UofL Writing Center

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The 5-Step Process for Writing a To-Do List

Kristin Hatten, Consultant

Alongside the crisp autumn air and the leaf mosaics covering the ground come final projects, long research papers, and tests galore. In short, it’s crunch time, y’all. So, you may ask, how do we manage our time so we can get our work done and maybe have a little itty bitty bit of fun, too? The answer is a to-do list! Some people may argue that writing a to-do list seems like an activity that only requires halfway conscious thought; I beg to differ. To-do lists not only keep you accountable, but they can actually do wonders for the confidence you have in the work you do.

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If you’re struggling to figure out where to begin, follow these 5 easy steps and you’ll be a to-do list making, reading, writing, studying machine!

1. Include Tasks You Have Already Completed

If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed, write down tasks you have already completed and go ahead and cross them off. Now, I know this may sound a little ridiculous—okay, maybe a lot ridiculous—but it will allow you the feeling of continuing rather than starting a list. Starting is often the hardest part of any project or goal. (Let’s be real, why would you start being productive when you can watch an entire season of Parks and Rec on Netflix in one sitting?) But alas! The future you calls and begs you to do your work, do it well, and do it without pulling all your hair out. If you frame your to-do list in a way that shows that you have already taken the first step towards being productive (even if it is hanging up all your clean laundry or scooping the kitty litter), continuing on to the next task will be just that…a continuation rather than a dreaded beginning. Also, when you’re stressed and you feel like you’re barely staying afloat, marking a task off your (seemingly never-ending) to-do list can be a serious cathartic experience.

2. Write Down the Items in the Order You Intend to Do Them

So, I know this seems like work before starting on the actual work, but you will thank yourself later. Assigning a logical order to your list gives you the opportunity to ease yourself into the work. There are many ways you can organize: start small and build from there, begin with your least favorite subject so you can get it out of the way first, or start with the larger project if you feel like you’ll be productive earlier in the day. Obviously, the way you tailor your to-do list is entirely up to you, but take the time to actually organize it into a logical set of tasks so you’ll be more likely to get into—and stay in—the groove of things.

3. Keep A Logical Scope in Mind

This is absolutely, entirely, so, so important. As a new grad student, I am quickly realizing that making a to-do list is a lot like designing a large research project in that you have to be realistic about what you—as a human being without superpowers or seventeen arms—can accomplish in the amount of time you have. Even if you are making a to-do list for the weekend—which seems like a lot of time—it is still important to think about what you can realistically get done. One, this will help you plan for and prioritize the following week (let’s be honest, chances are that every single thing will not get done on the weekend), and, two, this will keep you from getting discouraged when you check off three or four items, feel great about your progress, and then still have an unending list staring you in the face. Time management, stress management, and keeping yourself sane in the midst of the end of semester madness has a lot to do with being honest with yourself, setting realistic expectations, and feeling like you’ve accomplished something.

4. Be Detailed and Specific

I know this is another moment where you’re thinking, “how much work do I have to do before actually doing the work?”, but again, you will thank yourself later. By “detailed and specific,” I mean, instead of writing down “read for English class,” write down what the individual articles are so you don’t have to go back to your syllabus a hundred times to remind yourself what article from Blackboard applies to what day in class. Also, actually looking at the upcoming assignment will help you know how much you can logically get done in that day (re: step #3).

5. Indicate When the Task is Complete, and Do It Like You Mean It!

The final step is my favorite step. Once you have made your detailed, logical to-do list, get out a colorful pen and go to town marking off, checking off, scratching out, or x-ing through the tasks you have completed. Like I said earlier—for me at least—this is such a cathartic experience. As students, who happen to also do things in regular life, it is easy to feel that we are completely sacrificing one thing in order to pay attention to another. While this demand is part of being a student, creating a to-do list that is manageable and well organized, and scratching through the completed tasks with a vengeance, allows you a well-earned feeling of productivity and accomplishment. Plus, when you can look at all the aweseome things you accomplished that day, you can feel better about entering into a little bit of personal time. So, when you get to crossing off that last task, go treat yourself and celebrate a job well done!

Words on Cooking with Words

Chris Scheidler, Consultant

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Plato infamously likened rhetoric to cookery. Rhetoric is a tricky word to define, but for the sake of this blog post (which originates from a university writing center), I’ll posit: rhetoric is goal-directed writing; rhetorical techniques are strategies we employ that help to achieve our goal. Whew.

