UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

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

 

Welcome to Fall 2014!

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The start of every academic year always involves new encounters. Students and faculty meet for the first time in classes, many students have new roommates, and many faculty have new colleagues. I think for everyone the anticipation – and uncertainty – is exciting and adds to the buzz around campus when the new semester begins. I always feel the excitement of the new semester when our pre-semester orientation at the University Writing Center takes place the Thursday before classes start. Writing Center Orientation is the

University Writing Center Staff - 2014-15

University Writing Center
Staff – 2014-15

day when I get to meet the new graduate students who will be working as consultants for the coming year. While I know about these new graduate students from what I’ve seen in their application files – where they went to school, for example – I don’t really know them at all. One of the things that is fun about the year ahead is getting to know these people, as people, as tutors, and as scholars. You can take a look at our website to find out about our staff for the coming academic year. It’s what I’ve yet to learn about the new consultants that will be part of what will make my year ahead interesting.

The new consultants all take a graduate course with me on Writing Center Theory and Practice and, through that I know that there are some foundational ideas about teaching writing that they will learn and use during their appointments with students. We talk about the need to work in dialogue with students and not edit their papers for them, for example, and the importance of not just helping students make their current drafts stronger, but also helping the students learn writing skills and strategies that will help with future writing challenges. Yet, while all the consultants are expected to adopt these foundational ideas, I also realize that everyone will develop an individual style as a tutor. Some consultants work quietly, others more effusively. Some consultants develop a talent for instructive metaphors, while others are masters of reaching and reassuring more reticent students. For me, seeing how these different approaches to tutoring develop is always fascinating and enjoyable. The one thing I do know, in meeting our new staff, is that all of the consultants are talented teachers who, grounded in theories of effective writing pedagogy, will provide thousands of UofL students, faculty, and staff with effective feedback and advice on their writing.

So, the University Writing Center is open for the semester. Make your appointment today and meet our great new staff in person.

 

Kicking Back in the Writing Center with New First-Year Students

Thursday night, as part of Welcome Week for new first-year students, the Library opened its doors for games, performances, art, and food for a night called “Kick Back in the Stacks.” At the University Writing Center we had a caricature DSCN2300artists, cookies, art projects about writing, and word-related games from “hangman” to “who am I” to “tag-team Scrabble.” As the photos on the page show,   we had a packed house – and definitely a good time.

We also had an open

blog post that a number of people contributed to during the night. We left the post open for people to memories about writing. Below is the question we asked along with some of

the memories people shared. It’s always fascinating to see what moments stick with people as encouraging, inspiring – or sometimes frustrating – their ambitions as writers.

Here is the question and some of the responses:

What’s a memory you have (positive or negative) about writing?

  • I remember when I was in my sophomore year in high school, and I took a creative writing class. I’d been writing stories for a few years, and I was really excited to take an actual class. The teacher was enthusiastic, but I didn’t understand what he meant when he kept telling me “Use more concrete language,”
    Tag-Team Scrabble

    Tag-Team Scrabble

    and I was too shy/embarrassed to ask what he meant. By the end of the class, I figured I must not be any good at creative writing and stopped writing stories. Fortunately, I went back to it several years (and now I know what he meant), but I wish that (a) I’d had the courage to ask him for clarification, and (b) he’d been more helpful with his feedback.

  • When I was a freshman in college, I took a course titled “Writing About Fiction.” Initially, the course had little to do with writing or fiction, and the teacher seemed relatively disinterested in the class. Around halfway through, however, the class was changed, and another professor was brought into the course. He introduced to us the idea of rhetoric and affective writing. I had never thought about writing as a way of creating social effects, and for the rest of my college career I became fascinated by the relationship between writing and the act of constructing and manipulating social realities.
  • I remember learning
    DSCN2295

    Waiting for the artist

    how to spell the word “STOP” when I was riding in the car with my parents. I told my kindergarten teacher about this new knowledge. Sometime later, when learning lower-case letters, my teacher wrote “stop” on the board and asked me what word this was. I was stumped. I didn’t recognize it because it wasn’t capitalized. When she told me it was the same word I learned before, I felt silly. But it was the beginning of understanding.

  • When I was sixteen, I tried doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with the goal of writing maybe ten thousand words on a story. I ended up surpassing the fifty thousand word goal and wrote a short novel (58,000 words) all within a month! To date, it remains the longest thing I’ve ever written. I have always dreamed of being a novelist, and that experience with NaNo proved to me that I have it in me to tell a long-form story and to draft it all out, even though I knew that I would never publish it. (Trust me, it’s really bad!)
  • The most positive memory I have about writing
    "What book/movie would you take to a desert island?"

