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Making time for midterms and me

Welcome back everyone! I hope you’ve gotten into the swing of things now and are enjoying your time at Queen’s!

Not going to lie, it has been quite difficult for me to learn how to manage all my classes and still have time to balance extracurriculars and time with friends. I know we now have Reading Week to catch up (and luckily, I am going home for the week!), but with working on weekends and trying to spend some of that time with family, I find it can be hard to study for everything. Also, I must admit, I am a little behind on modules and labs so I’m really going to need to focus on getting things done in Reading Week. Anyone else in the same boat? It’s okay, we’ve got this! With some dedication and maybe just a little bit of caffeine (or sugar if you are like me!), we CAN do it. Make a schedule for the next week or two. Just ensure you leave room for breaks, exercise, and “you” time because your mental health is just as important as your grades!  

However, I think I’ve improved slightly at managing time since the first couple of weeks. The best tip I’ve learned is to use a planner. Trust me, it might be possible to keep everything in your head but writing out everything you need to do on a calendar helps so much in terms of organizing your time and meeting deadlines. The syllabus is your best friend when it comes to finding these deadlines so if you haven’t done so already, I suggest reading through all of them and writing down due dates to stay on track! If you are looking for a good assignment planner, I highly recommend the planner created by SASS. Now is a great time to try this: as Reading Week ends, plan out the last six weeks of semester and get back on track with your work!


Chemistry lab manuals
CHEM112 lab essentials!

Speaking of organizing your time, midterms are coming up. I don’t know about the rest of you guys but I am STRESSED (thanks to Santosh for his hot tips on dealing with midterms here though!). I haven’t written an exam in two years so I’m a little nervous in terms of how I am going to prepare myself. I have heard that active recall and practice problems are the way to go. For my physiology and chemistry classes, I am going to try the active recall technique and working through practice problems. If you’re in PSYC100, focus your studies using the “Three-Step Method” note-taking sheet. I’ve been trying to use it for several weeks in class, so we’ll see if it will help me study for midterms better. I have heard from multiple upper years that the method is very helpful when trying to learn key content. Check it out if you are interested! Anyways, hopefully I’ll be able to see which of these study methods works best for me during midterm season and keep using them in my regular study routine.

Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating and I wish all of you good luck with your midterms!

– Noor

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How to Survive Midterm Season!

Hey Gaels!

The semester is well underway and I hope it has gone successfully for you thus far. How are you feeling at this point of the year? I always try to take some time at the end of each week or two to analyze what I did well and what I can try to improve on. As we head into the midterm season and final assignments and exams beyond, it is important to learn from our mistakes!   

October, the dreaded midterm season, can be a very stressful month for students of all years and programs. I’ve had my fair share of cramming sessions and late-night coffee runs to help me stay awake over the past two years during this time of the semester. That means I would consider myself well versed in knowing how not to handle midterm season!

For me, imposter syndrome kicks in during midterms because I suddenly feel as though I am not prepared to be in a third-year epidemiology course or an advanced biochemistry course. Of course, at the same time, I assume all my peers must be doing way better than me! But spending time in study groups over the past few weeks has helped me understand that so many other students are in a very similar situation. It reminded me that university is not always a walk in the park and that our mindset plays a large role in our ability to succeed. If you struggle with imposter syndrome, Shahnawaz just wrote a great blog on the topic—make sure to check it out.

Another habit of mine during midterms is to watch Netflix. Netflix has become my coping mechanism to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to complete. I easily get anxious about workload. When I do, I quickly put away my books and watch an episode of my favourite shows (Brooklyn 99 usually does the trick). But then I get trapped: one 30-minute episode turns into me binge watching 5-6 episodes in one sitting. I learned the hard way that doing this makes me even more stressed. A few things that have helped me to overcome this spiral have been:

