UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

Much to Celebrate as the Writing Center Year Comes to a Close

Bronwyn T. Williams

Director, University Writing Center

When we get to the end of an academic year, we always feel there is a lot to be proud of at the University Writing Center. We can look back over a year in which we’ve worked with members of every college in the university, on both campuses, ranging from first-year students to faculty. If you can imagine a day where, in the course of three hours you might work with writers on an English 101 paper, an engineering dissertation, DSCN2410 - Copyand a business plan assignment – and be able to help all three writers with their projects – you can understand the talent and flexibility of our consultants. By the end of the academic year we will have had more than 5,000 visits to the University Writing Center. The consultants here do great, great work, every day. We may be a bit tired by the end of the spring semester, but we enjoy the work and feel as if we’ve worked hard to help develop better writing and better writers at UofL.

I want to take a moment to thank the writers who came to us to work on their writing and also all the faculty and staff who supported our work by recommending us to their students.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 11, from 9-4 every weekday. Meanwhile, take a look at our website and we hope to see you soon.

Other Reasons to Celebrate

In addition to our daily work of teaching of writing through one-on-one consultations, there are other events and activities that we organize, and other plans we are making. It’s worth taking a moment to point to some of the accomplishments, and to talk about what they are going to allow us to do in the future.

New Writing Center Projects:

Our Move to the First Floor of the Library: During the summer, as part of the renovation of the first floor of Ekstrom Library, the University Writing Center will be moving from the third floor down to the first. This new location will make us much more visible (and easier to find) and allow us to create new programs and initiatives that will help us develop and sustain a culture of writing in the University. To see a video about the move, see this previous blog post.

WCOnline Scheduling Software: We are finishing the first year of using our new scheduling software and we’ve found it has been a significant improvement in making it easier for students to make their own appointments online. The software has also made our online, Virtual Writing Center Appointments more effective. To make an appointment, follow this link to our website.

Faculty Writing Groups: This year we organized our first faculty writing groups, one in science/engineering/mathematics and one in humanities/social sciences. These groups have gone very well and we plan to keep them going next year. If you’re interested in taking part, contact the Writing Center.

The Growth of Ongoing Writing Center Projects:

Writing Center Website: We expanded parts of our website, such as our Common Writing Situations – which are our responses to frequently asked questions about undergraduate DSCN2359and graduate writing – and our handouts on everything from strategies for revision, to writing better introductions and conclusions, to issues of grammar and style. We have also added resources for faculty who want to develop their approaches to teaching writing.

Writing Center Social Media: We continued to communicate our ideas about writing and the teaching of writing through our presence on Twitter and Facebook as well as our blog.

Dissertation Writing Retreats: Our Dissertation Writing Retreats remain popular and we are having the pleasure of seeing 90 percent of the students who attend the retreats complete their dissertations.

Workshops: Our Writing Center staff conducted a broad range of writing workshops in both courses and for student organizations on issues such as revision, writing a literature review, citation styles, and resume writing.

Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center, in addition to its teaching mission, is also an active site of scholarship about the teaching of writing. Staff from the Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.

Mariah Douglas – Internship at Louisville Magazine with 11 published pieces.

Joanna Englert – Published poems in the Miracle Monocle and the Kentucky Poetry Festival and presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

University Writing Center Staff - 2014-15

University Writing Center
Staff – 2014-15

Harley Ferris – Co-editor and writer of KairosCast for the journal Kairos. Presented at Computers and Writing. Forthcoming publication in Computers and Composition Online.

Taylor Gathof – Presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

Meghan Hancock – Presented at National Conference on Peer Tutors and Writing/International Writing Center Association Conference; the Conference on College Composition and Communication; and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference

Kristin Hatten – Presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture; Internship with Commonwealth Center for the Humanities.