Plato meant to undermine writing when he called it cookery, but (value judgments on the worth of writing aside) composition and gastronomy have many useful similarities. Both require preparation. Both have a process. Both can be social. Both have misconceptions regarding style. So, I ask you, blog reader – humor this composing cook as I expand on the kitchen comparisons of writing and gastronomy.

Mise en Place

Mise en place” is a French term that means “putting in place.” When used in a kitchen, mise en place is a noun that roughly means: all the prep work you’ve done ahead of time. Good gastronomes don’t want to be stuck cutting their produce and measuring their spices while the meat is burning on the grill. Having your mise en place simplifies cooking. Writing has a mise en place, too. We can get our mise en place for writing by outlining our papers, doing our research, and preparing our citations ahead of time. When I don’t have my writing mise en place, just like an underprepared cook, I get anxious and I struggle to dish out a decent paper. For me, the end results are similar to the cook’s results: an underwhelming and difficult to swallow piece. In the words of Gordon Ramsey, “Not good enough.”

What’ s for dinner

Writing, like cooking, can be an experiment, exploration, or creative endeavor. Sometimes we keep the same ingredients and alter only the order (as in: “like cooking, writing can be…”). Other times we experiment with completely different ideas and change the dish entirely. Nevertheless, much of the writing we do in a university is ordered from a menu. If your professor orders up a 2-page analysis, then a 5-page summary won’t do. This doesn’t mean that every paper should be the same: you can deglaze a pan with brandy or broth – you can analyze with juxtaposition or deconstruction. Regardless, there are expectations to meet; I usually expect my burger to be on a bun. Unfamiliar with the type of writing you’re being asked to do? Thankfully, there are places like university writing centers that can help you navigate the recipes and techniques.

I’ll have what she’s having

You can eat alone or you can eat with company. What you’ve written can be shared – passed around the Burkean Parlor as an hors d’oeuvre, or as something more substantial. Even the act of writing can be a shared and social process. I often seek out peer reviewers to taste-test my writing. It can be a bit scary, I’m always afraid they’ll gag, but my peers have helpful advice and have yet to gag on anything I’ve written.

Gourmets

I suppose it would be easy to get wrapped up in the misconception that haute cuisine is in someway intrinsically better than everyday cooking. I believe the appeal to stylistic and “fanciness” of elevated grammars and gourmets is wrong. There is a place for the well-plated gourmet meals, but a well-executed burger is equally commendable.

So whether you’re looking for a taste-tester, a recipe translator, or a little help getting your mise en place – consider stopping by your university writing center.

How I Write: Tim Johnson – Professor of English

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Our featured writer this week is Professor Tim Johnson. Dr. Johnson is new to the University of Louisville’s English Department, having just finished his Doctorate in English-Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He teaches rhetoric and writing courses and researches the intersections of rhetoric, writing, and the economy.

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Location: Bingham Hall, Louisville, Kentucky

Current project: An article for the journal Rhetoric and Public Affairs concerned with Ford Motor Company’s films during and after World War II

Currently reading: Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, March by Geraldine Brooks

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

I’ve been doing a lot of proposal writing lately: an abstract for an edited collection on technical writing, a presentation proposal for an upcoming conference. I like writing these brief statements because they force me to be brief and figure out the gist of what I’m working on. Beyond that, I work on a pretty steady queue of journal articles, potential book chapters, emails, and classroom materials.

Generally, I like to be in a few different “stages” of the writing process on a handful of projects all at one time—planning one, compiling research for another, doing the actual writing for a third, and revising a fourth. While this isn’t always the most efficient practice (I start more than I finish), I have found that it keeps me from getting so fixated on any one piece of writing that I become unproductive. This rotation also makes working on one project feel like taking a break from another and that mental shift can make all the difference; plus, I have found there is a certain degree of serendipity in having multiple projects (I’ll find a great source for one while researching for another, or the phrasing I spent an afternoon trying to get right comes to me when revising another project).

2. When/where/how do you write?

Right now my work consists of writing, teaching writing, and teaching the teaching of writing—so, essentially, most of my day is filled up with writing-related activity. I very much enjoy this…though it doesn’t make me much fun at dinner parties. When really getting down to the business of writing, though, I try to have at least an hour on my hands to devote to the project without an interruption.

