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Checklist for a Better Writing Assignment

September 9, 2015


Checklist for a Better Writing Assignment


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa





Prior to sharing with you twenty suggestions for better writing, I will note some of my steps along the poetry and prose-lined path of my becoming a better writer. Instead of logging the number of degrees, I will point out some of the machines which were my literary transportation to this point in my writing life.


From a very young age, I was fascinated with the design, sound, and printed results of my mother’s Underwood typewriter. This typewriter persists as a family heirloom and inspiration because it was given to my mother by her father when she was graduated from Clinton High School (CHS) with the Class of 1933.


By the time my older sister needed to type some reports for school, our parents purchased a most heavy-duty Royal typewriter for us–complete with a wooden typing table. With carbon paper, I found that I could pound hard enough on the standard Royal to make a few copies of a very meager newspaper–really newsletter–for a small club created by my friends and me during fifth and sixth grades. Of course, I did realize that this self-proclaimed editorship was important only to me. Nevertheless, I discovered that I loved writing and printing; I was on a path where I wanted to be.


Oddly, when I was taking the college course at my Hoosier high school, typing class was not a requirement. Although I had been using the hunting-and-pecking method for six or seven years, I wanted to learn touch-typing. Like a number of other students in my sophomore class, I signed up for typing class for the summer term prior to my junior year. Mrs. Dunlap was a very pleasant, caring, and good teacher for us during that summer of 1966. The other typing students and I relished the opportunity to rotate to one of the electric typewriters. Learning how to properly use the touch-typing method has served me extremely well through these decades.


To go back one step, when I began my high school years at Clinton, my sister and her friend Libbie Morgan were editors of the CHS newspaper The Wildcatonian. My sister was a born leader. However, she had no desire to enter the field of journalism: she always wanted to be an elementary teacher and is still a pre-kindergarten teacher. On the other hand, I was, even as a freshman, highly interested in writing, newspapers, and journalism. Thus, hopefully on the merits of my writing ability and not due to my sister’s being editor, I became one of three freshman reporters on The Wildcatonian. This newspaper, as the one during my sophomore year, was a mimeographed publication.


After serving as one of the sophomore reporters, I was delighted that the “newspaper office” was moved from the basement (near the business classrooms) of the senior high building to the west end of the second floor of the junior high building. The new office was sandwiched between the eventual classroom of our newspaper advisor (Mrs. Hussong) and the library (where I enjoyed being a student worker for librarian Miss Salaroglio). In that new office, The Wildcatonian became The Wildcat–no longer a mimeographed paper. The Wildcat, under the superb editorship of senior Clarine Nardi, became a tabloid-sized paper and was printed in the offset manner so that not only was the content more professional, but also the layout and design were professional. Accompanying these changes was the first offering of a journalism class at CHS. Comprised of both juniors and seniors and taught by Mrs. Sharon Hussong, this journalism class became my favorite. Although we could only rent our textbooks at that time, I wish I could have purchased that bright green and stark white book entitled Press Time. In addition to learning how to write in the journalistic style, I learned to type in the fashion needed for the columns on the layout sheets. I was one of the staff members who were able to use an IBM Selectric Typewriter. Still then able to see well enough (from a close range) the markings of a blue pencil and the blue lines on the layout sheets, I loved all aspects of working on a “real” high school newspaper.


Attending the Indiana High School Press Association Conference and being (at CHS) a part of the charter membership of Quill and Scroll, the honorary association for high school journalists, were highlights of my junior year. Thanks to all the opportunities brought forth by Mrs. Hussong’s journalism class and our more professional high school newspaper, I was happily and comfortably on the path to becoming a better writer.


During my final fourteen years of teaching at the college level, I used the following “pink” handout for the essay-writing units of my communication skills classes. While in my early years of teaching, I used many purple ditto masters (an some red and green ditto masters) for printing handouts, I later shifted from using a basic photocopying machine to a highly sophisticated one. During my final years of teaching at the technical college, I simply took my master copy of each handout to the college bindery where handouts were copied in one of a variety of colors. Since I made so many handouts for my students, my referring to the handout by its color of paper allowed students to quickly find the desired handout during class discussion. Now, below, you will find the (somewhat revised) pink handout “Checklist for a Better Writing Assignment” at this onset of the 2015 fall semester.


Checklist for a Better Writing Assignment


  1. Avoid it as a subject pronoun.


It was a rainy day. We sat quietly at the ball park.

On a rainy day, we sat quietly at the ball park.     (Better)


  1. Avoid this and that as subject pronouns. (If this or that is immediately followed by is or was, you should reconsider using the subject pronoun. Of course, you can use that to introduce a relative clause; or you can use this or that to work as a demonstrative adjective.


