, English has a particular grammatical structure that each sentence must follow. For a description of standard syntax as well as a list of common errors, check out the following.
Varying Sentence Structure: One way to make your writing stand out is to vary your sentence structure to establish an interesting rhythm. Like a dull, monotonous lecture, a piece of writing can bore the reader if it repeats the same sentence structure over and over again. The below sites discuss sentence types along with tips on how and when to vary your structure.
- Sentence Types
- Sentence Order
- Quiz on Sentence Structure
- Creating Sentence Variety
- Fixing Short, Choppy Sentences
- Fixing Repetitive Sentences
Verbs: Your choice of verb and verb tense can change the entire tone and meaning of a sentence. Writing “she says,” for instance, is much different than writing “she insinuates.” The first website explains the verb’s function and offers a comprehensive menu (on the left side of the screen) of verb tenses and uses. The second website advises student writers on how to use verbs effectively when quoting a source. Finally, it’s worth looking at the last site on why, when, and how to use the active verb tense.
- Verb Tense, Function, & Uses (note the menu on left-hand side of screen)
- Verbs for Referring to Sources
- Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
Nouns and Pronouns: Most grammatical mistakes regarding nouns occur when creating a plural noun or when using a pronoun. Be sure to avoid these common pitfalls by checking out the following sites.
Rules and Quizzes
- Plural Nouns Rules
- Plural Nouns Quiz
- Pronoun Usage Rules
- Pronoun Reference Rules
- Tricky Parts of Pronoun Usage Rules
- Pronoun Usage Quiz
Idiomatic Expressions: Each language has its own idioms: peculiar expressions that only make sense to someone from the language’s country or culture of origin. Thus, part of mastering a language entails learning these idioms, which can only happen through exposure and memorization. Below are lists of common English idioms, ranging from conversational to academic to business-related.
- A Note on Using Idioms
- Common English Idioms (note the pull-down menu on right-hand corner of screen)
- Idiomatic Use of Prepositions
- Useful Idiomatic Verbs for Writing
- English Idioms in Business
- Quiz on Common Idioms
Style: The definition of good writing may vary from reader to reader. However, for the most part, academic writing consists of a few standard stylistic features.
- General Style Pointers
- Clarity and Concision
- Tone: Levels of Formality
- When to Use Group Jargon
- Avoiding Deceitful Language
- Avoiding Biased Language
Academic Research: When looking for source material, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of information. You might be Googling “Tartuffe” and accidentally pull up a blog on the top ten fragrances for men. Check out the below sites for advice on how to plan your research, come up with a research question, tips for online research, and strategies for evaluating your sources:
- Top Ten Tips for Developing a Research Strategy
- Developing Research Question
- How to Conduct Online Research
- Evaluating Your Sources
Quoting, Paraphrasing, Summarizing Sources: A sure sign of a mature writer is the ability to thoughtfully and confidently integrate outside sources into an essay. Such a skill is very difficult to master. We ask ourselves: Why should I put something in my own words when it’s already been said better by a professional writer? What’s the difference between summarizing and paraphrasing? How can I quote a text without interrupting the flow of my own ideas? For definitions, tips, and clear examples of quoting, paraphrasing, and summary check out the following sites.
- Differences Between Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing
- Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing
- Paraphrasing vs. Quoting
- How to Use, Integrate, and Punctuate Quotes
- Example of Direct Quoting
- Example of Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting
Citation/ Documentation: We know that citation and documentation are important to our professors. But do we really know why it’s important to the world of academic writing? If you’ve ever wondered about the reasons behind this requirement, take a look at the following.
Academic Integrity/ Understanding Plagiarism: Many of us are guilty of plagiarism without even knowing we’re doing it. Worse yet, in a digital world where cutting & pasting seems the norm, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to copy someone else’s work or ideas. The following offers explanations, definitions, and tips on how to avoid plagiarism.
- When to Cite
- Successful vs. Unsuccessful Paraphrase
- How to Paraphrase without Plagiarizing
- Plagiarism Quiz
MLA Formatting Style: In general, MLA (Modern Language Association) is the formatting style used when writing in the Humanities. Format refers to the way the paper looks (heading, title, spacing, etc.) as well as to the method of documentation or citation. There are two types of required citation in MLA: in-text citation (when quoting or paraphrasing during your essay) and a works cited page (a complete list of outside sources placed at the end of your essay). For examples and further detail, check out the following.