In terms of place, I’ve been writing at my home desk or in my office on campus. Now that it has cooled off a bit, I take to my porch as well. I like to have a window to look out of and the occasional excuse to get up and take a stroll. I’m constantly trying to update and change my process, but lately it has been pretty uniform: I begin by reading something (usually from the same genre that I will be writing). I find that it helps to see another writer in action as this can spark ideas and cause my own writerly voice to come out. Once comfortable, I will start reading my work from the top. On a good day, I’ll get to the part of the work that I was planning to expand and proceed writing. More often than I’d like, though, somewhere along the way I’ll decide the order is wrong, change the organization, realize this wasn’t the problem, and then finally get to the writing I meant to start with.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

A computer and a pair of headphones. If I’m in the revision process, I rely a lot on my computer’s text-to-speech function. There’s something about a pseudo-mechanical voice reading my writing aloud that makes me more aware of what needs adjusting. At this point, it has become an essential part of my process.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Seek feedback, or just someone to talk to about what you’re up to. Do this during the process of writing, not just once the work is finished. I find that, when left to my own devices, getting a piece of writing to come out right can involve going around in circles. However, if I can get someone to read and talk with me about my work, something magical happens and I can suddenly write again. Apparently, there is some kind of Center that will do this for free on campus.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Think in sections. Trying to wrestle with the entirety of a piece in any one sitting is not only exhausting, but largely inefficient. Learning to break a project into a set of shorter, more manageable tasks made both writing and revision easier.

“Let it go.” This came from a mentor who noticed my refusal to send anything to them unless it was just right. Again, sharing my work was a real breakthrough and sometimes my biggest challenge as a writer has been good, old-fashioned self-doubt.

The ePortfolio: Shaping Your Online Presence Through a Professional Medium

Haley Petcher, Consultant 

The weather is still pretty warm, but somehow it’s already October. October means that graduate school applications are beginning to be due, and for those of you graduating in December, the “real world” of jobs is right around the corner. You want to get into grad school and to get a job, but how will the committees and employers know the real you? How will the people writing your rec letters know details about what you did during your undergraduate career? The answer is what you would expect from a University Writing Center employee: by writing.

These days, though, everything is digital. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., we have a large digital footprint with details about ourselves, but none of those footprints are professional. At my undergraduate institution, Auburn University, I learned about ePortfolios, which are basically personal websites that showcase your experiences and skills by contextualizing pictures, papers, and projects. I created one for an English class, but I have a confession: I didn’t finish one in time for applications. Guys, I regret that. However, I recently completed one that represents my experiences in undergrad, and I hope to complete another ePortfolio by the end of my MA program.

Before you say, “I don’t have papers to share,” I promise that ePortfolios aren’t just for English majors. I’ve seen examples of ePortfolios by by engineers, pharmacy studentsbusiness students, artists, nurses, and vet students. They pick some of their best projects and presentations to showcase and contextualize.

Creating an ePortfolio is like writing a paper with pictures. Here are a few quick tips to get you started:

  • First, think about your audience. Often it’s professionals, like a professor who is writing your rec letter or a graduate or hiring committee.
  • Next, write a “thesis” for your ePortfolio. That is, what do you want to prove to your audience? One of my friends, for example, majored in English and minored in business. He wanted to prove that his experiences in English, tutoring, hiring committees, and leadership meshed with his love for books. After getting his MBA, he hopes to find a job at a publishing company.
  • Consider how you want to organize your ePortfolio. Should each page have to do with a verb, like “research” or “teach,” or should each page relate to words like “teamwork” or “service”?
  • Pick the most important things you did that are connected to your “thesis” and organize them according to your pages. When you write about them, try to explain the project and to explain what you learned from it.
  • Pick an online venue, like wix.com or weebly.com. (They’re free!)
  • Start creating your ePortfolio! (Remember to use appropriate pictures. Pictures of you outside – by yourself – are often good.)

When you complete your ePortfolio, you can put the link on your resume or email signature. (If there’s something to click, people will probably click it. Take advantage of other people’s curiosity!)

You’re probably wondering what happens if your future employer or grad school doesn’t review your ePortfolio. The great thing is about creating an ePortfolio is that by analyzing and writing about your work, you will begin to better understand what you enjoy about your studies and experiences and how your time in undergrad will help you reach your goals. The ePortfolio shows that you can think critically about your interests and allows you to explain how volunteering at the animal shelter or starting a club for students who enjoy tap dancing makes you an attractive and unique candidate for the job.

If you want some more examples, try checking these out! Also, since an ePortfolio involves writing and is like a paper, you can always bring it to the University Writing Center for a writing consultation.

Note: I received most of this information from presentations I attended while working with Auburn University’s Office of University Writing (OUW). You can learn more about ePortfolios by reviewing the OUW’s website.

Advice for Using Sources

Hannah Cunningham, Consultant

Using sources: many college professors require their students to use and cite sources in their papers. But how to go about doing that? Students know there are several options for using sources, so how do we decide between a direct quotation, a paraphrase, or a summary?

