Scholarly Writing

Gently poking and pushing the loose blocks in a game of Jenga can reveal the weak spots—the places where the structure might topple over, ending the game. When outside readers encounter your essay, they will look for the weak spots. In academic or scholarly writing, weak foundations are built from inadequate ideas, thesis statements, and sources. In other words, scholarly writing is more than just “sounding educated” or “professional.” It extends beyond “good grammar” and “sentence structure.” Most readers are able to forgive a few minor grammar or spelling mistakes, but if the central idea is not solid and if it’s not supported by appropriate sources, your essay will not be effective or convincing. Here are a few ideas and resources for providing your scholarly essay with a strong base:

1) Identify original ideas. If you are taking a psychology, literature, history, sociology, art history—or any other kind of course that requires a final paper—be sure to identify your paper topic within the first 2-3 weeks of class. In this way, you could give yourself enough time to research and write drafts. To identify your topic, you could:

–Pay attention to course lectures and discussions. Jot down ideas that sound interesting to you.

–Ask your instructor about current trends or interesting developments in the field at hand.

2) Identify experts in the field by paying attention to course handouts or other readings. Write down the names of the authors and look up other articles they’ve written. However, if your instructor doesn’t want to provide you with this information, you could look for academic articles on your own, using the videos provided in this post below.

The days of relying on news articles or links that “sound” scholarly on the Internet are over at this stage in your academic career. Scholarly writing requires a few more steps beyond the Internet search. These steps are provided in the following videos, in the hope of helping you find convincing and valuable information for building a solid writing project.

Accreditation Report Writing: Examples Matter

Through the open window where I taught my last Spanish course for the day, a crisp autumn breeze enticed me to finish a few minutes early so I could get started on my Thanksgiving break.   However, a sinking feeling set in when I realized that I still had a meeting to attend, so I could help write a part of the accreditation report, which was mandatory for everyone at my institution to do. When some colleagues asked the administration for extra pay for contributing to this report, they were reminded that this work was within their job expectations and necessary in order for the entire institution to maintain its educational standing. In other words, we weren’t going to get out of this task and we would not be compensated for it.

Accreditation reports and self studies may seem like thankless and time-consuming tasks, so it’s tempting to simply take the descriptions and requirements stated in the rubric for the report and turn them into sentences such as this one: Yes, we develop a curriculum that encourages independent thought and fosters diversity and respect. However, making these claims without explanations or examples takes away from the snapshot picture accreditation teams need in order to understand each institution’s unique opportunities and challenges, which faculty, administration, students, staff, and community members face. Adding examples and details could also lead to unexpected sources of support for facing the challenges and enhancing the opportunities.

When writing sections of the accreditation report then, it may be helpful to develop topic sentences that address specific questions or parts of the accreditation rubric. Then, the body of each paragraph could include a few concrete examples that mirror the atmosphere and personality of the institution—as community members, employees, and students see it. For instance, if a team of writers has to report on “systems for reporting, prioritizing, and responding to safety issues, repairs, and maintenance concerns of the campus and facilities,” (Northwest Association of Independent Schools rubric, 2017), these writers might consider developing a topic sentence that explains which opportunities and challenges community members, board members, teachers, administrators, parents, and students have identified regarding the safety of the campus and its facilities. Then, specific examples could be given to help showcase the institution’s initiative in taking care of these items. Or, if challenges have been identified, a bullet-point list or action plan could show the accreditation team that resources and a reasonable timeline are in place to tackle potential problems. In other words, it’s more valuable to show, rather than tell accreditation teams the important milestones that have been met.

