Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

How long should my paper or presentation be?

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Professor, how long should my report be?

Professor, how long should my presentation be?

I get these questions a lot.

I have these requirements given to me as well. When writing papers, it’s fairy common to have page requirements.

I understand there are cases where it is helpful to have at least a general idea of how long, or short, a paper or presentation should be, but I often reply with a joke. This joke:

Question: How long should your legs be?

Answer: Long enough to reach the ground.

This is supposed to be funny, and maybe it is, but it is also to make a point. Legs are different lengths based on whose legs they are. Yet, for the most part, they perform the same functions even with being different in length.

If your paper or presentation meets its requirements it will be the proper length. So, what are those requirements?

Given your thesis statement or purpose, do you answer all of the questions completely enough?

That’s it.

No more.

No less.

Those questions are different for different topics and situations, but you should be able to discern what those questions are and then whether you have answered them completely enough.

“You” should be able to do that. Your teacher is looking for that in your work. Did you fulfil the basic requirements? Did you provide enough detail, enough support, enough specific information to make and and support your point or to complete your story?

Then that is long enough.

Here’s a picture I used in one of my classes. What are the ‘questions’?


Writing prompt

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

This semester for my writing class I have moved back to using writing prompts at the beginning of each class. Although this is an academic writing course, most of my prompts are more imaginative than academic. That said, I do believe that getting students writing, about anything, is always helpful and a good way to boost their confidence about their writing skills as well.

This week’s class was slightly geared toward returning from Golden Week (one of the major stretches of holidays here in Japan) but you could use this without the holiday angle.

This week’s prompt was:

“While I was ____________ during Golden Week, I broke my leg.”

As usual I instructed them to give me as many of the 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste) as possible in their stories and to tell me what happened, how, and what the impact of the accident was.

They did not disappoint 😉

Here’s the quick sketch I added to the whiteboard to kick (sorry! ;-)) things off:


Writing a comparison paper tips

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Several times I’ve been asked the question about what goes into a comparison paper, so I thought I’d give a few tips about things that are often overlooked.

Whether you are writing a paragraph, a short essay, a longer report or even an extensive research paper, you can use the following tips to get more ideas for what to write about in your paper and for the general structure.

First you need to set up clearly what you are comparing. Give some background information on the topic in general and then at least briefly give the background and explanation of the key points you are comparing.  You might need more in depth history or background depending on the topic or scope and length of the essay or paper.

You should include the things the topics have in common, and then you need to discuss what that means, or what at least can be inferred from those similarities. You should have at least 3 points of similar comparison even in a relatively short essay.

You then need to consider what are the differences. Then dive into why those things are different. Base these comments on facts you have uncovered in your research or from your own experience if you are qualified to comment on that part. Spend a little time considering the reasons that these differences appear.

When you are only comparing 2 things, it can be difficult to draw really concrete conclusions since you really have little to base your outcomes on. Sometimes it can be helpful then to bring in some other examples that either are similar or different from your two key comparison models or topics.

That is, if you are comparing something like marriage ages in Japan and America, you can show how those differ, but you can also show how one or the other fits in with several other countries or is radically different. What makes it so?

Remember that in order to get more to write about you can always ask yourself, then answer in your writing, the ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions.

You can also consider historical data on both sides. How were these things in the past? How are they now? What appears to be the main reasons for those? What has affected the differences? What effect has that had?

Your inferences and conclusions should then be included in the concluding statements, paragraphs or sections of your paper.

What makes good writing?

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Something I have been trying to get a better handle on lately, especially with my writing students, is the idea of what it really takes to make good writing.

I have a sort of credo, though I call it Professor Williams’ Law of good writing in class, hehheh, that goes like this:

Good writing is always specific.

Now, it does come with the warning that specific has to be related, and support the topic.

Think about the stories, movies, essays that you really enjoy.
Those are usually ones where the details are very clear, the more (related) information that’s available, the more you like the writing, dont’ you?

If the story was simply:

There was a big boat. It had many people on it. It hit something. It sank. Many people died. Some people lived.

You wouldn’t find that interesting, would you?
Yet, once we know the name of the ship, the Titanic, and the names of some of those on board, the details of why the voyage was seen to be as one of importance, the facts that the ship sailed without being prepared to handle pretty much any disaster, much less a catastrophic one, and that it hit an iceberg, and that other ships were nearby but unable to give assistance quickly enough, the story is much more interesting.

Millions of people watched this story in movie form, even though they knew the ending. Why? To get those details.

If we didn’t need details, we’d only get which team one the game instead of the scores, the box scores, the recaps, and these days on most major sports you can even get a digest version of the play by play. We don’t read the sports pages for the scores alone; we want the story, in detail.

Of course, there’s more to it than just providing details, but it’s a big step on the way to creating good writing. Try it. I’m sure your readers will like it, and you’ll enjoy the writing more.

Writing the ‘perfect’ paragraph

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Here’s a simple outline that will lead you to a high-quality paragraph:

A paragraph needs 3 things basically:

  1. a topic sentence that shows the topic and focus
  2. supporting sentences with transitions and specific details and/or examples
  3. a concluding sentence (note: this can be excluded at times when writing multiple paragraphs as it can become repetitive)

You should have at least 3 supporting ideas for your topic.  If you have a sentence or compound sentence for each supporting idea and example, then your paragraph should run from 5 to 10 sentences in length. Assuming you have that, then a basic outline for your paragraph would look like this:

Topic sentence. Transition. Supporting sentence number one followed by a sentence or two giving specific details and/or examples. Transition. Supporting sentence number two followed by a sentence or two giving specific details and/or examples. Transition. Supporting sentence number three followed by a sentence or two giving specific details and/or examples. Concluding sentence.

Some quick refresher notes:

Topic Sentence: always comes first and states the topic of the paragraph and the focus

Transitions: words that ‘move’ your writing from one idea or point to the next. They are usually time, order, or space related and help the reader to understand the flow and sequence of your message and also make the sentence and paragraph more logical and easily understood. Some transitional words and phrases can be used in more than one situation. That is:

Time: by day, date, hour, what comes when ie first, then, second, after, while

Order: first, then, after that, before

Space: (where things are) on the right, on the left, in front of you/that/ST, behind, above

Concluding sentence: restates your topic sentence

Here is an example paragraph written by one of my students:

I love eating foods from different countries. First, there are many delicious foods all over the world such as Chinese, Korean, Italian and French. Each of them has a fascination that is lacking in Japanese foods. Second, different countries’ foods make me feel that I’ve visited the country. I can feel so at home. In addition, the foods have new discoveries. Sometimes unfamiliar ingredients are used. I can experience tastes that I have never tasted before. For these reasons I enjoy eating other cultural foods.

In this example it is easy to see the topic, the focus, the transitions and the clear supporting statements. Can you find them all?