Understanding the instructions while understanding talking to the prof

Hello everyone:

It is, quite obviously, very important to understand an assignment’s instructions. It is also, perhaps not intuitively obvious, that you learn how to talk with a professor.

This morning as I was looking over one of my online courses, there was a person who had misunderstood the instructions for turning in a rough draft. (Please note that he was the only person in a class of 25 people who did not “get it” with regard to the instructions and this was the fourth mandatory rough draft for an assignment this term . You would have thought he would have things figured out by now.)

He blamed me. He insulted me. He castigated me in a forum the entire class could see. It was not, it goes without saying,  a good approach to solving his problem.

So how do you handle the situation if you made a mistake or simply did not understand? You should email the professor privately, and nicely ask for clarification. If you absolutely need to use a common forum, you should ask politely  for clarification.

There is a nice way to do things. Sadly, he does not know what it is. Have you got an example of how to work with a professor? I would love to hear your experiences.


Dr. Sheri

Thou shalt not use words ad nauseum

Hello everyone:

One thing that beginning writers do is they use the same words over and over repeatedly. It is almost as if they have found a word they like and they cannot use it enough. (Okay, I am sometimes guilty of using the word “recalcitrant” more than I should, so I know how they feel. It’s like using the word “titillation” if you are a teen-aged boy.  Maybe you don’t even know what it means, but it sounds so…forbidden.)

So, what is to be done? Right click on your mouse and find a synonym for the word, my friend! That’s why it’s there.

In academic writing, you sometimes need to say that a certain author has stated something, so rather than write “he or she says” time and time again, try one of these words:

He argues that…

She contends …

He maintains such and such…

She claims abc and xyz….

He posits… (Note that this is a graduate-level word)

She suggests….

Do you see how things can get a whole lot more interesting by changing things up a bit?  You can vary your wording and thereby keep your professor from falling asleep while reading your document (which is a good thing).

Are there any questions you have about writing or grammar? Just ask!


Dr. Sheri


Dressing yourself when you don’t know how

Hi everyone:

Here’s a blog from my Suddenly Single Tips website that I thought you might enjoy, as well:


There are some fellows whose wives (or mothers) either always bought their clothes or always gave them advice on what to wear. They may find themselves in the dilemma of not knowing what colors to pair up or what tie to put with which suit. If this is your situation, there are several solutions.

The first is to go to an upscale department or clothing store and ask for help. The problem with this is that the sales people may be very helpful but they are there to sell you more new clothes. Many of them are on commission and they don’t make money by helping you match clothing you already have.

The next solution is to ask your friends for help, specifically those with an interest in fashion. This might be a good short-term solution but then you might end up wearing clothes that are their taste but not necessarily yours. The final solution would be to learn how to match clothing yourself.

I spoke recently with a friend who works as a personal stylist at Nordstrom.  Jen told me that men whose wives have always selected their clothing should start with a few basics. She suggested wrinkle-free khaki pants, no-iron shirts, and comfortable shoes.  The pants should be in neutral colors because that is the easiest way to match ties to the clothing.

Shirts should be white or blue; she especially cautioned that the blue should be an Oxford (light) blue rather than a French blue. When you are shopping for clothes (whether male or female), you should keep in mind that different vendors design for different body shapes. You can, therefore, be in great shape but you still might not be able to wear a certain designer’s clothing.

As far as whether to wear pleats or no pleats, pleats are sometimes not as becoming to some men while other fellows look much better in them than in a flat front pant. Try several styles on from a variety of designers and see which pant accommodates your body type the best. If you are not sure, take an honest friend with you to try on clothes.

Some men prefer to not wear a belt, but if you like having one on, pick one that is reversible and you will have two belts in one. As you add to your wardrobe, keep in mind that you don’t need a lot of clothes in your closet, but you should have more tops than bottoms.

One mistake-proof way to purchase pants is to take the Garanimal approach to clothing selection, and one manufacturer is helping you out. Bonobos offers a different color khaki pant for every day of the week. The label tells you which day of the week to wear which pair of pants. If you are willing to invest in seven or more pairs of pants, the fact that the pants are all in the same color palette means that you will not make a mistake when pulling out a shirt and a pair of trousers when you get dressed in the morning. These are all no-iron, tailored pants that range in color from light gray to blue to brown to black, so you might find them attractive. One thing to keep in mind is that your body changes through the years and it is a good idea to go to a high-end store and get measured to make sure you are wearing the right size!

