What are your methods for improving writing skills?

When a student comes to us for help with skills, of course we want him/her to get good grades on assignments, but our primary goal is to help the student to become more capable of finding problems in the writing and progress through effective revisions. That is, we want to help our students to reach the point where tutoring is not needed anymore.

We'll point out that an essay needs more research and information, or help to understand the important distinctions between research and plagiarism, but we can't do the research itself. We'll point out that an essay has organizational problems and we might even suggest ways to reorganize it, but we won't do the reorganizing. We'll point out wording that seems awkward or confusing, and try to explain why it seems that way, but we won't rewrite the awkward sentences.

Above all, we won't fix every spelling, punctuation, grammar, or usage error in the paper. The student must retain authorship. If the student takes our advice about reorganizing, he/she still must make the specific decisions about how to reorganize. If the paper contains a punctuation error, there's really no decision to make. It should be fixed. But if we fix it, all we've taught the student is, “I don't need to learn the rules of punctuation, because my tutor will take care of all that sort of thing.”

On the other hand, we're not simply going to ignore problems in punctuation, grammar, etc., as such errors will lower grades and, with respect to the SAT’s and college application essays, may limit college options. Rather, we'll look for patterns in the errors: the most frequent, the most serious and situations which produce those errors (for instance, work done hastily and/or late at night). We'll then point out those patterns, so the student learns what to look for. We'll probably show him/her some examples of the most frequent or most serious errors, explain them, correct them, and perhaps give the student an Internet resource explaining the rules governing them. Then, we will encourage the student to find and correct any remaining occurrences of those errors. In the long run, this should help the student to become a better writer far more than if we simply corrected every comma omission, subject-verb agreement inconsistency, and so forth. For this reason, we ask the parents of our students not to correct their errors for them, especially those resulting from hasty, last-minute work.

We begin with the large-scale problems. If the large-scale problems are severe enough, it may not be productive to worry about the small-scale ones. It does no good to point out a comma problem if the entire paragraph containing that comma problem needs to be rewritten because of lack of adequate research or lack of organization. If we advise, “You need to rewrite this entire paragraph because it lacks supporting details and contains two run-on sentences,” it would be silly to also suggest fixing the comma error in the third sentence of that paragraph.

We help a great deal with papers, but we don't simply fix everything for our students or function as a last-minute, late-night, paper-tweaking service. Our services are designed not only to help produce better papers but to produce better writers.

What special materials, texts or software should we purchase for optimum results?

We recommend that you purchase Microsoft Office 365.

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