Example: I know that your writing skills will improve during this semester.


We understood the tasks which were ahead of us. This was the problem.

We understood the tasks which were ahead of us. The anticipated heavy workload was

the problem.     (Better)

Understanding the tasks that were ahead of us was the problem.   (Better)


  1. Avoid frequent use of there is, there are, there was, there were, there can be, there could be, there shall be, there should be, there will be, there would be, there may be, there might be.


There were several graduates on the stage.

Several graduates were on the stage.     (Better)


There were yellow ribbons on every tree and shrub.

Yellow ribbons adorned every tree and shrub.     (Better)


  1. Avoid a lot.


Brett has a lot of creative ideas.

Brett has many (numerous, several) creative ideas. (Better)


  1. Avoid get, gets, getting, got, gotten.


Working at the summer theater, we got only two dollars an hour.

Working at the summer theater, we received (earned) only two dollars an hour. (better)


If you leave by noon, you will get to Kalamazoo by three.

If you leave by noon, you will arrive at Kalamazoo by three. (Better)


At the bookstore, Val got two ringbinders.

At the bookstore, Val purchased two ringbinders. (Better)


  1. Do NOT use contractions.


They won’t leave until the team arrives.

They will not leave until the team arrives. (Better)


  1. Do NOT use abbreviations, except for some rare exceptions (Mr., Ms., Mrs., and some others). Before using a group of letters to represent a series of words, first spell out the entire phrase and then type the appropriate letters within parentheses; for subsequent uses, you may simply use the group of letters without the parentheses.


Having worked for three years as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), I have returned to Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) to earn my degree in registered nursing.  During this semester at MATC, I am taking nine credits.


  1. Spell out one-digit numbers; type the numerals for two-digit (or higher) numbers.


Yesterday she received three roses and 11 cards.


  1. Maintain the same verb tense.


  1. Take care with time and verb tense. For example, do not use “now” with a verb in the

past tense.


  1. Whenever possible, avoid the passive voice: use the active voice of a verb.


The speaker was heard by the entire audience. (passive voice)

The entire audience heard the speaker. (active voice)


  1. Follow the format which you are given for each writing assignment.


  1. Do not begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.


The coordinating conjunctions are: and, but, or, nor, yet, for, so.


  1. In a formal writing assignment, use “child” or “children,” instead of “kid” or “kids.”

Also, you may use synonyms such as “student,” “teen-ager,” “adolescent,” “toddlers.”


  1. Avoid the adjective “pretty” when you mean “fairly” or “very.”


Our group thought that the novel was pretty interesting. (Informal)

Our group thought that the novel was somewhat interesting. (Better)

Our group thought that the novel was very interesting. (Better)


  1. Avoid informal words such as “stuff” and “thing” in a formal writing assignment.


  1. Be certain that pronouns agree in number.


At the onset of the class period, everyone submitted their essays. (NOT correct)

At the onset of the class period, everyone submitted his/her essay. (Correct)

At the onset of the class period, everyone submitted an essay. (Correct)

At the onset of the class period, all students submitted their essays. (Correct)


  1. Be very careful with the use of absolutes such as all, everyone, everybody, never,

       always. Instead, you may wish to consider words such as most, many, several, the

       majority, numerous, often, too often, frequently, rarely, too infrequently.


  1. Especially in the introduction of an essay, avoid announcements.

In this paper, I will discuss the three stages in the life of a working guide dog.   (This sentence which is an announcement needs revision.)


In the life of a guide dog, the three prominent stages are working with a

puppy-raiser, professional trainer, and blind handler. (Better)


  1. Read your work aloud in order to edit, revise, and proofread your paper more




NOTE: Any individual is welcome to use this document for his or her own purposes of improving writing skills. If you are a teacher wanting to use this document for a class, please request permission to do so. Thank you.



Happy writing! Enjoy the fall semester!

Alice and Zoe


September 9, 2015, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Alice. A life full of memorable stepping stones has brought you to another inspirational day. Hats off to another marvelous description of an incredible tale. dp

  2. Mother’s manual typewriter from 1933 sits next to one of our computers and provides quite a contrast in communication. We are fortunate that our elementary school teachers along with CHS English teachers, including Mrs. Baldwin, Miss Christopher, and others, provided us with a solid foundation in grammar and writing skills. I appreciate your expertise in creating the “Checklist for a Better Writing Assignment,” which has also been very useful to me through the years.
    Thanks for more high school memories, Alice!
    Love, Mary

  3. Carole permalink

    Kudos, Alice, for your past and present accomplishments! I enjoy reading the grammar checklist, which provides gentle reminders for all.

    • Carole–Thanks for all of your comments and “likes” that you sent today. Take care–Alice and Zoe

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