  1. I don’t auto-save my Netflix password on my laptop. When I open the website, I’ll be taken to the log-in page rather than automatically seeing my favourite shows. That extra barrier sometimes helps me reconsider what I’m doing! I have also removed Netflix from my bookmark tab, providing yet one more barrier between me and escape.
  2. Studying with peers gives me a sense of community that helps me feel motivated to put forth my best effort. Pro tip: from my experience, studying in groups of 4-6 people is an ideal study group size. If you’re still not sure of where to find peers to study with, head to SASS’ study hall sessions on Friday afternoons, 2-3pm, in Stauffer 121: you’ll be sure to find a supportive and friendly group to help you out!
  3. I give myself a real reward when I do complete planned work. I personally love to play a game of FIFA 21 after a hard-working day or study session. It sounds simple, but positive reinforcement works wonders. So stop studying more and more, and set some small goals, stop when you’re done, and enjoy the good feelings!
  4. I use the SASS Assignment Planner to break large assignments down into manageable chunks, which makes a seemingly impossible task very much possible. Sometimes you just need something to simplify something that seems overwhelming.

One of my goals this year is to manage my time better. I hope to make this midterm season my most effective one yet—without adding to my feelings of being overwhelmed. Attending in-person classes, spending time with friends, and collaborating with club members to create events has been such an amazing experience this year. However, this busier environment has made it harder for me to stay on track. To help me manage my time and stick to deadlines, I created an Excel sheet that has all my due dates for the year. Here’s a screenshot of the beginning of my “Due Date List”:

My Due Date List:

screenshot of excel sheet with course codes, task titles, due dates, and completion status

As you can see, I’ve listed the course, assignment, due date, and competition status for each assignment/test. Just taking a glance at this sheet each day helps me to understand what I need to work on for the day! If you are like me and easily forget due dates, this is an awesome and low-effort way to help you stay on track. You can also have a section on the sheet for any non-academic due dates (e.g. creating an Instagram post for your club, attending an event, etc.) to stay on top of everything!

Whether you are preparing for your midterms or are finishing up your last one already, I wish you all the very best! I cannot wait to see how the rest of the semester will unfold.

See you next time! – Santosh

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Efficient study: two weeks and counting

Hello, everyone! Wow, I cannot believe it has been two weeks since I moved to Kingston and the school year started. It feels like two months have passed. I’ve already done so many things, met so many people, and become so integrated into campus life that I can’t believe I’ve done it all within two weeks. It feels like I’ve been here forever.

I’ve made new friends, been added to study group chats, and had a fun night of poker with my new neighbours. I’ve been keeping healthy, taking an average of 14,000 steps per day walking back and forth around campus. In terms of school life, I have learned so much content and I feel like I have become more productive than I was last year.

In my last blog, I wrote about my many goals: procrastination and motivation, finding my best study methods, and time management. I find that being on campus naturally subdues my procrastination. Living on campus helps me have a study mindset that was difficult to get into when I was learning from home last year. A few weeks ago, I toured all the Queen’s libraries with my friend to find the one I could call home for the next three years. The law library is my favourite, but keep that a secret between you and me; I’m afraid it’ll be overrun with students if they all know how beautiful it is. I also love going to Stauffer to study after dinner when it’s a bit quieter. You’ll often find me on the first floor in the evenings—though I know the dangers of staying up late studying, so I try to be careful!

Before the school year started, I read up on SASS’ learning strategies. Two that I’m implementing right now are preview and spaced practice (http://sass.queensu.ca/memory/). I’m currently taking many challenging courses, and for some classes, like differential equations, it’s difficult for me to understand when I walk blindly into the lecture. To aid in my comprehension, I read and annotate the lecture notes before the class to understand what’s going on. To compare, it’s like driving down an utterly unfamiliar road versus driving down a road you’ve already taken once. Although you didn’t memorize the directions perfectly, you feel a bit more comfortable and familiar with going that route than you did the first time.

I try and stay active during lectures, but I need to improve my listening comprehension while taking notes. I definitely cannot do both at once, so reading before class is essential. Previewing content also helps with spaced practice (short review sessions over multiple days or weeks rather than cramming) since I generally review old content before reading new content. I haven’t noticed a substantial change in results yet, but I’m looking forward to see how this method will help over time!

Example of mindmap notes
I organized the methods I planned to take notes with for each class so I could be a bit more prepared and work effectively.

