How Do I Make My Writing Sophisticated?

But, how do I make my writing sophisticated? 

I hear these kinds of questions, especially from high school or university students.  They feel that their writing should now “sound” more intelligent, so they add all kinds of words, clauses, and phrases that tend to do quite the opposite!

Here are better ways to improve the quality of your writing:

Make your writing clear. light-bulb-clear-bayonet-fitting-725x544

Make your writing concise.

Make your writing understandable

Provide support, detail, explanations, anecdotes, and so forth to help the reader understand your argument, point of view, or opinion. Spend time to fully understand your own thoughts and connections to the material so that you can write about the ideas intelligently.

These are far more important than complicating the issue.

When students, or any writers for that matter, force their writing – the quality becomes worse.  Making something “sound” more complicated than it really is does not help the reader (or the teacher ) in any way.

Your ideas can be original and attractive, but they don’t need to be mired in arcane language or complicated sentence structures that lead the reader nowhere.

I have read students’ essays that aim to impress, but the writing is so convoluted that the meaning is lost.  When I ask them to explain, they often say, “I’m really not sure what I meant, but doesn’t it sound good?” Their hope is that the teacher or professor will find something in that mess to admire.  This is a very poor method!Ernest Hemmingway

Some of the best writers, in fact, make a concerted effort to ensure that their writing is as uncomplicated as possible. That does not mean “dumbing-down” (as one of my students said to me recently).  It means that you are doing your job to help the reader comprehend your intentions.

It is the ideas and thoughts that are important.  You want the reader to be impressed, or at least persuaded, by your argument, opinion, or description.

If the reader does not understand your work, he or she will not be impressed.  (Although I have heard people say, “He must be a great writer, I couldn’t understand a word of it!”)

Work on sentence structure and grammar.  Make sure you follow the basic rules and conventions of writing.  Don’t think of the rules as restrictive. Recognize that they actually free the rest of your mind to be creative in thought, networking ideas, and expounding upon your take on a particular topic.

Want a place to start?  Try these discount coupons, and I will help you.

Paragraph Writing

Essay Writing

Punctuation Made So Easy

Brush up on the basics and apply them well, and you will see higher grades.  Better yet, the quality of your writing will continue to improve.

Of course, as you become more proficient, you might notice that your sentences are longer and more “sophisticated,” but they retain the clarity of purpose as well.

Most of all – keep writing!

As with any skill, you get better with practice, especially if you pay attention to the weak spots.  Try to take on constructive advice and make the necessary adjustments to keep reading-86070_1920improving.

For more information, lessons, and programs check out the website.


This week’s video:  “How Do I Make My Writing Sophisticated?”

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Don’t Let Sentence Fragments Weaken You!

Don’t let sentence fragments weaken you!

Well – don’t let them weaken your writing which is an extension of you at least.

Last week I wrote about run-on sentences. A sentence fragment is basically the opposite of a run-on sentence.  You will want to avoid both of them in your formal writing.

(Friendly letters, texts, and even fiction writing follow different conventions, but there are still times you might want to be careful in these writings as well.)

A sentence fragment is a piece of a sentence rather than a full sentence.  bull-1791672_640

For example, you might have the subject for a sentence:

“The raging bull with fierce, glowing eyes.”

This is not a sentence because there is no predicate.  We don’t know what happens!

You might have the opposite problem with only a predicate and no subject:

“Charged down the chute and nearly trampled the farmers at the bottom.”

This is not a sentence because there is a predicate but no subject.

       Not sure about terms like subject and predicate?  Click here for a discount on  my Basic English Writing course.  Only $10 US!

I am sure you have already realized that these two fragments or “pieces” of sentences could be combined to create a full sentence:

“The raging bull with fierce, glowing eyes charged down the chute and nearly trampled the farmers at the bottom.”  2013_0420Collection0584

Here is a different example:

“Her mother who lives in Toronto.”