    “What book/movie would you take to a desert island?”

    is from when I was five or Six. I woke up one morning and started staring at a metal statue of a church on my grandmother’s mantel. Suddenly a poem popped into my head, my grandmother typed it on her, now very antiquated, MacBook. It’s fourteen to fifteen years later and it’s one of my proudest accomplishments. In case you’re wondering, she still has it saved on that very same MacBook.

  • When I was in second grade I had to write a short story for class about your favorite character. I wrote about Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse on an adventure in a haunted house. The next year I had the same teacher because it was a two grade class, and my teacher chose the same assignment. Not thinking that she would remember, or even that I wrote it for her already, I wrote the same story in my journal. When she had read it she came up to me after class, and said that she thought she had heard the story before. I only realized it when I was older that I had given her the same story twice, but until then I just thought she had the same dream as me

We thank these writers for their contributions, and everyone who came to the Writing Center Thursday night (and all the Writing Center staff, present and past, who helped out.) It was a fun way to kick off the year and we hope to see everyone back during the semester so we can help them make their writing as strong as possible and create some positive memories of writing at UofL.

Summertime, and the Planning is Busy

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

During the summer, the pace of things at the University Writing Center does slow, but doesn’t stop. We still see students working on summer courses, or those closing in on finishing their dissertations. We also spend much of the summer planning for the next academic year. One of the big changes we’ve been working this summer is fine-tuning our new, online scheduling system. This new system not only makes it easier for people to make appointments, but also is huge leap forward in making our Virtual Writing Center more effective and easier to use. I’ll be writing more about the scheduling system in the next few weeks, but if you want to see some videos about how to make an appointment or how to use the Virtual Writing Center if you’re a distance education student, you can watch some videos and read more about it on our Appointments page.

The beginning of August also means the beginning of orientations around UofL. We’re grateful to the schools and departments around UofL that invite us to their orientations to talk about the University Writing Center. Last week was the Kent School of Social work, today we’re off to the Health Sciences Campus, and next week we’ll be visiting the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies (SIGS) orientation and several others. One of our ongoing challenges at the Writing Center is making clear to the campus community who we are and what we do. Everywhere we go, we emphasize that we work with everyone in the UofL community, including all undergraduates, graduate students, and staff and faculty. What’s more, we work with people on any kind of writing – whether for academic work or projects outside of school – at any point in the writing process. If people are just getting started, we can help with ideas and organization, and if they have drafts we can help provide feedback and advice then as well. If it’s writing, and if the writer is part of the UofL community, we’re happy to work on it. For people wanting more details on how we work, we have new Frequently Asked Questions on our webpage or you can read our Mission Statement.

We’ve also been planning our Graduate Student Workshops on Writing Issues, in collaboration with SIGS. If you’re a graduate student and would like to hear more about issues such as how to organize a large writing project such as a dissertation, or how to read and respond to graduate-level scholarship, or how to approach getting published, you can find more information and register for the workshops by visiting the SIGS PLAN website.

Finally, like many other faculty, I’m in the midst of planning my fall courses. This is the time of year we try to remind faculty that we are available to come to their classrooms this fall semester for brief 5-to-10-minute presentations about the University Writing Center. We find that, having one of our consultants come to your class, talk about the Writing Center and answer questions, is one of the best ways we have of reaching out to students at every level and in every discipline. If you want to schedule a classroom presentation, just follow this link. If you want to learn more about how we work with your students in the Writing Center, you can find answers to those questions on our website as well.

Stay tuned for more news about our plans for the coming year. And, enjoy those last warm days of August.

 

 

 

 

We’re Always Learning About Writing: The Importance of the University Writing Center as a Site of Research

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The obvious work of the University Writing Center takes place during the writing consultations. If you walk in and see the room filled with people in conversation about writing project, it might be easy to think about the individual teaching as all that happens here. Yet another important aspect of our work in the Writing Center is not immediately visible during consultations, but is vital to helping us engage in effective teaching with the writers with whom we work. In addition to being a place where people can get support for their writing projects, the University Writing Center is an active research site into the theory and practice of Writing Center work. DSCN1706By learning more about writing and how writers learn, we improve our work and contribute to the scholarly conversations in the the field of Writing Studies. For example, many of the graduate students who work as consultants in the Writing Center also engage in research on everything from how international students work in online consultations, to how to teach ideas about genre in writing, to how Writing Centers work in community colleges. Such research can form the core of a graduate students’ dissertation or MA project, or result in publication in the scholarly journals and books in our field. You can find a list of some of the research projects that have emerged from the Writing Center on our webpage.

