Category Archives: Posts by Nancy

Three “how to” tips for a Thursday

Gillian, Nancy, and Madeline share one tip each. We hope you find them useful.

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How to get started with a writing genre or assignment that’s new to you


If you’ve been asked to write an “annotated bibliography,” “summary,” or “critical analysis,” and these types of assignments are unfamiliar, there are TONS of resources and samples online to guide you. Search “how do I write a…” and choose sites that end in “.edu” (American universities) or that belong to Canadian or UK universities. YouTube can also be a great “how to” resource. Another option is to ask an AI tool, like ChatGPT to show you what that type of assignment looks like. It can’t access a lot of the information and sources that you can, and doesn’t have any critical thinking skills, but it can serve as a good starting point and show you what kind of language is standard for the genre and type of assignment.

How to write the final sentence of your paper


I struggle with writing the final sentence in the conclusion of a paper. Over time, I’ve learned a few strategies from observing other writers. Strategy #1: Make a prediction: Explain what might be gained or what might happen if your argument is heard or your solution is enacted. Strategy #2: Complete the circle. Return to the first sentence of your introduction and highlight the connection or show the impact of your discussion. If you began with a question, what is the answer? If you started with a gap in knowledge, what information has emerged? Strategy #3: Briefly comment on a broad implication or next step. Who could join the conversation? What small direction might the research take? Who knows? Maybe following these strategies will work for you, too.

How to ensure your language is inclusive, empowering, and respectful


Language is constantly evolving. We are aware of how language can oppress and marginalize, and we are committed to writing in a way that is respective and inclusive. Pronoun identification, people-first language around disability, inclusive vocabulary to describe people experiencing homelessness (instead of “the homeless”): These are just a few language shifts we’ve seen in recent years. If you are writing a paper, thesis, article, or dissertation and want to check that you are writing in a conscious style, you may want to consult this guide:

Use the search engine on the site to find a range of articles about your topic. During a short dive into the website, I found fascinating articles on health literacy and plain language, why we should avoid the term “substance abuse,” and 15 ways to bring more positive language into the classroom. Check it out!

Brand for Conscious Style Guide website

“Ouch! That hurts!” Tough writing feedback leads to audience-centred writing

By Nancy Ami

I’d written the following sentence:

Manager-trainees need to demonstrate fundamentals of active listening

I received the following suggestion:

Manager-trainees need to demonstrate fundamentals of active listening.

I bristled.  My sentence captured my key point: given the range of active listening competencies, managers-in-training need only display fundamental active listening skills. Then I thought, “Who cares? Why am I reacting so intensely to this suggestion?”

Writers can’t help it. They are frequently elated or levelled by suggestions on their writing. In his article, ”‘I feel disappointed”: EFL university students’ emotional responses towards teacher written feedback,” Omer Mahfoodh examines university EFL students’ emotional reactions to writing feedback. He notes the range in emotions students experience when receiving feedback on their writing and suggests having such emotional responses can affect students’ understanding and utilization of teacher written feedback.

Much has been written about giving meaningful, inspiring feedback on student writing. In her book, Feedback that Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing, Patty McGee states that the biggest learning is “feedback is first about listening.” She stresses the importance of hearing writers’ intents and outlines the importance of “fundamentals” that include the phrasing and timing of written feedback. Writing coaches applying such feedback basics can inspire rather than deflate writers.

Truthfully, though, most engaged in providing writing feedback cannot pause to consider the recipients’ feelings. Typically, given the scope of the writing issues and time constraints, those burdened with assessing writing have to get the job done. Teary-eyed writers have to suck it up.

Getting feedback can hurt.

So how do writers deal with prickly feedback that misunderstands or ignores their intent? In his blogpost, ‘‘3 things every writer needs to know about editing’ Jeff Elkins recommends writers distance themselves from feedback.  Editors critique writing, not writers. Most importantly, he suggests that analyzing writing feedback can give writers the most precious of gifts: insights about readers.

When we write, we imagine our audience.

We include details we think they need. We select words we think will impress. We structure arguments to convince. When a reader offers feedback that is authentic and meaningful for him, we have an opportunity to see what he sees. To practice getting inside his head. To see what’s important to him. Through analyzing readers’ comments, we have a whole new understanding of our audience, and this can inform and extend our writing. And, even better, we can use the feedback as real or imaginary conversation starters, which can teach us even more:

“I noticed that you eliminated the phrase, ‘fundamentals of’ from my sentence, Manager-trainees need to demonstrate fundamentals of active listening. I’m guessing you thought the phrase made the sentence ‘wordy,’ am I right?”