Again we have a subject but no predicate, although it looks like there might be one.  The clause “who lives in Toronto” adds information, but does not answer what happens.  Use an appositive to finish the sentence: “Her mother, who lives in Toronto, goes to the theatre every week without fail.”  Alternatively, you could remove the word “who” and have a full sentence: “Her mother lives in Toronto.”

You must be aware of appositives and subordinating words that can turn a full sentence into a fragment.

“Although the raging rock stars had plenty of time. ”

Without the word “although” this would be a complete sentence: “The raging rock stars had plenty of time.”

Another example:  cheyenne-wyoming-high-school_800

“Whenever all the children from Wyoming High School sang.”

This looks like a sentence, but it is a sentence fragment.  What happened whenever the children sang?  We don’t know.  We need a predicate to tell us.

Beyond following grammar rules and proofreading your sentences for subjects and predicates, you can use the following method to help you “weed out” fragments.

While proofreading your written work, (yes, you must!) ask yourself if the sentence makes sense by itself.  In other words, if you were to say the sentence aloud to someone, would he or she understand what you mean?  Would he or she feel that the thought is complete?

“Despite the torrential rain.”

If someone said this to me, I would wait for a moment (maybe he or she is thinking) and then ask, “What about the rain?”

“Jumped over the fence, ran down the muddy slope, and fell face-first into the ditch.”

Who did?  What did?  (Oh, by the way, the sentence fragment above is not a run-on sentence; however, many students might think that it is.  Look back to the run-on sentences blog and video to see why.)

More Tips

When proofreading, read slowly – out loud if possible. 2747581103_5f59f889d6_q

Another trick is to read from the bottom up.  Read your last sentence then second last, etc.  This forces you to pay closer attention to the individual sentences because your brain is not automatically “filling in” missing words or correcting errors that are on the page.  We often “read” what we think we wrote, or what we meant to write, rather than what we actually put on the page or on the computer screen.

Have a friend, colleague, mother, father, sister, brother, etc. read your work.  Fresh eyes can often catch errors you missed.

Speaking of “fresh eyes,” walk away from your writing for a few hours or a day and then look back with a refreshed mind.  You might be surprised what you find!

Always watch out for run-on sentences and sentence fragments as part of your proofreading and editing process.

Watch the video for more ideas:  Sentence Fragments

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Run-on Sentences Ahhhh!

Run-on Sentences Ahhhh!  emotions-2167461_640

When you proofread and edit your work…


Yes, you should always proofread and edit your work. Do not be afraid of putting a little extra effort in.  It will pay off in the long run.

Let’s try that again, shall we?

When you proofread and edit your work, watch for run-on sentences, and make the necessary corrections.

A run-on sentence is basically two or more sentences written as if they were one.

” Once upon a time, there was an evil tutor named Ron he always asked us to proofread and edit our work even when we thought our sentences and spelling were perfect he is so mean.”

The sentence above should actually be three sentences instead of one.  Look for subjects and predicates and any connections.  (If you are not sure about subjects and predicates, check out my Basic English Writing course.)

For example, this sentence is a run-on:  “Susan loves to dance she loves the movementbalance-3223319_640 she is so graceful.”  (There are three separate subjects and predicates incorrectly joined.)

Here is a possible correction: “Susan loves to dance because she loves the movement, and she is so graceful.”

You can see that it is still one sentence. The subordinating word “because” and the coordinating conjunction “and” with a comma correct the problems in the first version.

Many students think that a run-on sentence is simply a long sentence.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Some very long sentences are not run-on sentences.  If the phrases and clauses are joined correctly and all well related, then there is no problem with being long.

Also, a short sentence can be a run-on sentence.

For example:  “He fell down he cried.”  This short sentence is a run-on.

Here are four solutions:  “He fell down.  He cried.”cry-2764843_640

“He fell down, and he cried.”

“He fell down and cried.”

“He fell down; he cried.”

(Most teachers don’t like joining independent clauses with a semicolon, so I recommend avoiding this method, although it is technically correct if the clauses are very short and closely related.)

Note that my sentence within parenthesis is fairly long, but it is not a run-on!