I also like spaced practise because it keeps me motivated and focused. It seems like the ideal amount of time to study per period is no more than 3 hours because, after a while, we get distracted and can’t focus. I use the Pomodoro method of working (being “on”) 25 minutes and then a break (being “off”) for 10 minutes. Some people do “on” for 20 minutes and “off” for 5, or “on” for 50 minutes and “off” for 15. Each person works effectively in different ways, but we all need breaks to reward ourselves and continue focusing. I find that taking breaks when cramming makes me feel guilty, whereas gaps in spaced practice do not (since I’m supposed to be spacing out my work for better learning, anyway). So try spaced practice—it’s way better than those long cramming sessions!

When I plan time to study or preview lecture notes, I use the weekly calendar that I made. I block sections of my daily schedule (which is within my weekly calendar) to easily see the time I have throughout the day. I like to see the occupied and unoccupied spaces I have in my calendar to gauge what I can and can’t do within a day. I used to have to-do lists, but they didn’t allow me to see the exact times I had available, so I quickly became overwhelmed. I know that many students use Google Calendar or the SASS weekly calendar to block off time. They’re great methods to schedule out your days and weeks and ensure you have time to complete the tasks you want to do. Time-blocking is probably one of my favourite things about organizing!

sample weekly calendar
Any example of my weekly calendar with my daily schedule underneath.

My last thought: a lot of things can change within a short period. Just last month, I finished my summer exams in Guelph, enjoyed the remnants of the summer, and got ready for my second year of university. Now, I feel like I’ve had entirely new study habits just because of a new environment and a tweak of scheduling and learning strategies. By the next time you hear from me, I’ll have submitted a 10-page report with my APSC 200 project teammates, started intramural volleyball, and probably met a lot more people.

I’m looking forward to the good changes in your next few weeks too. Let’s make them great changes! 😊

I’ll see you next time, Gaels! – Liyi

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Writing help for undergraduates

Many lower-year undergraduates are working to meet upcoming paper-writing deadlines.

If you’re looking for guidance on your essays, lab reports, reflection papers, or any other writing projects, SASS’ full appointment schedule is now available.

student and consultant work on a paper together

Our Peer Writing Assistants are upper-year and MA/MSc students trained to help you develop your structure, style, flow, and grammar in first and second-year assignments. Book up to two appointments per week, bring your drafts or almost-complete assignments, and our team will help you write the best paper you can.

Our English as an additional language specialists can help with any aspect of academic English. Book your time to consult with them on developing speaking, reading, writing or listening skills to help you excel in courses at Queen’s.

Reserve your PWA or EAL appointment using our online booking system. We’re looking forward to seeing you soon!

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SASS campus reopening information

students sitting in the shade outside Stauffer LibraryAs the Queen’s community returns to campus, SASS is offering a range of online and in-person options in Fall 2021.

  • All appointments will take place online. Read more about SASS’ appointments.
  • Undergraduate and graduate workshops will be offered in-person and online. See the events calendar for more details.
  • SASS’ staff and peer team will offer a range of events, including drop-in advice sessions and study and writing groups, across campus. Follow our Instagram feed for upcoming events.

SASS’ reception desk on the ground floor of Stauffer Library will be open 8:30 to 4:30, Monday to Friday, starting September 1, for students looking for assistance with reservations or further information about our services.

While the pandemic continues, the best way to contact us remains by email or direct message to our Instagram or Facebook pages.

For further information about Queen’s re-opening framework and health and safety on campus, please visit the Safe Return to Campus website

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Fall 2021

For Fall 2021, SASS is here to help you, regardless of your year or program. Our FAQs page is one place to start, or you might explore content in the tabs at the top of this page. Welcome to SASS!

1. How can SASS support me?

SASS is here to help you be successful with study habits, note-taking skills, essay,  report, and dissertation writing, time management, math problem-solving, and more. Students can start with our online resources, which are available 24/7 on our website and cover a variety of topics related to writing and academic skills. Students can also book individualized 1:1 appointments with professional writing consultants, English-as-additional-language consultants, and academic skills specialists. Currently, these appointments are online using an integrated tool in our online booking system. Find out more about booking an appointment here.