“Well, partially, but I also felt that the phrase was off-base. After all, active listening is just active listening. It’s not really that complicated, is it? Are there really ‘fundaments’ of active listening?”

“Interesting. Actually, active listening is quite complex. It involves several steps: listening intently, paraphrasing what you hear, asking for clarification, confirming intent, blah… blah… bah…”

“No kidding! I had no idea!”

“Would it have helped if I had defined active listening in the first place?”

“Ah, yeah! Duh!”

Irritating writing feedback can stimulate reader-writer dialogue, leading to happier writers and audience-informed writing!


Elkins, J. 3 things every writer needs to know about editors. Retrieved from

Mahfoodh, O. (2017). “I feel disappointed”: EFL university students’ emotional responses towards teacher written feedback. Assessing Writing, 31. 53-72, retrieved from

McGee, P.

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Nancy Ami is the Manager of the Centre for Academic Communication. She used to work at the University of Lethbridge, where she taught academic writing to international students applying to undergrad programs. She also taught composition classes to undergrads applying for the faculties of management and education. Recently, at a private English language school in Victoria, Nancy helped international students with IELTS preparation, University of Cambridge FCE and CAE preparation, and academic writing.


“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter”: Revising and editing with intention

By Madeline Walker and Nancy Ami

The quotation in our title from popular writer James Michener stresses the importance of revising and editing your own writing. Indeed, knowing how to revise and edit is just as important as being able to generate a first draft.  Here we describe two ways you can revise and edit your work with intention.

Using readability statistics to plan revisions, by Madeline

A simple, free tool can help you analyze your own writing with an eye to revision.  Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software available, yet few people know about the Readability Statistics feature. This feature analyzes your writing and provides counts, averages, the percentage of sentences in passive voice, and two readability measures. You can use this information to plan improvements to your writing. For example, the average academic sentence contains 23 words (in Business it’s 15-20), but what if you see from the statistics that your average sentence is 35 words?  Now is the time to read Nancy’s contribution below and edit for concision. What if you see that 50% of your sentences are in the passive voice, but your discipline prefers active voice? You can revise accordingly. The two readability measures show the grade level of writing (Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test) and the level of difficulty (Flesch Reading Ease Test) with 100% the easiest to read and 0-29 confusing prose.  You can use this measure to revise with an eye to clarity and accessibility.

  • To get started right away in Word for PC, go to file/ options/ proofing. Under “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word,” select the “Check grammar with spelling check box” and select “Show readability statistics.”  After writing your document, go to review/ spelling and grammar, and when the check is complete, a text box will appear on your screen on top of your document.
  • In Word for Mac, go to Word/ preferences/ spelling and grammar and check “Show readability statistics.”  After finishing your document, go to review/ spelling and grammar, and when the check is complete, a text box will appear on your screen on top of your document.

Just for fun, here are the statistics for part one of this blog post. Click here to learn more about Readability Statistics and how to interpret them. Then you can revise and edit with intention.

Concision, by Nancy

After noting my essays overflowed with phrases like “future plans for one’s life ahead” and “the discussion of the characters in the novel that was assigned,” my undergraduate communication professor suggested I read The Elements of Style.  I bought it and read it. I understood why my course instructor made notes like “awk” and “redundant” and “?” in my essay margins. I learned how I could write differently. Concisely.

Over the years, since putting aside The Elements of Style, I’ve noticed that my writing has returned to its former state. Puffy.  Expansive. Obscure. What happened to concision?

Desperate to review tips I learned more than thirty years ago, I thumbed through my yellow-paged $2.95-ticketed third edition and found scribbled asterisks next to principles like 14: “Put statements in positive form” and 17: “Omit needless words”. Would the advice I followed in my undergraduate degree help me thin my padded writing now?

I applied Strunk and White’s principles to my sentence scrawls:

  • Avoid “not”

In spite of the fact that writing is difficult for some, it is not difficult for others.

In spite of the fact that While writing is difficult for some, it is not difficult easy for others.

I replaced “not difficult” with “easy” and saved a word!

  • Trim the fat

Perfectionists are people who struggle with writing.

