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How To Overcome Writer’s Block

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One of the most serious problems that many of us face on an almost daily basis is the one that arises from having to deal with the dreaded writer’s block when faced with a deadline. Writer’s block is definitely not a pleasant experience. Especially, when the due date for one’s business report or project paper is getting closer by the day! I know what that knot in the gut feels like, every time the boss asks you “how’s that project going?” on those occasions when you don’t manage to avoid him/her as you try to slink unnoticed down the hallway.

Writer’s block is fear-based

For various reasons, many of us have an incredible fear of committing ourselves in writing whenever we are faced with a blank page or computer screen. In reality, this is actually an irrational feeling that keeps us from putting pen to paper. We secretly wonder just what exactly is going to come out of this keyboard/pen, and when it does, will we be revealing that we are some kind of incompetent idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about?

The good news is that writer’s block can definitely be beaten!

That’s right! I have learned through trial and error over the years that writer’s block can be easily overcome if we do the proper preparation and follow a few simple guidelines.

Below are my personal hard-earned practical tips for overcoming writer’s block:

Don’t Write It Too Soon
Before trying to write, it is important to prepare mentally for a few hours or days (depending on the size of the task and your deadline) by mulling the writing project over in the back of your mind. Once you’ve done the necessary reading, research, and thinking, your sub-conscious mind needs time to process all of that. Let it sit and have your subconscious mind work on it (Just as athletes don’t like to peak too soon, writers shouldn’t write too soon either!).

Preparation Is Important
Prior to writing, read over whatever background material you have so that it is fresh in your mind. I always do a final review of all material gathered, carefully marking the important points with a yellow hi-liter. With this material fresh in your mind, you will find that the writing process flows better once you get started, due to less need to refer to your background.

Develop A Simple Outline
Before sitting down to actually start writing, compile a simple point-form list of all of the key points you want to cover, and then organize them in the order in which you are going to cover them. (I know, I know… your Grade 6 teacher told you the same thing… but it actually does work!).

Keep Research Documents Handy
Once you finally sit down to write, make sure that all of your key background materials are spread out close at hand. This will allow you to quickly refer to them without interrupting the writing flow once you get on a roll. I keep as many of the source documents as possible wide open, and within direct eyesight, for quick and easy access and reference whenever I’m writing something.

Just Start Writing
Yes, that’s exactly what you should do. Once you have prepared mentally and done your homework as discussed in the previous steps, you will be ready to write — even if your writer’s block is saying no. Just start writing any old thing that comes to mind. Go with the natural flow. In no time at all, you will get into a rhythm, and the words will just keep on flowing.

Don’t Worry About Editing the First Draft
Once the words start to flow don’t be concerned about making it perfect the first time around. Remember, it’s your first draft. You will be able to revise it later. The critical thing at the outset is to get those thoughts written down as your mind dictates them to you.

Use an Example or Template
Get an actual sample of the type of document that you need to write. It could be something that you wrote previously, or it could be something from an old working file, or a clipping from a magazine article, or a sales brochure you picked up; as long as it is the same type of document that you are writing. Whatever it is, just post it up in your line-of-sight while you are working. You’ll be amazed at how it helps the words and ideas flow. This example will serve as a sort of visual model for you.

In my experience this last point is the ultimate secret for overcoming writer’s block.

I continue to use this last technique on a daily basis. In fact, I rarely start writing anything anymore from a blank page or screen. I always manage to find an example from somewhere and work from that. Once you’ve used this method for a while you will be able to easily get templates from writing projects that you have done previously.

 

 

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Academic Writing Style – APA and MLA Set the Standards

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As we all know, school (at any level) is a place where the ability to write reasonably well is very important if one is to succeed. This would explain why thousands of visitors to this site are seeking information and templates to help them with their academic writing projects such as book reports, term papers, essays, and research papers.

Once one reaches the college or university level, it is not good enough to write a paper in just any old format that one chooses. At that level, students are almost always required to use certain accepted international standards for formatting and referencing sources in a paper. Even at the high school level, many teachers now require the use of one of the well-known writing style standards.

At universities and colleges in most Western countries, one of two major international writing style standards are used as follows:

1. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
The APA’s Publication Manual covers all aspects of the writing and publishing process including organizing, writing, formatting, keying, and submitting a manuscript for publication. It provides detailed guidance on editorial style as well as on the appropriate standards for publishing research in accordance with ethical principles of scientific publishing.

2. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
The MLA documentation style covers all aspects of scholarly writing, beginning with the mechanics of writing and publishing, through the basics of writing style, to guidelines for the preparation of theses and dissertations. Although the MLA guidelines cover all aspects of writing and publishing a paper, MLA documentation style places special emphasis on the proper citing of sources of information in one’s written work, and how to properly and consistently cite them throughout a paper or manuscript.