2. Is there a specific resource that can help me meet academic expectations at Queen's?

Yes! SASS has developed Academics 101, a series of free and interactive online tutorials to help incoming students develop essential academic and writing skills. Students can do any or all of the seven tutorials at their own pace while learning how to be successful in the Queen’s learning environment. Academics 101 concludes by showing students how to make a plan to succeed throughout their first six weeks at Queen’s. Starting 2nd year? We have you covered. Check out Levelling up: Essential skills for second-year success. Learn more about the supports available to 2nd year students.

3. Can I book 1:1 appointments at SASS?

Yes! SASS offers 1:1 support for writing, academic skills, and English as an additional language skills. Currently, these appointments are offered online using an integrated tool in our online booking system. Find out more about booking an appointment here. If you prefer, you can book an appointment by phone (613-533-6315).

4. What if I would rather have an in-person appointment?

SASS will continue to  offer our 1:1 services online for the fall term. Please check our website for the most up-to-date information about our services and programs, and stay informed generally with the Queen’s University Safe Return information page. If you have questions about online appointments, please email academic.success@queensu.ca.

5. Are workshops and drop-in programs still happening?

For Fall 2021, our workshop and drop-in programs will be delivered both in-person and online, using a variety of platforms. Our first-year transition workshops will feature live sessions and duplicate 50-minute Zoom sessions on a range of academic skills and writing topics, including foundations of success for humanities and STEM disciplines, reading and notetaking skills, tackling math problems,  focus and motivation, and  other timely topics; peer volunteers will give a short presentation at the start of each session, providing clear and actionable strategies for improving learning, then lead group discussion on the topic of each workshop. Grad students, please note: we’re also adding a grad-specific workshop series. Additionally, we will offer the twice-a-week Write Nights and Grad Writing Lab. Please check our Upcoming Events section and social media feeds for the most current information.

6. I am an English as Additional Language student. Can I access EAL support in Fall 2021?

EAL support will be continuing in the fall. This support includes online appointments for the development of academic English skills.

  • Our popular Write Nights program, where students learn about and practice English academic writing, will be on Zoom this fall.
  • Want to increase your confidence speaking in an academic setting? Join us for Speak Up, an academic speaking skills lab where you can practice speaking strategies for interacting in the university classroom, and with peers and professors.
  • The Academic Connections Certificate allows you to uncover the academic expectations at Queen’s University through information and services about academic success and overcoming academic culture shock. Register here for this certificate.

Keep checking the EAL page for program details.

7. What can SASS do for graduate students?

SASS is here to help you be successful as you progress through your graduate studies. Students can start with our online resources, which are available 24/7 on our website and cover a variety of topics related to writing and academic skills. We are offering a series of workshops for graduate students in the Fall and Winter semesters. If you are working on writing, you might sign up for Grad Writing Lab, a structure and online space to support graduate students’ writing progress and sense of community. Students can also book individualized 1:1 appointments with professional writing consultants, English-as-additional-language consultants, and academic skills specialists. Currently, these appointments are all online using an integrated tool in our online booking system. Find out more about booking an appointment here.

8. I am a parent or guardian of a Queen's student. How can I help my student access academic support?

Please see our page for Parents/Guardians with additional information about how you can support your student academically by referring them to our services and programs. Parents of second-year students can refer to Second Year Stride: How to Prep, What to Expect.

9. What if I need other supports?

There are many services available to support you with wellness, faith and spirituality, accessibility, career questions, and many other aspects of student life. If you are an incoming student, a great place to start is the Queen’s Next Steps website. You can also refer to the Student Affairs COVID-19 website to see how you can access all of the services provided by Student Affairs.

10. I had an IEP / accessibility accommodation in high school. How can SASS help?

SASS works with all students to support them in their academic skill development. However, we do not provide accommodations; we refer students with questions about accessibility or accommodations to Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS).

11. I have questions regarding refunds, course selection, and other general SOLUS inquiries, what do I do?

Please note that our office does not handle requests such as these. The Office of the University Registrar can support you with various inquiries including:

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Welcome to Student Academic Success Services!

Book an appointment at SASS Academic skills and writing resources Attend an upcoming SASS event Request a SASS workshop

Student Academic Success Services (SASS) offers academic support to students who wish to develop their skills in critical thinking, reading, learning, studying, writing, and self-management. We welcome Queen’s undergraduate and graduate students at all stages of program completion and all levels of ability.

