Posted in Teaching, Writing

Writing after English 111

I hope that you will maintain your blog after the semester’s end and continue to seek other ways for your writing to have a life outside of the classroom. 

Submitting your work to contests and publications offers you an opportunity to build your résumé. A list of prizes and bylines will increase your chances of landing the internships and jobs you seek.

Your literacy narrative and your textual analysis are both eligible for the annual Norton Writers prizes awarded for undergraduate writing. If you would like for one of your essays to be considered, please email me as soon as possible. A faculty member can nominate only one essay per year. The deadline is June 15. 

Explore the possibility of writing articles for GTTC’s newspaper, Titan Shout, and consider submitting your literacy narrative to GTCC’s literary magazine,the Titan Review. For more information on Titan Shout and Titan Review, contact Zac Goldstein, Assistant Professor of English:

Many college literary journals accept submissions only from students at their own institution, but UNC-Wilmington’s Atlantis accepts submissions from undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at any college in the state of North Carolina (public, private, and community colleges). Check the Atlantis web page for their fall and spring submission periods

Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: End-of-Semester Checklist

To help you through the process of completing your end-of-semester requirements, I have compiled the checklist that follows.

  1. Make sure that (1) your introductory post, (2) your revised literacy narrative, (3) your revised analysis of Maus, and (4) your revised reflection remain published on your blog until final grades are posted in WebAdvisor on Monday, May 10. Also make sure that you have deleted all placeholders/sample posts from your blog.
  2. Complete the ENG 111 Post-Assessment no later than Friday, May 7. Scroll down your Moodle site to the course labeled ENG 111 Assessment (Spring 2021) to locate the post-assessment.
  3. If you have worked one on one with our embedded tutor, Catherine Titus, please respond to the embedded tutor survey no later than May 12. I have not included a link to course evaluations here because the evaluation site closed on May 2. I hope that you evaluated ENG 111 as well as your other courses.
  4. Register for summer and/or fall courses at GTCC.

Tech Support

  • If you have issues editing your blog, visit the support page, If you cannot find a solution there, email
  • Also look to the Titan Hub,, as a resource. Located on the third floor of the Learning Resource Center on campus, the Titan Hub is open 9-4 Monday-Friday. The Hub can help you with all technical matters related to your course work at GTCC. In addition to visiting Titan Hub on the third floor of the LRC, you can contact the hub by phone or email: 336-334-4822, ext. 50318,

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Writing and Renewal

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 83.

In the first days of January, as I prepared to teach Maus again, protestors stormed the Capitol and called for the hanging of the Vice President. As the semester progressed, the sound of the protestors’ chants and the image of a neo-Nazi T-shirt in the crowd lingered in my mind, leading me back repeatedly to Art Spiegelman’s depiction of the hanged merchants in Modrzejowska Street. Turning again and again to the same page of Maus solidified my decision to devote my analysis—the one I would write as a model for my students—to the panels that depicted the hangings, but I did not know how I would write about them. The prospect daunted me not only because of the painful nature of the images but also because I had written a sample analysis of Maus only a few months earlier as a model for my fall semester students. Perhaps I’ve already written all I can write about Maus, I told myself. But returning to the pages of Spiegelman’s memoir revealed that I did, after all, have more to write. Studying Spiegelman’s depiction of the hangings in Modrzejowska Street and finding the words to express my interpretation of those panels deepened my understanding of both Maus and the writing process.

The central image of the four hanged merchants, the one that evoked images of January 6, remained the panel that drew me back to the page. But as I continued to study it, I found myself drawn less to that panel in isolation than to its relationship to the ones that framed it. My observation that the bordering panels both linked the hanged men to their mourners and disconnected them from their persecutors, the Nazis, led me to my thesis: “His [Spiegelman’s] rendering of the panels of the living in conjunction with the fragmented panels of the hanged merchants simultaneously conveys connection and separation: both the grieving survivors’ ties to the dead and the hanged men’s objectification at the hands of the Nazis.”

That statement served not only as my thesis but also as an example to my students of how to develop an idea with a common form of appositive, a noun phrase that offers additional information. As we examined my analysis in class, I pointed to the abstract concept of “connection and separation” and showed how the appositive, the noun phrase that followed the colon, shows readers the specific “connection and separation,” namely “both the grieving survivors’ ties to the dead and the hanged men’s objectification at the hands of the Nazis.”