Once the report has been compiled and written, a group of individuals can look it over and make sure that all parts are complete and that the report is an accurate reflection of the institution. However, it might also be beneficial to get an outside consultant’s view to make sure that the report flows logically, is easy to read, addresses any contradictions that might be present, and is free from major grammatical errors and shifts in font or formatting. Outside readers and consultants can also remind writers of the report to tell their stories. In fact, I recently took on this role for an independent school. When I read the report, I was able to identify parts where short examples highlighting creative fundraising and experiential learning opportunities could be included. It also became clear that the board had put together excellent policies in just a matter of a few years, so highlighting the processes they used to meet their goals would seem significant in the eyes of the accreditation team. In reminding the stakeholders to tell those stories and to include the warm, welcoming language of their newly-developed website, I hoped to encourage them to not see this task as a burden, but as a chance to highlight the mountains they move regularly with just a few resources.

If your institution is writing or has written an accreditation report and you’d like an outside observer’s insight, I would be happy to help out. Feel free to contact me. (Cecilia Kennedy,


Tell Me a Story: The Common App Essay for College Admissions

Inside a once freshly cleaned oven, clung the remnants of a pizza dough recipe my mother and I were hoping would yield a thick, chewy, crispy crust. Shortly before my mother opened the door to check on the pizza, the phone rang and I answered it, but I couldn’t concentrate on what the speaker had to say because I could clearly see that the dough inside the oven had exploded. Since exploding pizza dough, in my opinion, is comedy at its finest, I had to fight the urge to not laugh, but I failed. The man on the other end of the phone was a client of my father’s and he could hear me trying to stifle my laughter. Since I wanted to remain professional, I just didn’t think I could tell him about the pizza dough. I figured that a businessman would not care to know about such things, so when he asked me why I was laughing, I simply said that I wasn’t. “Yes, you are laughing,” he said. “I’m really not,” I tried to assure him. My mother quickly caught on to what was happening, so she grabbed the phone in an attempt to be the adult in the room, but she couldn’t stop laughing either. At this point, my father’s client, who was from Italy, assumed we were making fun of his accent, but nothing could be further from the truth. When he hung up, Mom called my dad in order to explain what happened and my dad was able to relay the story to his client, who found it funny. Later, I told this story to a group of friends in my high school cafeteria and they just stared at me blankly. “Why did you tell us this story?” they asked. I had no idea. I simply thought it was funny. However, for my friends, a story that was “just funny” wasn’t enough. It had to have a point. They wanted to know the lesson behind the story.

In a similar manner, the college admissions committee members who read the Common Application essay love a good story, but they also want to know the message behind it. When drafting a personal essay, identify several stories you could tell. When choosing your stories, you might consider events or moments outside of the items you’ve already listed for extra-curricular activities, service projects, classes, or sports. Admissions counselors may have already taken note of these things and now, they want to know more about you, your personality, and your insights. For this reason, you could choose stories that show readers how insightful, funny, motivated, accepting, adventurous, determined, disciplined, creative, inclusive, strong, or hard working you are.

To find your story, you could think of specific moments in your life that were the funniest, proudest, most embarrassing, or most challenging. A specific event or experience doesn’t have to be earth shattering. It could simply be a memory with friends or family. It’s not necessary then, to have a “big moment” to share in order to write an effective personal essay. All that’s needed is a story you can tell. The most “ordinary” moments sometimes shed light on the larger lessons your readers could share.

Once you have your story in mind, tell it. You could tell your story to a friend, or simply say it out loud to yourself and record it. Then, listen to it so that you can hear it as an observer or outside listener, rather than the speaker or author. Next, pick the element you really like about the story and ask yourself: What do I like about this story and how might I make it come alive? Using sensory details related to sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell can bring readers closer to your experience and if other people are a part of your story, you could re-create the dialogue as well.

After narrating your story, ask yourself: Why did I tell this story? What’s important about it? How does the lesson relate to what I hope to achieve or learn in college? Answering these questions could help you arrive at the lesson or purpose for your story.

