Grissom's Grammar and Composition

This blog is for any student writing papers for college, for current and former students in my Communications Cluster at Lindenwood University, and my students at St. Charles Community College.

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I write for myself, for the web, and for everyone who gets me. I've been on a fasting liquid diet, traveled to Europe, and raised 2 kids. And I'm directionally challenged - I get lost a lot.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Top 3 Ways to Argue in a Paper

I don't know about you, but everyday arguing at my house isn't usually to convince anyone to agree with me. It is more of a take-no-prisoners-I-am-right-you-are-wrong conflict about who left the lights on downstairs. Arguments in writing, though, must be different. They seek to persuade your audience rather than win an argument. Using the three argument methods below can help you persuade an audience to agree with you.

1) Go For Their Emotions
Students think school writing must be as dry and factual as possible. While evidence is crucial to research writing assignments, living, breathing human stories show your audience how the issue works in real life. So get to the audience's emotions by showing stories they can care about. For example, include the experiences of home schooled students for an essay on home schooling. If you don't show how the problem affects average people, you will ignore a valuable argument tool. This is also called the Pathos Appeal.

2) Appeal to Their Logical Side
Using logic is critical to arguing. You must have solid evidence and logical arguments that back up all of your ideas. Don't use any logical fallacies and if it is a research paper argument, include plenty of reputable research like expert opinions, studies, experiments, and surveys. Style Guides like MLA have directories that show how to cite different types of sources, so every kind of source listed is fair game. The more evidence, the better. This is also called the Logos Appeal.

3) Get Them to Like You
You have a personality when you write, just like you do when you talk. If your writing sounds reasonable, your readers will listen to you. If you offend an audience, they won't agree with you. We don't want to agree with people we don't like, so avoid name calling the other side or you'll be labeled radical and untrustworthy.

And consider your audience. If your paper is on recycling and you lecture your readers for being wasteful, they won't listen to you. Acknowledging arguments on the other side also contributes to your credibility, so don't ignore valid points on the other side. Acknowledge that you see their point, but explain why you still hold your view.

Example: Yes, we have made strides in medicine by experimenting on animals, but now we have computer models that can simulate the way actual human cells will react, so we no longer need animals to experiment on.

If the oppositions arguments aren't valid, then explain why in a reasonable tone.

This method is also called the Ethos Appeal.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Class Reminder: Due the week of October 30

Remember, both classes will meet on Monday this week. Check in the office for our room number. If I find out which room before tonight, I will post it on the blog today.

This week bring two copies of your first draft (assignment 7). Put one in a folder with your outline (assignment 6) and turn it in to me, and keep the other to peer review with tonight.

I will review your first draft and conference with you next week. Continue working on the second draft with comments from your fellow classmates, and prepare a draft of your Works Cited for next week.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wikipedia - a legitimate source for research papers?

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, has become increasingly popular over the last few years and students have asked about using it as a research paper source.

The Answer
  • While it's a great place to do general reading, it is not generally accepted as a specific source for a research paper.
  • It does have an impressive array of helpful free articles which can be used to understand topics - provided you check their accuracy.
  • Some studies have found it roughly equal to another encyclopedia in science knowledge, but even its founder discourages college students from using it as a direct source. Many of its entries are not reviewed for accuracy and can be changed by almost anyone at anytime - qualified or not.

Bottom line: Background reading yes (with fact checking).
Source for research paper: N0

Researching Tip- Google News Alerts

Google has a new form that lets you sign up for Google news alerts based on key words.

Example: If you are doing a research paper on the guest worker program, you type key words like "guest worker program" and "immigration" into the google alert request, and it will send you the latest news stories containing these words from papers all over the country.

Some stories will be repeats of the same information, but you get a news flash if something happens regarding your topic. You can go back and cancel the alert when you are finished using it. It's great for researching current issues.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How to Create an Outline for Your Paper

Answer the Following questions before you construct your outline.

1. What is my main point/thesis about this subject?
2. What are the main reasons I believe my thesis is true?
3. What details and evidence do I have to support each of these reasons?