That learning opportunity grew from an essay that I had doubted would ever find its way to the page. The fact that it did take form illustrates the surprising rewards that the writing process yields.

This school year, perhaps more than any other, has demonstrated the value of writing as a mechanism for making sense of the world. Studying a Holocaust narrative is never easy. But writing to make meaning of Maus now—as we continue to don our own masks—honors the path that Spiegelman himself followed in his struggle to make meaning of his father’s life, a story that we sense, in the words of journalist Adam Gopnik, “is too horrible to be presented unmasked” (qtd. in Wilner 109).

Though I doubted that I could write a second analysis of Maus, facing the challenge expanded my understanding of Spiegelman’s achievement and strengthened my writing and teaching, providing me with another model essay for my students. As we continue to reckon with racial injustice and cultural and political division in our own country, Vladek Spiegelman’s story serves as a sobering reminder that the atrocities his son depicts in Maus are not relics of another place and time—or, as I wrote in the conclusion of my analysis, that “[t]he strange fruit of our past, both distant and recent, should seem far stranger.” As I began to put these words on paper, Derek Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd; but as I progressed from draft to revision, Andrew Brown, Jr., was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in Elizabeth City. As we continue to pick up the pieces of our broken world, I return to the page with the hope that putting pen to paper will also help my students—not only develop their writing but also make sense of it all—as we move toward renewal.

Works Cited

Lucas, Jane. “ENG 111: The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec.” Jane Lucas, 2 Apr. 2021,

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Wilner, Arlene Fish. “‘Happy, Happy Ever After’: Story and History in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.” Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust, edited by Deborah R. Geis, U of Alabama P, 2003, pp. 105-21.

Posted in Teaching, Writing

Editing Your Reflection

Edditing Editing

Earlier this week, I asked you to focus on the big picture, on the “clarity and effectiveness” (Hacker and Sommers 29) of your reflection. Continue to focus on those elements, and determine which two sources you will integrate into your analysis. Links to recommended sources are included in the sample works cited list in the class notes for April 19.

Later this week, as the assignment deadline nears, shift your focus to finding and correcting errors. 


A Writer’s Reference presents excellent advice on proofreading, which I am including verbatim below.

“Proofreading is a special kind of reading: a slow methodical search for misspellings, typographical mistakes, and missing words or word endings. Such errors can be difficult to spot in your own work because you may read what you intended to write, not what is actually on the page. To fight this tendency, try one or more of the following tips.

Proofreading Tips

  • Remove distractions and allow yourself ten to fifteen minutes of pure concentration–without your cell phone.
  • Proofread out loud, articulating each word as it is actually written.
  • Proofread your sentences in reverse order.
  • Proofread hard copy pages; mistakes can be difficult to catch on-screen.
  • Don’t rely too heavily on spell checkers and grammar checkers. Before automatically accepting their changes, consider accuracy and appropriateness.
  • Ask a volunteer (a friend, roommate, or co-worker) to proofread after you. A second reader may catch something that you didn’t.” (31)

Grammar, Punctuation and Mechanics, and Word Choice

The items listed below are the ones that I noted most often in the drafts of your reflections and in your previous assignments. Review the ones that are trouble spots for you. 

  • active verbs/voice, 153
  • apostrophes, 275-78
  • capitalization, 293-96
  • colons and semicolons, 271-73
  • commas, 259-71
  • empty or inflated phrases, 151
  • end punctuation, 283-84
  • hyphens, 291-92
  • italics for titles, 301
  • lay, lie, 182-83
  • like, as, 146
  • numbers expressed as words, 299
  • paragraph focus
  • paragraph length, 53-54
  • pronoun case, 196-97
  • reason why, 148
  • Redundancies, 150
  • reflexive pronouns, 306
  • sentence fragments, 207-13
  • standard idioms, 166
  • subject-verb agreement, 171-79
  • than, then, 149
  • that, which, 149
  • there, their, they’re, 149
  • to, too, two, 149
  • who’s, whose, 150
  • who, which, that, 150

Concluding Your Reflection

In addition to returning to your thesis, consider developing your final paragraph in one of these ways:

  • Include a quotation from or reference to one of your sources, a line that emphasizes the essay’s main point or puts it in a different perspective.
  • Place the reflection in a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end by linking your reflection to the pandemic or the current social or political climate.
  • Consider the implications of the reflection. What does it imply, or involve, or suggest about the learning process in general or about the process of reading, writing, or critical thinking in particular?