Jamila Kareem – Presented at ACES Symposium; Conference on College Composition and Communication; Forthcoming chapter in the collection: The Good Life and the Greater Good in a Global Context

Tara Lawson – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association

Ashley Ludewig – Presented at the Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition; The Western States Rhetoric and Literacy Conference; and the Research Network Forum at the Conference on College Composition and Communication

Amy Nichols – Presented at Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Haley Petcher – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference

Bobby Rich – Published poems in Hobart Magazine and the Kentucky Poetry Festival; Internship/Poetry Editor of Miracle Monocle

Adam Robinson – Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference

Chris Scheidler – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference; Association of Professional and Technical Writers Undergraduate Conference, Computers and Writing, and Conference on Community Writing

Stephanie Weaver – Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition; Conference on College Composition and Communication

Jessica Winck – Co-authored publication in Kairos. Presented at National Council of Teachers of English Conference; Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference.

 

UofL Writing Center to Move to First Floor of the Library

Bronwyn T. Williams

Director, University Writing Center

This spring marks more than just the end of another academic year at the University Writing Center. After fifteen years, this will be the last year the University Writing Center will be located on the third floor of Ekstrom Library. During the summer we will move down to the first floor of the Library as part of the renovations to the East Wing of Ekstrom Library. While we all do feel a bit nostalgic for our beautiful view on the third floor, we are even more excited about the opportunities we’ll have in our new location. The central location, just to the left of the elevators on the first floor, will not only make us easy to find and allow us to collaborate with Library and other services, but it also will provide a clear statement about the importance of writing within the University. The architects have designed an innovative space for us that will allow us to grow and hold more writing consultations with students, faculty, and staff. This video gives you a look at the new vision for the first floor, including shots of the outside of our new University Writing Center space.

In addition, we will now have new multimedia consulting rooms where we can work with multimodal assignments as well as conduct online, video consultations with distance education students. We hope to build on the success we’ve had in the past fifteen years, and use the space to promote and nurture a culture of writing at UofL.

Once we’ve made the move downstairs, look for a announcements of an event celebrating the opening of our new space. Be sure to come see us and let us work with you on your writing. In the meantime, we’ll be posting updates and photos here during the summer.

Brainstorming: How to Avoid “Snowball” Writing

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Kristin Hatten, Consultant

Learning to brainstorm is—in my humble opinion—one of the most important aspects of learning to write. This may seem obvious, but I think the further we progress into our writing careers, the more we tend to skip a good, solid brainstorming session. I, for one, am extremely guilty of this—especially since I started graduate school; I get overwhelmed with the project at hand, and, instead of proceeding calmly and strategically, I barrel forward into my paper, despite the fact that I know better. So, here, I want to outline some steps that I plan to walk myself through in order to avoid this “snowball-style” writing style, in hopes that they will be helpful to you as well!

First, freewrite! Freewriting is a great way to start a brainstorming session because you can do it however you want! Freewriting may consist of a rough outline, a chart, boxes with arrows pointing from one piece of information to another, or a typed or written page(s) of stream of consciousness commentary. Whatever it may be, it will only be helpful in getting you started on your paper.

Second, now that you have completed the freewriting stage, remove yourself a bit from the actual content of the project, and focus on the research methods that will be necessary. Here, list out some keywords you think may be useful to you during your process, and list any of the sources you may have already acquired. Also, poke around on the library’s online catalogue and make a list of possible sources from there. This will surely help you further organize your thoughts as well as help you flesh our your ideas. (Sometimes, depending on how deep you are into your project, this may be useful as step one!)

If you have trouble getting started with freewriting, try to talk out your ideas to a peer, a friend, a University Writing Center consultant (!!), or a professor. In some of the most effective brainstorming sessions I have had with clients, about 75% of the brainstorming session has consisted of the client talking through his/her ideas and me taking notes. In these instances, the client oftentimes realizes that his/her ideas were more organized and succinct than originally thought. So find a buddy and talk it out, y’all! It’ll help, I swear.

Finally, understand that brainstorming does not only happen before you write a paper. Allow yourself to brainstorm throughout your writing and research process. So, what does this look like? When you are reading and analyzing your research materials, respond directly to each source (right after you finish reading each) using your most effective freewriting method. Once you move into integrating these source materials and responses into your paper, it is to be expected that you may get stuck or need to re-organize your papers. These moments serve as yet another place where freewriting or reading and responding can come in handy.

In short, don’t panic! Sit down, get a cup of coffee, and write down what you know so you can figure out what you don’t know. Oh! And don’t forget, carry your brainstorming methods throughout the entire paper!

What can Shel Silverstein’s “Writer Waiting” teach us about writing?

