Style Matters

Calvin on Writing

Turning in Your Papers

The best advice we can give you here is simply this: Follow directions, exactly. This means you should follow all directions given in class, in your prompt (if you have one), and in your syllabus. If your professor asks that the paper be stapled in the upper left corner, then staple it. If your professor asks you to use one-inch margins and 12-point font -- do it! If you have a very creative idea -- ask your professor if she or he likes your idea.

If your professor asks for your creativity, don't panic. Think about the assignment, your response, your ideas. Try a draft. Author Natalie Goldberg recommends that you write with one hand tied behind your back -- the editing hand. Give yourself permission to write awfully; this is your first draft. No one needs to see it, ever. Play with ideas, concepts, arguments. Go out on a limb. Once you've got your first draft finished, take a break. Walk away from the paper, literally. Go to class, take a walk, go surfing, do some other homework. When you've had a sufficient break, go back and read your draft. Now you can untie your editor! Walter Fisher says that most students write "mysteries" when they write papers because they're not really sure of their argument until they write the conclusion. That's fine for a first draft, but not for a final draft. Now that you know what you want to say, roughly, re-write your paper. Make your conclusion your thesis, and prove it.

Style Manuals

For most of your classes, you will be required to follow a style manual. For most social science papers you will rely on the APA Style Manual (APA stands for the American Psychological Association). For most of your rhetoric classes you will rely on the MLA (Modern Language Association) Manual of Style. All of the style manuals are available in the Voskuyl Library at the reference desk. You might also purchase one. There are also web sites dedicated to helping you use the styles properly (see the link at left for helpful web links). Style manuals show and tell you how to cite your research within the paper and in the final reference list. Don't stop there, however. Also check out the proper way to format your paper, including running heads and cover sheets. If you are ever in doubt, check with your professor. Don't just take a stab at it.

Writers' Corner

The English Department runs a "Writers' Corner" to help students become better writers. You will meet with one of your peers, a peer that others think write well. They are not paid proofreaders. They will give you feedback on structure, style, and argument. If you need proofreaders, hire your friends and roommates!

Communication Studies Writing Rubric

Your professors in Communication Studies devised a rubric to help us think about what we're looking for in student writing. This rubric is intended to cover a variety of different kinds of writing assignments. We supply it for your reference here so you know what we're thinking when we read your papers and essays.

    Outstanding Strong Average Flawed


Fresh, purposeful Inviting Predictable Cliched
  Claims Clear, insightful (worth defending) Promising Straightforward Confusing or Unstated
  Reasons Engagingly tied to claim Tied to claim Relevant but not well connected Indiscernible
  Support Relevant, telling, detailed (primary sources & examples) Knowledgeable, Specific Support Limited, undeveloped (support is general) Inadequate
  Research Rigorous Competent Adequate Inappropriate/Misapplied
Organization Introduction Compelling Creative Clear Off-Task/Omitted
  Clarity/Flow Smooth sequencing Consistent Discernible Disconnected
  Transitions Clear, thoughtful, seamless Usually helpful Sometimes distracts Awkward or missing
  Conclusion Leaves reader challenged Resolves questions raised Repeats points None
Style Voice/Tone Strong "author" Earnest Some appeal Bland
  Word Choice Striking/varied Clear, but routine Safe/repetitious Dull/vague
  Sentences Well constructed, variable length & structure Coherent Some inviting, some stiff (trying to impress) Choppy/rambling
  Creativity Inventive Lively Lacks flair Absent
Conventions Mechanics Few grammatical, spelling, or punctuation edits Some edits Moderate edits Many edits
  Citation Consistent with Manual Usually consistent with Manual Present, but some incorrect or inconsistent Incorrect or absent use of Manual
  Editing Requires little Requires some Requires moderate Substantial editing required
  Appearance Professional, follows all directions, aesthetically appealing Professional, follows directions Follows directions for the most part Directions ignored; unprofessional


In a nutshell, plagiarism involves taking someone else's intellectual work and presenting it as your own. Sometimes students do this unintentionally. To avoid this problem, take careful notes while doing your research, whether in books, online, or from journals. Don't use your computer to cut and paste, assuming you'll go back and fix it later. You might forget which ideas were yours, and which sentences came from others. Take careful, detailed notes when doing research, and cite your research as you write so you don't forget what your original contributions and ideas are as separate from others' ideas.

Don't forget that even if you are not quoting another person word-for-word, you must still cite the author or speaker you are paraphrasing. If you reference a theory, a term, or an insight from another author, be sure to cite that author, even if you are not quoting him or her directly.