A full sentence should be one complete thought.  Of course, you can have many adjectives, adverbs, and even clauses and phrases that add interest to your sentence. They must, however, be incorporated correctly.

When proofreading your work, watch for run-on sentences, and use one of these methods to edit:

  1. Separate the independent clauses (sentences) with end punctuation.
  2. Use a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to join them.
  3. Use a conjunctive adverb such as “however” or “therefore” to join them.
  4. Use a subordinating word such as “although’ or “because” to make one of the clauses dependent.
  5. Rewrite the sentence so that one independent clause (sentence) is turned into a phrase, adjective, or adverb.  (Note example above could become:  “He fell down crying.”)

Need more help?

Contact me to set up some personal programs for you or your child.

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This week’s video:  Run-on Sentences

How Can I Help My Child Succeed? The Long Haul!

Be prepared for the long haul.

Learning is a process, and children (adults, too) don’t all learn at the same rate.

In fact, children don’t even mature at the same rate or grow at the same rate physically, so why would we expect them to learn at the same rate?  Why do we think all ten year old’s are ready for the same math or language learning at exactly the same time? It does not make sense.

Your child might excel in one area and be behind in others.

Your child might be behind in all areas.

Your child might excel in one grade and fall behind in another.

Enough of that.  You get the picture.

The point is that you love your child, and he or she needs your support at any stage and throughout any challenge.  This support needs to be unconditional love but also, at times, a tough love.  You have to be the adult in the relationship because there will be occasions when “I don’t want to” just isn’t an option. Even democracy has limits and rules!

Never give up!

I never give up on my students, so you should definitely never give up.  Oh, believe me – some of my students wish I would give up; but, over the long haul, many of them have thanked me for making them stay on track even when they fought back. 5653340435_e5b7118536_m

No doubt, you will face trying times when you have explained the same concept for the one hundredth time (more than likely what seems like…) and your child looks at you as if he or she has never heard about this concept in his or her life!

Take a deep breath (or ten) and try to think of an alternative way to explain or walk more slowly through each step.

Use the internet to help you.  For example, there are lots of videos that might have a unique way of explaining the material.  Each person has a different learning point and access doors, so alternatives can be helpful.

WARNING – Blatant plug coming here:

Hiring a tutor is a great way to help ameliorate some of these issues.  An independent tutor will often have more tools at his or her disposal. Thinking outside the box is often necessary when you tutor a wide variety of learners and you are not restricted by a bureaucracy.  You can focus on that particular student and his or her own unique learning style.

Your child might have a slow pace that keeps him or her behind others at the same age or grade level.  Don’t panic.  Take a proactive approach, and help your child take a proactive approach as well to make change.  The important point is to keep moving forward.  Despite what you might have heard, this is NOT a horse race!

On several occasions, I have seen a student suddenly blossom.

Anecdote warning!

One young student of mine did not read anything beyond his name (first name only – three letters long) and a very few memorized words until he was nearly eleven years old! The so-called “window” should have been closed; however, I am a firm believer that our brains are receiving information even when we are not always fully engaged or able.  The instruction he received must have been making connections because he suddenly started to read.  He found out that books have a lot to offer; and, before you know it, he was reading more and more – and not basic learners, but stories only a little below his age level.  Yes, he read slowly and needed lots of help at first, but he was reading!  It wasn’t long before his pace improved as well.

Other students I have seen have not made quite the same dramatic improvements, but many have suddenly boosted their performance after a long plateau.  Parents sometimes think it is a miracle.  It is not a miracle; it is staying the course and never giving up.

Cautionary note:

The plateau (or plateaus) should not be left dormant.  Keep the information coming and the practice schedule on track.  Remember that sometimes change comes suddenly in a burst, but in reality all that “drip, drip, drip” of information was working and making connections in the brain at some level all along the way.

Never give up.