Both of these style documents are lengthy technical manuals designed to cover every possible situation that one could encounter when writing a paper. To assist those who would rather not wade through hundreds of pages that may not be relevant to them, I have broken down and summarized the APA and MLA Rules for the Preparation of Manuscripts into three distinct sections as follows:

1. Overall Paper Format Rules (APA and MLA)
2. Rules For In-Text Citation of Sources (APA and MLA)
3. Compiling and Formatting the Reference List (APA and MLA)

You can access a summary of the APA Rules at this page:
http://www.writinghelp-central.com/apa-format-rules.html

The MLA Rules are summarized on this page:
http://www.writinghelp-central.com/mla-format-rules.html

Each of the above pages contains links to actual sample pages of the formats being discussed.

 

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Make Sure Your Words and Phrases Flow

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A common weakness we see almost everywhere in day-to-day writing is poor logical flow from one idea or point to the next. This usually takes the form of a bunch of seemingly unrelated phrases thrown together with little or no sense of sequence, continuity, logic, or relativity. Not only can you see this problem in articles and blogs all over the Web, reporters for your local newspaper and TV outlets are often guilty of this same transgression.

We see letters, articles and reports in which each phrase seems to be independent of the one before and the one after; when in reality there is an actual sequential and/or logical flow. When we read these, we often find ourselves asking obvious questions that don’t get answered, such as: “So why did they do that?”, or “What happened next…?”, or “How does that relate to…?”

Consider the following three sentence example:

1. The entire building had to be searched.

2. They started the search on the third floor.

3. It took three hours to complete the search.

Notice that the three separate statements are all valid sentences. They convey the bare essential facts of a situation or event, but nothing more. In fact, they raise almost more questions than they answer. For example:

– Why was the building being searched?
– What building was it?
– Was it a serious incident?
– Had it ever happened before?
– Why did they start on the third floor?
– What about the first two floors?
– Is three hours a long time for that?
– How long does it usually take?

Now, let’s transform these three statements, using transition or bridge words and phrases, as follows:

“UNLIKE a minor incident at the Customs Headquarters last October, this time the entire building had to be searched for trapped occupants. BECAUSE the fire was still smoking on the first two floors, they started on the third, working upwards to the tenth, covering the first two floors last. CONSEQUENTLY, it took them a full three hours before they finally completed the typical one-hour job.”

Notice the use of the transition words: UNLIKE, BECAUSE, and CONSEQUENTLY. Using these three words has allowed us to easily connect the three independent sentences and give them a sense of chronological order and logical flow. They also allow us to answer ALL of the obvious questions, either with the transition word itself, or by adding a couple more words.

In short, transition words/phrases have turned three dry independent phrases into a little story that makes sense to the reader.

These types of words/phrases are ideal for allowing one to easily connect thoughts, and create logical sequences between sentences and paragraphs. They are usually inserted at the beginning of a sentence and normally refer directly back to the previous sentence and/or paragraph without repeating the specific subject.

The following paragraphs list some of the more common transition words and phrases that will help make your text more understandable and interesting to the reader. For each one, I have included a typical example of how the word/phrase might be used in a typical sentence. (Note that we have capitalized the transition words/phrases for emphasis and easy identification).

CAUSE AND EFFECT…
THEN, he moved on to the next work station.
AS A RESULT, the team lost the game.
FOR THIS REASON, she always went home for the weekend.
THE RESULT WAS always predictable.
WHAT FOLLOWED was as painful as it was inevitable.
IN RESPONSE, he quickly upped the ante.
THEREFORE, the aircraft overshot the runway.
THUS, it was just a matter of time.
BECAUSE OF THIS, the results were always the same.
CONSEQUENTLY, he was no longer friends with Frank.
THE REACTION to this event was swift and decisive.

IN CONTRAST TO…
UNLIKE last year, this one was highly profitable.
DIFFERENT from this, was our approach to manufacturing.
IN SPITE OF the dot com bust, the company prospered.
ON THE OTHER HAND, earnings per share have increased.
ON THE CONTRARY, the impact was less than expected.
OPPOSING that idea was the move to new technologies.
HOWEVER, that approach may actually prove better.
CONTRARY to his findings, the revenue picture is good.
NEVERTHELESS, something still appears to be missing.

SEQUENCE AND RELATIVITY…
THEN, each one followed in numerical sequence.
IN ADDITION, a fourth material was added to the mix.
TO ENUMERATE, first was the car, second was the boat, third…
NEXT in line for cuts was the marketing division.
NEXT IN THE SERIES was the “outrigger” brand line.
BESIDES THAT, there were two other possible sources.
SUBSEQUENTLY they moved on to the next polling station.
FOLLOWING the concert, there was a reception in the atrium.

SIMILARITY AND COMPARISON…
LIKE always, he took the company on a risky course.
SAME as before, he managed to meet all of the requirements.
SIMILAR things were known to happen at certain times.
CLOSE to that was the result of the second round of voting.
LIKEWISE, they made similar changes in the factory.
ALSO, there were the worker’s families to consider.
NEAR that one, was where we found the faulty component.

