Tutor profile: Benjamin J.
1. What is a split infinitive? 2. What is an example of a dangling participle? 3. Should I use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma)? 4. What are some ways to improve my writing? 5. When should I use a semicolon? And what about colons?
Answer #1. Some professors are sticklers when it comes to splitting infinitives. Others do not have a preference. It is important to know where a teacher or professor stands on this because it will impact how the student's written work is received. Colloquially, we split infinitives all the time. But in formal writing and depending on the professor, an essay might have points deducted for doing so. Example: "She want to someday purchase a car." Fixed Example: "Someday, she wants to purchase a car." Answer #2. Dangling participles and modifiers are easy to miss when editing a paper. Example: "Sitting and spoiling on the counter for weeks, the bar still served the berries." As written, the sentence reads "the bar" is the what is "sitting and spoiling." Fixed Example: "Sitting and spoiling on the counter for weeks, the berries were still served at the bar." Note: This is still a bad sentence. It is meant only to demonstrate where to place the modifier. Avoid passive voice unless there is a good reason (e.g., to place emphasis on certain objects in the sentence). Answer #3. Far from resolving this perennial debate, my answer to students is to include the serial comma unless their professor says otherwise. As an attorney, I see this question come up all the time. In a 2017 survey--ranging from state court judges to the U.S. Supreme Court justices--Ross Guberman found that 56% prefer the Oxford comma, 21% prefer no Oxford comma, and 23% do not care. So I use the serial comma because it avoids ambiguity and is what judges prefer. Answer #4. Good writing is clear, concise, and engaging. To improve, students can immediately implement some of the following lessons. Good writing has a logical structure, so overall organization is important. Provide the reader with signposts (e.g., Part II, Section A, etc.) throughout the document. For clarity and concision, change “demonstrates” to “shows.” Instead of “subsequently,” write “later” or “then.” You would rarely say "prior to" in a conversation, so when you write, just use "before." And to make writing more engaging, omit needless words and use active verbs. These two changes enhance speed and impact. Answer #4. Use semicolons to: 1) unite two short, closely connected sentences (i.e., independent clauses) 2) separate items in a list of series when (a) any single element contains an internal comma, (b) the enumeration follows a colon, or (c) the items are broken into subparts. Use colons to: 1) link two separate clauses or phrases whne you need to indicate a step forward from the first to the second 2) introduce a list—especially one that is enumerated or broken down into subparagraphs 3) for emphasis when appropriate Consistent with Answer #4, if using a semicolon complicates the sentence, rendering the idea being conveyed less intelligible, then replace the semicolon with a period and start a new sentence. Use semicolons when they link ideas smoothly and clearly. Avoid using semicolons when their use cuts against clarity.
Subject: Study Skills
Scenario: The college-level course has a midterm worth 30%; participation and attendance, 20%; and a final exam that makes up 50%. The student scored a B+ on the midterm, regularly volunteers in class, and has not missed a single day. She wants at least an A- and has a month to study for this course's final exam. What is the best approach?
I would advise this student to make an Attack Plan. Here is an example of what this looks like: 1. Create a calendar with actionable items. -The student has other classes, so blocking off time to study for those subjects is necessary before deciding how much time is required for this particular final exam. 2. Determine the final exam's subject matter. -Is the exam to cover everything post-midterm? Is it cumulative? The answers dictate how the study calendar will look and impacts overall preparation. 3. [Assume the final exam is cumulative.] Dedicate Week 1 to the topics that she has already mastered. Mastering these means knowing them cold. Office hours are essential during the first week. Getting the professor's input is an absolute must. 4. Week 2. Begin to engage with the harder materials. I would help her review the midterm thoroughly to see where she went astray and where she did well. This, coupled with her professor's instructions in office hours, sets a strong base for improvement. Practice exams (if applicable) should be taken during Week 2. 5. Week 3. By Week 3, we will see marked improvement. Improvement will result in more confidence. The difficult areas are less problematic. We have mastered what we already knew, and we have put in a full week to better grasp the challenging areas. At this stage, we reassess the overall plan. What do we need to do in the final week to ensure she reaches her full potential on the final exam? 6. Final Week. We have reassessed and have a solid strategy for the last week. Sticking to this plan, she is beginning to master the course's most difficult materials. She now understands what she did not previously grasp; and, more importantly, she knows why she did not understand it. And outside of the classroom, I would tell her to get plenty of rest. Sleep is vitally important for optimal performance. 7. Exam Day. Before the exam, it is important that she exercises--even a brief walk on the treadmill would suffice--and eats proper foods (e.g., a nutritious breakfast and protein shake). My final advice: "Remain calm, be confident, and know that you have prepared the right way and will succeed."
Where does "the law" come from; and, more specifically, what are some of the sources for U.S. law?
Many answers exist. A good answer would offer some of the concrete origins. Examples include the U.S. Constitution and executive orders from the president and state governors. The legislative branch, for instance, is a definitive source of law. Even a cursory look into how Congress promulgates U.S. law is required to answer this question. In my experience, answers that hit all of these would suffice in a typical Philosophy, Civics, and Political Science course at most colleges and universities. But my role as a tutor is to help students turn a good answer into a better answer. So, relaying the above information is only the first part to answering this question. Students should engage with the more ambiguous concepts. What exactly is "the law"? Attempting to define "the law" would be prudent step in a great answer. If you do not know how to think about the term, how will you be able to discuss its origins? A working definition could be "a system of rules that individuals agree to follow." Simple but necessary for a full analysis. (Note" because "the law" is so nebulous, the follow-up question about "U.S. law" makes the overall inquiry less opaque.) Regardless of how responders come out on their definitions of "the law," a great answer might evoke a specific philosophy--e.g., John Locke's social contract or Thomas Aquinas's natural law theory. In addition to listing the various sources of the law, I would advise students to address the role that the separation of powers plays in our legal system.
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