What if your child is never going to be an A+ student? school-2

So what.  That is not important.  Lots of students who don’t reach the A’s or even B’s manage to do amazing things in the world and in their lives – but not if they don’t try. You should still encourage your children to do as much as possible – reach for their highest achievement.  Just because they won’t be the top student does not mean that you or they should give up or coast.  They don’t know what they can do until they try.  The don’t know how high they can get unless they reach for it.  They don’t even know for sure that the A is impossible!

Prepare yourself for the long haul with your children, and never give up.  Don’t despair.  Keep helping them work toward their goals and instill in them the desire to keep trying.

You might be pleasantly surprised with the outcome even if it isn’t exactly as you initially imagined!

I know you can do it. And I know your child can as well. If you need help, please get in touch.  Tutoring Central blog


Video: The Long Haul

How Can I Help My Child Succeed? Don’t Be Too Helpful!

Yes, there is such a thing as being too helpful.

Don’t be too helpful!

When you are sitting with your children and helping with homework, try to be more Socratic.philosophy-2603284_640

Ask questions.

Wait for answers.  Sometimes, you might need to wait for a long time – but that’s okay.

Lead them to the right path if possible with questions or suggestions or comments, but let them explore and discover more. Yes, you will need to watch or listen to them going in the wrong direction sometimes, but let that run itself out for a while to see if they capture some of the essence.

Of course, there are times when you need to “walk them” all the way through and maybe even show them the final answer – or an example of a suitable final answer.  Most of the time, however, you will want them to arrive at the answers through their own explorations.

Discovering how to find appropriate answers by making mistakes, falling down, getting up (metaphorically at least), and trying again helps learners remember the procedures -if for no other reason than they don’t want to have to go through all the missteps again.)

If you give them the answer all of the time or show them the steps for every question, then they will never remember for long.

Anecdote warning! stop sign

Here is an example.  Theo’s mom came to me and exclaimed that her son knew how to complete the fractions questions perfectly when doing them at home; however, he always scored terribly on the quizzes at school.  She was convinced that he had some sort of block when it came to tests or quizzes.  Now, this is a possibility, but I have found that the “block” is usually caused by a lack of knowledge.

Once I started working with Theo, it was clear that he had no idea which steps to use in each case.  At home, mom was constantly providing reminders, “Now multiply the numerator by the same number.”  “Add the numerators.”  “Oh, no, no – don’t add the denominators – only the numerators.”  Etc.

The poor boy had never managed to get all the way through one question on his own!

If your child can’t do a few questions from step 1 to step 10 on his or her own, then he or she does not know the material.  This applies to any subject.

If mom or dad or a poorly informed tutor is providing hints or answers when preparing for a science test or history exam, then the learner does not fully know the information yet.

Of course, using hints and leading questions as mentioned before can be helpful during the learning process. Just make sure that your child can complete questions independently at the end of this process. gold_question_mark

This is also a teacher’s job and a tutor’s job.  It is NOT to give answers.  It is to teach learners how to get answers!

Everyone wants to be helpful, but the truth is you are not being helpful if you don’t let your children struggle to make their own discoveries.  They need to do the work to get the best reward.

As a parent (or teacher or tutor) is it difficult to watch your children squirm and struggle?


Parenting is a difficult task; however, by being tough and helping only when needed, you will be giving your children the very best assistance.

So, pull back once in a while.  Remember the Learning Space?  Perhaps leave that space to your child sometimes. See if Johnny or Ingrid can complete the task on his or her own.  Let them fail occasionally, and use that failure as a lesson moving forward.  What went wrong?  How can the approach be improved?  What was missing from the final answer?

We learn so much from our mistakes as long as we keep working to change the path.

I know you can do it.  I have faith in you and your children.

For more help, check out the website or sign up for some lessons. Resize of photo_50494_20110720


Video:  Don’t Be Too Helpful!

How Can I Help My Child Succeed? Note-taking.

Despite what you might have heard, taking notes is still in fashion!

Help your children take notes from the beginning, and they will benefit throughout their academic career.

Even with today’s technology, note-taking continues to be one of the best methods for learning and retaining information.

There are several reasons for this.