With these answers in mind, write your thesis first, then organize your main points under it.

Example: Answers to Questions
1. My Thesis: Star Trek's Captain Kirk is a more likable starship captain than the next generation Star Trek's Captain Picard.

2. Roman Numeral I. Kirk shows more conflict in moral dilemas while Picard considers following orders more important.

Roman Numeral II. Kirk makes mistakes, like other human beings, while Picard only makes minor errors.

Roman Numeral III. Kirk agonizes over the death of any crew member while Picard only cares if the officers closest to him are killed.

3. Supporting evidence for point I.
A. episode where Kirk is used as a disease carrier to help kill off people on an overpopulated planet. Dialogue from specific scenes shows his conflict.

B. Captain Picard is faced with several situations where he would have followed the prime directive and let humans/aliens die if not for the intervention of other crew members. Dialogue shows his obesession with "the right way to do things"

Then the resulting outline would start like this:

Thesis: Star Trek's Captain Kirk is a more likable starship captain than the Next Generation Star Trek's Captain Picard.

I. Kirk shows more conflict during moral dilemas while Captain Picard considers following orders more important than anything else.

A. In one episode Kirk is used as a disease carrier to help kill off people on an overpopulated planet. His reaction to this shows his humanity.
1. Dialogue with Spock shows his conflict.
2. His scene with the girl from the planet shows his remorse.

B. Captain Picard is faced with several situations where he would have followed the prime directive and let humans/aliens die if not for the intervention of other crew members.
1. A planet is about the explode, but Picard doesn't try to help until Data contacts a little girl on the planet.
2. Wesley rebels agains the captain in an episode about the Prime Directive.

You get the idea. You may not have all your evidence yet; that's o.k. Just show me you know what your major reasons are and what evidence you can use to support them.

My spacing is off because of blogger's formatting, so be sure you indent supporting information. Follow the spacing example on page 11-12 in our Writer's Reference book. Microsoft word also has an outline template that does the spacing for you.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Using MLA - Helpful Links

Here are some sites that help you work with MLA. I have hyperlinked the ones I can. For some reason blogger won't let me hyperlink two of the addresses to headings, but if you click on them they do take you to the sites. If that doesn't work, cut and paste them into your browser.

Purdue University
Handling Quotations - This explains how to format quotations in an MLA paper.

MLA and Electronic Sources – provides information on citing electronic sources in MLA format.

MLA Website
MLA Frequently Asked Questions - This covers students' most frequently asked questions about using MLA, including how to get rid of those pesky hyperlinks on your works cited page.

Wright University
MLA Template - This is a free template you can save to your computer. It has built in formatting for an MLA paper and works cited page. You just subsitute your writing and sources into the models.

Monday, October 23, 2006

6 Tips for Taking Essay Exams

1.) Circle key words. Words like describe, explain, show, compare, and summarize help tell you what the instructor is looking for in the answer. Circle them and focus on what the word asks for.

2) Spend more time on high point questions. If you know how many points each question is worth, write more on the questions that are worth more points.

3) Give examples. Show you understand the concepts. Copying down points from the book does not show you understand them; it only shows you can copy.

4) Try to be Neat. Most instructors expect crossed out words and so on, but be as neat as you can about it. Make sure your writing isn't too small or your ink/pencil too faint to read. If your pen bleeds through the other side of your paper, write on one side only. Number your pages to help your instructor grade the exam.

5) Pay attention to the time limit. When you start the exam, it's a good idea to budget how much time you have to spend on each question. Budget more time for the larger point questions, but make sure you have time to get to all of the test.

6) Don't finish early. If you look around and everyone else continues to write for an extended period, you probably need to go back and flesh out your answers with more details and examples. Instructors notice if you finish early, yet your test answers are sketchy. The best test scores are usually from those who spend the full time working on the test.

Class Reminder: Due the Week of October 23

-Remember our Skills Assessment Exam is tonight. Bring paper and a pen.

-Journals 1-4 are due.