If I were to return to the exploding pizza example I used to open my essay here, I might see that even though I thought the event was “just funny,” the story also holds a significant lesson. First, the client on the other end of the phone wanted to understand why I was laughing and instead, I tried to deny that I was laughing in order to maintain my composure. I didn’t want my dad to lose his client. However, in denying the laughter, I led the client to believe that I was making fun of him. I should have just told him the truth. Remaining true to the circumstances in which we find ourselves can lead to greater understanding and a deeper connection with others. Also, there’s something to be learned about comedic timing. It’s incredibly inappropriate for exploding pizza dough to intersect with a business call and the juxtaposition of these two situations was just too much for me at the time. I couldn’t hold in the laughter. I couldn’t pretend to be professional in such an absurd moment. This event then, has caused me to reflect on something I value greatly: comedy in the classic sense of the word. A comedy ends happily. The laugh coincides with the truth of a situation and calls it out for what it is. The laugh is ultimately what saves the professional relationship between my dad and his client and it’s this laugh I can’t live without.

Now, it’s your turn. What’s your story? Contact me today for help with your personal essay.  Cecilia Kennedy,

Manuscript Editing Now Available At Paper/Rock Writing Consultation

Dark landscapes, romantic settings, and futuristic plots are all welcome at Paper/Rock Writing Consultation.  I’m expanding my services to include manuscript editing. If you have a novel, short story, novella, or memoir you’d like to revise, I’m more than happy to read it and suggest edits/changes. With a literary analysis background and more than 20 years of writing/teaching experience, I can help you craft and refine your story. Specifically, I can help identify weaknesses in the following areas:

–Word choice


–Development (plot/characters/setting/conflict/climax/resolution)


–Overall structure

–Grammar, mechanics, and sentence structure

Of course, I’ll also tell you exactly what I like about your draft—and I’ll help you build on your strengths.

So, if you have something you’d like to revise, please contact me today for a quote.


Cecilia Kennedy


Tracing the Edges of Clouds: Brainstorming Methods

The tail end of a bumpy cloud passes over Mount Baker as I drive into town and I think I see the shape of a dragon. The cloud moves, shifts, changes, and becomes something else by the time I wait for the light to change. This process—of watching shapes change in clouds—of distinguishing features and lines that seem unrelated to one another—is much like the process I use for brainstorming almost any kind of writing I do. I find the edges of things—of almost anything around me—and I discover a way to relate them to the topic at hand. Traditional forms of brainstorming a topic then, never really worked for me—except for “freewriting” or making lists. Sometimes those methods of brainstorming help me along. However, methods like cubing, clustering/mapping, or using charts or diagrams just seem to lead me to dead ends. If you find that you’re having trouble with traditional forms of brainstorming, you might try some of the following methods:

1) Looking at photographs you’ve posted to Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or other forms of social media. You could describe these photos systematically in detail—from left to right or from top to bottom or center out. To get the creativity flowing, you might even give yourself a few minutes to come up with “serious” or “funny” captions for each photograph. Then, you could ask yourself, “How might this image or picture apply to my topic?” Answering this question could lead to a list of steps or approaches you might take to move from the description into your topic.

2) Play a board game like Catch Phrase or Pictionary. Sometimes word and board games can lead to interesting ideas and word choices for a topic or for an introduction.

3) Each day, create a list of headlines or stories from the news that catch your attention. In this way, you have several topics on hand if you ever need to come up with an idea for an essay or a project. You could write these ideas down in a “thought diary” and keep them in a notebook or in a file on your computer so that you can access them readily.

4) Take walks through nature or through your neighborhood and ask yourself, “How does what I see relate to my topic?” Or, you could listen to conversations around you and try to write them down. Sometimes, beginning an essay with an interesting piece of dialogue or conversation can catch your readers’ attention and help them anticipate the thesis statement or topic you will present.

5) Draw. If you enjoy drawing or painting, you might try sketching out your topic. Asking the question, “What would this problem or idea look like as a sketch or drawing?” could lead to interesting angles or ideas others might not have thought of before.

When using any of the methods outlined above, you could still follow the “standard rules” for brainstorming: Don’t dismiss any idea that pops into your mind because it may be useful. Upon further reflection, you might catch the edge of a cloud, which could lead to a new discovery.