Sunday, August 13, 2017


The latest trend in education is to tell middle schoolers and high school students to include a "thesis statement" in their work. This disgusts me every time I see it because (1)a middle school or high school student does not have the writing capability to create a true thesis statement and (2)students are being incorrectly taught that a "main idea" or "topic sentence" is a "thesis statement."

A true thesis statement reflects the highest order of thinking: synthesis and evaluation. This kind of thinking cannot occur until around the second year in college and for some people, they may never be able to achieve it. However, everyone in graduate school should be able to do this.

When we tell 12-year olds they have created a "thesis sentence" simply because it sounds good and advanced, we are lying to them. All they are doing is writing a topic sentence. Consider the following:

I liked reading the book Charlotte's Web because I love animals. (Not a thesis sentence but a good topic sentence. This sentence tells you what this girl or boy will focus on in their report, and that focus is age appropriate- it relates something in the book to something important in their lives. There are NO abstract concepts and judgments about what the book is really saying. The remainder of the paper would have examples that may include some quotations. The quotations should be cited but the examples will probably not be cited at all.)

Charlotte's Web delves deeply into the interpersonal relationships of childhood and how those relationships change as children mature into adults. (Thesis sentence. This sentence not only summarizes abstract concepts in the book but makes a judgement about what the book is really trying to say. The remainder of this person's paper should defend his or her point of view using cited quotations or cited examples from the book and OTHER RESEARCH SOURCES and show that the book really is about interpersonal relationships and the way they change as children mature.)

You show me a 12-year old or even a 16-year old who can write the second one, and I will show you a child who has plagiarized or hired a college student to write their paper for them.

Now, someone will say, "Ah, but the first person is making a judgement. That person 'likes' the book." Saying you like something because it appeals to you is NOT a judgment. I can like Wolverine because he is "cool." Making a judgment would be stating whether or not his use of violence is justified. If I like Wolverine because he is "cool" nothing you write or say is going to influence my opinion. You can't make a valid point against me because Wolverine is certainly popular, and "cool" is completely subjective. Even if you don't think he is cool, I do, and therefore, you just saying he isn't cool and perhaps supporting it with some statistics is not going to cause me to rethink my belief. If, on the other hand, I think Wolverine's violence is not justified, you then have to think about the points I made supporting my argument and decide whether or not I am correct. If I am not correct, you can form a rebuttal with your own points. That is what a thesis sentence is about: it is my hypothesis and there is evidence to back it up but you must be able to prove or disprove it. Statements that cannot be proven or disproven, such as "I like toys" are not thesis statements.

What this is really about is people doing work for others. I am a ghostwriter (although I try to stick to editing at this point in my career simply because of economics and the difficulty of screening assignments to ensure they are NOT someone's schoolwork). I get that most people need a scribe to write for them even in this day and age-especially if they want effective writing. I don't know why people in education feel everyone can and should write well. After all, I think it would be useful to be able to perform hernia surgeries, but I don't think everyone should do it.

When we force our children to be perfect or to do things beyond their developmental ability, all we are doing is forcing them to cheat in order to survive. This is commonplace in other countries. It is so bad that children in India, for example, take "communal" tests while ADULTS pass them the answers through the windows. Why? Because they obviously set their standards above what teachers can teach them. These kids haven't achieved and neither have our kids! However, the system says they must do work that is beyond them.

It is important to teach children to write TOPIC SENTENCES. You cannot get to higher levels of writing until you can write simple reports and paragraphs. Both should contain topic sentences. Being able to simply state the main idea of what you are writing about, to not plagiarize, and to create a paragraph with natural transitions is ALL students need to know by the time they graduate high school. If you have an advanced senior writing class, you might touch on developing a thesis statement but make sure that is what it really is.

My children have been asked time and again to write "thesis sentences" in public and private schools. They write "topic sentences" and return with good grades. Either the teacher needs to go back to school and learn what a thesis sentence is, or we need to stop lying to our kids. I tend to think it is the teachers who are confused because they frequently ask questions they want answered in the paper and these are not conducive to creating a true thesis sentence. Many times they involve personal opinions. I can tell you which parts of a book I like or which parts were meaningful to me, but I can't do that in a paper where I am trying to prove a logical point.

If you are a professional writer, you better know the difference, too. At my level, you should be able to spit a thesis sentence out any time you want to write a blog about one. If you are not a professional writer and have kids, look at their homework assignments this year. I challenge you to inform the teacher they are misusing the term "thesis statement" and ask them to change it back to "topic sentence." Refer them here if they don't believe you.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Lessons in Grammar: Part I the Comma

The biggest problem with commas is that for some reason (usually in grade school) teachers tell children they are used whenever you want a pause in a sentence. This is simply not true. Usually, people end up creating comma splices when they drop commas wherever they feel they need a "pause."

Although there are many rules regarding commas, modern style guides are in the "less is more" mode especially when it comes to commas. There are a few places where it is necessary to use a comma and these should be the only places beginning writers should attempt to use them:

FANBOYS: When you begin a sentence with certain words like "For," "But," "So," etc., you need a comma. When you begin a sentence with a dependent clause, (like this sentence) you also need a comma. What in the world is a dependent clause? One that is not a sentence. I am not an English teacher, so to break it down further than Internet-speak would be rather difficult. The best I can do is give you some examples:

Patricia, what are you doing?
If I go to the store, should I get some milk?
So, you think you want to be a star?