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Sometimes, it’s a difficult choice. At the same time, using sources is vital to producing academic writing, so it’s important that you learn how to do it well. In order for you to avoid plagiarism, build your own credibility, and communicate with an academic audience, you must be able to use sources effectively. Here are the three main ways you can use sources and a brief explanation of when you would use each technique:

1. Direct Quotation. A direct quotation is a complete sentence, several sentences, or part of a sentence that is reproduced word for word from another source. Many teachers require that you use quotations in your paper. Some teachers offer guidelines (one quotation per paragraph, five quotations over the course of the paper, etc.), while others don’t set minimums but expect to see at least some direct quotations. Either way, quotations can enhance your essay.

Typically, a direct quotation is used to point out a specific detail in the text, or to glean the benefit of a well-written sentence on the part of the author. A direct quotation should be very clearly connected to your argument. For example, if you are writing about a specific instance of bird imagery in The Awakening, it would be most effective to directly quote a sentence that involves a bird. Similarly, if you find a particular sentence of an author’s to be particularly well-written or effective, it may serve you best to use that sentence in your own text. In both cases, it is vitally important that whenever you are using someone else’s language, word for word, you cite the material that you are using. Direct quotes must be placed in quotation marks, and they must contain a reference to the source from whence they came.

2. Paraphrase. Paraphrase differs from a direct quotation in that the wording and syntax vary from the original source. Paraphrasing is a handy technique if you want to reference a larger section of material, without directly quoting many lines of the original text. For instance, if you read an article on the ways in which social media is affecting communication skills, you might want to reference one point (say, how Twitter privileges short segments of information) from the larger article in your own paper. Rather than copy out the author’s entire paragraph on Twitter word for word, you could simply summarize the information in your own style.

Paraphrasing does not require quotation marks, but does require citation. In this example, you could restate the author’s argument about how Twitter is affecting communication and continue from there with your own point. However, putting the argument in your own words does not make the argument original to you; since you acquired that idea from another source, you have to give credit to that source in your paper.

3. Summary. Summary is similar to paraphrase in that you are using your own words to present someone else’s argument. However, a paraphrase generally deals with a specific element from a source, while a summary deals with the source as a whole. To continue the earlier example, if you wanted to reference the entire paper on social media’s effect on communication, and not just the paragraph regarding Twitter, you might say “X [author] argues that social media is affecting communication in ways A, B, and C.” A summary acknowledges that an idea is not original to you, but doesn’t bog the reader down with a lot of specifics. Just as with paraphrase, you do not use quotation marks for a summary; however, you still have to cite it.

Citing your sources does more than prevent you from committing plagiarism. As important as that is, citations also serve to place your argument in a larger academic context. Effectively using (and citing) sources allows your audience to read more deeply into your subject; if they find it interesting, they can seek out the articles you have referenced and use them to form their own opinion.

Stating the Obvious

Bobby Rich, Consultant

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When it comes to writing, clarity is king. If what you’re writing isn’t clear, the reader will not be able to follow it, and the point you wished to make could be lost in misunderstanding. A big element of developing clarity in writing, and something which every writer will sometimes gloss over, is simply a matter of stating the obvious; that is to say, what is obvious to you as the writer, but not to the reader. Below are five questions that you can ask yourself when writing and revising in order to make sure that your writing is clear, and that you haven’t left out key, sometimes obvious, information.

Who is the audience you are writing to?

With any piece of writing, you have to consider your audience. Let’s say you have been assigned a writing assignment, with specific guidelines for what the paper should include and what questions you need to address. It is pretty simple to assume that the audience you are writing to will be your professor, and realistically it will be; but let’s consider a hypothetical audience. The hypothetical audience doesn’t know what sort of prompt or questions you are responding to, so you should give them context by restating the key points that you are addressing. Write as if the reader knows nothing about what you are presenting to them, but is reasonably intelligent and able to understand once you clearly explain the information to them. In short: don’t make any unwarranted assumptions about who will be reading your writing. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t make some assumptions, which leads to the next point to consider….

What background knowledge does your reader need?

Again, let’s assume the hypothetical audience is reasonably intelligent, but they don’t know anything specific about what you are writing about. If you just dig right in and get down to business in your writing, will the reader be able to follow, or do you need to slow down a bit and make sure your reader is grounded in the “basics” first? It will almost always be the latter. Think about how you should present the background info. Obviously you don’t want to spend the whole paper talking about it (the key is in the name “background”); but it is important that you establish for the reader what is foundational for them to fully understand what you are writing about, whether it be your life experiences or a lengthy research paper. However, in considering your audience, you can make some assumptions about what background knowledge they may already have. For example, a mathematics audience will have general knowledge of mathematics. Depending on your audience, some knowledge will be obvious, but…

If it is obvious to you, is it obvious to them?

