Category Archives: College

Photo of Hazel Hart

Prewriting Steps 3 and 4: Connection and Purpose

How are connection and purpose related to each other?

When you write non-fiction–essays, articles, blog posts, and even research papers–readers will want to know your background in the subject. What qualifies you to be giving information or advice on your chosen topic? Blogs have “About me” pages to let readers know why you are blogging about raising children, finding jobs, repairing old cars, or selecting vacation spots, among the thousands of possible topics you might have picked. Have you experienced being a parent, looking for a job, restoring antique cars, or traveling to tourist areas? Have you taken classes in your subject area? Did your parents teach you? Did you learn your information as an employee or business owner? Your connection to a topic gives you credibility with the reader. It also helps you to form a purpose for your essay, article, or post.

Three writing purposes: Inform, entertain, and persuade

When asked what the purpose of their essay is, students sometimes say, “To get a good grade.” True, that is what students want their essay to do for them, but the question about purpose is what the essay will do for their readers.

If you are the parent of four teenagers and have given each a birthday party every year, you may write about how to give a successful birthday party (inform), how a birthday party went terribly wrong (entertain), or how small family parties are preferable to elaborate parties with thirty or more guests (persuade).

If you have spent time looking for a job, you might write about what you did to find a good job (inform), the worst interview you ever had (entertain), or how attitude matters in the job hunt (persuade).

What if you are assigned a topic and have no connection to it?

Perhaps your instructor wants you to write about alternative energy sources. Find someone who does have a connection. Perhaps a friend works in a field related to your assigned topic. If you do not have such a friend, look for someone who belongs to a related organization and set up an interview. While you may not be passionate about the assigned topic, many people are. Find one. The excitement the interviewee brings to the topic may inspire you as well as your readers.


Photo of Hazel Hart

Prewriting Step 2: Audience Analysis

Once you have a topic in mind for an essay or article, it’s time to start thinking about audience.

Even with all my experience writing, I freeze up when someone asks, “Who is your audience?” I want to reply the same way my former students often did: “Everybody.”



Why doesn’t “everybody” work as an audience? Let’s take a look at who is included in the category of everybody:

  • Newborn babies
  • The world’s oldest living person
  • All the people in between
  • People who do not speak or read the language you write in
  • People who can’t read any language or don’t want to
  • People who don’t care about your topic

With the above list in mind, let’s consider a topic college women often write about: weddings. Look at the list above, and you will see there are a number of groups you can cross off as not a part of your possible audience.

Let’s assume children under the age of twelve won’t be interested. But wait. If the essay or article is written about a child being part of a wedding, perhaps as a ring bearer or flower girl, and the language is appropriate to the age level, you might have found an audience.

What about men as an audience for your wedding article? Consider that most wedding magazines have “bride” in the title, and take that as a hint about the number of men who are interested in reading about weddings. That is not to say no man will ever be interested, but most will not. While men are a part of everybody, they are probably not part of your target audience.

So women make up the target audience. But which women? What is the age of the bride? Your essay will probably appeal to women of the same age. Are you writing about how to prepare for a church wedding? Those most interested will be potential brides with the money to invest in the wedding you describe. Are you writing about some disaster at your wedding that you laugh about now? Women often enjoy these stories long after they have been brides themselves. Each slant will have a different audience. Note: If you are writing your essay for a class, you may want a different topic because your instructor has probably received at least six wedding essays in the current group and may be tired of them.

What about topics college men write about?

If you are a man and you’ve gotten this far, you are probably getting tired of all the wedding talk. You may be thinking that this blog post is only for women writers. Not so, but you see how examples matter. Frequent topics of former male students included cars, hunting, and becoming a father.

For college men, a first car, from buying it to keeping it in running condition, along with the freedom the vehicle gave them, is a frequent topic for a narrative essay, one that tells a story. Buying your first car could have a broader audience than the wedding example I used above since women may also be interested in how to get the best deal. However, the mechanical aspects of do-it-yourself car repair will appeal mostly to men. But what men? All? No. Your audience might be young men with their first cars and not much money for repairs. They might be men fascinated by the mechanical workings of a vehicle. But some men will not be interested in spending time on cars. They may be men who are working full time and don’t want to spend their free time repairing and maintaining a vehicle. They would rather pay someone to do the work. Wait. Do you have any tips on finding a good mechanic? Make a list of likely readers before you start writing the rough draft of your essay. Note: I have yawned over five or six change-the-oil essays from one set of process assignments. If this essay is for a class, changing the oil is not a good topic. However, it might be an excellent topic for other circumstances.

Factors to Consider:

Age: Pick a topic common to all reading ages, such as training a dog. Go to your public library and look at books on your chosen topic in the child, young adult, and adult sections. Examine the differences in the way the subject matter is handled. Note such things as word choices, the length of sentences, and types of examples.

