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Tips for Being a Quality Contributor

Hello. I am new to this site, but I enjoy reading other people's writing and commenting. I want to ask how I can be a quality contributor. Are there guidelines-written and unwritten-that help this site run smoothly?

I noticed that many users are learning English (we are all still learning English, but you know what I mean). How much correcting/explaining is beneficial for these users? Out of curiosity, about what percentage of members would you guess have a language other than English as their primary language?

I like how Kevin uses the red letters in his post. Is that a feature that is reserved for moderators? How do I find that? Is there a way to make my corrections green?

Speaking of making corrections . . . what is the most user-friendly way to do that?

I am not a professional writer. Should I specify that in every post I make so that people know that I am not perfect (or even all that close to being perfect)?

Is it okay to just take a paragraph or so of an essay and comment on that? Some of the essays are really long and my stamina wanes.

Is there an expected ratio of praise to criticism?

I would love to hear from the regulars how they approach giving feedback.

I don't think there is a real formula or set ratio for criticism that should be offered on this site. Of course all criticism should be constructive and in good taste. Aside from that you can just give us whatever you can. You don't have to be a professional writer to help others, heck I'm not. You don't need to tell us that you are not perfect in every post either.

At times you will find that it is good to just take a portion of an essay and critique it. Of course it is not as good as doing the whole thing but it is better than nothing. Sometimes I do that if I just don't have time. You can also decide to what level of depth you want to go into for any particular paper. For example you could simply suggest to shorten the intro paragraph and get more examples for the body paragraphs or you could actually go line by line and correct the whole paper for grammar and spelling.

Unfortunately, the red letters are reserved for moderators and contributors so that we can feel special.

Basically all you have to do is read whatever the work is and decide what you think would be the best way to improve it. Praise is good occasionally but the point of this site is to improve through criticism so to much praise can become a waste of space. I watched what the moderators did and just tried to do the same thing. Learn from example. Good luck!
Tyler pretty much covered it. I tend to correct for content and structure first, though. There isn't much point in editing an essay for grammar if it is going to have to be seriously rewritten, because then the corrected sentences will be deleted, or merged with other ones, and all the time spent editing will be lost. Once an essay is pretty much in its final form, apart from grammar and spelling, then I'll post comments using the red letters to correct grammatical mistakes. If the essay needs a lot of grammatical work and content work, I might include a correction or two in each comment, so that the final task isn't overwhelming.

I also find that in a lot of persuasive or argumentative essays, it helps to point out some of the opposing points of view, if you know them. A lot of people tend to ignore the opposite side of the thesis they are presenting in such cases, and so end up with essays that seem shallow. When doing this, keep it impersonal, and try to do it consistently regardless of which side you happen to be on. Try to avoid actually attacking a person for their point of view, or suggesting they switch their thesis, unless they have done a particularly bad job defending it. So, no "How can you support abortion, you murderer!" or "How can you oppose abortion, you oppressive patriarchal redneck" type comments.

It is nice to see people on the site taking an interest in improving the quality of their comments, btw. Good job.
Unfortunately, the red letters are reserved for moderators and contributors so that we can feel special.

It's not so we can feel special!! Ha ha. Makes me feel like my 4rth grate teacher, Mrs. Hammond... anyway, I think everyone has bold and italics to us, right?

Eric, thanks for making this post. I should have thought of it! Here is the important part of my response:

Please don't paste the whole essay when you make corrections. Or, as you make corrections, please divide it up so that the only sentences showing in your correction post are the sentences you corrected. We don't want to have several appearances of the whole essay in each thread.

I put that in bold so people will see it when they visit this post.
That will help us a lot.

As for making good corrections... try to lift spirits, but most importantly use your writing talant to help people see how their writing looks to others.

No, you do not have to say you are not a professional writer.

As for correcting grammar mistakes...sometimes you can tell that it is a person trying to learn English, so make corrections accordingly. Help them conjugate those verbs, etc.

Thanks again, Eric!

Eric and Tyler, all you need to do in order to know know all that a professional writer knows is study 2 little books: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and Dianna Hacker's most recent book about composition. Other than the rules of style and grammar, what is here to know?
Kevin, do you mind me asking which book by Diana Hacker you recommend? A Writer's Reference or Rules for Writers? There is also one called Successful College Writing. I already have her style guide and the Strunk & White book.
Yeah I think as a member everyone has the bold and italics. Why is it that only we have the red letters? Why couldn't regular members use red letters too?

Also please do tell us what book you are referring to by Dianna Hacker. Thanks.
A Writer's Reference is what I was talking about, because that is the one I know. I don't know about the others, but she is great. Anyway, for what its worth, those plus Stephen King's On Writing taught me everything I know. That is great that you have Strunk and White.

About the red letters, that stuff is being changed all the time. Maybe you are right, and we should give everyone the red letters. :) Sounds funny to talk about. I'll ask.
*grin* You must be pretty influential around here, Kevin. I see that I can use the red letters now. I think it will make it easier to show people corrections that are being made to their original text.

I'll have to go to Amazon and check out those books. My parents pretty much let me buy whatever I want in the way of books on their credit card. With summer around the corner, I'll have more time for reading.

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