It is inappropriate and unethical to try to pass someone else's work off as your own. Just don't do it. Westmont's plagiarism policy is not a laughing matter. No matter how stressed you are, don't take this route. Your professor may fail you on the assignment (which may result in a failing grade in the class) and is duty-bound to report your plagiarism to the dean.

Oral Presentations

Don't Forget What You Learned in Public Speaking!

Deyl KearinIf you've already had public speaking, remember the basics you memorized for exams and actually implemented for your speeches. We require you to take public speaking for several reasons -- one reason is that we want you to actually use your skills in other classes!

Even if you don't care about your own grade, consider your peers who must listen to you. If that doesn't move you, consider your professors who recognize poor public speaking when they hear it.

Take time to organize and compose your thoughts. Practice more than once. This is especially true if you are giving a speech as part of a group or team.

If you have not taken public speaking at Westmont, consider looking over the syllabus for Com 15, and perhaps even sitting in on a class. You probably covered at least some of the basics in your high school English class.

Is This Your Best Effort? Are You Sure?

Ask yourself (or your group): Would I give this presentation to a room full of professionals? Would an employer be impressed?

Have you actually practiced, or are you hoping that your vague thoughts will come together at the last minute in a moment of inspiration? Have you thought through a great opening that will grab your audience's attention without making them groan ("how cheesy!")? Do you have a powerful, thought-provoking, and challenging conclusion?

Using Electronic Media in Your Presentation

Professor Spencer tells students that if they are willing to live by technology they must also be willing to die by technology. This is true whether writing papers or giving presentations. Back up your files, save often, have a back-up plan for printing.

In terms of using electronic technology in the classroom, first make sure that your professor is enthusiastic about your plans. Sometimes we don't want you to use Power Point. Believe it or not, a lot of people in this world today use Power Point as a crutch. Catchy graphics often stand in place of well reasoned argument and compelling evidence. We might insist that you walk before you run, that you prove you can speak before we let you fly.

If your professor is in favor of your use of technology, make sure yours will work in the classroom. Have a back-up plan in case things go awry. If you use a Mac, be sure you have the video display adapter that works in the classroom. If you don't know what this means, you need to contact I.T. or the instructional equipment manager. If you can do it, try to do a test-run in the classroom ahead of time. At the very least, show up early. Practice your speech WITH your technology at least twice before you find yourself in front of your audience.

Finally -- when you are projecting images or slides -- remember to talk to your audience, not your screen.

Krista Ty 2015

Classroom Style

Make sure you know what is and is not allowed, permitted, and preferred in the classroom by your professor. Some don't mind if you interrupt to ask questions. Some are annoyed. Some don't mind if you step out to take an important call. Others will be deeply offended. Likewise, your fellow students are sure to have preferences. Some students enjoy diversions in the classroom, while others want to focus on the subject matter. The bottom line is that you are not alone in the classroom. You are not in front of your computer at home. You are entering a learning COMMUNITY and all communities require a give-and-take among members. You must learn to adapt to your professor, just as your professor will try to teach so that you will learn something. You must learn to adapt to your neighbors, just as you hope they will adapt to you. As a starting point, here are some things to keep in mind that seem to be nearly universal:

  • Do read what is assigned ahead of the class, and come prepared with notes, questions, favorite passages, or compelling ideas
  • Do contribute in class -- you don't have to "talk" every class -- but do show that you are actively involved in your learning
  • Do ask questions when you don't understand something, even if you have to wait for office hours or send your question via email
  • Do treat your fellow students as you would like to be treated -- listen attentively and with respect to their comments and questions
  • Avoid using phones, tablets, computers, etc. in class!
  • Don't chat or otherwise distract other students
  • Don't monopolize the conversation, no matter how smart you are
  • Don't record lectures or class discussions unless you have the express consent of all who will be recorded
  • Don't repeat what you learn about other students in class -- if they confide or contribute something to a room full of people they trust, it is not your place to blab about it later in the DC
  • Don't whine about workloads and assignments and grading, especially in class; if you have a complaint or problem or concern -- take it to the professor during office hours -- and speak for yourself, not "everyone"

Yes, most of this reads like good, common sense. If we all keep our wits about us, and exercise care for our fellow human beings, we should be fine!


Email, online chats, IM, Facebook -- these are all quite convenient ways of communicating and getting our needs met. They are also potentially invasive and hurtful. Exercise some caution. Just because you *can* post that incriminating photo doesn't mean you should. Just because you *can* forward the very private email you received from your fellow student or professor doesn't mean you should.

If you plan to post a video or a photo online -- ask first if the persons featured want this posted. If you want to forward a private email, ask first. If you want to record conversations, lectures, discussions, or other classroom activities, make sure you have both permission and blessings from all involved.

Ben Watson Makes a PresentationCommunication Studies Banner