Writing Problems & Solutions

Writing Problem Topics

I grade a LOT of student research papers. As a result, I see a LOT of writing problems. Here are some examples that may help your writing…

Transitions

Transitions help thoughts flow. For example, here’s an example with poor transition:

“Fuel efficiency is an important aspect of the car purchasing decision. Overall cost is probably more important.”

This is improved by showing contrast:

“Fuel efficiency is an important aspect of the car purchasing decision. However, overall cost is probably more important.”

The latter reads better and helps the reader understand the contrast that the writer had in mind.

There are numerous transition words. For example, there are words that:

  • Show conclusion
  • Repeat information
  • Show comparison
  • Show contrast or differences

For an exhaustive list, see http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos/writing-the-paper/transitions

Transitions or segues are also important for citations. For example:

  • “The sky is blue” Smith (2001, p. 2).
  • According to Smith (2001, p.2), “The sky is blue.”

In this case, the latter is generally better than the former.
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Narrative Mode

Please note that unless otherwise directed,  using a first- or second-person narrative mode for a formal research paper is not a good idea as it is better used for self-help and guide books. Formal scholarly papers should be written in the third-person. As an example:

  • “Given my experience with the growth and financial investment in these two training modalities, if their individualized-learning characteristics reduce learning compared to TI, then I think short-term savings may be offset by resulting long-term costs due to reduced learning effectiveness.”
  • “Given the growth and financial investment in these two training modalities, if their individualized-learning characteristics reduce learning compared to TI, then short-term savings may be offset by resulting long-term costs due to reduced learning effectiveness.”

Again, the latter is generally better than the former.

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Focus and Flow

While it can be difficult for some people, writing needs to be focused and flow well. Without it, the result is lack of clarity and cohesiveness. This makes it very difficult for the reader to know what you are trying to say. Examples:

  • “The potential impact of Stephenson’s (1991) findings, the fact that they are supported by TI theory, and the lack of expert consensus only contributes to the confusion experienced by human resource development (HRD) managers charged with deploying CBT technology. While having trainees use CBT independently instead of using traditional instructional methods may save time and money at the outset, the lack of expert consensus interjects a question as to the effectiveness of that training since it lacks a social interaction component. For example, one of the purported benefits of CBT is the cost savings associated with reduced trainer requirements resulting from the self-paced nature of the training (Janson, 1992; Lawson, 1999; Lee & Mamone, 1995).”
  • “The potential impact of Stephenson’s (1991) findings, the fact that they are supported by TI theory, and the lack of expert consensus only contributes to the confusion experienced by human resource development (HRD) managers charged with deploying CBT technology. For example, one of the purported benefits of CBT is the cost savings associated with reduced trainer requirements resulting from the self-paced nature of the training (Janson, 1992; Lawson, 1999; Lee & Mamone, 1995). However, while having trainees use CBT independently instead of using traditional instructional methods may save time and money at the outset, the lack of expert consensus interjects a question as to the effectiveness of that training since it lacks a social interaction component”

In the first example, the discussion of trainees using CBT independently does not make much sense given that the idea has yet to be introduced. The second example resolves this problem and yields clarity and cohesiveness.

Tone

Please note that writing in a passive tone and/or using past tense makes your writing weak. For example:
  • The number of inpatient, critical, and labor-intensive patients has increased because of the aging population.
  • The number of inpatient, critical, and labor-intensive patients increased because of the aging population.
The first example is passive and generally not desired in academic writing. To emphasize action, use an active voice, as shown in the second example.

Abbreviations

One issue I see frequently in student writing is using abbreviations before defining them. For example, students frequently write something like this:

“An organization should always refer to the ISO.”

The problem is, ISO was not defined. Did the writer mean the International Standards Organization or the Independent Sales Organization? A better approach would be as follows:

“An organization should always refer to the International Standards Organization (ISO).”

From this point forward, the writer can use use the abbreviation ISO.

 

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