Experience level and interest of the reader: As you look at the books on your chosen topic, select several from the same age group and skim the table of contents and first chapter. Look for the perceived experience level. For the dog example, how does the writer perceive the reader? Is the likely reader someone with a new pet who needs to know how to train the dog to not jump on people and not chew up shoes? Is this a book for a dog trainer? Is this a book for people who want to breed dogs and sell them? Is this a book for people who want to show dogs in a competition?

To recap: Why Audience Matters

Whether you are writing for a class, a blog, a letter of application for a job or scholarship, or any other situation, knowing your audience will help you select the correct language level and examples for those readers.

Questions about audience:

If you have questions about audience, please ask them in a comment.

What’s next?

In the next post, I’ll be writing about your connection to a topic and defining the purpose of an essay or article.

Photo of Hazel Hart

Write to Fit Project Worksheet

Have a writing plan for each project
Whether an instructor has given you a writing assignment or you have come up with a project on your own, filling out a project worksheet is a good first step toward a successful outcome.

Fill in the basics
At the bottom of this post is my project planner for Punctuation Pointers and Pitfalls, the next book in my Write to Fit series. Notice that I entered a start date. For me, it was the day I actually started work on developing the idea, which included filling out the planner and  making a list of punctuation marks to discuss in the book. If your project has been assigned by an instructor, your start date might be the day you received the assignment. Of course, you know the importance of the completion date. Length is also important.  Whether you are writing a standalone paragraph of 150-200 words or a book, knowing how long something will be helps you begin to adjust the topic to fit the size of your project.

Of course, you can tell from the title of my book that I had already narrowed my topic to punctuation marks when I entered the project name. However, you may have a project subject that is vague, like “Civil War” or “Being a Parent.” If so, you will want to bring some focus to it when you fill out the topic and organization sections of the form. However, anything you enter can be changed as your perceptions of what you want to write develop over time. Later blog posts will go into more detail on narrowing topics.

Decide on an overall organizational method
Organization is the main method you will  use to present your topic to the reader. I have chosen definition and process as my main organizational methods. I will be defining the various punctuation marks and their uses. Then I will show how to use them. If you are writing about parenting, you might write a narrative (story) that shows someone being a good parent. You might write a comparison/contrast paper showing the differences in behavior between a good parent and a bad parent. You might write a cause/effect paper showing why someone parents children the way he/she does. Instructors will often tell you the organizational method required for the paper, so read assignment instructions carefully.

Make sure you understand the formatting requirements
Formatting involves what the finished project looks like on the page. Since I am planning to publish my e-book on Kindle, I must follow the appropriate guidelines. Amazon has made available an entire e-book  containing that information. If an instructor has given an assignment, the formatting requirements may come with the individual assignment or be stated in a syllabus or other course document. Since different instructors will have different preferences, make sure you locate and read the assignment formatting requirements carefully. Here are some examples of specifics to look for. Should you indent or not indent the first line of a paragraph? Should you double space the lines. Should you leave an extra line between paragraphs or not? What size and type of font should you use? What margins should the page have? How should you name the file and what file type should you use when saving? These are only a few of the possible formatting particulars you may be required to follow.

List intermediate due dates
Next, there are the due dates. Even short pieces, like paragraphs and essays, have stages of writing that require time for writing, reflecting, and revising. As it has been a week since I first filled out my punctuation book planner, I now see I should have broken down the rough draft deadlines into chapters, perhaps two per week. Without intermediate time limits, it is easy to procrastinate, so I will make those adjustments today.

Make note of other considerations
Depending on the project, you may have other tasks to complete. You may need to view a video, interview one or more people, or perform some other task. You may be asked to write for a particular audience, such as new mothers or high school students. Make note of such requirements in this section.

Write to Fit Project Planner 
You may download a blank Write to Fit Project Planner  to fill out and adjust to fit your needs. You may share the form with others, but please keep the copyright and website link at the bottom of the page. You or your friends may have questions you would like to ask me.

Write to Fit Project Planner Example

Project name: Write to Fit Punctuation Pointers book.
Start date: February 13, 2015
Completion date: May 5, 2015
Length: 50-60 pages

Topic: Punctuation marks and how to use them
Organization: Definition, Process, How to
Special formatting: e-book for Kindle

Due dates:

Prewriting: Feb. 18
Rough draft: April 15
Final draft editing: April 25
Final draft proofreading: April 28
Final draft formatting: April 30
Submission/Publication: May 5

Other considerations



© 2015 Hazel Hart

Success Tips for Online Students: Part 4

If you are new to online courses, you may have a high learning curve during your first week of class. First, you must learn to navigate the course and use the course tools, such as e-mail, discussion boards and assignment submission links. Next, you must learn any required software used for submissions. After all that, you must complete the assignments for the first week of the course. Even those students familiar with the computer may have trouble assimilating all the new programs and completing the assignments by the first due date.