Engaging in research is vital to the work we do in the Writing Center. Writing doesn’t stand still. By that I mean that writing is a complex social endeavor that we are constantly having to study to understand. It’s widely accepted in our field that writing is more than just making or deciphering marks on a page. The way we write, the way we learn to write, and what we write are all shaped by the social world that surrounds us. Everything from technology to language to changes in the culture around us influence how reading and writing happens. For example, the rapid changes in digital technology have changed the writing and reading practices of everyone in the University (as is obvious if you’re reading this blog). If you ask twenty people at the University how changes in technology have influenced student writing, you might get twenty different answers, some of which might be accurate and others wildly wrong. Our research, like all research at the University, is intended to help us move beyond our initial opinions and gut instincts to gain a clearer understanding of the complex nature of student writing and student writers today. With such an understanding we can work more effectively with writers to help their work communicate their ideas in creative and critical ways, and to teach them skills and approaches that will help them be better writers in the future.

In addition to working to understand more about how people write and how we can teach them to be better writers, we work to conduct research in an ethical and participatory manner. We do our best not to regard the writers involved in our research as lab rats that we can observe with detachment and analyze at our pleasure. Instead we want to conduct research that is collaborative and participatory in nature. We want to do more than simply comply with University ethics guidelines (which we do, of course). We want to model research with writers in the Writing Center as something that they learn from, and benefits them directly, even as we learn more for ourselves. One of the core values of Writing DSCN1772Center work is a dialogic approach to teaching and learning. We work in conversation with students and faculty who come to the Writing Center. We start from where they are, and respond to their concerns as we also discuss with them the ideas and questions we find in their work. This same kind of participatory and dialogic approach helps shape our research ethics and practices and is part of our identity. We believe in a model of research that is reciprocal and engages everyone involved in learning and creating knowledge.

Tomorrow, we’re taking some of our research on the road. Along with Adam Robinson, Associate Director of the Writing Center, and Ashly Bender and Jessica Winck, two of our Assistant Directors, I will be attending the annual conference of the national Council of Writing Program Administrators. The CWPA is an organization that discusses both the practice of administering writing programs, as well as pedagogical approaches to teaching writing. At the conference, we’ll be presenting on a panel titled, Writing Centers as Enclaves: Creating Spaces for Pedagogical and Political Change. After the conference, I’ll be writing more about this idea next week. As with any academic conference, we’re looking forward not just to presenting our ideas, but in learning from the conversation from the people there. It is all part of  connecting research and teaching in order to improve all of our practices in the Writing Center.

No Dissertation without Self-Care & Self-Advocacy

Brittany Kelley, Consultant

Last week, I worked as a consultant at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. We were all at different stages of dissertating: finalizing the prospectus;Kelley_WC Pic building the lit. review chapter and gathering data; and narrowing a mountainous amount of data into a book-length project. Yet, we were all facing similar challenges, similar internal questions:

  • How can/do I possibly make it through a project so big?!
  • How can I set good writing routines? What does that even mean?!
  • I’ve got all these things I love right in front of me, how do I choose which ones to write about?!
  • What about my committee?

We also all shared some similar challenges in our writing: writer’s block; organization issues; typos; identifying just the right amount of content. You know, all those things you can expect.

But, by and large, we all started to see that the biggest challenge we faced was to remember that we needed, first and foremost, to care for ourselves as we dissertated. That we needed to give ourselves moments of rest. We needed to acknowledge even small victories. We had to remember to ask for what we need.

In other words, we all realized that there could be no dissertation without self-care and self-advocacy.

It seems to me that this is true of all writing situations. Writing is a way we figure things out. It’s a way that we communicate our needs and ideas with others. And it can be exciting as much as terrifying. It can be emotionally draining (and, I find, it often is). The dissertation process can be even more so, because it seems like it’s a proving ground, rather than a starting point. So, it’s important to remember self-care actions, such as:

  • Set small goals (100 words per day), and then provide small rewards when you meet them (one episode of a favorite TV show; one hour to do absolutely nothing school-related, etc.).
  • Always schedule in time for real rest. Schedule at least one, free weekend day per week. Or one full week during the summer. Take time away from the project. Allow yourself to recharge and incubate ideas.
  • Take time to visit your notes, and “throw-away” pages. Show yourself how much work you really have done.

And, of course, advocate for yourself.

  • If you need some strict deadlines, then set those up with your committee chair.
  • Remember that your committee is there to guide you, but that the project is yours. In other words, work with your committee to help you meet your goals for your project.
  • Make frequent meetings with committee members. Sometimes talking it out first is what you really need.
  • Consider forming a writing group with peers. Low-stakes writing communities can really help you stay motivated and confident.

The dissertation can take a lot out of you. And, as my dissertating compatriots and I discovered last week, it’s important to take the time to recharge, to care for yourself, and to advocate for yourself as you research and write.

So, happy writing! And remember to take care.

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