-Assignments 1-3 are due for the research project. Remember to keep assignment 3 separate. I will be returning 1-2 tonight, but I will keep 3 until next week. Put all the assignments in the folder with your journals.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Play Journal 12

Just a quick review on what I'm looking for in Journal 12:

In your journal about the play, review the following like a movie reviewer.

Plot - What is the overall story and does it make sense?

Characters - Are they realistic and interesting?

Dialogue - Does the dialogue seem authentic and help explain the plot?

Staging - Does the staging add to or detract from the meaning of the play?

Theme - What is the overall message of the play?

Tell me what you think of each and give examples to support your judgments.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Play Tonight!

We will meet outside the sanctuary/auditorium at 7:00 p.m. Please remember to sign in when you get there. Check out the blog entry that says "Reserved Play Tickets" for all the details.

See you then.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Topics for Persuasive Research Papers

One of the best ways to organize topic brainstorming is to think of major categories and look for controversies within the subject. Listed below are some possible topics. Most are too large right now for a 10-12 page paper, so be sure to narrow them down. Consider y0ur favorite subjects as well; there may be something controversial about your hobby or interest: fighting in hockey, laws to protect bicylists, environmental concerns for vacation homes...

These topics have been discussed recently:

Regulation of over the counter herbs/medications
Health care costs
Anti aging and plastic surgery treatments
AIDS in Africa
Genetic counseling
Genetic manipulation of people/crops
Plastic Surgery for Teens
Gastric Bypass Surgery
Childhood Obesity Issues

Google protest about releasing user records
Wiretapping American citizens
Buying personal information on the internet
Employers forcing employees to quit smoking
Internet censorship
Employee surveillance
Patriot act

Sex education
On-line education vs. brick and mortar
No Child Left Behind
Standardized testing
Cost of College

Arts Funding Cut for Schools
School Security

Politics/Social Issues
Rebuilding New Orleans
Torture vs. coercion in interrogation
Alternative energies
Homeland security issues
Immigration Issues
My Space for Teens
Requiring I.D. for voters
Electronic Voting Machines
Deaf Culture vs. Cochlear implants
Off-shore Gambling

Minimum wage
tobacco tax

Reporters revealing sources
Sports Stars salaries/crimes
NASA/Manned space travel
Music/video pirates
Rap Music Lyrics
Liberal/Conservative Bias in Media
Advertising Images of Women

For more topics, Northwestern University also provides a list of hot topics to consider writing about.

Where Can I do Research?

Start With Lindenwood's Library

To do research from home, you will need your Lindenwood I.D. number, which is your social security number. Follow the directions for signing in. If you want to check out materials, you will need your student I.D.

Contact the reference librarian for Butler Library at Lindenwood for specific reference sources for your topic. You can call them, or e-mail if you are at a distance site.

Other Places to start doing Research: The National Public Radio site has programs like Morning Edition and Talk of the Nation that discuss controversial issues. You can listen to archived versions of the programs on your computer if you have a media player. It is a great place to browse for current topics and find experts to research further. is the official portal to all U.S. government agencies. Here you can find information by topic on subjects such as health, education, technology, agriculture, history, arts, and culture.

They also have an extensive reference section on data and statistics for the United States such as crime rates, census data, and economic indicators. It’s an excellent source for a variety of subjects. is a free reference site that has link to all the major news outlets like CNN, MSNBC, ABC and more. Scroll down a bit to find the listing for news sources.

The Librarians Internet Index researches websites and then recommends them on their page. It has lots of great links to credible websites that public librarians have researched for their patrons.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reserved Play Tickets

Update: I called the box office to see about reserving tickets, but I couldn't get a human being. A student in the Tuesday night class e-mailed and said she did talk to a real person who would put aside 25 tickets for our class. So if you call, you may or may not get to talk to someone.

There is a new ticket pricing policy:
Tickets are $8.00 for students with a valid I.D. and $12.00 for all other adults.

Please note:
-Sign my attendance sheet when you arrive.
-Children under 5 are not permitted for this production.
-"Suitable attire" is required. No tuxes, I'm sure. Just casual dressy will work.
-No one will be allowed into the theater after the play starts at 7:30 p.m.

