Informed Choices in Context

In many ways, CATPAW is an online book about writing style--a guide to the choices we make in writing that connect us to our readers.

Rather than setting out rules to follow, CATPAW will help you make informed choices in context. The site accomplishes that goal in three ways:

  1. It explains some of the choices writers face.
  2. It uses computational tools to help you examine your own writing, letting you see what choices you have already made and what you might want to do differently.
  3. It places these choices in the context of advice from other prominent guides to writing.

This approach will allow you to learn classic points of writing advice: to use vivid verbs and concrete nouns, for example, or to vary the lengths of your sentences.

For each point, CATPAW will go beyond a simple model of correction to encourage you to ask your own questions and make your own choices. I advise my students to use "to be" verbs sparingly, for instance, but I also want them to ask questions such as "If 'to be' verbs are so bad, why is 'To be or not to be' one of the most famous lines in English literature?" Every rule of writing comes with exceptions that work well.

Therefore, CATPAW will approach each point of writing style by summarizing expert advice, talking about the reasons for that advice, and giving you the tools to make informed choices about your own writing. Some writing choices lend themselves to algorithmic help; a computer program can look at your writing and tell you a lot about your verb choices. In those cases, CATPAW will provide tools that support your decision-making about your own writing style.

In other areas--is your paper title engaging?--computers cannot help much, so CATPAW will offer some ways you can think about your choices and leave you to making them, either on your own or in conversation with your teachers or collaborators. Writing usually works best as a team sport!

To get started, select a topic from the menu to the left, and away we'll go.