Haley Petcher, Consultant 

I first read Shel Silverstein’s poetry when I was in elementary school. I loved his doodles, and I loved his rhymes. When I got older, I loved his cleverness. Silverstein could tell a good story in only a few words and could capture the minds and hearts of children and adults alike while doing so.

Maybe you’ve heard that Silverstein’s writing is childish or not up to par with the poetry greats, like Yeats or Shakespeare, but I’m here to show you that he can actually tell us quite a bit about writing. Let’s start by looking at one of his poems about a writer.

Writer Waiting Silverstein

The poem, paired with a sketch of a young child staring at his computer screen and waiting for something to happen, is very clearly about computers and writing. I don’t know about you, but often when I write, this is a pretty accurate representation of me. Even though I’m in grad school, I feel like a kid who has no idea what she’s doing, and sometimes I stare at the screen, hoping for a miracle.

We could go down many rabbit holes about using or not using “standard English” or about all of the rhetorical choices Silverstein makes in his argument that computers are actually not the key to writing, but this time we’re going to focus on the following:

  • What computers can and can’t do
  • Creative license in syntax
  • What the writing center can help you accomplish

The narrator says that he doesn’t “need no writin’ tutor” because the computer can do it all. It can check spelling by showing you the ominous red squiggly line and grammar by showing you the questioning green squiggly line. Sometimes these lines are useful and alert you of typos or sentence fragments. But other times they’re wrong. And sometimes they don’t catch the mistakes. For example, my computer did not use a green squiggly line for my previous two sentences, even though they are technically fragments. Those sentences are examples of using your “creative license” to make a point by putting more emphasis on the sentence.

Silverstein uses his creative license in most of his poetry. A few examples in his poem are, “It can sort and it can spell,/It can punctuate as well,” which the computer doesn’t mark but is a run-on sentence, and “(Just as soon as it can think of what to write),” which the computer does mark as a fragment. Both of these examples rely on their syntax to create the rhythm of the poem, or how we hear and read it. Try reading it aloud while paying close attention to the syntax. (Remember to use longer pauses for periods than for commas.) If Silverstein paid too much attention to the computer, he wouldn’t have been able to create this rhythm or achieve his meaning.

My favorite part of “Writer Waiting” is my second example of Silverstein’s use of creative license. It is the last line, which is in parentheses as if it’s an afterthought or something the narrator doesn’t want to admit. It reads, “(Just as soon as it can think of what to write).” Two words in this line are key: “it” and “what.” “It” puts an emphasis on the computer, while “what” brings our attention to the content of the paper, though the poem mostly focused on the mechanics, like punctuating and spelling. The computer, of course, cannot create the content for us, even though we want it to. Writing is not just about the tools you use; it is about you and your thoughts.

Writing also does not have to be a solitary act. In fact, I think writing is more fun when you talk to other people about it. Here at the University Writing Center, we can help you decide if the squiggly lines offer the best choice, if you should deviate from the computer’s options, and if it’s the best time and place for you to use your creative license in writing to make your point. Most importantly, we can discuss your ideas for your paper. The writing center is here to help you not look and feel like the kid in Silverstein’s drawing.

Actively Writing: Experimentation as a Way to Improve the Writing Process

As writers, we often struggle with what to do with a paper after we have finished saying all that we want to say. This stage can happen at any point in the writing process, from having 3 pages done and needing 5, to needing a conclusion, to just hitting a dead end with the paper. This moment, commonly referred to as writer’s block, is quite infuriating. However, one of the best ways to combat this moment is by redefining how you see writing.

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Most people see writing as a solitary act, one where the writer is stoically sitting for hours on end in front of a computer, unmoving except for one’s fingers across the keyboard. There has been a new emphasis on collaboration as part of the process today, which makes writing slightly more active, but not by much. However, what I wish to propose with this piece is that writing can be a very active process, and some techniques can help rejuvenate new work.

The main goal of writing is to capture that which is innately human. We wish to persuade others, to encourage them, to communicate with them in an intriguing and interesting way. Writers do this visually, by using the words on the page, but we also share ideas through our other senses. For example, many people compose while listening to music because the combination of the various notes will put us in a specific mood and encourage certain words to come to mind. Other people feel the need to write in busy areas, like coffee shops, so that the flow of conversation is in our ears. In this regard, writing is listening.

