Avoid Boring Writing

December 2007

MEGHAN: Good morning and welcome to “Write Right” the University Writing Center’s student podcast. I’m your host Meghan Wall and in today’s episode we are debunking the myth that college writing is monotonous and the product, your paper, uninteresting.  To solve this mystery I decided to go to the experts to see what they had to say.  So I tracked down a few of our very busy yet talented consultants here in the writing center and asked them how they manage to keep their papers from being boring.  Here’s what they had to say:

ALAYNE: As a graduate student in Business school a lot of what I write can be dry, and data driven.  (here’s what she means, “We considered the impact of non-recurring incomes statement items and calculated persistent earnings as well as five year incomes statement line item averages for each company”) That’s why I work the hardest on having a conversational tone.  Whenever I’m editing my writing, I read it aloud and imagine that I am talking to another person.

SAMANTHA: The way I keep my writing interesting is to connect all my classes together. For example, if I am taking a history class or English class, I will use the materials as anecdotal evidence in another paper.  For example: If you’re asked to analyze the idea of race in the United States you can incorporate your knowledge of the civil rights movement and race driven court cases that you learned in U.S. history or political science.  Also, another method is to apply the essay topic to my personal life. This way, I truly feel like I am not “wasting” my time reflecting on the essay topic.

KATIE: I think that in order to keep writing interesting, having a unique writing style is crucial. By style, I mean sentence structure and vocabulary choice. Even if you’re writing about an uninteresting topic, you can still make the reader intrigued and “draw them into” the paper by varying how you write a sentence. Mix up complex sentences and simple sentences, use common and uncommon vocabulary words. (The synonym function on Word helps with this!)
So instead of complaining to your professor that “Writing papers are completely boring and pointless” just say that “the practice of crafting manuscripts is exhaustively platitudinous and trivial.”  Also, showing critical thinking in your writing lets the reader know you thoroughly understand the topic and are able to draw your own conclusions.

PATRICIA: The best advice I can think of is having interesting transitions.  Think of “and” and “but” as two of the more boring words in the English language.  They are correct and must be used much of the time; however, if you can say something without using them, it makes the writing more interesting.  Also, avoid starting sentences with “There is” and “There are.”  Sometimes, this is the only way to make a statement; however, try rewording the sentence to see for sure.  And finally, using an “ing” verb as the main verb of the sentence is usually less emphatic than using the present form…
He is skipping class each day to play DDR.  He skips class each day to play DDR.

KRISTI: Hi my name is Kristi Thomas and I think that adding humor, if it is appropriate, really helps your paper stand out from the rest of the stack of droning papers that your professor has to grade. I think that a lot of students have a misconception that school papers have to sound wordy and formal, but I have seen many examples of lighthearted papers that get the same point across::even more effectively because they are easier to read.  Here are some famous examples by Mark Twain that you probably shouldn’t include in your paper.  When talking to your prof.  about Nathanial Hawthorne don’t say “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody want to read.” And when you professor is handing out the assignment don’t say, “Work is a necessary evil to be avoided.”  Also, research papers don’t need to be a regurgitation of facts. Working the facts into your own words makes it more interesting to read because the audience doesn’t feel like they have been assigned a few pages in a textbook to read.
(“We begin by defining a generic product development process that describes the basic need to design a product”)

LAURA: I choose topics that I think are interesting, important and potentially useful.  Then I’m more involved and interested in what I’m writing.  For example: Navaho Burial Rituals; The Art of Curling; Overuse of Ritalin on America’s Children.

FLORENCE: I used to do to make sure my stories weren’t boring was to read them aloud to my four year old niece.  Although for the most part, she had no clue what I was saying, she was actually a good judge of the rhythm and fluidity of the paper. If she fell asleep (rockabye-baby) I knew that it needed work. If she stayed awake, (“dedal de deet”: upbeat noise) I was probably heading in the right direction. Crazy, but it’s true!

ABIEE: My technique is to get many individuals to read my writing. While they read, I observe their body language in order to find out whether my paper is interesting. If they ask detailed questions pertaining to my work (hmm, interesting), I know they are interested in my ideas and that my paper is not completely boring (yawn: huh, what I thought you were finished).

RON: When I write a sentence I choose each word for the purpose of conveying my thoughts and feelings as precisely as possible. When writing I always have a dictionary at hand to check meaning and possible and synonyms. I try to learn a new word every time I write. One of my high school English teacher’s suggested this to me (Don’t forget Ronny, ruler smacking) and since then I’ve always tried to do it.

MEGHAN: Well there you have it.  From the experts themselves the truth has been uncovered.  College papers don’t have to be mind-numbing.  The professors will agree with you there, they don’t like reading boring papers anymore than you like writing them.  Our consultants have shown that if you write in a way that reflects your personal style and interests it doesn’t have to be tedious or dull.  All you have to do is first pick a topic that interests you.  If you are assigned a specific topic then in your analysis you should try to relate the ideas to your life or make them meaningful to you in some way.  Then you should vary your word choice and sentence structure; use a dictionary or thesaurus to help you.  And finally, let others read over your work to help point out areas that may need revising.  Your paper should be a reflection of your self; your humor, personality, and beliefs, you aren’t boring so why should what you write be?  I would like to thank all of the consultants who participated in today’s study.  I hope their words have inspired you to reevaluate your writing and bring excitement and energy to your college papers from now on.  If you have any questions for our consultants or need help jazzing up that paper don’t hesitate to stop by the writing center here on the second floor of Evans Library for all of your writing needs.  As always, I’m Meghan Wall, hoping you’ll tune in next time for another exciting episode of “Write Right.”