Teaching Online: 5 Tips for Concise Writing

Tips for Concise Writing

In my last post, I discussed the importance of writing clear, concise instructions. Our online students are busy professionals, so we owe it to them to be as straightforward and unambiguous with our language as possible. Nonetheless, writing concisely can be a challenge. Even the most seasoned Instructional Designers wrestle with the balance of delivering succinct but comprehensive content. These are five of my go-to editing strategies for squishing unruly sentences: Focus on the who and the what. At the risk of sounding like an English teacher, I’m going to suggest that you focus on the subject and the verb. The subject is your who or what. The verb is your action, or what the what is doing. Everything else is decoration that should be used sparingly. When you use a specific subject and vivid action verb, you’ll find that many of the other words are unnecessary. Before: For the most part, individuals in graduate classes are appreciative of conciseness…. Read More >

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Tips for Improving Paragraph Integrity

Resource Articles

People often talk about personal integrity, but what about paragraph integrity? An essential part of clear prose, paragraph integrity means each sentence within a paragraph follows from the one that came before. Oftentimes a piece of writing is unclear because it lacks paragraph integrity. Happily, clear paragraphs follow certain rules that are easily discerned. In Style: Toward Clarity and Grace (1990), Joseph M. Williams writes that most paragraphs consist of an issue and discussion. “Regardless of how many sentences we use to introduce the body of a paragraph,” he writes, “we have to grasp a central principle: Whether readers are conscious of it or not, they try to divide units of organized discourse—paragraphs, sections, or wholes—into two sections.” These two sections are the short opening segment—the issue—and the discussion in which, Williams writes, “reader[s] look for […] new ideas against a background of repeated topics and themes.” Those who have taught composition may recall the PIE formula: Point, Illustration, Explanation…. Read More >

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Coordinating with OSASC for Student Success

Webinar Series

Henri Moser, the Online Learning Specialist, and Lori Rand, the Online Writing Specialist, joined us from the Online Student Academic Success Center to talk about how faculty and staff can best coordinate with them to foster student success in online courses. They covered a whole lot, from when best to connect students with their services to how OSASC can lend their unique perspective to the design of the learning activities themselves. Thanks to Henri and Lori for the work they put in on this excellent, informative webinar.

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Speech to Text

One of the great qualities of language is that it allows people to connect across seemingly unbridgeable gaps. Above and beyond the everyday miracle of two distinct persons being able to share their feelings across a cup of coffee, language is flexible enough to be jump multiple mediums, and translate through several languages, without the conveyed content transforming too much. Famously, Helen Keller learned to read and write through the touch of her teacher; Christy Brown composed poetry through the only limb left under his control, the eponymous left foot; and Jean-Dominique Bauby, completely paralyzed except for his left eye following a car accident, wrote his memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking.  Technology has improved our ability to take advantage of just how tough language is, allowing more and more people to express themselves with greater and greater freedom. A simple example of this, that has nonetheless proved useful for many students and teachers facing widely varying… Read More >

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What Happens in Those Writing Support Appointments Anyway?

whiteboard, dry erase

The paper you’re reading has lost you: the commas are out of control, the word choices are weird, and that last paragraph doesn’t seem to have a point. It can be hard to know if lack of time was the culprit or if the student has not yet mastered the writing skills needed to express their ideas at the graduate level. Either way, a referral to online writing support is something you may have already done after struggling through a confusing piece of writing. Sometimes the paper comes back greatly improved; other times you may have wondered what exactly was discussed in that appointment. Students contact us for a variety of reasons. Often it is because an instructor has suggested or required it, but some students are aware their writing skills aren’t that strong and their papers would benefit from some feedback. Even very capable writers can learn from having an objective reader check for clarity, so writing support doesn’t… Read More >

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Think pen and paper are obsolete? Think again.

mac and paper

  In distance education, many students type lecture notes on their computers, rather than writing on paper. After all, students use laptops to watch lectures, answer assessment questions, and participate in class discussions. It’s only natural to use the same device for taking notes, too, right? Not so fast. Last year, Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, researchers from Princeton University and the University of California, studied how the two note-taking methods affect student assessment performance. The results? In short, they found that taking notes on a laptop can “negatively affect performance on educational assessments.” If you’re reading this, perhaps you’re already nodding your head in agreement: Of course, computers can harm learning—think of all those tempting and distracting online games and Facebook memes! But what’s really fascinating about Mueller and Oppenheimer’s experiments is that they relied on computers that were disconnected from the Internet. Without even a working web browser, students were free to focus on the lecture content. Nevertheless, those who… Read More >

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Creating Effective Writing Assignments: The Discourse Community Framework

Crumpled note paper

Using the writing process – often a complex, messy and mysterious process for students – is crucial for graduate level success. Students not only need to grapple with understanding course concepts, they must be able to express them professionally and intelligently. Well-designed writing prompts, with the addition of writing support, can provide the extra guidance many students need. Anne Beaufort, in her text College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instructions, has researched and developed a relevant framework for creating graduate-level assignments based on a “discourse community” concept. Assignments created with this framework can help students better understand the social work community/program context of their writing. Beaufort addresses four types of knowledge in assignment design: subject matter, genre, audience, and the writing process. Although most prompts used in this graduate program do already include these four types of knowledge in some way, Beaufort’s framework provides a fresh look at facilitating more sophisticated written work from students. Subject Matter:… Read More >

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Analyze My Writing

Analyze my Writing

Thanks to another mention by FreeTech4Teachers.com, I have looked into this Analyze My Writing engine. In the past we have talked about Wordle and Tagxedo, which are both fine word cloud generators, which in addition to making long pieces of text look pleasant, highlight most commonly used words in a chunk of text. The idea behind these is that you can manage and introduce large boring text without scaring off your readers/audience, and possibly generate some conversation in the process. With Analyze My Writing, you can go several steps further and analyze your own writing or another person’s writing and “gain a wealth of information about your text including word and character counts, word and sentence lengths, the readability of your text, and other analyses”. The site offers a few pre-selected sources for your viewing convenience. Why use it? You may want to use this to gain insight into your own writing style, find words and phrases you mostly use,… Read More >

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Interactive Stories

canoe line drawing

We have already talked about writing. In online courses, writing is often the predominant activity. It’s not just styles, grammar, and perfect APA citations that matter, of course. There are lots of skills that students must demonstrate when writing academic papers. What we don’t include as much is this dimension of interacting with writing (stories). Stories can lead you down different paths based on decisions (choices) made at certain crucial points in the narrative. Digital interactive stories have been around for a long time, as different technologies to support this sort of writing and user interface have been used – from a web of wikis to simple code to complex productions (like alternate endings in full-feature movies). Another tool came across, Inklewriter. It may be considered as a more or less low learning curve tool, which allows you to create your own scenarios or have students (in groups or individually) do the same as a project (sample story). In fact,… Read More >

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Look at all these Writing Tools in Blackboard


Hey y’all! One of Blackboard’s strengths is the variety of tools it has that allow students to express themselves in writing. I’ve divided these tools into two camps, Individual and Social. Tools in the Individual camp are designed for writing projects that only the student and the teacher see; tools in the Social camp are designed to engage the class as a whole or students in groups. Individual Assignments A Blackboard Assignment stores all the information from when the student submits his or her project through the assignment portal. The assignment portal links that information directly to a column in the grade center. Each submission is called an attempt, and any assignment can be programmed to allow multiple attempts or only one, but only one of the attempts is meant to be graded for any one assignment. The emphasis of the assignment tool is on product, by which I mean that, generally, students are graded on the quality and polish… Read More >

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