E-mail me if you have questions.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Oral Presentation Tips

1. Don't Try to Cover Everything
Students are often worried they won't have enough information to speak for five minutes or longer, so they try to cover everything in their paper. You don't have enough time. Take it from someone who has seen many presentations. You must summarize your paper - hit the highlights for us.

2. Have an Introduction and Conclusion
You've already written an introduction that gets our attention - use it for the oral presentation also. The same goes for your conclusion. "I guess that's it," as a conclusion isn't as satisfying to your audience as a technique that wraps it up for us. You also need transition words and phrases, just like in your writing: "After I crashed my car...", "When I realized what happened....." ,"The second step...", "In contrast...." Highlighting the transitions in your paper or writing them on notecards helps you remember them for your speech.

3. Talk So We Can Understand You
Speak loudly enough, clearly enough, slowly enough, and grammatically enough to make your presentation understood.

4. Practice
Off the cuff speeches usually show that they are. You also don't want to go way over or under the time requirement, so practice it at least once keeping in mind you usually speak slightly faster in front of an audience.

5. Visuals Are Appreciated
A visual can be as simple as a photograph or as complicated as a power point presentation (we have equipment at our site; you must have it on a flash drive or CD to use it). It also gives your audience something to look at besides you. So if you are self-conscious when speaking, a power point presentation can help divert attention from you.

6. Show Enthusiasm
Hopefully you picked a topic you love. Now show us that enthusiasm for the subject. People passionate about their topics make them more interesting to their audience. Do you want to listen to a speech by someone who is bored with what they are saying? I don't.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Class Reminder: Week of October 16

Due This Week:

-Final Version of Short Paper 2 (include sketch outline, all drafts, and written assignment title page in your folder)

- Oral Presentation, 5-7 minutes based on one of your short papers

-Readings Listed

*Don't forget the play we will be attending on October 19th at Lindenwood in the LUCC Building. We will be seeing Godspell. Lindenwood students usually receive a free ticket for any performance and sometimes another free one for a guest. You can call the box office for details. You may want to reserve your tickets in advance over the phone. We will meet in the lobby at 7:00 p.m. Please sign my attendance sheet when you arrive.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Four Fast Fixes for Run-On Sentences

Run-On Sentences
Definition: Run-ons are two or more complete ideas squished together without any punctuation. Some grammar books call this a fused sentence.

The run-on sentence below needs punctuation that signals the reader to stop and absorb each idea or a comma and a connecting word that sets up how the thoughts go together.

Soda companies market to children we should legislate so they can’t.

There are four ways you can fix run-on sentences.

1) Use a period
Add a period to separate both ideas.
Soda companies market to children. We should legislate so they can’t.

Readers stop at the period to understand the first thought, and then go on to the next one.

2) Use a Semicolon
Use a semicolon if one thought can flow naturally to the next.
Soda companies market to children; we should legislate so they can’t.

Caution: A semicolon should only be used between complete thoughts, otherwise known as independent clauses.

3) Use a Comma and one of the Fanboys
Show how you see ideas connecting by using a comma and one of the fanboys: the words for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
Soda companies market to children, so we should legislate so they can’t.

The first idea suggests the next, so adding so shows how the ideas go together.
Caution: fanboys are the only connecting words that can be used to fix run-ons with a comma. Words like however, moreover, and therefore can't be used this way or you create a comma splice.

4) Add a Dependent Word
Add words like because, although, or when to make one of the ideas an incomplete thought.
Because soda companies market to children, we should legislate so they can’t.

Adding the word because to the first complete thought leaves you wanting more. Because soda companies market to children …what? Now the first part of the sentence depends on the next part to make a full thought. That is why a fragment of thought is called a dependent clause. It depends on a full thought to complete its meaning.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Class Reminder: Due the week of October 9th

-Final draft of Short Paper 1 - including first draft, sketch outline, and written assignment title page. Place it all in a two-pocket folder with your name on the front.