There are some problems that all writers, no matter how advanced they may be, even if they have publications under their belt, will, time and again, encounter. One of the most frequently occurring problems is that of “glossing over” what the writer feels is obvious. Maybe you’re a freshman writing a personal narrative, drawing on your life experiences, or maybe you’re a PhD student writing about the intricacies of the works of a notoriously difficult 20th century philosopher, whom you just happen to be an expert on. Either way, you know a great deal about your topic, and so, when you’re writing, you skip over stating anything that seems particularly obvious to you. However, what is obvious to the writer is not always obvious to the reader, especially if you are writing about your own life. Sometimes we go from point A to point C without ever showing point B, and this can be lost on the reader. So, just because something seems obvious to you, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include it; often, that is precisely the statement you need to make your point clear, and speaking of which…

Is the point you’re trying to make implied, or is it explicit?

Another issue that develops from glossing over the obvious is relying too much on implied information or implied conclusions. Some things really do need to be made explicit to ensure that the reader understands what you are writing about. Consider this: if you were to speak to your friend, who knows nothing about what you have written about, and you were to simply explain to them a key point in your writing, how would you go about explaining it? Could you paraphrase what you mean? That is often what you need to include in your writing. A simple, but clear and explicit explanation can go a long way, which brings me to my final point…

Are you worried that what you want to write won’t sound “academic” enough?

Don’t be, seriously. There is a great myth that to succeed in college, your writing needs to be dense, complicated, and to appear very “academic.” It is a myth that has been impressed on so many of us for so long that we believe it is true. However, it’s just that: a myth. College writing doesn’t need to be complicated for the sake of being complicated, and you don’t need to exhibit a massive vocabulary or expansive knowledge of writing structures in order to write a successful paper. Don’t worry about trying to impress anyone. What really sounds “academic” is this: clear writing that gets all of the key points across in an effective way. This, more often than not, requires what many writers frequently either avoid because they don’t think they are “allowed” to write that way, or don’t think to do: stating the obvious.

If you’re concerned that maybe you’ve glossed over the obvious in your writing, and that your audience might not totally understand what you’ve written, one really effective solution is to let someone else read your paper and offer suggestions for revision; and if you come to the Writing Center, we will be happy to help you out.

5 Tips for Avoiding Last-Minute Writing

Taylor Gathof, Consultant

Right now, it’s only the fourth week of the semester, but, before we know it, midterms and finals will soon be upon us. For now, we happily go to class, read our textbooks, and complete our short assignments, yet a large, dark cloud lingers on the horizon…the research paper and/or project.

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You’ve seen it on the syllabus. You know you have to eventually do the assignment, but it’s just too painful to even start thinking about. So you tell yourself, “No worries, I’ll think about it later.” Next thing you know, it’s midterms or finals week, 2 AM, and you have less than 12 hours to write this paper.

Is there any end to this madness? Of course there is! Mental anguish is not a class requirement; pulling all-nighters is not a course goal!  It took until the end of my junior year as an undergraduate for me to realize that my problem began in waiting to start on a large assignment, paper, or research project until it appeared within my line of sight on the class schedule, which was usually about a week or so before the assignment was due. This would happen in all of my classes, so I’d have this two week period at the end of a semester where I would work furiously and sleeplessly for two days, turn in an assignment, take a breath, work furiously and sleeplessly for two more days, turn in an assignment, take a breath. Sound familiar? After quite a few semesters of this exhausting pattern, I’ve come across some strategies that currently help me avoid letting all of my papers and projects rain down on me at the end of the semester.