Writing can also draw on physical activity to some degree. Research is a major component of any writing project, but some articles can be really difficult to understand. Often, in order to understand what I am writing, I have to act out what I have read in some way. If I have to read a description of what someone is doing, I mimic what is described on the page until I understand it. Other times, I draw a map or a flow chart to connect major ideas. Techniques like these help with reading comprehension and provide ways for writers to organize their reactions to various works.

Also, I have worked with many people who, when brainstorming, need a way to channel their stress. That is the moment where I bring out the Legos or Play-Doh! Doing something with your hands while talking about your writing can help the feeling of being fidgety, without adding the stress of needing to write something down. Although putting words on paper is a key component of the writing process, the most important step is finding something to say. For this, I highly recommend grabbing Legos, a slinky, or even a coloring book, and meeting up with a friend for a conversation about what you are working on. It allows writers to feel active and productive, without the paralyzing fear of not writing something down.

Another way to be active while writing is to grab a pen and paper and go for a walk. The fresh air helps foster creativity, while the exercise is just as industrious as writing. Walking also allows writers to observe their surroundings and generate new ways to add detail to a paper. It also helps me find new ways to add clarity to my paper. If I watch the different ways people run, I can determine which verb I want to use describe the same moment in my own paper—sometimes it’s a sprint, other times a jog, still others a quick dart.

Finally, my biggest recommendation for getting out of a writing rut is to experiment with the writing process. What are your strengths? How can you use them in your writing? If you can’t, can you use them to inspire your writing? And don’t give up hope. There have been many times that I have tried something new and it hasn’t worked. The great thing about experimentation is that you can always just try something else. In the words of the famous author E.M. Forster, “How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?”

Setting “Optimistic Accountability Markers”

It’s a week from spring break, and I know—one of my feet is already out the door, too. But even though we would rather focus our to-do lists around packing up our suitcases to go home or buying a new swimsuit to rush off to some actual sunny weather (what is this weather we’ve been having?!), let’s take a step back into this figurative door-frame and do ourselves a favor.

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After spring break, it always seems like a sprint to the finish with all the assignments and papers and projects, yadda yadda yadda…but this semester, glorious spring 2015, let’s try to make it a little less stressful on ourselves. Let’s set some optimistic accountability markers (some may mistake these as self-deadlines, but that term is all too scary. These are much nicer). What do you say? This’ll take less than 10 minutes of time, and I promise, our future selves will thank us.

You need just a few things to get started: your syllabi for your classes (whether paper or on Blackboard—wherever the schedule for upcoming classes is laid out), a calendar/planner, potentially a pen (unless you’re going all techy on me with a digital calendar), and an optimistic but determined state of mind. Got ‘em? Great!

Now, the first step is the hardest, but necessary. So, deep breath. Ready? Let’s mark down in our calendars the due date of our bigger end-of-semester projects. I know this seems daunting, but it only gets easier from here, I promise! It’s just like jumping into a cold pool—it warms up after the initial chill. But take 2 minutes, go through each of the final weeks of your syllabi and put them all into that calendar, preferably marking them by class and assignment name.

Okay—you’ve made it this far, my friend. I know it looks like a lot to do in a short amount of time, but that’s where these next steps come in to make it a whole lot easier and actually doable.

Now zero in on one of your classes—whichever one, any one will do—and think about that final assignment. Is it a bigger paper? How many pages? Is it an accumulative exam? Whatever it is, think back to last semester. Did you have something like this before? Now be honest with yourself—to do well on this assignment, what are the steps you need to take? Jot down just a rough draft of the steps you think you’ll need to take to get there. Here’s an example:

Assignment: 5-7 page paper, using 5 sources, about such-and-such a topic.