In conclusion, To conclude

Avoid the phrases “in conclusion,” “to conclude,” “in summary,” and “to sum up.” These can be useful, even welcome, in oral presentations. But readers can see, on the page or the screen, when a short essay is about to end.

Since conclusions can be particularly challenging, I have included a link here to Harvard’s excellent guide on closing paragraphs, “Ending the Essay.”

More Writing Help

If you would like for someone to review your reflection before you submit it, look to the Center for Academic Engagement, which offers a variety of options:

Work Cited

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018.

Posted in Teaching, Writing

Revising (or Reenvisioning) Your Reflection

The authors of A Writer’s Reference note that “[r]evising is rarely a one-step process” (Hacker and Somers 19). Editing for surface-level correctness is essential, but it is not the only step, and it should not be the first. Begin instead by re-seeing (or re-visioning) your reflection and considering its focus and organization. Ask these questions:

  • Is it a focused reflection rather than an overview of your work in English 111?
  • Does it present a clear thesis, one that is not simply a statement of fact about one or more aspects of the course?
  • Would it benefit from a different organization? If the strongest piece of textual evidence appears in the first body paragraph, try moving it to the last one.

After you have addressed those questions, examine each paragraph one by one, from first to last.


  • Does the opening paragraph provide a hook for the reader? If not, consider using one of the strategies on page 14.
  • Does the introduction end with a clear thesis? Can the thesis be a point of disagreement among reasonable people? (If the answer to both questions is not yes, revise accordingly.) For more on writing a thesis, see page 69.

Body Paragraphs

  • Does each body paragraph present evidence that supports your thesis? Evidence may take the form of examples from your own writing (quotations or paraphrases), descriptions of your work in the course, or citations from relevant secondary sources.
  • Are the paragraphs patterned in suitable ways? In reflective essays, the most common patterns are examples and illustrations, description, process, comparison and contrast, and analogy. For more on paragraph patterns, see 44-49.
  • In the body of the reflection, do you integrate at least two relevant secondary sources? For recommended sources (in addition to your own essays written for English 111), see the list of sample sources in the April 19 blog post:
  • Are the sources introduced with signal phrases and followed by parenthetical citations where needed? For more integrating sources, see 37292.


  • Is the conclusion a well-developed paragraph? Does it reiterate the thesis without repeating it verbatim? For more on writing conclusions, see page 18.

After you have revised the paragraphs one by one, review the MLA section of A Writer’s Reference to ensure your document complies with style guidelines.

Writing Help

If you would like for someone to review your reflection before you submit it, look to the Center for Academic Engagement, which offers a variety of options:

Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: A Second Look at First Person

Class notes (not mine) left on the white board in AT 337

Early Monday morning when I walked into the classroom, the whiteboard was covered with notes. I started to erase them, then stopped myself, realizing what another instructor had left behind offered an opportunity to return to a topic that we addressed last week: writing in first person.

Under the heading “Tips for formal writing,” the instructor wrote, “(1) No first person.” It’s important to consider that a tip is a piece of advice, not a requirement. Item one in the instructor’s notes does not state that first person cannot be used in formal writing but rather that it is advisable not to use it.

As a response to that piece of advice–and as a supplement to my notes to you last week–I present this second look at first person in formal writing.

While any writing assignment for a college course may be labeled formal, the level of formality will be determined primarily by the genre, or type of writing, required. A literacy narrative, a subgenre of memoir, is an account of a learning experience that is almost always written in first person. Similarly, a semester’s reflection–what you are drafting now–which looks back at your accomplishments and explores their significance, is another type of writing that is almost always written in first person. 