Taking notes keeps you engaged with the material longer.  If you really want to learn something and really want to remember something – what do you do?  You rehearse it.  clockYou say that phone number over and over to yourself until you’ve got it; or you connect the numbers to some image to help you recall.  In any case, you spend more time with the information.  Note-taking does the same.


Taking notes requires you to abbreviate the information and, if done correctly, consolidate the ideas in your own words.  This gives you practice answering potential questions before they are even asked.  If you have only read the material and done nothing with it, you will likely have a more difficult time writing a paragraph answer or essay answer to a major question.  Even short answer questions might pose a problem.  Many times students have told me something along this line, “I know the answer, but I just don’t know how to say it.”  (Or write it)  Note-taking eliminates this problem!  You will know how to say it or write it because you have already taken the time to practise this. (Bye the way, if you don’t know how to say it or write it – then you don’t know it.  Sorry.)


There seems to be fairly clear evidence that the kinesthetic action of writing or printing notes on a piece of paper wires the brain differently.  It helps you remember!  Taking a writingpen or pencil and writing notes forces you to slow down, think about what you are writing, and network your knowledge as you try to be concise.  If you look at this carefully, you will recognize something amazing – these points are exactly the same points called learning – taking a broad view, gathering lots of information, looking for connections within and between bits of information, summarizing the findings and drawing conclusions, and writing them down for future reference.

It is the writing that most students don’t like.  It seems like so much work.   Remember what I mentioned in the last blog. (The Agenda)  Doing the “leg-work” really helps in the long run.  You will end up saving time; but, more importantly, you will have gained much more from the learning experience.  Oh, and raise your grades if that seems important.  (Hint – it is, although not the most important in my opinion.  Focus on the leg-work and your grades will rise anyway.  However, the most important factor is that you will learn more!)

Taking notes the old-fashioned way with a pen or pencil and a notebook or binder full of paper is the best method in my opinion.  Ask your child to give it a try.  Help him or her see that it really isn’t all that difficult.   Using a good reading system helps.  Have a look here:  Reading for Speed & Comprehension.

Having said this, there are lots of programs for taking notes, and they can be useful particularly for some students who have very weak printing / writing skills.  (I would encourage you to help your child develop those skills separately, however.  Don’t give up – especially if they are under 12 years old! Even old dogs can learn new tricks.  New brain research has proven this.)evernote

OneNote and Evernote come to mind.

If you use one of these programs, you still need to “do something” with your notes.  At the very least, type them out yourself.  I would still recommend handwriting / printing some answers during your self-testing sessions to help you prepare for quizzes, tests, and exams.  You can wholesale copy and paste information into these programs, but did you learn anything from that?  Be brutal with yourself and make sure that you read the material, rehearse the material in some way, and that you are able to manipulate the information to answer questions in your own words.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  I have seen students who spend a lot of time gathering information for an assignment, storing all these amazing documents on their Google Drive, but they have no idea what is actually there.  They have only read the titles or seen the pictures – copy/paste; copy/paste; copy/paste!  Fun – maybe, but a waste of precious time.  Read the material, make executive decisions, and then choose only the most relevant for your assignment or unit.  Once pasted, you will still need to work with the material.  That is the goal.  So my point is that technology can be a very helpful tool, but it does not replace your brain or the necessity to play around with the mad scientistinformation and familiarize yourself with it inside and out.  If it helps, think of yourself as the mad scientist who is manipulating things to make new discoveries.

Take notes in class from teacher lectures.

Take notes from your textbook. (Yes, this includes math.)

Take notes from blogs.

Take notes from videos, podcasts, and movies.

Take notes from short stories, novels, and plays.

Don’t worry.  You will get better with practice.  Find techniques that work for you.  There are many methods for taking notes.  I used some of the recommended styles but adjusted them considerably for my own purposes.  My notes might not make any sense to anyone else – but they don’t need to.  They made perfect sense to me, and I can look back to notes I took thirty years ago, and they still make sense.   That point is important.  If you choose to use abbreviations or symbols, make sure you will remember them!  If you can’t read your notes in a couple of months before the exam, that’s a problem.   Once you learn a few symbols, you can write more quickly in a kind of shorthand and get all the relevant information you need.  But remember, you don’t want to note everything anyway.  You want to synthesize the information.

