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  • Misreading/misunderstanding a writing assignment is a major reason for low grades – check with a writing center or peer mentor to make sure you understand the assignment, and brainstorm for 10 minutes with somebody from your class/Writing Center/Immigrant Services
  • Seek help with an outline or early draft as soon as possible – why? (better use of sources, better flow of ideas + organization, saves time, less stress)
  • Is your outline done? Find a quiet place, get some coffee, and start following your outline, working paragraph by paragraph
  • Write first for content and using good source material, don’t worry about word choice, punctuation, or grammar – you clean this stuff up later
  • Create a “dumpster document” – a second word document that holds sentences or whole paragraphs you have written that you want to keep, but you are not sure where they fit into the whole paper

Finished with a first draft? Now, let’s move on to proofreading! First, start with content:

  • Are you addressing the writing assignment and answering the question?
  • Are you using good information from your sources? (What type of information should be quoted?)
  • Do you move logically from one paragraph/section to the next? (How can you connect ideas? Provide more detail, give contrasting information, move on to a different topic?)


  • Read out loud your entire essay
  • Read backwards – this forces your brain to focus on language, grammar, and missing words instead of content!
  • Use a text-to-speech program (TTS) on your computer
    • Macs: already built in
    • PCs: Balabolka, NaturalSpeech, and others.
    • MSU offers a free installation of “Read and Write Gold” (through the Access Center)
  • Collaborate with the Writing Center, peer mentors, tutoring center, or just a friend (with good English grades!) to get another pair of eyes to look at your writing!

Ways to avoid plagiarism:

  • Cite all sources (using consistent citation formats!)
    • You can find citation formats and useful information here 
  • Learn proper paraphrasing and citation language techniques (“According to John Smith (2009),…”)
  • Use online plagiarism checkers (like Turnitin) to ensure you only submit original/cited writing
  • Use strategies that have worked for you in the past. For example:
    • Start every paper by making an outline in your own language
    • Look for words you don't understand
    • Look for word synonyms to avoid being repetitive, etc.
  • Some websites like Purdue OWL have great resources for ESL students

Have fun writing! 

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