In contrast, the second essay you wrote for English 111, the textual analysis, does not need first person. I gave you the option of using it–and I used “our” twice in the concluding paragraph of the sample analysis that I wrote for you–but moving away from “I” and other forms of first person is a good habit to cultivate, especially in writing that does not focus on you. As I wrote in my notes on April 12:

One way to make your writing sound more professional is to limit your use of first person. That doesn’t mean that “I” shouldn’t appear in your prose, but be mindful that if you repeatedly refer to yourself, you may come across as young and self-absorbed. Moving away from “I” shows readers that you understand that your ideas have broader implications.

The authors of A Writer’s Reference offer some of the best advice on choosing the point of view for a college assignment: “Using the I point of view is not grammatically incorrect for college writing. As you review your options, think about your purpose and audience, as well as the genre (type of writing) expected. When in doubt, ask your instructor” (Hacker and Sommers 124).

Consider the three sentences listed below. The first two are variations on one of the sentences in “The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec,” the sample analysis of Maus that I wrote for you. The third is the sentence as it appears in the introductory paragraph.

  • In my opinion, that haunting panel and the smaller ones that frame it illustrate the complexity of Spiegelman’s seemingly simple composition.
  • To me, that haunting panel and the smaller ones that frame it illustrate the complexity of Spiegelman’s seemingly simple composition.
  • That haunting panel and the smaller ones that frame it illustrate the complexity of Spiegelman’s seemingly simple composition.

The third sentence is not only more succinct, it also demonstrates my understanding of the genre. 

An analysis presents a writer’s informed opinion. The appearance of the phrase “in my opinion” in an analysis or any other written argument is a redundancy that weakens the writer’s authority. Redundancies signal to readers that a writer cannot distinguish between what needs to be on the page and what can be omitted without any loss of meaning. 

Works Cited

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Somers. A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. 

Lucas, Jane. “ENG 111: Once More, You’ve Got to . . . .” Jane Lucas, 12 Apr. 2021,

—. “ENG 111: The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec.” Jane Lucas, 2 Apr. 2021,

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Beginning Your Reflection

For your final essay assignment in English 111, you will compose a reflection that documents your work over the course of the semester focusing on what you consider your most significant work and the feature or features of the course that have contributed most to your development as a writer, a reader, and/or a critical thinker. Features to consider include the following:

  • Reading Maus
  • Keeping a journal
  • Writing for an online audience beyond the classroom/creating and maintaining a WordPress blog
  • Planning, drafting, and revising your literacy narrative
  • Planning, drafting, and revising your analysis of Maus
  • Consulting A Writer’s Reference/Revising with A Writer’s Reference
  • Writing longhand
  • Limiting screen time

You are welcome to focus on more than one feature but no more than three.

Include in your reflective essay the following elements:

  • An opening paragraph that introduces your focus and presents your thesis
  • Body paragraphs that offer concrete details from your work to support your thesis
  • Quotations or paraphrases from two relevant and credible sources, introduced with signal phrases and followed by parenthetical citations where needed. One of the two sources may be one of your pieces of writing. Recommended sources include Maus, A Writer’s Reference, and the articles linked to your class notes.
  • A conclusion that reiterates the thesis without restating it verbatim

If you quote or paraphrase your literacy narrative or your analysis of Maus, cite it as you would any other blog post. See the entries for my blog posts in the sample works cited list below.

Sample Reflective Essay

“Finding a Way Forward,” the reflective essay that I wrote as a model for my students last semester, is posted below and in Moodle.

Sample Works Cited*

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Somers. “How to Write a Literacy Narrative.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 34-35.

—. “How to Write an Analytical Essay.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 69-70.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Blue Light Has a Dark Side,” May 2012,

James, Karin. “What are the Effects of Handwriting on Cognitive Development.” The Cognition and Action Neuroimaging Library, University of Indiana, 2016,

Klass, Perri. “Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age.” The New York Times, 20 June 2016,

Lucas, Jane. “ENG 111: A Clara-fying Lesson.” Jane Lucas, 23 Feb. 2021,

—. “ENG 111: The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec.” Jane Lucas, 2 Apr. 2021,

Myer, Robinson. “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand.” The Atlantic, 1 May 2014,

Richtel, Matt. “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2012,

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Twenge, Jean M. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, Sept. 2017,

Wolf, Maryanne. “Skim Reading is the New Normal.” The Guardian, 25 Aug. 2018,

*In the Microsoft Word file or PDF that you post to Moodle, the second line and any subsequent lines of your work cited entries should be indented five spaces or one-half inch.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Once More, You’ve Got to . . . Part II

You’ve Got to Read This, edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, the book that inspired the You’ve Got to . . . Assignment

We will continue our study of Maus and examine more of the You’ve Got to . . . assignments today, but class will be devoted primarily to the questions and comments that you wrote on notecards last week. Monday’s blog post addresses the specific questions you asked about English 111 as well as your questions and comments about writing in general. 