Learn to have fun taking notes.  Remember it is YOUR education.  Wow – what a gift it will be.

For more tips or personalized programs, check out the website. 

Better yet, get in touch.


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Video:  How Can I Help My Child Succeed? Note-taking.

How Can I Help My Child Succeed? The Agenda!

How can I help my child succeed? 

I hear that a lot. For this reason, I decided to do a short series of blogs and videos on this specific topic. Last week, I wrote about The Learning Space.  This week, I am writing about The Agenda.

The Agenda – Student Planner – Calendar – Diary …

Whatever you prefer to call it, this little book can be an enormous help.

Students often debate with me about the value of using an agenda.  Often they think it is a waste of time.  In fact, you will find that students of all ages tend to think that most “leg-work” is a waste of time. funny-2029437_640

Yet, doing some of the preliminary work actually saves time in the long-run.  Of course, the additional benefit is that you retain more information as well, get the assignments done on time, and have the luxury of adding value to your work!

Far too many times a student has forgotten that her or his major assignment was due in two days, or worse, the next day.

“Why didn’t you write it in your agenda?” I ask.

“Because I figured the teacher would keep reminding me,” or “I never do that,” or “I have a good memory….usually.”  You can imagine the multiple other answers that I’ve heard over twenty plus years.  I am sure you have heard some yourself; or, dare I say, used some yourself.  Shhh.

Please, use an agenda!

Electronic versions are fine, but you have to make sure that you have access to them when you need them – at any location.  Does the school allow you to access your cell phone during class?  Will you have your computer with you on the bus?  Whichever device you use, make sure that you can get to it at all necessary locations. The electronic versions have lots of bells and whistles; however, make sure you don’t waste time highlighting, setting alarms, formatting, and so on when none of this will actually help you in any way.

I love book-form agendas.  They are inexpensive, and you can carry them anywhere.  Making changes in a book is so easy.  Yes, I have tried the electronic versions, and setting up the calendar takes longer than in my book, and making changes is a real pain.  I quickly went back to the book.  Oh, and my book never crashes!

When using an agenda, be sure to help your child fill in the missing bits.  For example, if a task is coming due on October 15th, what day(s) will the research be done?  What day will he or she write the rough draft?  When will the editing and final draft be completed?  Just putting in the due date is not sufficient.

The agenda should be used to track non-academic activities, too.  Family plans, sports, birthdays, tutoring sessions, etc.  In this way, your child won’t be surprised by events that could interfere with his or her academic performance.

It is a good idea to write in nightly homework time even if the student is generally good at sticking to the stated time.  Block that time off, and place a check mark beside every block that is successfully done.  In this way, students are giving themselves a “pat on the back” for a job well done and motivating themselves to maintain an excellent track record.  Speaking of which, this helps them to monitor how consistent they are in studying. Remember that being pro-active and taking on responsibility for YOUR education is essential to reach your highest achievement level. school-2

The agenda or student planner – aptly named – is the ultimate plan.  Having a plan motivates you to execute.  Without a plan, often study times, due dates, test papers, and so on fall by the wayside – especially as the term, semester, or year progresses.

Having a plan helps students stay calm.  While they might not love, or even like, every assignment, at least they will not panic at the last minute. Over the years, I have seen many students who thought they were just naturally nervous find strength in having a plan and sticking to it.

Knowing is better than not knowing.

If you have a good agenda or planner, use it effectively and always.

If you don’t have a planner, go get one today!  Okay, maybe tomorrow – but no later.

Here are a few options: agenda 2

Student Planner: Weekly Academic Organizer

Student Planner: Stop Talking and Start Doing 

Student Planner 2017-2018 (Academic Year)

Let me know how you make out.  If you have any questions, please – ask away.

Also, don’t forget how useful an academic coach can be!

Web site:

This week’s videoThe Dreaded Agenda!