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Being school at your writing center

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It happened.


This morning I went in to have someone go over a draft of my comprehensive. Let me tell you- it was heart wrenching. I wanted to curl into a ball and cry. The English gentleman, who asked me if english was my first language  <_< , said I had fine writing but lacked grammar. 'What'chu sayin'?' 


Seriously though, I advocate students to go into them all the time. I decided today I would give them a try and was really shocked at how much improvement my writing could use. (It was both the best and worst hour of my writing career)


With all that said- do any of you guys use text/websites/programs to help with grammar and your writing?


I never took a writing class and I would really like to improve on my writing and am looking for any material - outside of a formal course - to help me!

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I've gotten help from my school's writing center and it's always the same - brutal but really instructive.  I find it more helpful to have someone edit my work and really follow the logic of those edits instead of reading out of a book or offline.  For me, most of my mistakes are the same ones over and over.  So if I can just have someone smack me around (metaphorically) over a "then not than" a few times it will stick with me more vs. reading about the rule.


Also; your title reads like most of the texts I sent my husband

Ex: (all texts from me)

"I'm standing by the toad"

"No! I meant goad"

"Wait tad newt bode"

"Nooooo road"

"Ahem, I am standing by the road"

"Yeah, I didn't see you because I was texting, sorry"

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I blame the tiny keyboards on phones! If they made them a size human fingers could use, so many texting problems could be avoided!

The gentleman gave me a great tip. He said "read your paper outloud so you can hear how it sounds because you are writing a discussion with the reader"

I did find that helped me finish the edits, and will do that more. I also find that its hard to step away ling enough to see it with fresh eyes!

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I haven't gone to a writing centre myself but my wife is a pretty great copyeditor :) My most common mistake is subject-verb agreement! I am still grateful that she actually agreed to read my entire MSc thesis for errors before final submission! My current school has a free copyediting service for our theses (when I finally get there) though. We can even sign an agreement and they'll make the minor spelling, grammar, and formatting changes for us!


My worst "editing mistake" story is when I showed my MSc supervisor the first draft of my theory chapter. In the very first equation, on the first page, I made a mistake in writing out Newton's Law of Gravity. It's literally the first thing I learned in Physics 101 and it's the fundamental equation behind all of my simulations. Super embarrassing  :unsure: !!

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My wife and I primarily edit each others work. It's a great first pass, and we're close enough fields but not overlapping, so we're a good representation of the potential audience.


Sadly, our writing center won't take grad students. That, and even if you can weasel your way in, most of them aren't very good (sophomore english majors).


I've also done a lot of manuscript swapping with my cohort- more eyes helps. And we all help out when someone's writing up, and each take a dissertation chapter to copyedit.

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Thanks for your experiences! It's great that you both have partners that can help with the editing! I think it's so difficult to do it yourself...it's hard to step back and read it with fresh eyes!


Takeruk: I highly recommend using that service! I've talked to a few other grad students in my lab, and they're all like "I don't need it!" and kind of brush it off...but honestly, as much as it hurt, it was great feedback! I think it'll get me in the habit of writing earlier than I do, so that I can take it in to them but also step away long enough to go back to it with a critical eye!


Eigen- I'm so surprised that your writing center won't take students! That's horrible. Mind you, when I first went in for an appointment, they said they don't get graduate students in very often, and when they do, it's more because of ESL. It seems like it's something grad students don't use or think they need...but it's a service that is probably needed the most for graduate students as our writing is critical for our careers!


I was having a discussion about the book Outliers yesterday, and it made me think about wanting to improve my writing. I think I'm going to set myself on the journey of blogging daily- just to rack up hours writing. I'm hoping that if I keep doing it over and over again, I'll improve! 


Do any of you use any kind of method like this to improve your writing?

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  • 3 weeks later...

DalPhDer. I have used with great success the software program Ginger, I paid like $30 for it a couple of years ago. It is not perfect but gives you a good start. On my really important papers, I submit them to Writecheck by Turnitin. For my $7.95 you can't beat it. It checks for plagiarism, and grammar. For a smell fee per paper they actually will tutor you. Hope this helps, because I know your pain. I was asked the same question, yes English is my first language.

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Good writing is incredibly important, and yet sorely lacking in many published papers.  Good on anyone who takes such initiatve.

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