You’ve Got to . . . Assignments

Since we may have little time to examine the You’ve Got to . . . assignments today, keep the handout in your pocket portfolio and be sure to bring it to our final class meeting. Between now and then, read the assignments with a pen or pencil in hand and make notes on the text and in the margins.

The last week of class, we will turn back to these ten assignments, and I will distribute a handout with the remaining eleven.

The handout that I will distribute in class today is single-spaced to save paper. I have posted a double-spaced copy below and in Moodle.

A Student’s Companion Bonus Assignment

I have created a bonus assignment for you that focuses on exercises in A Student’s Companion to Hacker Handbooks, the workbook bundled with A Writer’s Reference. Directions for the assignment are posted below and in Moodle.

Posted in Scrabble, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: A Game for Hardscrabble Times

The Guardian article “Spell Bound” notes that the exact beginning of Scrabble is “debatable,” adding that “Scrabble experts are the kind of people who like to debate it at length.” In a piece of writing such as this–one that begins at the beginning of the game–the starting point could be Lexico, which is the game that Alfred Mosher Butts developed before he invented Scrabble–which, by the way, wasn’t named Scrabble until Butts sold the game to Jacob Brunot. That’s when the game that Butts had christened Criss-Cross Words became the game that would multiply to more than 150 million sets worldwide, a game that can now be found in a third of homes in America (Bukszpan 16).

If that description of Scrabble’s beginnings doesn’t capture your interest–perhaps because you don’t think of yourself as a word person–consider this: Scrabble’s inventor wasn’t a word person either. Butts was fascinated by games of all sorts and saw word games as the category that offered the most opportunities for innovation. For him, that innovation meant creating a game in which the frequency of letters corresponded with their frequency in the English language. As part of his research, he documented how often each letter appeared on the front page of the newspaper. E is most common, so there are twelve E’s in Scrabble but only one tile for each of the rarest of letters: J, K, Q, X, and Z. For many players, including me, part of Scrabble’s appeal is the combination of skill and luck. Word power alone won’t win the game. You don’t know which letters you will draw or which seven letter tiles are on your opponent’s rack. And for many players, another source of the game’s appeal is its synthesis of crosswords and anagrams.

Since creating words from anagrams is a process of letter scrambling, James Brunot may have chosen the name Scrabble in part for its similarity to scramble, but the word scrabble itself is apt for a game that often requires a player to struggle (or scrabble) to make a word from a seemingly impossible combination of tiles. It’s notable, too, that Scrabble’s beginnings date to the 1930s, when its inventor was an out-of-work architect. He wanted to create a diversion from the dark days of the Depression. Now it’s a game that many of us have returned to, pantomiming the ghosts of those first-generation players. Once again, it’s a game for hardscrabble times.

Works Cited

Bukszpan, David. Is That a Word?: From AA to ZZZ, the Weird and Wonderful Language of Scrabble. Chronicle, 2012.

“Spell Bound.” The Guardian, 27 June 2008,

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Once More, You’ve Got to . . .

You’ve Got to Read This, edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, the book that inspired the You’ve Got to . . . Assignment

This week, as we continue our study of Maus, we will also examine more of your You’ve Got to . . . assignments. A file of the assignments is posted below and in Moodle, and I will distribute paper copies of the assignments in class.

Before we turn to the You’ve Got to … assignments, we will examine the questions and comments that you wrote on notecards last week. First, we’ll consider the specific questions about English 111, then we will address writing in general.

Q & A: English 111

Q: Will we use A Writer’s Reference throughout the semester?

