The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Brainstorming—finding a way to get started writing

LOTS of very different ideas on how to get started when you have no clue, and also how to get going once you have a topic but need more interesting things to say. Since there are so many ideas here, there’s a lot to read, but the good news is once you find some brainstorming techniques that work for you, you won’t need to keep reading this.

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Thesis Statements

This guide offers some great background thoughts on what a thesis statement is for and what it should do, along with ways to help you do the thinking that will help you come up with a great one that’s interesting to you. For example,

A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis” that presents a basic or main idea and an argument that you think you can support with evidence. Both the argument and your thesis are likely to need adjustment along the way.

Purdue OWL

Writing Strong Thesis Statements

This guide offers several specific, clear examples of how to take poor ideas for a thesis and turn them into something great.

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Revising Drafts—more than commas and spelling

Writing is a process of discovery, and you don’t always produce your best stuff when you first get started. So revision is a chance for you to look critically at what you have written to see:

  • if it’s really worth saying,
  • if it says what you wanted to say, and
  • if a reader will understand what you’re saying.
The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Transitions—logical connections from one idea to the next

Whether single words, quick phrases, or full sentences, transitions function as signs that tell readers how to think about, organize, and react to old and new ideas as they read through what you have written.

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Editing & Proofreading

Tips on these parts of the revision process. Includes a nice explanation of the differences between editing and proofreading:

Editing is what you begin doing as soon as you finish your first draft. You reread your draft to see, for example, whether the paper is well-organized, the transitions between paragraphs are smooth, and your evidence really backs up your argument.

Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process, focusing on surface errors such as misspellings and mistakes in grammar and punctuation. You should proofread only after you have finished all of your other editing revisions.

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Style—how to write clearly and say what you mean

If you’re having trouble saying what you mean, or you get told that your writing is wordy or unclear, or that you’re using “weak verbs,” check out this guide for tips on what you can (a) look for and then (b) actually do to improve your writing.

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Analyzing Fiction—how to write a paper about literature

This guide will give you some ideas to help you figure out (a) what your story means, and (b) how to write about it.

First, though, What DOES a story mean? Here are three popular answers students often consider:

  • Nothing. Isn’t a story just an arrangement of characters and events? And if the author wanted to convey a meaning, wouldn’t he or she be much better off writing an essay just telling us what he or she meant? Perhaps, but the act of telling and listening to stories is literally built into our evolutionary DNA as humans and therefore our brains are built to remember them better. Also, because the stories you’ll be given for class are complex and not one-sided, they have meanings that are arguable and complicated, so it’s our job to sort them out, and this is what you’re being asked to practice in class.
  • My teacher already knows what the story means. If you feel that stories have specific meanings, you might guess that your teacher has already decided what those meanings are. Not true. Teachers might have pretty specific interpretations that seem odd to you, but that’s because they have a lot of practice with stories and have developed a sense of the kinds of things to look for. Even so, the most well-informed teacher rarely arrives at conclusions that can’t be argued with. In fact, most teachers are aware that their interpretations are debatable and actually love a good argument. But let’s not go to the other extreme:
  • Anything! To say that there is no one answer about what a story means is not to say that anything we decide to say about a novel or short story is valid, interesting, or valuable. Interpretations of fiction are often opinions, but not all opinions are equal, and the question is whether or not you can support your interpretation with evidence from the text.
The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Tips & Tools—dozens of links to help your writing

I’ve looked at a lot of writing guides online, and read a lot of books, and this page right here is one of the best resources I’ve found that offers specific, understandable tips on writing. Includes guides to help you get started (find ideas), guides to help you fix all sorts of specific problems (transitions, thesis statements, using “I,” commas, word choice...), and guides with examples of what different papers should look like (history papers, science writing, book reviews, business letters...). Etc., etc. Also some videos thrown in there.

Seriously, every problem you might have with your writing has a guide here to help you. Check it out!   —Mr. Kempe

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Fragments and Run-ons

—and how to find them and what to do about them.

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Passive Voice

You’ve been told it’s bad. You’ve been told not to use it. So, what now? (Spoiler alert: there are exceptions to this rule!)

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Quotations

Why to quote, when in your paper to quote, and how to quote.

The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Clichés

—what they are, and how to avoid them like the plague.

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The Writing Center • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Citation Generator

Be sure and set the citation format on top to MLA 8.

The Purdue OWL site warns about misunderstanding how citation generators (like EasyBib, CitationMachine, BibMe, etc.) work. As they explain,

[Citation generators] do not “understand” the task of citation in the way that humans do. They can only follow instructions given to them by their users and their programmers.

Thus, writers who use citation generators as if they were definitive authorities (rather than powerful tools) can expose themselves to problems. They may give citation generators inaccurate information (and thus receive incorrect citations) under the incorrect assumption that the generator can “sort out” any errors. They may use citations in ways that don’t make sense because they assume that as long as they have received the “correct” citation from the generator, any usage of this citation is valid. They may simply not think to double-check the citations they receive, and thus miss the occasional errors that even well-designed citation generators can make.

In short, relying entirely on citation generators rather than on one’s judgment as a writer can lead to errors.

Thus, the Christchurch School Library recommends using a Citation Builder instead. The UNC Libraries have an excellent machine (click here or on the image above). The difference between this and something like EasyBib is that you’ll have to type in the author, title, date you accessed it, etc. But, as Purdue’s OWL points out, you can then be assured that the citation you get back actually includes the correct information. And that’s good!

Research & Citation in general
Need to use a database from off campus?

If you are using the campus wifi, you should be able to log onto any of our databases automatically.

If you are searching the databases from off campus, you will be prompted to log in at some point. To find the username and password:

  • Go to your CCS Portal
  • Click the “Resources” tab on top
  • Look for the Christchurch Library panel and use the password listed there.

If you’ve tried all this and still need help, feel free to email the librarian, Mr. Kempe, using either his email or the librarian email address at the bottom of this page.

(Since anyone can use the library website, we can’t list the password here.)

Search everywhere at once!

Your best bet? Go to the homepage of this website and use the main search box near the top to search all our databases at once. (The only databases not included in this search are Infobase Issues & Controversies in American History, and the library's physical book holdings in Bishop Brown.) This will give you as many sources as possible.

But if you know you're looking for a specific type of information, it might be easier to search one of the individual databases directly...

Biography in Context

Literature Resource Center

U.S. History

Opposing Viewpoints in U.S. History

Issues & Controversies in American History

World History

Global Issues in Context (Opposing Viewpoints on World Issues)

Science Reference Center