We offer individual appointments to enhance students’ academic skills and writing skills, support for students with English as an Additional Language, workshops, outreach events, and online resources. We can help you

Our upper-year volunteers, the SASS Peers (PLAs and PWAs), also post weekly blogs during the fall and winter terms. Check out our archives for candid, helpful (and often funny!) posts on surviving and thriving as a Queen’s student.

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Self-Care and Mental Health – Taking Care of YOU!

By Jessica MacNaught, 3rd year ConEd Linguistics/French student

Take time to take care of the most important person – yourself. 

As all students know, it can be hard when you need to balance school, extracurriculars, and a social life. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to take care of yourself physically – to eat, sleep, and exercise enough to be healthy and feel your best. But what about your mental health?

Mental health is something we all have, and something that it is important for all of us to remain conscious of, even during stressful times such as midterm or exam season. It is very easy to get caught up in a hectic schedule and feel overwhelmed. However, it is always important to remember that your health is more important than anything else, and your mental health is just as valid as your physical health (and sometimes they can be interconnected)!

One way that you can take care of your mental well-being is to ensure that you practice effective self-care. Self-care is the act of doing something that makes you feel rejuvenated and at peace in order to maintain a healthy mind and soul. Self-care can be anything that makes you feel happy – whether it’s going for a jog, watching some Netflix, spending time with your pet, calling a friend, colouring, or more! Try to schedule in some time just for yourself each week, where you can check in with yourself and take care of YOU, the most important person.

There is a great resource from Queen’s Student Academic Success Services (SASS) that can help to reflect on how much you are taking care of yourself. You can find it here.  This sheet showcases a number of ways you can care for yourself, and look out for yourself (for example, asking for help from others or saying “no” to requests when you know you don’t have time) and allows you to evaluate your use of these methods. Using this resource made me aware that I wasn’t really taking the time to make sure that I was caring for myself as much as I needed to. When I took the time to reflect and take care of myself, I felt more peaceful and more productive. Another way to improve your mental health is to avoid stressors as much as you can. If you know that a situation makes you feel negatively, work towards avoiding or at least preparing for that situation. For example, If speaking publicly makes you nervous, you can minimize that anxiety by preparing in advance for a presentation – there are some really great public speaking resources here. You can write a script, practice the presentation with friends, or ask your professor if you can present to them one-on-one.

As for myself, I get anxious about forgetting what I am doing next, so I use a schedule on Google Calendar to plan my day so I know I won’t miss anything important! Another way to make self-care a priority is to add it into your schedule.  I use cooking and baking as a form of self-care, and it makes me feel relaxed and productive, but you might like to do something else – and that’s okay, because there is no one way to practice self-care! Choose a few hours each week to dedicate to yourself, and make it a date! When you get back to studying, working, and living life, you’ll feel so much more refreshed and ready to face the day.

If you find that you need to talk to someone about your mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. The Peer Support Centre at Queen’s, which is located in Room 034 of the JDUC, is a confidential, non-judgemental, positive space where you can go to talk to a volunteer about any topic, and they are so supportive! Good2Talk, a hotline for post-secondary students, is also open 24 hours and can be reached at 1-866-925-5454.


Here are some ways to use self-care!

Photo courtesy of Sacha Chua under flickr Creative Commons License 2.0.

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3 Tips to Help Develop Your Essay Writing Style

By Micah Norris, 3rd Year History/Art History student

It may sometimes feel that the strictures of university essay writing limit our ability to develop our own personal writing style, but this belief cannot be further from the truth. A professor of mine once said that by the end of the school year, he could tell whose essay he was reading without even looking at our names. How? We all have a distinct way of writing that is just as unique as our talking voice. Writing style is the manner in which we express our ideas; this manner includes word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and tone. An effective style will keep your reader engaged and interested in your essay. Let’s look at three ways to further advance your writing style!