  1. Well, to be honest, it’s going to take me a while to gather those 5 sources. I might even need to schedule an appointment with a research librarian to make sure I’m on the right track.
  2. And then, I need to read those 5 sources, highlighting parts that seem relevant to the such-and-such topic, so I actually know what I’m going to be writing about.
  3. And then I need to brainstorm and mentally organize my paper a bit, before I sit down to start writing.
  4. From that, I can probably put together a rough draft of about 3 pages.
  5. Then I definitely want to come back to my draft with fresh eyes to revise, because my papers are always better when I revisit them and polish/clarify my ideas. And let’s say I get stuck at something like 4 pages—I’ll include a little buffer time to make a visit to the writing center (and I might as well make that appointment now and get ahead of schedule—I can always cancel it if I don’t need to use it, but it’ll just be another optimistic accountability marker to hopefully get where I want to be!)
  6. Then I can work on adding the finishing touches. Done. Submit. Adios such-and-such paper!

So six steps? That’s totally doable, right? Better than one larger looming paper. And breaking it down like that can give you an idea of how long each step might take.

So the next step, after drafting that list—yours might only be a few words per step—write on/type in your calendar when you think you can doably complete steps 1 through [insert your own number here]. But remember, the key here is to be optimistic and a go-getter, but not unrealistic. We have 5 weeks left, and then finals week after spring break; I know it’ll fly by, but realistically, if we space out our mini-optimistic accountability marker steps, it’s completely doable! And you won’t be super stressed, I-am-only-surviving-on-caffeine during finals week!

Oh! And two nice things about these optimistic accountability markers? Checking them off on a to-do list feels super! AND they are revisable—if you realize you’ve been a bit too optimistic with one of your markers, reevaluate. They’re your markers, and they’re there to help out your future self (:

White & Gold? Black & Blue? The Dress: Read All Over

Chris Scheidler, Consultant

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If you were on social media last week you probably noticed a thing or two about a dress that, to embrace the hyperbole, “broke the internet.” I’ll leave the dress debate to the designers and physicists but I would like to draw your attention to the act of interpretation; specifically, I’d like to focus on interpreting assignment prompts.

We often take interpretation for granted. We interpret every day. Sometimes interpretation is straightforward: for instance, when your friend says, “Pass the mustard.” Other times, interpretation requires a bit more navigation, such as when your parent asks, “Did you do the dishes?” A blunt “no,” if your family is anything like mine, is probably not an advisable answer. We interpret so often that we sometimes forget that we’re doing it. In many ways, we’ve all become experts at interpreting.

But if the dress debate demonstrates anything, it is that we occasionally get our interpretations wrong. Our ability to interpret is not infallible. When we’re reading assignment prompts, the context, our previous experiences, and other elements all shape the way we interpret the prompt. If a two-tone dress can break the internet, how can we agree on what our professor expects from our assignments?

Don’t fret! Interpretation can be tricky but there are at least four helpful strategies that I recommend.

1. Visit the University Writing Center. Whether you’re just beginning an assignment or further along in the process we’re here to help. We tutors have years of experience interpreting not only assignment prompts but also texts in general. Sometimes just talking it out with another person can help. Which is why, if you don’t have time for an appointment you can:

2. Reach out to other students. Your peers have likely asked themselves the same question about what the assignment means. Ask them how they’re interpreting the prompt and you might find that you all agree on an interpretation or that there is some difference in interpretations. If you, like the Internet on the dress, can’t reach a consensus you can always:

3. Examine the keywords in the prompt. Is the professor asking you to analyze, annotate, summarize, synthesize, or something entirely different? The University Writing Center has a wonderful blog post dedicated to deciphering keywords – check it out! If the keywords are giving you trouble you can always:

4. Speak with the professor. Ask the professor in class or consult with the syllabus to see how your professor prefers to be contacted. If you’re emailing the professor, begin with a professional salutation and end with a professional signoff. If you’re nervous about contacting your professor you can always stop in at the University Writing Center and we can help you compose an email.

Recognizing and Using Rhetorical Devices

Hannah Cunningham, Consultant

As students, we all have to do a fair amount of writing, in a variety of disciplines. And we’ve all sought for new and interesting ways to phrase our thoughts. The way we word our arguments has a massive impact on how our readers perceive not just our arguments, but also us as writers. Careful use of word choice or syntax can also help in making our words or arguments memorable, as well as persuasive. Clearly, how we state our thoughts is as important as the thoughts themselves. But how do we go about doing it well?