The second place you need commas is when you are using one of those FANBOYS to connect two sentences together:

I wanted to eat out, so I decided to stop at McDonalds.
You shouldn't eat out so much.

The first sentence is actually two sentences. If I removed the comma and the word "so," I could make them two sentences. However, I chose to squish them together. The second sentence is not really two sentences squished together. It is only one sentence, and the word "so" is functioning as an adverb. Therefore, you don't need and shouldn't use a comma.

The trickiest part of grammar comes when some  things can go either way.

I bought a candle, a tablecloth, and some spaghetti.
I bought a candle, a tablecloth and some spaghetti.

Which is correct? Both are. When it comes to serial commas, you are delving into a gray area of grammar. In this case, if you believe the first sentence is better (like me), you are following the APA style guide (among others). If you like the second sentence, you are following Chicago style. The problem is generally not which method you choose, but the biggest problem tends to be consistency. If you choose the first example, you should ALWAYS use the comma before "and." Also, you need to make sure your editor knows you prefer serial commas.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

How to Hire a Good Freelancer on Freelancer Websites Like Guru (Part 2)

Once you have posted, how do you pick a freelancer? Well, there are a lot of freelancers out there and there are also a lot of salesmen and then there are a lot of people who need money and don't have a clue about either. You need to learn to tell the difference. I can't tell you how many times I have looked on a freelancer profile and they are bragging about how they did this or that. When you check, you can't find their name (and sometimes you can't find the project they say they worked on) anywhere. You don't know if it was done as ghostwritten work or not. Their bid may be from a template (which doesn't necessarily mean they are bad) and their work posted may be plagiarized. How can you tell which freelancer to hire?

The first thing you should do is look at their posted profile (not how much they said they would charge). This is their resume. On every profile, there will be feedback (unless they are new). If there is no feedback, they could still be a good freelancer, but this means you are taking more of a chance. A freelancer with no feedback should expect to get paid much less than a freelancer with years of feedback. If the freelancer only has a couple of feedback posts, they are newer at freelancing (at least on that website) and should have 4-5 stars in everything. Freelancers with a longer history may have a few lower reviews. If all the reviews (or most of them) say the same thing, chances are good that is how the freelancer is. Can you live with a freelancer like that?

The more work samples they have to post, the more things they have done. Do you like their samples? When you look at their profile, do you think they have a good representation of the work you are looking for? For example, say you need someone to design a webpage for you and you go on their profile and see only samples and information about designing clothes with nothing about website design. That is probably not the freelancer for you.

If there profile is not set up, even with good feedback, that is a warning sign. People who freelance for a living take the time to add samples and make their profiles look nice. Again, you can find a good freelancer with no work samples, a poorly set up profile, and no feedback, but you are taking a risk. If your goal is to hire a good freelancer, you should toss any that don't meet this criteria. Now, if a freelancer claims to be working for years on another website, this person should have a ton of work samples to show you. They should be able to send you a message with a link to the other website profile on it to back this up.

Some freelancer websites also offer proficiency tests and the freelancers can post their scores on their profile. How do their scores compare to others on the same website?

Once you have screened out any candidates with the above, put their name into a search engine. Most freelance work is done under NDAs or ghostwritten, but established freelancers should have other work out there. Do they have a book on Amazon? Check to see if it was traditionally published or self-published. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing (or even vanity presses)- as long as the freelancer isn't trying to pass it off as traditional publishing (i.e. that freelancer started his or her own publishing company and then used CreateSpace or Kindle or Nook and published it). If you haven't heard of the publisher, you can do a web search on them(unless the freelancer told you they were self-published). Be wary of a freelancer publishing under another name with no way to link that name to his or her real name. Also, be wary of freelancers trying to get you to go against the website's terms of service (for example, if they bid under $25 on Guru or if they try to get you to pay them offsite).

After all this, you should have narrowed the applicants down. The next step is to ask the remaining freelancers a question about the project. How they answer the question should let you know how familiar they are with the project premise and also how well they communicate. Can you deal with their communication style? If not, toss them from the pile. Be careful that they are really answering your question and not responding with fluff and salespeak. Not communicating in clear English should not necessarily toss the candidate out (unless you are trying to hire someone to write in clear English for you). However, you should be able to understand the candidate.

Once you have gone through all this, now you can look at their bid. Unless you were extremely vague in your project description, the freelancer should tell you about how long they think it would take them to do a project as described and about how much they would charge to do this project. They should also outline what they will do that sets them above the rest. Did they send a sample of a project similar to yours- this should be looked at as a bonus (although because of NDAs and ghostwriting a freelancer may not have a sample of the right kind of work or even be able to tell you where they worked on something similar). Now you can compare the freelancers you prefer.

Why go through all this to find a good freelancer? Because once you have found one, you can return to him/her whenever you need that kind of work (and potentially other work if they have it listed on his/her profile). You can build a team. Most freelancers prefer working with regular employers and working with a freelancer repeatedly means you no longer have to go through this process because you already know you work well together.