-Assigned Reading

-First Draft of Short Paper 2

Don't forget to work on the journals and grammar exercises as you go.

Five Writing Myths That Scare Beginning Writers

Are you paralyzed with fear when you write? One of these common writing myths may be getting in your way. Read on and learn how to become a fearless writer.

1) Writers are Born, Not Made
Literary giants like Faulkner, Hemingway, and Twain were born with the talent to leave a lasting legacy with their writing. But communicating clearly in writing is different from creating an eternal piece of literature. Writing well is a learnable skill for those willing to work at it.

2) I Haven’t “Lived” Enough to Write
Not all writing has to be done by struggling artists who have deep experiences to draw on. A sixteen-year-old can have valuable things to say about everyday life. Many writers expound on death, illness, love, and disaster. Talking about the meaningful events of daily life is often overlooked, so everyday topics come across as more original and authentic than papers on suicides or car accidents. Suffering is not required for writing.

3) Writers Know What They Want To Say
Plenty of authors muddle through their first draft without knowing where they are going with it. Many writers find themselves interested in a topic, but until they sit down and write about it, they may not know why. Starting to write without any idea of what you will say gets you a lot farther than waiting for a fully formed paper to appear in your brain.

4) It’s Too Hard to Remember All the Grammar Rules
You didn’t come out of the womb talking, but after burbling a bit and imitating other speakers, you got the hang of it. Every new subject has a learning curve, and writing is no different. Continue to learn about writing, and eventually you won’t have to stop and think about where a comma goes because you will unconsciously remember. Then you can breeze through the task like any other you have come to know well.

5) More is Better
Babbling on to extend the length of a too short paper will not get you a better grade. It usually lowers the grade because your instructors must get through the babble. It also prevents them from helping you learn to develop content. Instructors aren't sure if you think you needed the babble and thus need help focusing your ideas, or if you are filling space because you can’t come up with examples and need content tips. So ask the instructor to help you before you babble your grade away.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Four Questions That Help You Find a Topic

Sometimes students are so anxious to start a writing assignment, they don’t take the time to choose a subject that works well for them. It may take a few more minutes to come up with a topic you like, but that time will be more than made up in how much easier it is to write about something you care about. It's much harder to write on subjects you aren’t interested in. Here are some questions that lead to topic ideas that work.

1) What Do You Do Every Day?
Explore your daily activities for topics to write about. If your job is to wait tables at a restaurant, you are an expert in those skills. Classify the customers you wait on according to their personalities, or explain the steps the restaurant uses to fill orders quickly. List the subjects you have up close and personal knowledge of, and share your expertise in various papers.

Caution: If you don't like any of these subjects, then don't use them! But consider taking a humorous angle and you might find something you want to write about.

2) What Are You Passionate About?
Make a list of all the subjects you love to think, read, and talk about. Music, comic books, reality television, animals – whatever you are passionate about. Then explore what attracts you to the subject. Do you love saltwater aquariums? Why does this topic fascinate you? Sharing what makes it appealing to you, makes the paper interesting to us.

3) What are Your Pet Peeves?
The things that annoy you in your world can be opportunities to explore the issues and come up with real solutions to make your world better. Don't offend your audience with attacks on your opposition, but calmly explain your view. Did your health insurance company refuse to pay for a family member's medical treatment? Turn your outrage into a research paper on managed care.

4) Who are You?
Among other things, I am a wife, mother, sister, granddaughter, employee, teacher, Star Trek fan, writer, reader, American, driver, sleeper, dieter, and volunteer. Focusing on issues related to any of these areas gives me several potential topics to write about. As a Star Trek fan, I could do a comparison and contrast of the old generation’s Captain Kirk to the new generation’s Captain Picard. Figure out all the labels that apply to you, and investigate connected issues that you can write about.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Top Eight Ways to Start a Paper

The introduction of your paper draws your reader into the topic and encourages them to continue reading. Here are eight methods you can use to hook your reader and keep them reading.

