Paula Petrik at George Mason University | Writing



The university has made a commitment to improve students’ writing. Toward that end, instruction in writing will be a part of this course. Effective writing is a major component of effective thinking, and, as such, is the foundation for history. it is impossible to teach the whole of composition in a semester, but it is possible to impart several useful techniques and develop a writing discipline via a continuous schedule of writing exercises.


Essentially, a blog entry should be three to four paragraphs—roughly 400-500 words or the equivalent of 1–2 double-spaced pages. You might want to draft your entry in a text-editing program first and copy and paste after you have finished. Use a plain text editor, such as Notepad on a Wintel platform or Tex-Edit on a Mac, to avoid pasting in all sorts of weird characters that result from using MS Word. Once you have written your post and put it in the edit window, be sure to publish and proof it online to ensure that you have space between paragraphs and that any images are where you want them to be.

A word about design. Good design helps your blog visitors find what they are looking for and read it once found. Certain design elements contribute to readability and legibility. For a TypePad blog, you can choose any design in Classic, Bold Colors, Cool Colors, Pale Palettes categories except Folio, Beckett, Sunburned, and Porpoise. These are just plain difficult to read, and I do not want to go blind. You should not choose anything from the Special Interest group. When you choose a layout, choose a two or three column layout. Avoid the mixed media layout; they are not appropriate for history.

Online writing and reading differs from print for a variety of reasons. Clarity is the name of the game. Each post must conform to the following format:

  1. Post number
  2. Post title
  3. Space between paragraphs
  4. Titles of books should be italicized, titles of articles or documents should put in quotation marks, and so on.
  5. Use text links to comments should use the author’s name. Do not simply use a URL.
  6. Use text links to sources on the web. Do not simply use a URL.
  7. Use images carefully: resize proportionally and include them either by centering or running the text around them.

There a single, over-arching reason for this regimen; namely, both readers and the instructor can easily find and read your posts.


Writing assignments are to be typed or computer printed, double-spaced, with standard margins. If you elect to use a word processor, you should use a standard typeface of 12 points. (For example, 12 pt. Mac Helvetica or Times is appropriate for a laser or inkjet printer and Times Roman and Arial are good bets on the Wintel platform; and 10 or 12 pitch Courier is appropriate for typewriter, and so forth.) Your name, section number, date, and a short descriptive title should appear on the paper. Pages must be numbered and must be stapled or otherwise securely attached.