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

Tips & Tools—dozens of links to help your writing from the UNC Writing Center

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

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

Using Quotations—how to fit them smoothly into your writing

WHEN should you quote in your paper?

HOW should you introduce your quote, and follow up afterwards?

HOW LONG should quotations be, should the period at the end go inside the quotation marks or not, what about those three dots... so many questions. All answered here!

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.
Plagiarism Today

Plagiarism: What It Is, and How Not to Do It

Plagiarism Today

—a fantastic site with many resources on the issue of plagiarism. LOTS of articles about Adults Behaving Badly in the world, including all kinds of news reports of the trouble people find themselves in—sometimes immediatley, sometiimes years later—when it's discovered that something they wrote was actually plagiarized (ideas or words that they presented as their own were not, in fact, their own).

How to ACTUALLY avoid plagiarism

by Jonathan Bailey. This is a fantastic series of tips on ways to approach the entire writing process so that you can focus on your own writing, and not accidentally mix your notes (on what others wrote) with your own writing. 

Also, as mentioned in the article above, here is a more detailed article about using the "cleanroom" approach to writing as a way to avoid accidental plagiarism (a/k/a plagiarism due to sloppy/lazy writing habits). The metaphor: maintain a "cleanroom" of your own writing for any paper, and no notes from other sources are allowed to contaminate that document. All notes are kept in separate "notes/quotes" docs, and the doc you write your paper in is only allowed to have your own original writing. When you do copy in a quotation or someone else's idea, you must immediately cite it—never leave that step for later!

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


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

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


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



Citation Machine

MyBib logo

MyBib is a relatively new site to help manage your citations when writing papers. It's totally free, easy to use, and does a great job. One of its coolest features is that it can store your citation lists in separate projects, so you can build your Works Cited lists for several different classes over a period of weeks as you work a little bit here, a little bit there.


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

Citation Builder

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

In the past, the CCS Library has recommended using a citation builder instead of a citation machine. Recently, however, MyBib has come available and has proven quite impressive, offering a substantial way to manage your reference lists for multiple papers in addition to simply creating correct citations one at a time. One of the benefits of a citation builder (like this one from the UNC Libraries) is that you can enter the correct information on your own to ensure that the machine is getting the correct info—sometimes, the automated process that scans a web page gets things wrong. However, MyBib offers a simple option to manually input all the information anyway, if their automatic generator doesn't get it right.

If you'd prefer to use a stand-alone citation builder like we recommended in the past, the UNC Libraries have an excellent one (click here or on the image above). Again, the difference between this and using the automated features of a system like MyBib is that you’ll have to type in the author, title, date you accessed it, etc. But, you can then be assured that the citation you get back actually includes the correct information. The choice is yours—just pay attention to the citation you get to make sure it looks right!

Research & Citation in general
The Plagiarism Game

Lycoming College's Plagiarism Game

Courtesy of Lycoming College.

It's possibly a little cheesy, but only YOU can save the campus from the plagiarism goblins...

Database access

Need to use a database from off campus?

If you are on campus and using the CCS network, you can 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. You can do this a few ways, depending on which databases you need:

  1. For all our resources, you can always log in using our universal CCS off-campus credentials. Find this password using the steps below. (Since anyone can use the library website, we can’t list the password here.) 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.
  1. For Gale resources, you can use the "Sign in with Google" option and use your CCS Google account. (This is super easy, but doesn't work for EBSCO databases or searches in the main search box.)
  2. For EBSCO resources, you can create a MyEBSCO account. It's not hard, and comes with good benefits like being able to save searches, but takes a few steps:
    1. At an EBSCO login page, first login using the universal CCS credentials (see step 1 above). This step confirms that EBSCO can create a CCS account for you.
    2. At this point, you have access to the database, but don't yet have your own account (you're just using that universal CCS account). In order to create your own account, next click on the MyEBSCO link at the upper right.
      MyEBSCO icon
    3. Click "Create an account" using your CCS Google credentials. This will create your own account that's associated with Christchurch's database access.
    4. Yay! Now that you've created a MyEBSCO account using your CCS Gmail address, you can just click the "Sign in with Google" link in the future.
Search everywhere at once!

Your best bet? Use the main search box at the top of any page on the library website to search all our databases at once. (The only database not included in this search is 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. More info on those options below...

Biography in Context

Gale biography

Literature Resource Center

Gale literature resource center


World History

Gale world history

U.S. History

gale US history

Science databases

(Gale) Science

Gale science

(Gale) Environmental Studies

Gale in context—Environmental Studies

(EBSCO) Science Reference Center

Issues and Controversies

These databases are great places for info on all sides of debates and controversial issues. Look here for possible research paper topics!

Global Issues:

(present-day issues, including current events, around the world: social, political, economic; science, sports, culture, education...)

Gale global issues in context

U.S. Issues:

(historical issues, present-day current events: social, political, economic; science, sports, culture, education...)

Gale opposing viewpoints in US history