If you enjoy wearing sweaters, here is the scoop on having the best style for who you are. Crew-necked sweaters (round neckline) appeal mostly to younger men. The V-neck sweater is the best bet for older men because it is more flattering on them. V-necked sweaters can be dressed up or down. Add an Oxford blue shirt and T-shirt and you look dressy. Remove the Oxford shirt and just wear a T-shirt under the sweater and you will be more casual and hip.

Quarter-zip sweaters also look stylish and are a good selection if you have shoulder issues or mobility problems. They are also nice for transitional seasons. Cardigan sweaters give you the, well, Mr. Rogers look. However, they can be helpful if you are older and frequently chilly. They can be much easier for your caregiver to help you into, if you are unable to dress yourself.

Jen also said that every man needs at least one pair of jeans. If you are the type of man who would wear a sports coat, make it a navy blue one, since that will go with everything. Before buying one, ask yourself where you would wear it. If you can’t answer the questions, you don’t need the coat.

Coats are also a way to look “together.” North Face coats are hip and trendy, and their 3 in 1 coat is especially good. Denali also makes a good fleece coat and Burber is another good quality jacket. If you do not have a “forever” watch, Hermes, Michael Kohr, or Rolex watches have an excellent reputation.


Dr. Sheri

Two overwrites does not make up for being tardy

Hello everyone:

I have had some students who thought that they could make up for always being tardy by over-writing every assignment. If I asked for one reply, they gave me two, just for good measure.

It didn’t work. If you are late on every assignment your boss gives you, but then give him or her twice as many little extras as he or she requested, it doesn’t make up for being several days late and a dollar short. It makes you, in addition to being tardy, fired.

I would prefer that you learn this from me rather than from your first big job. Late is late. If you are late at work, you might embarrass your boss, if he or she was depending on your information in order to complete his or her work for a major customer.

How can you avoid being tardy? By being well-organized and by not waiting until the last minute (or later) to complete your assignments,  you increase the possibility of being on-time. Don’t wait til 11:58 to turn something in that is due at 11:59. You never know what might block your submission.

Late is late, no matter what you think.


Dr. Sheri

What to do when you don’t know what to do

Hello everyone:

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Ask for an example. If you are nearing a deadline and you simply don’t know what the professor wants, email him or her and ask if he or she would be willing to post an example of an excellent student paper on your class page.

Periodically when one student really “gets it” and others do not, I ask the superb paper-writer if he or she would be willing to post his or her paper. In fact, I just did that today with one of my classes. The students are writing their second of four in a series of assignments and a couple of the students are trying but are not quite where I want them to be. I have tried to explain what I mean but then I realized that one of their classmates was doing the same assignment but approaching it differently. The highly-successful students are usually willing to give their classmates a hand, so everyone wins with this deal.

So, what do you do with the example? First, look at formatting. How was the paper set up? What appears first, second, and third in the document that the teacher liked? How many sources are there? Don’t try to re-invent the wheel here. The instructor has told you that this is a really good paper, so follow that paper’s lead.

Make sure that your grammar is good, that you don’t have any typos, and that you have subject/verb agreement. Do you have an introduction, body with transitions, and conclusion? Have you matched the successful paper, without copying it? It looks like you are on track for a much better grade.


Dr. Sheri

How do I get started on this assignment?

Hello everyone:

One huge question I am asked and students stress over is: how do I get started on this assignment?

The first  thing to figure out is: what is the assignment asking you to do? Do you have to write an informative speech? An essay on what you did over winter break? A narrative tale that talks about your life to date?

Let’s say that you are preparing an informative speech. What are you going to talk about? What do you know at least a little something about? One of the best informative speeches of all time that I heard in a freshman speech class was a talk on rims. (I always thought they were called hubcaps, but found out differently that day.)

The fellow who gave the talk was a very, very shy young man whose passion was rims. He did his research on his passionate love of rims and gave an incredible talk. Here are the keys to his success: he absolutely loved the topic AND he did research.