You are not alone

One of the biggest complaints  online students have is the lack of help available to them, and you may feel that way. After all, you are sitting alone in front of a computer, staring at a screen full of instructions, and trying to figure out where and how to accomplish all the assigned tasks before the due date. Then something doesn’t work. A quiz won’t open. An assignment file won’t upload. You try to figure out what is wrong, but nothing works. It sure feels like you are alone. But with a little preparation, you will know what help is available and how to ask for it.

Start early

Like the Boy Scouts, you must “Be prepared.” You will probably have access to the course a few days before the actual beginning of the semester. Take that time to look around. Click on links to see what is available. If the school provides face-to-face online orientation sessions, attend one if you can. You will be taken through the various course tools and how to use them. If you cannot attend an online orientation, look for one in the course itself. Also, locate the FAQs that show how to upload assignments, check your grades, post to discussions, and use the course e-mail system.

Help desk

If you are having a technical problem, such as the inability to upload assignment files, you may be using the wrong Internet browser or may need to adjust the settings on your computer. There is usually a help desk number you can call or a help request form to fill out. The only problem with these resources is that they may be available only during regular business hours. As an online student, you may be working at midnight or three in the morning, so will have to wait. While you are waiting, you may want to consult the online FAQs.

Instructor help

Your instructor is your main source of help when you have questions about the course content and assignments. See your syllabus for the instructor’s contact information, which may include e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. If this is not an emergency, use e-mail and expect a twenty-four-hour turnaround. If you are having trouble with an assignment due the same day, then call within the hours the instructor has indicated as acceptable. If technology fails during an online test or while uploading an assignment, send an e-mail as soon as possible after the occurrence. The instructor may reset the assignment so you can complete it.

Other help

Free tutoring may be available, both online and on campus.

The college library may have online services, databases, and citation help available. A librarian may be available to answer questions by telephone.

There may be an online writing lab where you may submit your writing assignments for advice on improving your work.

To find the above resources, check the major links in your online course or the main college website. If you cannot find a link to the help you need, ask your instructor–your best resource in an online course.

A preview of future posts

Now that I have completed an overview of how to succeed in any online course, I am going to focus on my first love, writing. In future posts, I’ll be discussing how to prepare an assignment project sheet, find a topic that fits the length of your assignment, develop topic sentences and thesis statements, and support your opinions. There will also be pointers on revising, editing, and proofreading. If these are topics of interest to you, be sure to subscribe to my blog.

© 2015 Hazel Hart



Success Tips for Online Students, Part 3

For many of you, the biggest appeal of online courses is that they can be done from home. There is no need to get dressed, travel miles, hunt for a parking space in a crowded lot, or race through blistering heat, pouring rain, or falling snow to get to your classes. If you have children, you don’t have to hire a babysitter. If you have a job, you don’t have to build a course schedule around your work schedule or vice versa. All you have to do is settle down in front of your computer when it is convenient for you to log in.

Find a time for logging in to your classes

If you are new to college and/or online courses, the trouble with a “convenient” time is that there often is none. Your days are already packed with activities. Where will your classes fit in?

Jot down a list of your daily tasks in the order in which you do them and look for places for your classes to fit in. Are you a morning person who can get up an hour earlier every day and immediately turn on the computer and get to work? Do you have time after others leave the house in the morning? How about when the children are down for a nap or after the dishes are done? Maybe you are a night person and will work after everyone else has gone to bed. Whatever time you choose for your login, make it a daily habit.

Make logging in part of your daily routine

Logging in daily will help you stay focused on your educational goals and overcome procrastination. During your time online, you might check for announcements, review assignment due dates and requirements, read instructor notes, post to discussions, and complete study guides and quizzes. Once you have completed these tasks, you may have additional homework to complete offline.

Overcome procrastination with a study schedule

Most of us have a tendency to put things off, and doing homework is no exception. It can be a problem for students in traditional classrooms as well as for online students. In many cases, you will have an entire week to prepare and submit assignments. It is easy to see today’s activities as more important and to believe you can just work a little longer tomorrow. This often results in no work being done until the due date, a mad scramble to complete assignments, and poor grades.

Enlist the support and understanding of friends and family

A major reason for procrastination is not wanting to disappoint friends and family. I used to advise my students to tell these important people in their lives that they were committed to their studies and would see everyone again in sixteen weeks. Let your friends know you won’t be available for shopping, lunches, movies, weekend parties, or other activities that might coincide with your study schedule. Let your loved ones know the number of hours it will take for you to successfully complete your courses and ask for their help with household chores and providing quiet time while you do your homework. Give those who love you an opportunity to lend a hand and help you succeed.