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Part of the answer lies in rhetoric. “Rhetoric” refers to the art of making a persuasive argument, using specific (and sometimes very specialized) types of sentences, referred to as “rhetorical devices.” I know—this all sounds so vague and abstract. However, a look at popular culture reveals that many of these rhetorical devices are not only familiar, but are well-known pieces of our cultural heritage. Many of our favorite movies and television shows use rhetorical devices so often that we may not even notice. The list of rhetorical devices is immense, so I’ll offer a few of the more interesting ones, as well as examples that may be very familiar to you.

Anastrophe: This term seems formidable, but many people are familiar with the device itself. Anastrophe refers to inverting the standard order in which words are typically found in sentences. Anyone who has seen the Star Wars movies (or even people like me, who haven’t seen them but are familiar with them) has heard quite a bit of anastrophe from the little green guy—er, Yoda. The phrase “The chosen one the boy may be” is a prime example of anastrophe. Anastrophe is best used sparingly, but can make a topic sentence or a closing statement stand out.

Chiasmus: The root of this word means “cross,” and that’s what the device does. For this device to work successfully, you need a sentence with two clauses. The “crossing” occurs in the second clause, when you reverse the order of the elements in the first sentence. Confusing, I know, but it actually becomes pretty simple if you have an example. Bart Simpson of The Simpsons used chiasmus amusingly when he said “Priceless like a mother’s love, or the good kind of priceless?” He’s being a brat, but his use of chiasmus is spot-on. The word “priceless” begins the first clause, and occurs at the end of the second, while the opposing ideas “a mother’s love” and “the good kind” also switch places. Chiasmus can be very useful when making a persuasive argument, particularly a call to action; if you want to know just how effective, recall JFK saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Commoratio: I can’t tell you that I know how to pronounce this word, but its definition is pretty simple: repetition of an idea with different wording. It becomes absurd fairly quickly, so use it carefully, but it can be an effective device, particularly in an opening statement. The animated show Family Guy used commoratio when the peg-legged and –armed fisherman, Seamus, tells Peter, “If it’s fish you want, Pelican’s Reef is where you’ll find them. I’ve seen fish there. More fish than you could possibly imagine. Fish as far as the eye can see. Lots and lots of fish, I guess would be the main bullet point of this presentation.” Clearly, Family Guy is using commoratio to the point of absurdity, but you can use it carefully to gain your audience’s attention—or to make them laugh.

Epanelepsis: This device describes the act of beginning and ending a sentence or phrase with the same word. Viewers of the old Kevin Smith film Chasing Amy heard epanelepsis when Ben Affleck’s character, Holden McNeil, said, “Alyssa from last night Alyssa?” His use of epanelepsis even impressed his friend Hooper, who commented, “How do you begin and end a sentence with the same word like that? You got skills.” This device can be useful when emphasizing the repeated word, although it’s important to use this device sparingly so that your paper doesn’t become too repetitious.

Litotes: This is your basic understatement, usually with the word “not.” Dozens of easy examples exist, such as “He’s not unlike his father,” or “The weather lately has been not tropical.” But for many of us, the most memorable example may be the Sorting Hat in the first Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. When the Sorting Hat is trying to decide in which house to place Harry, it says, “Hmm, difficult. VERY difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either.” That last sentence proves that the Sorting Hat, in addition to thinking up each year’s opening song, also had time to study rhetorical devices such as litotes. Litotes can be useful when supporting an argument, but be wary of overusing it; it begins to sound sarcastic fairly quickly.

Metanoia: This is another one I can’t pronounce, but I hear it often in television shows. Metanoia refers to qualifying a statement mid-sentence to emphasize the sentence’s point. Barney Stinson, the loveable rogue on the show How I Met Your Mother, uses metanoia fairly frequently, particularly when making his over-the-top arguments. In this case, Barney uses metanoia to insist on receiving a fist bump: “Until my fist gets the respect it deserves – nay, demands – it will not yield. It. Will. NOT! Yield.” This rather powerful device is probably best used in a conclusion, to leave your audience with a strong statement at the end of your paper.

Polysyndeton: This weird-looking word actually just refers to having a conjunction before each item in a list. Usually, conjunctions (particularly “and”) only occur before the last item in a list. Viewers of The Simpsons have seen polysyndeton from the character of Professor Frink, the excitable mad scientist of Springfield. In one episode, Frink says, “Oh, sorry I’m late. There was trouble at the lab with the running and the exploding and the crying when the monkeys stole the glasses off my head.” The sentence is both comical, and a perfect example of polysyndeton. In your papers, you may not want to reference monkeys stealing your glasses, but you may very well use polysyndeton to emphasize every item in a list.