So here are 5 tips for avoiding last-minute research paper and project writing:

  • Get information about an assignment as soon as possible. This will at least put the assignment on your radar. Also, getting assignment information early can help you use class materials to start thinking about potential paper or project topics. For example, let’s say you’re taking a class on the Victorian period in England. You meet with your professor and discover that you have a research paper due at the end of the semester and it should be on a topic covered in class. Since you know this information about the assignment, you can take notice of any topics that arise in class that interest you and may serve as an interesting paper topic.
  • Brainstorm ideas. Once you find a topic or two, sit down and brainstorm ideas. Make a list of specific aspects of a topic that you are interested in researching and writing about. For example, if you are interested in the topic of insanity in Victorian England, your list of potential research aspects might include: the popularity of insane asylums, the rise in the number of females in insane asylums after 1845, minorities and insanity, etc.
  • Break up the task of writing a paper over the course of several days or weeks. Writing a research paper often sounds like an incredibly difficult and daunting task. If you break up the tasks of researching and writing over the course of several days or even weeks, the task doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Plan out which day(s) you will: conduct research, formulate a thesis, craft your argument, write an introduction, write a conclusion, create a bibliography or works cited, revise your draft, etc. If you dislike or struggle with writing specific portions of a paper at a time, try simply breaking up the task of writing your paper by planning to write a certain amount of words or pages per day.
  • Set goals for yourself. Write it in your calendar; set an alarm on your phone. Make a plan and, more importantly, hold yourself to it! Some great ways to hold yourself to your plan of having a certain amount of work done by a certain day is to 1) make an appointment with your professor to talk about your paper and/or 2) make an appointment with the University Writing Center! Making appointments such as these will hold you to your commitment to work on your paper in advance and is an opportunity to receive helpful feedback on your work.
  • Think about how awesome you’re going to feel when you finish a paper or project. In the past, I’ve found myself avoiding working on a research paper because I continuously think about how terrible and difficult the task will be. Having a more positive attitude helps me stay motivated to get an early start. Rather than dwelling on the difficulty of the task, try thinking about how accomplished you will feel when you complete the assignment or how relieved you will feel to no longer have the task hanging over you!

Hopefully these strategies will help you sleep better and breathe easier when the end of the semester rolls around!

How I Write: Jennie E. Burnet – Professor of Anthropology

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Our featured writer this week is Professor Jennie E. Burnet. Dr. Burnet teaches in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Louisville, and her scholarship includes articles on war, gender, identity, and genocide in Rwanda. 

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Current project: Book about rescuers during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, peer-reviewed journal articles, book reviews, and the email never stops.

Currently reading: I’ve been reading my kids’ summer readings list so I’m most of the way through The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Next up on my Kindle are The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer and A Tale for the Time Being: A Novel by Ruth Ozeki. 

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

Virtually all of my writing is non-fiction, scholarly writing in socio-cultural anthropology, African studies, and women and gender studies. Over the past week, I’ve been working on a grant proposal and a public policy research report. I am currently working on several articles for peer-reviewed journals.

Jargon laden prose is still in fashion in my field, but I think that most useful ideas can be expressed in everyday language. My first book, Genocide Lives in Us: Women, Memory and Silence in Rwanda was published by a university press, but I tried to make it as accessible as possible. I did my best to write it so that an educated adult reader interested in Rwanda, genocide, or women could pick it up, read it, and hear these courageous women’s stories of survival. My next book, about people who risked their lives to save Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, is percolating in the back of my mind. I finished the interviews for the project in May 2014. Soon I will begin outlining it and laying out the stories I will use to illustrate the key points. Truth be told, however, most of my day-to-day writing is email—professional correspondence, feedback to students, etc.   

2. When/where/how do you write?

When, where, and how I write constantly changes. I’m a chronic procrastinator so I’m always finding new ways to trick myself into getting down to business. Lately, I’ve been doing most of my writing at my dining room table (I’m here right now!). Our dining room has large windows that let in a lot of indirect sunlight. Because the family eats dinner here every night, I’m forced to clear away my stuff daily so the space doesn’t become cluttered.

On days when I’m really stuck and not making progress, I’ll take a Gregg-lined steno pad and a pen to a coffeeshop, a public library, or other busy but quiet place. For some reason, writing with pen and paper seems less official so I can get a bunch of ideas on paper and worry about wrestling them into a logical progression or cohesive argument later. Paper and pen are my antidote for writer’s block.

In an ideal world, I write best first thing in the morning with my second cup of coffee. When I get started early, I don’t fall into my procrastination cycles. Unfortunately, life almost always gets in the way of this practice. At the moment, I’m trying to get into the habit of writing on my most pressing project when I first sit down to work. Beyond getting my behind in the seat, the key to success seems to be: Don’t open my email, Facebook, the newspaper, or any other electronic distraction.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces*?