EXPLANATION AND EXAMPLE…
FOR EXAMPLE, last year’s model was under-powered.
ONE SUCH occurrence was last week’s power outage.
FOR INSTANCE, earnings this year are higher than last.
TO ILLUSTRATE, he went to Chicago just to make his point.
ALSO, there is a new approach to sheet-metal molding.
THAT TOO, just goes to make my point even stronger.
TO DEMONSTRATE, I will use the new model throughout.

Bottom line: Smooth, orderly and logical transitions from one thought to the other, one sentence to the next, and one paragraph to another, are key to creating clear meaning and flow in any document. Appropriate use of transition words and phrases will achieve this for you.

 

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Proper Preposition Phrases

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On a daily basis, we see improper preposition usage. In fact, it drives us crazy when we hear supposedly well-educated people on national radio and TV misuse common prepositions in their reporting of the news and current events.

Just to be clear as to what we’re talking about here: a “preposition” is a word that is placed before a noun or pronoun to form a phrase by modifying another word in the sentence. The dictionary defines a preposition as: “…a word governing a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element…” In less technical terms, prepositions are those little connector words that join words and/or phrases to other words and/or phrases.

Examples of common prepositions are: about, above, after, as, at, before, behind, between, beyond, but, by, down, during, in, into, of, off, on, under, until, up, upon, with, within, to name a few. These words almost always function as an adjective or adverb.

Below are about a dozen typical preposition phrases misused in the news media and on popular TV shows.

agree (on), agree (to), agree (with)
We now agree on the terms of the contract.
I intend to agree to his proposal after the modifications.
His observations agree with my findings.

answer (for), answer (to)
He will have to answer for what he did last night.
She will have to answer to her boss on that matter.

begin (by), begin (from), begin (with)
I will begin by taking the oath of allegiance.
The race will begin from the parking lot behind the car dealership.
The project will begin with an environmental assessment.

bored (by), bored (with); NOT “bored of”
She was really bored by last night’s concert.
Over time, I became bored with the whole thing.

capable (of); NOT “capable to”
I knew that they were capable of much more.
The coach told me I was capable of playing at a much higher level.

correspond (to), correspond (with)

Once it is repainted it will correspond to mine.
While away on course I made it a habit to correspond with my parents by e-mail.

impressed (by), impressed (with); NOT “impressed of”
Jason was impressed by their new approach to the issue.
Julia was quite impressed with Susan’s behavior.

graduate (from), graduate (to); NOT “graduated college”
When do you expect to graduate from college?
After the initial phase you will graduate to the next level.

invest (in), invest (with)
Once I receive the funds I will invest in a mix of stocks and bonds.
He decided to invest his savings with the bank.

live (off), live (on)
Once they move to the farm they plan to live off the land.
When I turn 65 I will start to live on a pension.

proceed (to), proceed (with)
After that is done, I will proceed to the next step.
Please proceed with what you were doing when we arrived.

report (on), report (to)
After his assessment he will report on the situation.
He will report to the recruitment center next Monday.

suited (to), suited (for)
They seem very suited to each other.
Brad is well suited for that accounting position.

The above are just a few examples of proper preposition usage in some of the more common preposition phrases.  So, here’s a word of warning: if you are trying to improve your English by watching television or listening to the radio, don’t assume that everything you hear is correct. Often it isn’t. Really! So, if you read or hear something that doesn’t seem quite right, look it up.

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In Business Writing, Make Sure You Keep It Simple…

Something we notice on a regular basis when we read business letters, memos, reports, and other such documents is the use of unnecessary words to over-describe a situation or condition. These are known as redundant or superfluous words. It’s very easy to get into this bad habit when writing.

In fact, using two or three words when one will suffice can weaken your point rather than strengthen it. For effective written communication, we recommend that you make every effort to avoid using unnecessary words and phrases.

The following is a short sample list of some of the more common redundant words and phrases that we often see, alongside shorter alternatives:

absolutely essential ………………… essential
accounted for ………………………….. caused by
actual experience …………………… experience
attached please find ……………….. attached is
at your earliest convenience …… soon
consequent results …………………… results
despite the fact that ……………….. although
few in number …………………………. few
for the purpose of ………………….. for
free of charge …………………………. free
in advance of …………………………… before
in the process of being …………….. being
in the near future ……………………. soon
is suggestive of ………………………. suggests
make a decision to ………………….. decide
make the acquaintance of ……….. meet
mutual cooperation ………………….. cooperation
on behalf of ………………………………. for
on the grounds that …………………. since
perform an analysis of ……………… analyze
provided that ……………………………… if
take under advisement …………….. consider
under no circumstances ……………. never
until such time as ………………………. until
within the realm of possibility …… possible

We should mention that the words and phrases shown on the left-hand side above are not wrong. They are just a more cumbersome way of saying something that can be stated more simply. Nevertheless, for style reasons, there may be situations where the phrase shown on the left is more appropriate in a particular context. Or, there can be situations where one may choose to alternate between the two approaches, in order to avoid repetition.