- MLA Format and Style
- In-Text Citation
- Works Cited Page (basic format)
- Works Cited Page (books)
- Works Cited Page (periodicals)
- Works Cited Page (electronic sources)
- Works Cited Page (other)
- Sample MLA Paper
APA Formatting Style: APA (American Psychological Association) is the formatting style used when writing in the Social Sciences. Format refers to the way the paper looks (heading, title, spacing, etc.) as well as to the method of documentation or citation. There are two types of citation: in-text citation (when quoting or paraphrasing during your essay) and a reference list (a complete list of outside sources placed at the end of your essay). For examples and further detail, check out the following.
- APA Format and Style
- In-Text Citation (the basics)
- In-Text Citation (author/ authors)
- Reference List (the basics)
- Reference List (author/ authors)
- Reference List (articles in periodicals)
- Reference List (books)
- Reference List (other print sources)
- Reference List (electronic sources)
- Reference List (other non-print sources)
- Sample APA Paper
Other Formatting Styles: Although MLA and APA are the two most common formatting styles used in college, there are other styles with which you may need to familiarize yourself. Below is complete list of additional formatting styles:
- Chicago Manual of Style
- American Political Science Association (APSA)
- Council of Biology Editors (CBE)
Writing in the Disciplines / Genre
Writing in the Disciplines: Just as different occupations demand different types of dress and demeanor, so too do different academic disciplines demand different styles and structures. Check out the following for an overview of the writing assignments, types of investigation, and ranges of style that may be required of you in a particular field of study.
- Writing an Abstract
- Writing an Academic Proposal
- Writing in Anthropology
- Writing in Art History
- Writing in Communication Studies
- Writing in Drama Studies
- Writing in English
- Writing in History
- Writing a Literature Review
- Writing in Philosophy
- Writing in Psychology
- Writing in Political Science
- Writing in Religious Studies
- Writing in the Sciences
- Writing in Sociology
Analysis and Review: Certainly, one of the most important skills in college-level writing is the ability to closely read and interpret a complex work. You’ve likely had experience analyzing literature, but what about art, poetry, film or a play? The following sites can help you feel more comfortable when approaching something as challenging as a Renaissance painting or obscure as a Modernist poem.
- Purpose, Approach, Planning, and Organization
- Close Reading and Common Mistakes
- Style Tips
- Working with Quotes
- Literary Analysis Essay Sample
- Literary Analysis Explication
- Introduction to Formal Analysis
- Useful Questions and Approaches
- Types of Approaches and Forms
- Prewriting Strategies and Style
- Tips on Writing a Review
- Approach and Style
- Preparation, Purpose, and Organization
- Review Essay Sample
- Tips on Writing a Review
- Purpose, Approach, and Organization
- Preparation and Argument
- Review Essay Sample
Standard Essay Forms: Although every class is different, there are a few basic essay forms that you will no doubt be asked to write over the course of your college career. Check out the below for tips on organization and style regarding five common forms.
The Compare & Contrast Essay
- Analysis and Organization
- More Tips on Organization
- Developing a More Complex Approach
- Compare & Contrast Essay Sample
- Compare & Contrast Essay Explication
The Persuasive or Argumentative Essay
The Narrative Essay
The Descriptive Essay
The Response Paper
In-Class Essay Exams
Business Writing: For many of us at Baruch, mastering business writing is not just about passing our courses but also landing that dream internship or job. The following breaks down the style of business writing with regard to the standard forms.
The Business Letter
The Business Memo
The Executive Summary
- Overview of Form
- Purpose and Organization
- Tips on Style and Voice
- Good and Poor Executive Summary Samples
The Scientific Report: Unlike some essay forms, this genre of writing has a very strict sense of organization and style. This defined structure, however, allows much room for argument and original thinking. The following offers a basic guide to and an example of excellent writing in the sciences.
Oral and PowerPoint Presentations: Most of us are terrified by the prospect of presenting our work to a group of peers. However, you can make the process nearly painless through careful preparation and practice. Here are some useful tips to ease your anxiety.