You can’t begin to write until you find out what others have said about your topic. You absolutely must do research, so that you have sources to cite.  My personal minimum on most undergraduate assignments is three outside sources. Impress your instructor and use five. Don’t do the minimum, if you expect to do well.

Sit down at your computer and begin to work. Plug your citations into the points you have decided to use (based on your research) and then build the speech around what your main points are. Add a conclusion and then go back and write the introduction. Do not copy and paste the conclusion into the introduction because they have different tasks. Please look at my blog on writing a speech for additional details.

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns. The main take-away here is you can do this, if you research your topic ahead of time!


Dr. Sheri

Making a good first impression

Hello everyone:

I just started back to my face-to-face courses today and want to talk to you for a moment about first impressions.

The old adage that you can’t make a second first impression is true. I have two classes at my face-to-face college and here is the impression I have of those students on the first day:

Most of the students are enthusiastic, attentive, and ready for the semester. I asked them to read the chapter before I lectured on it today and, based on questions and comments, I believe that many of them did.

The students look like they are drug-free (no glazed looks so far!) and seem to be dressed for class instead of being attired for the local bar. They also appear to be well-rested for their first day.

Most of the students took notes, as I requested. Only a few sat there and stared at me. Although public speaking courses can be daunting, only one student anonymously asked if the speeches were mandatory (yes, if you want to pass the course. They are worth 60% of your grade, combined, so you have to give the speeches or you will fail.) That said, I will be working with my students closely, to help them “be the best that they can be”- to paraphrase the Army slogan.

I predict a superb semester!


Dr. Sheri

The dilemma of over commas

Hello everyone:

To use a comma or not to use one, that is the question. Hopefully, you will find this blog helpful in guiding you!

Oxford commas are used to connect the second-to-the-last item in a list of things with the other items in that list. It prevents confusion, such as in the following sentence:

I love my parents, Donald Duck and Daisy Duck.  Your parents are ducks???

I love my parents, Donald Duck, and Daisy Duck. I see;  this is very clear! You love three different folks. I understand that you are human and your other loves are ducks.  (I’m not going there….you must just be a Disney fan.)

Parenthetic expression commas are used in mid-sentence. You have added in an additional thought for clarity in the middle of the sentence, such as the following:

My brother John, who is a good man, helped me move.

Commas are also helpful when you write  introductory phrases. For example, I just used an introductory phrase in this sentence.  Sometimes folks, especially undergraduates, use too many introductory words or phrases. That can be tedious, so you can flip the sentence around to get rid of the introductory phrase, such as:

I just used an introductory phrase in the sentence above, for example.

I have additional information on commas in this blog, so feel free to read through those blogs and ask questions, if you like.


Dr. Sheri

Discussion board blues

Hello everyone:

Here’s your assignment: write an initial thread of two five-sentence paragraphs that answers the questions for this week. Post by Wednesday night at 11:30 pm ET and reply to one classmate’s initial thread in  a single five-sentence paragraph by Sunday night at 11:30 pm ET.

Is that clear and concise? Any questions so far? Note that the original thread is to consist of a total of ten sentences on the topic. The reply is five sentences in length and should refer to something that is in the original thread, so that I know you read it.

I have a student who writes two one or two-sentence paragraphs every time he posts his initial thread. Instead of posting a single five-sentence paragraph to one classmate, he instead posts to ten to fifteen of his classmates, with one or two sentences. Aughh!!!! (To quote Charlie Brown when he is kicking a football that Lucy is holding.)

It is my policy to read every thread that is posted and to post my feedback on it. Instead of having two posts to read from this one person, I now have eleven to sixteen posts to open and comment on. While he is technically meeting length requirements, based on the sheer number of postings he is making, he is missing the point of the exercise.

Most of my feedback on his postings states something along the lines of “Please stick to the topic at hand” and “this posting does not meet length requirements.” Complaining that he doesn’t know what to write does not address the topic we are discussing. Ever.

What do you suggest to get this individual to follow the requirements, not just the spirit of the letter? He will receive his first participation grade at the end of this week. What should that grade be, in your opinion?


Dr. Sheri

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