The guidelines set forth in Simplified Writing 101: Top Secrets for College Success, by Erin Brown Conroy, pave the way to good academic writing that will improve grades on college assignments. This book is not your usual writing tutorial. Most academic writing tutorials are dry and boring, just laying out the “rules” as law, and making readers struggle to get through the material. Brown Conroy’s relaxed writing style sets readers at ease, perhaps allowing for better retention of the information. It’s like an old friend or respected cohort sharing bits of wisdom, imparting knowledge in easy to understand language that won’t put readers off.
Simplified Writing 101 contains writing advice that can be expanded beyond Academia. Section 1 covers word choice. The list of words to avoid to make your writing clear and concise in the first three chapters aren’t just for academic writing, where one wants to sound professional, or at least knowledgeable. This list contains words that are vague or unnecessary, or that turn the readers off, pushing them away, causing them to reject the message without giving it a fair chance. It is based on sound writing principles, which can be equally applied to copywriting, where the aim is to persuade, or literary writing, where the goal is to enchant and entertain. They could even be applied to screenwriting, where, as in poetry, every word counts. Also in this section is a chapter on properly citing sources, making word choices and mastering a higher vocabulary found in well-written academic papers.
Section 2 covers structure and form, offering a closer look at well-crafted sentences. The chapters in this section cover fragments, run-on sentences, how to create rhythm by varying sentence length, and active vs. passive writing.
It also discusses the rhythm of your words and suggests that they should sing on the page. She uses an analogy with sports for those who are not musically inclined to ensure her point is understood, (using clear and concise writing, of course). Although I am not musical, nor am I a boxer, I easily understood the concept of varying sentence length and why it should be practiced. When Brown Conroy writes about active vs. passive writing, her suggestions are not limited to Academia. Active writing can be used in all types of writing to grab and hold readers’ attention.
Section 3 covers paragraphs. After learning how to create the building blocks, sentences, we’re ready to move on to the core foundation of your paper. The chapters in this section cover how to make your sentences work for you, how to keep your paragraphs focused, linear writing, how to lead your reader with well-structured sentences, how to achieve closure for each paragraph, and finishes up with connectives, transitions and connectors.
No tutorial on writing would be complete without instruction in punctuation, so that is what we find in Sections 4 and 5. Simplified Writing 101 gives the subject thorough coverage, including when and when not to use a comma, punctuating compound sentences and lists, misuse of exclamation points, how many spaces following end punctuation, use of quotations, how to use punctuation to control pacing in your writing, hyphens, en-dashes and em-dashes, semi-colons, and colons. A whole chapter is devoted to an inside look at how professors go about grading papers and the little mistakes, such as grammar and punctuation, which add up to a loss of points and bring down grades.
Grammar is found in Section 6, noting words that must go together, writing in the proper tense and correct person, and contractions. It also talks about commonly misused or mistaken words, and sticky pairs, or pairs of words that must be found together and using words that indicate tense. And Section 7 covers how to narrow your topic, creating your research question, create an outline, using your thesis statement into a blueprint for your paper. This section also includes a four step process to creating a first draft, found in Chapter 36 with multiple methods for planning, how to draft efficiently, revise for the best word arrangement, and edit for basic errors and mechanics.
Logically, Simplified Writing 101 provides sections on revision and completing the final product, to help students know what to do once that first draft is complete. In Section 8, Brown Conroy explores writing with style, the basics of good writing, and how to answer readers’ questions before they can ask them. Section 9 covers the creation of the final draft, including ways to avoid procrastination, doing as many rewrites as it takes, what to check and rewrite in academic papers, finding an editor or getting feedback, assignment submissions and email communications in Academia, and making professional connections.
A valuable reference, Simplified Writing 101 provides lists of different types of words, such as common connectives or conjunctive adverbs, and separates them into groups, depending on which type of writing they are appropriate for: academic use, mid-range academic use, or non-academic use. Each list is also separated into what job each group of words does, or what purpose they serve. There is also a list of common mistakes, the little things that drop down points and lower grades: use of brackets; dates; times; quotations and double quotations; use of slashes; proper capitalization; and rules of abbreviation, and a list of rules for writing numbers. These lists are nice because they provide an easy-to-use reference, in case memory fails us, which it is certain to do sometime during all of our writing careers, so they may come in very handy.
Simplified Writing 101 is the writing tutorial I wish I’d had as an undergraduate. As it was, I struggled through English classes, not really understanding, but Brown Conroy makes writing guidelines and rules crystal clear, and it all seems so simple. Use it as an introductory writing guide or keep it as a reference, but this tutorial is a must have for your personal library. It will see you through your academic career and beyond.
I give Simplified Writing 101 an A+, er, I mean, five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read, and she never charges for them. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.