A: Yes, your copy of A Writer’s Reference will be at your side in class as you revise your final essay the week of April 26. (Remember that my notes on each of your assignments have directed you to specific pages of AWR that address trouble spots.) A Writer’s Reference should also be close at hand when you are working outside of class on writing assignments for your other courses at GTCC. In the introductory section of the handbook, the editors emphasize the vital role that A Writer’s Reference will play in your coursework:

“[A Writer’s Reference is] a required text for ENG 110, ENG 111, ENG 112, and ENG 114, as well as many other courses at GTCC. The information in this handbook will help you with writing, research, and presentation assignments you encounter in all college courses.

“The materials in this section are designed specifically for GTCC students. Review the pages carefully, as understanding the information here will be integral to your success in your ENG courses–and beyond.

“Do not plan to sell your handbook back to the bookstore, or give it away, until all of your GTCC course work is completed.” (GT-3)

Q: Will I be required to maintain a WordPress blog for other courses?

A: You may be required to do so. Former students of mine have maintained blogs for courses in other disciplines, including psychology and Spanish. One semester, a student of mine maintained one WordPress blog site that he used both for my class and a class in communications. That student sought permission from both faculty members, his communications professor and me, to use one blog for both of our classes. If you need to maintain a blog for two classes, consult both professors before you begin. Some professors may require you to set up a site devoted solely to a single course.

Students in my English 111, 112, 126, and upper-level literature courses all maintain WordPress blogs. If you think you may enroll in another course taught by me, plan to keep your WordPress blog. You will be able to use it again.

Q: Can you see a comment that I have posted to another student’s blog if that student has not approved it?

A: No, I cannot. No comment appears on a blog without the blogger’s approval. Please approve your classmates’ comments, so that I can credit the students with posting them. If a classmate has not approved a comment of yours, email a copy to me to ensure that you receive proper credit. 

Q: For this assignment, will we be posting it on our blog?

A: “This” assignment simply asked you to write questions on a notecard (so no, you will not post it to your blog). At the end of the semester you should have four assignments posted to your blog: your introductory blog post and the revisions of your three essays (the literacy narrative, the textual analysis of Maus, and the final reflective essay). 

Q: How many paragraphs do we have to write for this assignment?

A: Again, “this” assignment simply asked you to write questions on a notecard (so the question of the number of paragraphs isn’t pertinent). The revisions of each of your three essays has a minimum requirement of five-hundred words, but there is no set requirement for the number of paragraphs. How many paragraphs a piece of writing needs varies, depending on its content and structure. For more on developing paragraphs and adjusting paragraph length, see A Writer’s Reference (42-53).

Q: How can you tell whether a source is scholarly/academic (e.g. The New York Times, Smithsonian website)?

A: Scholarly sources are ones written by professors or independent scholars and published in academic journals and books published by university presses. Most of the secondary sources that I provided for your analysis of Maus first appeared in quarterly journals and were later collected in the book Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust, edited by Deborah R. Geis and published by the University of Alabama Press.

As students at GTCC, you have access to the full texts of scholarly sources through the library’s databases. To limit the sources you find to ones that are scholarly, under the heading “Refine This Search” (on the left), check the box beside “Peer Reviewed.”

The New York Times and  the Smithsonian website aren’t scholarly sources, but they are authoritative mainstream sources; both are appropriate to cite in many academic assignments, including your analysis of Maus, but always review your assignment guidelines and check with your professor if you have any questions regarding what constitutes an appropriate secondary source. For more on evaluating sources, see A Writer’s Reference (354).

Q: What does the perfectly formatted paper look like?

A: Style guidelines determine the correct format for a paper. The sample essays that I have posted for you on my blog and in Moodle comply with MLA (Modern Language Association) guidelines, which are the style guidelines that you will follow in many of your courses. In some courses in the social sciences and the sciences, you will follow APA (American Psychological Association) guidelines. A Writer’s Reference includes detailed information for MLA and APA and also includes sample essays (see the MLA and APA tabs). The MLA Style Center, which is another valuable resource for MLA, is linked to my blog; OWL (the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University) is an excellent resource for both MLA and APA and is also linked to my blog.

Q: What is the main thing that I am supposed to take from English 111?

A: Developing your writing skills through the processes of drafting and revising and preparing to apply those skills to writing situations beyond English 111 are the primary aims of the course.