Most often my writing necessities are my computer, good coffee, a chair I can sit up straight in, a clear work surface at the ergonomically correct height, and lots of indirect, natural light. Music distracts me too much, but background noise is OK. Occasionally, I need a change of scenery, a pen with fast flowing ink, and a steno pad.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Breaking the writing project down into very small tasks (outlining and making a list of every piece that needs to be done). With this strategy you can make progress everyday even if it’s only 10 minutes at a time. It also lowers the threshold to start and helps minimize procrastination. These strategies have resurrected my writing since I almost never have several, uninterrupted hours before me to write.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

I’ve gotten lots of amazing advice on writing over the years from mentors, colleagues, writing group members, and friends. It’s such great advice that I’ve integrated into my practice so thoroughly that I don’t remember who gave me which pieces.

Just keep writing—even when you’re certain it’s awful or makes no sense. I often give myself this advice in the voice of Ellen DeGeneres as Dory from Finding Nemo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hkn-LSh7es.

Responding to Student Writing to Encourage Revision

Meghan Hancock, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing

The University of Louisville Writing Center’s website isn’t only meant for students to make appointments and browse for writing resources. It’s also there for faculty to utilize when teaching writing in their courses. Our Resources for Faculty page provides helpful information from what to expect when your students make appointments at the Writing Center, to how to schedule consultants to come to your class to talk about what the Writing Center does.

We also recently dedicated a section of our website to Resources for Teaching Writing. In this section, we provide some strategies for faculty to think about using when teaching writing in their courses. These strategies grow from topics we have thought a lot about as writing instructors ourselves, and also from common topics we hear our colleagues discussing when it comes to teaching writing in their classrooms.

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Below, you will find what we have provided for strategies to help you when you are thinking of ways to respond to student writing in your classroom.

Instructor comments on students’ writing is an important part of helping students become effective academic writers, and can provide the productive feedback a student writer needs to revise a particular assignment. Responding to student writing can be a challenging task, however, particularly when deciding what feedback to include in a response. Too much feedback can be overwhelming for students, while too little feedback can leave students feeling they don’t have a clear direction for revision.

At the University Writing Center, our consultants work with students to help them understand instructors’ responses as well as come up with plans for revision based on instructors’ responses. Here are some strategies, though, that may help when structuring and formatting commentary on student writing, as well as in prioritizing types of feedback.

Some forms of comment have proved to be more effective than others.

Research on student writing has demonstrated that a draft covered in corrections and cryptic comments such as “vague” or “needs more detail” is not as effective as fewer, more detailed comments. Explaining what kind of detail is needed, for example, is more helpful to students. Also, students report that the comments they find most helpful to their writing are those that point them forward to how best to revise the next draft (or complete the next assignment) by suggesting new ideas, strategies, or questions, rather than only making criticisms on the current draft. Finally, pointing out to student how and why a piece of a draft or paper is effective also helps the student learn to recognize and potentially replicate the writing in future assignments.

Different comments can serve different functions in response.

End comments commonly take the form of a letter written to the student about overall or more holistic strengths and weaknesses of the writer’s paper, as well as what productive directions for revision the responder would recommend. Marginal comments are your chance to point to specific places in the paper. These places could be anything from a thesis statement that needs work, to an unclear sentence or paragraph, to a quotation that needs more explanation. End comments can also be a chance to explain how marginal comments play into the bigger picture of the response. In other words, try to refer to some specific marginal comments in your end comments as examples for what the student can work on in a revision.

It helps to distinguish in comments between higher- and lower-order concerns.

Higher order concerns, like overall organization, whether a paper has a clear argument, what kinds of examples the writer is using for evidence, etc., are the most effective places to begin in responding to student writing, as these conceptual issues are much more challenging for writers to address in a revision. Although problems with grammar and style can be frustrating to read, correcting those errors for students is not an effective approach to either revision or teaching grammar and style. Instead, respond to these issues by telling the writer what patterns of error you are noticing in their writing (for example, run-on sentences, subject/verb agreement, or comma use) so they can be more conscious of them in the future.

Explain to students your approach to response.

Different instructors can use very different approaches to responding to student writing. Comments can vary in emphasis, length, and detail. It can be helpful to students to explain how you approach reading their work and what you will emphasize in your comments. Such explanations can be included in the assignment if you wish. In addition, it can be helpful to have students respond to your comments, both to ensure they have read them and to engage in a more dialogic process. For example, if you have commented on student drafts, you might ask students to send you an email in which they explain their plan for revision based on your comments. You can check such email quickly and see if the students plan to address your concerns.

Use other forms of response such as conferences or audio comments.

If time allows, try conferencing individually with students to discuss your written comments with them as well as give them the opportunity to ask you questions if any of your comments are unclear to them. If this isn’t possible, try to dedicate the last ten or fifteen minutes of a class meeting for your students to read your written comments and ask you questions or raise concerns. Some instructors also find success using audio comments that can be recorded digitally and even attached to student texts. For an example of how to use audio comments, see this link.