Take the time now to plan your way to a successful semester.

Copyright © 2015 Hazel Hart








Success Tips for Online Students, Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed the number of hours needed to successfully complete a three-hour course. Having that information allows you to evaluate the time necessary for each course and to enroll in the number of credit hours that best fits your situation. Once you have completed enrollment and have been given access to your course(s), you will be ready for the next step: reading and printing the syllabus or syllabi (the plural of syllabus is syllabi).

What is so important about the syllabus?

The syllabus is your written contract with the instructor and the school. If you have ever watched Judge Judy or any of those other courtroom shows, you know how important a contract can be. The syllabus tells what you can expect from the instructor and the school and what the instructor and the school expect of you.

If you were taking a face-to-face course in a traditional classroom setting, a good portion of the first day of class would be taken up with a review of what is in the syllabus. Your instructor would point out particular sections and what they contained. Why this instructor-led review of a handout you could easily read yourself? Because instructors know that in their students’ eagerness to get on with assigned readings, many of them will neglect to read this important document on their own.

So what is in a syllabus?

Key information will include the instructor’s name and contact information, a list of the textbooks and other required materials, the course description, and any required face-to-face meetings or proctored tests. You will find out the policies on the number of required log-ins and amount of time you must spend in the course, whether late work will be accepted (usually not), and appropriate discussion posting manners (often referred to as netiquette) in an online course. In most instances, the syllabus will also contain an overview of the course assignments and due dates. This overview will help you plan your study schedule, which will be the topic of my next post.

Why print the syllabus?

Since the syllabus is in the course and always accessible online, you may be thinking that printing it is a waste paper and ink. Not so. The key to the need to print is the fact that the document is “accessible online.” To access the information, you need Internet service and a password. If you are in the middle of your midterm exam and weather takes down your Internet, you need the instructor’s telephone contact information, particularly if this is the last day the exam is available. If you are suddenly ill or in an accident that prevents you from crawling to your computer and alerting your instructor to your inability to complete assignments, you can have a friend or relative do it for you–if the contact information is printed and kept where it can be easily located. In fact, you may be worried about whether you can make up work missed in an emergency. You don’t have to get online to find out if you have that hard copy of the syllabus available.

And by the way, there will probably be a quiz.

Copyright © 2015 Hazel Hart

Success Tips for Online Students, Part 1

Making a new start

The new year is a perfect time for new starts, and getting a college degree or making a career change may be on your list of New Year’s resolutions. If they are, then you may be one of the many first-time college students enrolling in spring semester classes. Congratulations on taking action toward fulfilling your goals. Time spent selecting courses and preparing for the first day of class is usually filled with excitement and enthusiasm. It is also a time when you can take your first step toward a successful semester by considering your current obligations and the time you have to devote to your classes.

Consider your current obligations

I taught online courses for twelve years. During that time, I saw many students struggle because they had enrolled in more classes than they had time to successfully complete. Yes, I know there is a popular saying about being able to do anything you set your mind to doing. There is a lot of truth in that statement. I have had students who combined a twelve-to-fifteen-credit-hour course load with three or four children and a full-time job. A very few were exceptional students. They amazed me with their organizational skills and prompt assignment submissions. Then there the many in the middle who struggled to keep up with their obligations at work and at home while also trying hard to stay current with their coursework. Sometimes these students had to drop a course or two in order to pass the rest successfully. Others chose to complete what they had started but were disappointed in their grades. A few overwhelmed students simply stopped logging in to classes.  To avoid disappointing outcomes, take a good look at your current obligations and the number of hours per week you have to commit to your education.

Credit hours and actual time spent

For every three credit hours you enroll in, you will need an average of an additional six hours a week to complete the readings and homework assignments. That is a total of nine hours per week needed for one three-hour class. Twelve to fifteen credit hours is considered a full load because the amount of time needed per week is the same as a full time job: thirty-six to forty-five hours. If you have no other obligations, full-time is right for you. I realize financial aid requirements may be a factor in the number of courses you take, but if you cannot successfully complete those courses, the financial aid may go away. If you have a full-time job, children, and/or a significant other, taking a close look at your schedule and seeing how many hours you have to commit to your education is an important step towards your success.

This “success tips” series

I began this series as a single blog post of five success tips but soon found I had more to say than I could manage in a single post. Check back or subscribe for additional posts on reviewing your syllabus, setting up a study schedule, navigating an online class, communicating with your instructor, and more.

Copyright © 2015 Hazel Hart