Caution: Be sure to ask each instructor if he or she requires your thesis to be in the first paragraph after your introduction technique. Some instructors allow it at the end, but some prefer it in the first paragraph.

1) Tell a Story
We like reading about people more than ideas or issues. Your audience will connect with your topic if you show them how it affects real people. If you are writing about plastic surgery for teens, tell me about Jessica’s nose job and I will read on to find out how it turned out.

2) Describe Something
Help us see the topic by using your senses to describe something about it. Seeing people, organizations, or events can connect us with the subject. For example, if your paper is on prison reform, you could start with a description of the prison conditions you are protesting.

3) Use a Quotation
Find a well turned phrase about your subject to get your audience’s attention. For example, Mark Twain said, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." This might be a jumping off point for a discussion of book censorship. Check out Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for ideas on your specific topic.

4) Use a Surprising Fact or Statistic
If you run across a surprising piece of information when writing or doing research, chances are it will surprise and interest your audience also. If you tell us half of all women will have heart disease, we will be interested in what your topic has to say about cardiovascular care. Show us something we didn't know, and we will conclude you have more information that may be valuable.

5) Go for Common Ground
This method works especially well if you are writing an argument paper. If you can find something both sides agree on, remind them of that common belief at the beginning and they will be more willing to listen to your side. Discussing an education issue? The majority of your audience will want students to get a good education, so start with that common goal and show how your issue connects to better learning.

6) Ask a Question
Asking a question makes your audience think about your issue; just make sure to answer the question in your paper. You don’t have to have the best answer, but you should fulfill the promise you made in asking the question by contributing your opinion. Writing about Internet censorship? Ask us what the Internet will look like in ten years, and then talk about your issue’s impact.

7) Start With a Controversial Thesis
If your thesis is controversial, start the paper with it. If you suggest reinstating the draft or eliminating Social Security, your reader will be curious enough about your provocative position to keep reading.

8) Provide Background Information
If we need a brief history to understand your topic, then give us the background – but only what we need. Some students use background information as space filler and bore themselves and their instructors with unnecessary background details. If you're writing about stem cell funding, a brief definition and explanation of their use might be in order, but we don’t need to know how they were discovered, or what cells are.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Six Steps to Take Before You Turn in An Assignment

Think about how much time it takes to rewrite an entire paper or construct a last minute works cited when you find out you misunderstood the assignment or forgot a requirement. Understanding your assignments saves time and stress, and leads to a much better grade. Here are some steps to take before turning in an assignment.

1. Read the Assignment Carefully
Often instructors explain an assignment in class and students forget to read the fine print on the actual assignment handout. If your instructor gives you an assignment in writing, read it carefully because it may include extra requirements like an outline or outside research. If he or she gives assignments verbally only, be sure to write down the details in your notes. Leaving out too many required elements leads to a much lower grade.

2. Circle Key Terms
After you read the assignment or write it down, circle key term that help summarize what the assignment is about. Assignment words like: write, explain, define, narrate, persuade, answer, explore, describe, compare, and show help you see what an assignment is asking for.

3. Discover its Purpose
Figure out why the instructor is assigning this project. What do they want you to learn from doing it? How to do research? How to write a particular type of essay like a comparison and contrast paper? Focusing on what the learning experience is about can help you zero in on the essentials and learn the most you can from an assignment. Then you won't end up accidentally writing a narration paper when you were asked to do a description.

4. Ask Questions
Instructors are usually happy to answer any questions about assignments, and your interest in getting it right shows you are trying to do a good job and sets the right tone when they grade the assignment later.

5. Check for Examples
Be sure to look at any examples the instructor has included. If he or she doesn't, ask if there is an example you can consult. Even if there isn't an entire example assignment, instructors will often give verbal examples that help you complete the assignment correctly.

6. Reread the Assignment
A few days before your assignment is due, take one last look at the assignment sheet or your notes about the assignment. You are probably doing lots of reading for other assignments, so you may forget minor requirements even if you read the assignment thoroughly the first time. Do this a few days before your assignment is due so you can add any last minute requirements without a time crunch.