What I Want to Learn about Writing

I just want to understand grammar better and word choice. I feel like I can never find the right word to fit what I am trying to say.

A: Study well-written models. The more you read, the more you will internalize about well-wrought prose. Also refer to the Grammatical Sentence and Punctuation and Mechanics sections of A Writer’s Reference (171-218) and (259-302). Finding the right word is always a struggle. No matter how much you’ve written, beginning a new piece of writing always means starting with a blank page or a blank screen. The right words are vital, but try not to dwell on finding them until you begin the revision process; trying to find them earlier, when you’re drafting, can be crippling.

I would like to learn about ways that I can improve my essays, being able to write a good summary.

A: For ways to improve your essays overall, see my response to the previous statement. For summaries, the most important elements to keep in mind are these: (1) a summary is  concise; it addresses the text’s key points only, and (2) it is objective; neither your opinion nor the pronoun “I” appears in it.

[I want to learn] how to make a proper thesis and organize my writing accordingly.

A: Your thesis is the answer to the question, what’s my main point? It isn’t a statement of fact; it’s an informed opinion, one that can be a source of disagreement between two intelligent people. Although a thesis usually appears in the first paragraph of an essay, it’s often developed and refined late in the process. (Sometimes you have to write about a subject at length before you know where you stand.) Once you’ve determined your thesis, present each piece of evidence, one by one, to support it. Here’s a basic organization for an essay: (1) introduction and thesis, (2) body paragraphs of evidence to support your thesis and additional claims, and (3) conclusion.

I want to learn how to make my writing more impactful.  

A: Many wordsmiths don’t consider “impactful” a very impactful word. They consider it a weak substitute for “powerful” and “effective.” Precise and concise word choices will strengthen your prose. Aim to be as specific as possible, and express your ideas clearly and concisely. That said, it’s important to assign those aims to the revision process; otherwise, you may not be able to move beyond your first sentence.

I want to learn how to make my writing sound more professional.

A: One way to make your writing sound more professional is to limit your use of first person. That doesn’t mean that “I” shouldn’t appear in your prose, but be mindful that if you repeatedly refer to yourself, you may come across as young and self-absorbed. Moving away from “I” shows readers that you understand that your ideas have broader implications.

[I want to learn how]  to elaborate and explain what I am writing about to the reader.

A: One simple way to develop your writing is through appositives, which are nouns or noun phrases in “apposition” to (or beside) other nouns or noun phrases. One way to include an appositive in your writing is to (1) present an idea, (2) follow it with a colon, and (3) present specific details that bring the idea into sharper focus.

Here are two appositives that I wrote in the opening paragraph of my analysis of Maus:

  • [T]he horror that Zylberberg anticipates: the murder of his friend Nahum Cohn, Cohn’s son, and two other Jewish merchants. 
  • His [Spiegelman’s] rendering of the panels of the living in conjunction with the fragmented panels of the hanged merchants simultaneously conveys connection and separation: both the grieving survivors’ ties to the dead and the hanged men’s objectification at the hands of the Nazis.

[I want to learn] how to write a good story.

A: Study well-written narratives. Note how the writers render scenes and develop conflict. On every page of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, at least one conflict–and often more than one–is in play. Conflict propels a narrative forward; scenes enliven it.

I want to learn how to write longhand.

A: Ask a GTCC librarian or a librarian at your local public library for help locating handbooks for writing cursive, or buy one with model letters that you can trace. Also look for how-to videos online.

[I want to learn] how to write a good college essay/everything I can to help me with my writing skills.

A: Practice, ask questions, and take notes.

I would love to learn about different writing styles that would help me find writing more interesting and captivating.

A: In recent years, several of my students have told me that the words of poet and illustrator Rupi Kaur have spoken to them in a way that no other writing has. Kaur, whose work first gained prominence on Instagram, has published three volumes of poetry: Milk and Honey (2014), The Sun and Her Flowers (2017), and Home Body (2020). For more ideas and inspiration, I recommend browsing the reading lists on Lit Hub.

I want to learn how to write better and not have to read how to write pages and just be able to write off the top of my head.

A: Unless you’re writing solely for yourself, you will need to move beyond writing off the top of your head.

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th Edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018.