Try responding at different points in the writing process.

Responding at different stages in the writing process can both save time and offer students clearer direction as they work on the writing. For example, asking for a brief proposal for a paper, or responding to the first two pages, can help catch issues of focus and analysis early in the process and takes less time than reading longer papers.

Read the paper first, before commenting.

Jot down some notes on a separate piece of paper instead, focusing on common themes you notice that you might want to address in your response. This will keep you from commenting too much and will allow you to prioritize what you comment on when you read through the paper the second time. Also, if you are handwriting your comments, try not to use a red pen if you can help it. Many students associate this color with past negative responses to their writing in school and it may cause anxiety for them.

Encourage students to visit the University Writing Center.

We often work with students to help them plan how to revise assignments based on instructor comments and would be happy to work with your students.

Here are some links that might also be helpful when thinking through how to respond to student writing:

Responding to Higher Order Concerns and Lower Order Concerns – The Purdue OWL

“Beyond the Red Ink: Teachers’ Comments Through Students’ Eyes” (Video) – Nancy Sommers

“Responding to Student Writing” – University of Delaware Writing Center

“Using Audio Comments to Respond to Student Writing” – University of Wisconsin- Madison Writing Center

“Responding to Writing of Non-Native Speakers of English” – University of Minnesota Center for Writing

We’ve Made it Easier to Schedule Writing Center Appointments Online

One important change that took place over the summer at the University Writing Center was our transition to a new, online scheduling system. We are now using WCOnline as a scheduling system because it will make scheduling appointments much easier for UofL students, faculty, and staff who want a Writing Center consultation. What’s more, the new system will enhance our ability to communicate with students about what took place during their consultations. After an appointment the consultant will write a summary of the discussion that took place that will be available to the student at any point during the rest of the semester. WCOnline also sends out our exit survey to students after each appointment. Finally, WCOnline allows us to conduct our Virtual Writing Center appointments through the scheduling system, which will particularly enhance our abilities to do live, online chat appointments with distance education and other students.

Scheduling an Appointment

The new system allows you to access our entire semester schedule and then chose the appointment time and consultant that is most convenient. You can schedule up to three appointments a week, work with the same consultant if you like each week, and cancel your own appointments if you can’t make that day or time. You can link to the new system through the “Appointments” page on our website or by following this link. One at the WConline page you use your UofL user name and password to log in. The first time you log in you’ll fill out a brief information page, and then be able to make your appointment.

If you want to make an appointment at our Health Sciences Campus office, you’ll find a drop-down menu that you can use to access that schedule. If either schedule is full for the day, you can click on clock icon next to the day and date on the schedule to add your name to the Waiting List. The Waiting List notifies you by email or text if an appointment has become available. You would then need to go online or call the Writing Center to book the appointment. Of course, we are also still happy to make appointments with people who walk in, or who call us at 852-2173. To find out more about the system, you can also watch the video above about how to schedule an appointment.

Virtual Writing Center Appointments

In addition to making appointments for face-to-face consultations on the Belknap and Health Sciences Campuses, you can also use WCOnline to make appointments with our Virtual Writing Center. The best way to get help with your writing is, if possible, to make a face-to-face appointment in the University Writing Center on the third floor of Ekstrom Library. If, however, you are a Distance Education student, or otherwise unable to attend a face-to-face writing consultation, the Virtual Writing Center allows you to receive feedback. Through the Virtual Writing Center you can choose, when making your appointment, whether to have a live chat consultation.  or to receive a written response.

There are two Virtual Writing Centers, and you can choose the one that’s right for you when you make an appointment. If you are a Distance Education student, use the drop-down menu to find the Distance Education Schedule and, if you are taking a course on campus, but need to make a Virtual Writing Center appointment, choose a consultant with the words “Online or eTutoring” under the consultant’s name. We encourage people to use the live, online chat option if possible to be able to have a conversation with their consultant about the writing project. If you submit a draft for an eTutoring written response, we try to respond to your draft within two business days after your scheduled appointment. You will receive an email telling you when we have uploaded your draft with our comments to your appointment time. During busy times of the semester it may take us longer to respond to your draft.

We also have the video on our Appointments and our Distance Education pages about how to use the Virtual Writing Center.

We are think this new system will allow us to serve students, faculty, and staff even more effectively in the coming year. If you have any problems with the system, please call us (852-2173) or email us (writing@lousville.edu). We hope you’ll check out our schedule and make your appointment today

 

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