  1. Write Daily!

The best way to develop your writing style is also the easiest (bonus!). The more you write, the more you are able to understand who you are as a writer and be able to improve. Consider carrying a journal around with you and write about your daily activities. The subject doesn’t have to be complicated. Write about that cute dog you pet, what you ate for dinner, or anything that you think is worth writing down! You will begin to notice recurring patterns in your writing (such as certain phrases or words you tend to use) and can then decide what aspects of your writing work well and what needs to be developed more. Frequent writing will also help you develop skills in conveying ideas concisely and efficiently, which is a major asset for essay writing. I also encourage you to go back and re-read your past writing. You might be surprised at how much you’ve grown as a writer!

To learn more about how to incorporate writing into your daily life, check out Queen’s Learning Strategies advice on time management here: http://sass.queensu.ca/learningstrategies/topic-time-management/

  1. Pay Attention to Tone

 Just as when we speak, there is often more meaning in how we say something than what we’re saying in our writing—this is called tone. When you write an essay, think about the attitude with which you want to approach a given topic. Two important writing tools that help express your desired tone are adjectives and punctuation.  Consider the example below:

  1.  Due to the Union Army’s tremendous military success, they valiantly defeated the Confederates on May 9, 1865 and ended the U.S Civil War!
  2.  Despite the efforts of the Confederates, they were defeated by the Union Army on May 9, 1865, thus ending the U.S Civil War.

Using value-laden words such as “tremendous” and “valiantly,” and emphatic punctuation such as an exclamation mark, changes my tone. The second example’s more moderate tone is more appropriate to academic writing. Always remember to make sure that your essay’s language and punctuation match your intended tone.

  1. Explore Different Writing Styles

 Academic writing is meant to be formal and professional, but that doesn’t mean there is only one way to write essays. To figure out a writing style that best suits you, it may be helpful to explore different ways of writing. Perhaps you are used to persuasive writing, where you try to convince your reader of a certain idea or opinion by taking a strong one-sided stance in your essay. If you are looking for a new way to convey ideas, you can approach your writing with an expository style. This style focuses more on revealing facts to your reader in sequential points, almost like walking them step-by-step through your ideas. Keep in mind that different styles work best for different assignments, so being able to write in more than one writing style is very advantageous.

 Tip: A good way to explore different writing styles is to pay critical attention to the style of other writers. Next time you’re reading a book or newspaper article, think about how the author is trying to talk to you, the reader. Explore a variety of sources, both fiction and non-fiction. There is no limit when it comes to reading!

Photo courtesy of Lucas under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.




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Top 3 Tips of Where to Start When Editing Your Paper

By Cassidy Burr, 2nd year English/Art History

For many years of my life, I was against editing my papers. I thought I did enough editing as I wrote, and that what I had done was “good enough.” Well, let me tell you what a difference editing can make and how “good enough” is no longer good enough for me. Looking at your paper with fresh eyes, and reading it all the way through, can make all the difference, but it can also be intimidating. Here are my top 3 tips on where to start editing your paper.

  1. The Lonely “This”

Let’s start out with one that a lot of people miss, but is easy to fix. Look for any time you have written the word “this” without anything after it. For example: “The environment is negatively affected by this.” This what? Being specific will help make your argument clearer and get to what you are trying to say faster. “This” needs to be followed by a noun which is clearly connected to a previous idea. The corrected example could be something like, “The environment is negatively affected by this cataclysmic event.”

  1. Tightly-Packed Sentences

A general rule of thumb is that your sentence should not be more than 4 lines long. Sometimes including a long sentence is fitting, but it still has to be properly punctuated. Even if you use the right punctuation, it still might be confusing for the reader if there are too many ideas in one sentence. Check your writing: how many ideas are you trying to include in a sentence? If there are more than one, try to break it up. If you can’t see the divide in the sentence, maybe ask a friend to read it and look for where the divide could go.

  1. Common Commas

Most of the time while talking to my friends about editing our papers, we talk about commas, and I think it is safe to say that commas are one of the most common forms of punctuation with which writers struggle. One hard and fast rule to look out for is to never put a comma between a subject and a verb. However, good writers need to know comma rules –  for more details check out the Writing Centre’s simple explanation here (PDF).

Even though this list is short, I hope that these three tips will help you get started with editing your paper, or maybe convince you that editing is worth it.

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