These are just a few of the hundreds of rhetorical devices available for your use. Take a glance through a website that lists rhetorical devices and then watch your favorite show or movie. See how many examples you can pick up.

Strategies for Reading and Writing about Sources

Taylor Gathof, Consultant

February is flying by and we’ve reached that point in our courses where we’re frequently asked to read, respond to, and write about sources. Sometimes, we are required to read and write about sources we’ve been given in class; other times, we must head to the library (or the library database) and find additional sources to read and write about. We encounter assignments that ask us to write both short and longer papers using sources. However, even when writing a short paper with 3 or 4 sources, writing about sources can be tough. As a student and writing center consultant, I’ve experienced and seen how writing with and about sources can, and often does, leave one saying “I’m not sure how all of these sources fit together” and wondering “What should I say about this (or each) source?” Don’t be discouraged, though, because there are strategies that can help you work through such questions!

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Oftentimes, when we are given a writing assignment that asks us to incorporate or respond to sources, our initial impulse is to start writing the paper and read/incorporate our sources as we go—it is a writing assignment after all, right? In my experience as a student, though, this strategy didn’t always work, especially when I was asked to incorporate upwards of 5 sources and make complex arguments in response to said sources. In taking on longer and larger writing projects as an undergraduate junior and senior, I discovered the usefulness of reading and writing about sources before I began writing a paper. By reading all of my sources and writing down my responses to and thoughts about each source, I found that I had a much easier time seeing how one source related to another and organizing all of my information. Also, I found that this strategy helped me spend less time re-reading sources, thus allowing more time for me to focus on the task of writing.

Here are three ways that you can record your responses to and thoughts about your sources:

  • Annotated Bibliography: An annotated bibliography is similar to a bibliography (a list of sources in a particular style such as APA, MLA, etc.), except that in an annotated bibliography you write a brief summary and evaluation and/or analysis of each source. Often, instructors will require students to write annotated bibliographies as part of a research paper or project. Even if your instructors do not require an annotated bibliography, writing your responses to and thoughts about sources in this way can be extremely useful and valuable because it will save you time in the long run: not only will you have written a useful summary and analysis of a source that can perhaps be incorporated into your paper, but you will also have your bibliography completed! 
  • Reading Journal: A reading journal is basically a journal in which you track your responses to the readings and sources you encounter and can be either paper or electronic. This style is more laid back and less formal than an annotated bibliography, but you will still want to be doing some summarizing, evaluating, and analyzing for each source. I find reading journals particularly useful for a class in which I will be required to write essays and papers about the assigned readings. By keeping a reading journal, I am able to 1) be prepared to discuss readings in class each day, 2) add useful class notes to my existing notes, and 3) use these notes to pick a topic to write about and compare/contrast sources when it’s paper-writing time.
  • Blog: A blog can be used in a similar way to a reading journal and, again, is less formal and more relaxed than an annotated bibliography. What I find most interesting, useful, and fun about blogs is that they can be shared. For example, in a class concerned with representations of women in media and culture, I was required to keep a blog in which I responded to class readings and sources that I uncovered on my own. We were allowed to make the blog private, but I chose to make mine public. I didn’t anticipate what happened next: people actually responded to my blog posts. This may sound scary, but it was actually incredibly helpful. Readers would often comment on what they liked about my analysis and evaluations, pose questions that I had not thought of, and offer additional sources that proved useful.

Now that you have some strategies for recording your responses to and thoughts about your sources, here are some questions to get you writing about your sources:

  • What is the purpose of this source? What is the main argument?
  • How does the author achieve this purpose or support his/her argument?
  • What types of evidence is the author using?
  • Has anything been left out, overlooked, or neglected in this source?
  • Do I find this source persuasive? Why or why not?
  • Is this source credible? Why or why not?
  • How does this source compare to my other sources?
  • How does this source contribute to my argument?