- Preparation and Organization
- Basic Structure
- Introductions and Conclusions
- Engaging Your Audience
- Spoken vs. Written Clarity
- Tips for Effective Delivery
Visual Aids and PowerPoint Presentations
Statement of Purpose
- Advice from Admissions Reader
- More Advice from Admissions Readers
- Key Rules and Common Mistakes
- Getting Started and Style Points
- More on Style, Organization, and Further Resources
- Statement of Purpose Samples
Academic Cover letter
Business Cover Letter
- Listing Your Skills
- Style and Tone
- Format and Organization
- More on Format and Sample Cover Letter
Email Etiquette: Email has quickly become our primary form of professional communication. As a result of its immediacy (and our overflowing inboxes), we might tend not to give our emails too much thought with regard to style, tone, language, etc. This could be a big mistake in a professional or academic context. In fact, a poorly written email might compromise your professor’s opinion of you or result in the loss of an internship. Take the time to read the below advice on constructing thoughtful, efficient, and appropriate emails.
- General Email Etiquette
- How to Write a Business Email
- How to Email Your Professor
- More Advice on Emailing Professors
- Article in NY Times on Emailing Professors
- Grammar Girl — Funny and Informative podcasts on every grammar quirk or question you could possibly think of.
- NPR's Grammar Grater — A quirky podcast about unusual grammar issues in the age of technology.
- The Web of Language — Hosted by a Professor of English and Linguistic Studies at the University of Illinois, this site offers funny and fascinating tales of grammar history alongside caustic critiques of grammar mistakes in popular culture.
- i Magazine — Sample essays in all disciplines from your classmates at Baruch College
- Models Essays from Yale College — Sample essays in all disciplines from one of the country’s top universities
- ELL Cyber Listening Lab — An invaluable interactive site for anyone learning a new language where you can listen to the spoken word.
- ELL Games and Activities — Test your grammar skills with countless quizzes and games.
- Assignment Calculator — An electronic tool to help manage time in your busy academic life.
- Avery, Heather. Thinking it Through: A Practical Guide to Academic Essay Writing. For anyone who is having trouble with focus and organization.
- Bazerman, Charles. The Informed Writer: Using Sources in the Disciplines. A focus not just on research, but also how to read and utilize research along with sample papers from various disciplines.
- Booth, Wayne, Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Smart about the research process, from defining a research question, to evaluating sources, to drafting.
- Elbow, Peter. Writing With Power. Helpful advice on overcoming writer’s block and gaining confidence.
- Klauser, Henriette. Writing on Both Sides of the Brain: Breakthrough Techniques for People Who Write. Eye-opening solutions to overcoming writer’s block through creative means.
- LePan, Don and Broadview Press Editorial Board. The Broadview Book of Common Errors in English. An amusing overview of common grammar mistakes along with useful exercises.
- Nurnberg, Maxwell. I Always Look Up the Word “Egregious”: A Vocabulary Book for People Who Don't Need One. A funny and thoughtful book aimed at professionals and students who would like to broaden their vocabulary.
- Pinney, Thomas. A Short Handbook and Style Sheet. A practical guide to style for any student hoping to improve his/her clarity and coherence.
- Strunk, William J., Jr. and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. A classic handbook on style and grammar that has been around for over half a century.
- Tensen, Bonnie L. Research Strategies for a Digital Age. A must-have for students relying on the Internet for their research.
- VanderMey, Randall et al. The College Reader. Offers advice for writing in a variety of disciplines.
- Taylor, Karen, Heather Avery and Lucille Strath. Clear, Correct, and Creative: A Handbook for Writers of Academic Prose. A thoughtful and thorough overview of academic style and grammar complete with several exercises.
Reading for ELL Students
- Azar, Betty. Understanding and Using English Grammar. A nice introduction to English grammar and its common points of confusion.
- Frank, Marcella. Modern English: A Practical Reference Guide. An exhaustive grammar analysis with a focus on second-language problems.
- Lange, Janet and Ellen Lange. Writing Clearly: An Editing Guide. Looks closely at tricky grammatical points for ELL students.
- Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (including a CD-ROM). A user-friendly dictionary with CD-ROM software that offers on-screen definitions, pronunciations for online reading, online exercises and quizzes, and even an option to record yourself and play it back.
- Troyka, Lynn. Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers. This all-purpose handbook includes special material for second-language students that is clear and manageable.