Perfectionists are people who struggle with writing.

I eliminated “are people who” and saved three words!

My colleague writes in an effective manner.

My colleague writes in an effective manner effectively.

I used an adverb to replace a phrase and saved four words!

Writing is an activity that is difficult for some.

Writing is an activity that is difficult for some.

I excised “an activity that is” and saved four words!

I need to call your attention to the fact that writing is difficult.

I need to call your attention to the fact that Writing is difficult!

I replaced the idea of “need” with a “!” and saved 10 words!

  • Replace clauses with phrases and phrases with words

Writing that is done by scholars can be complex and incomprehensible.

Writing that is done by scholars can be complex and incomprehensible.

Scholarly writing that is done by scholars can be complex and incomprehensible.

Complex scholarly writing  that is done by scholars can be complex and in comprehensible.

I reduced a negative eleven-word sentence to a positive simple statement of six words!

Comprehensible writing results from applying only two of the simplest of Strunk and White’s twenty writing principles. True in 1985. True today. Check it out!

In addition to employing these techniques, remember that you are always welcome to work with a tutor at the Centre for Academic Communication to improve your revision and editing skills.

Nancy Ami (R) is the Manager and Madeline Walker (L) is the Coordinator of the Centre for Academic Communication. That’s Nancy’s dog-eared copy of The Elements of Style, 3rd edition. The fourth edition is available in the Reference section of our library: PE1408 S772 2000


Purposeful pauses in writing

By Nancy Ami

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams

Nancy procrastinating with Lucy

A younger me learned to love deadlines, too, but for a different reason. A deadline was the only thing, I mean the only thing, that could force me to draft a piece of writing.

As a top-notch procrastinator who submitted assignments just in time for deadlines, I wondered why I struggled so much to get my thoughts down on a page. Why was drafting so hard? The “linear” process of writing: choosing a topic, generating ideas, planning, drafting, revising and editing – seemed easy enough.  What was it about the drafting – the movement of fingers across keys, translating ideas into text – that made it so painful?

Almost 25 years ago, I attended the 1993 ATESL (Alberta Teachers of English as a Second Language) Conference, eager to learn how I might teach writing better (and how I might write better myself). I attended Ernie Hall’s excellent presentation. He explained the cognitive processes writers engage in. He described the heavy demand these processes place on writers and that these contributed to writers’ frequent pausing.  He outlined the following intricate purposes for which writers pause as they draft: search, plan, evaluate, describe, question, and revise.

  • Search

We search for new ideas and the words to express them.

  • Plan

While we plan before we write, we also plan as we write. We consider order and arrangement of ideas. We plan our next steps as we draft, for in drafting, we gain insight into order and idea development.

  • Evaluate

We pause to judge as we draft. We wonder if it’s good enough. We critically analyze what is on the page before moving on. As a result of a pause to evaluate, we work back through our draft, revising and rewriting what we have already drafted.

  • Question (wonder)

We pause to wonder as we draft. We ask ourselves questions as we write. “How do I know that?” or “Where did I read that?” or “What else do I know?”

  • Revise

We pause to fix. We fix content, organization, word choices, sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. We revise so much that we forget to draft.

  • Decide (proceed without solution)

We pause but decide to proceed, to move on, to continue drafting. We may worry that we might forget the reason we paused. We capture the essence of our struggle, perhaps via track changes: “Add a citation here” or “Find more data for this argument” or we open an additional word document to note issues we face as we draft. We keep drafting, though, trusting a solution to the problem will emerge as we go.

Writers employ strategic pauses, meaningful pauses, necessary pauses when drafting. Writers pause for a reason.  I had always thought that my pauses meant there was something wrong; that I couldn’t write; that I had nothing worthy to say. Now I understand the cognitive processes drafting involves. When drafting, I pause and analyze my pause. I strategically search, plan, evaluate, question, revise, or proceed without solution. Drafting is hard work because it involves constant, relentless monitoring and management.

I still love and need deadlines to get started on my drafts.  However, understanding drafting’s complexity and the intricate decision-making it involves helps me embrace the process, capturing my ideas into text just before the deadlines whoosh by.

As the Manager of the Centre for Academic Communication, Nancy loves working with her CAC team to support UVic writers, collaborating with UVic partners and faculty. As an EAL Specialist, she’s taught international students for 25 years, in both public and private institutions.