All of these questions will not always be necessarily relevant or apply to your sources, and there are many other great questions that you can ask about sources. The important thing is to ask the same questions of each source and write down your answers: this strategy will provide a solid foundation on which to write your paper.

Happy writing, friends!

Using the Thesis Statement to Your Advantage

Bobby Rich, Consultant

The thesis statement is the keystone of a paper: a solid thesis statement holds everything together, but without one, your paper can fall apart pretty easily. Because of this, developing a strong thesis statement is of high importance, and, as I’m sure many students are aware, the phrase “strong thesis statement” often appears at the top of many grading rubrics. So, you know it is a necessary thing, but…

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What is it thesis statement, anyway?

The thesis statement can be an intimidating thing for many writers. At its most basic, a thesis statement is an explicit statement of argument. The majority of papers written in college are not simply restating information, they are assessing information, analyzing it, and making an argument about what the information means. A thesis is not a statement of raw opinion, rather, it is a strong assertion about how something should be interpreted, intended to apply to the general understanding of that thing, not just your own. Yes, to a degree the thesis statement is personal, but it is not a statement of simply individual taste or feeling; it is a statement of educated interpretation, based on the research you have done, and the knowledge base you are pulling from, stemming from critical thinking. If I’m having a conversation with a friend, and I say, “Marvel comics are the best,” they might as “Why?” and I might respond, “Because they’re the best!” That, unfortunately, is just pure opinion, and won’t do much to convince my friend of that point. In fact, that claim really isn’t arguing anything, it is just a flat statement. If I want to convince them, I need to argue; I need to present an argument in a way that will then allow me to readily back it up with facts, like: “I argue that Marvel is currently producing the best comic books on the market, because they exhibit a clear sense of social awareness and dedication to incorporating diversity in their publications.” From there, I can begin to elaborate on my points. Not only does that set me up to make my argument, but it makes discussion possible, which is necessary to a good argument. If I just state my raw opinion, there is no room for discussion; my friend would only be able to agree or disagree.

Alright, but why do I need one?

Organization, for both the reader and the writer. I like to think of the thesis statement as a kind of organizational tool or outline, built into the paper I’m writing. For the reader, it serves the purpose of saying, “Here is what I am going to tell you in this paper, here is how all the evidence I present is tied together, and here is what I want you to be paying attention to.” Without that sort of statement, the evidence you provide can seem random and disconnected, which can confuse the reader. The thesis statement should create a sort of focal point for the reader, and a sense of perspective to put the evidence against; it should guide them through the paper. For you, the writer, a strong thesis statement will have a similar effect, and will help you keep track of what you’re doing. As you go through your paper, you can refer back to your thesis statement and think “Okay, so, is it clear how the point I just made relates back to my thesis? Will the reader get the connection? Have I made the connection?” This will help you keep your paper from becoming jumbled or disorganized, which is definitely a good thing.

How do I develop one?

Again, think of it as an organizational tool. Ask yourself questions like, “What problem do I perceive in this evidence? What do I see connecting the evidence? What kind of solution can I provide?” That will get you started. Then you want to think about where you can take the argument, what sort of order you need for your evidence, and what the most central point is. Your thesis statement doesn’t need to say every single thing you will do in your paper; it needs to provide a jumping off point for your writing to follow from, and you want it to be easily linkable to the points you make in your paper at any given time.

When do I develop one?

This will depend, more or less, on your discipline of study. For example, in English, if you are writing about literature, your thesis can kind of shift and change as you work through your piece. It may not be finalized and solid until after your first draft; on the other hand, in philosophy, you might find it necessary to have your thesis statement more strongly developed from the beginning, in order to prevent confusion or contradiction as you work through your argument. Regardless, it is best to begin thinking about and attempting to formulate your thesis as you research your topic; doing so will, as above, allow you to keep everything organized better as you go through the writing process, which will not only make for a stronger paper, but will make it easier on you as you write. Try keeping a log of your reactions to the sources you read. Your reactions do not have to be fully hashed-out, but keep notes of problems you perceive, questions you have, and potential solutions. Thinking about your thesis up front will save you work later.

Whatever discipline you may be writing in, the next time you have a paper due, try thinking of your thesis statement as an organizational tool, and develop it along those lines: for ease of use. It could just make the writing process an overall smoother, more confident experience.

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