Writing in the Time of Corona

IMG_2993Cat Sar, Writing Consultant 

Since the Writing Center has gone online along with most of UofL, it seems timely to share some tips about virtual writing center appointments, and how to get the most out of them.

  • Be as specific as possible when filling out your client report form. Anything that you want your consultant to know should be included. Remember, virtual appointments do not provide the luxury of real time communication, so the appointment form is even more important than usual.
  • Attach all necessary documents by 12 pm EST the day before your appointment. Similar to #1 on this list, you will not be able to pull up any additional documents in the virtual session. Consider either including the assignment guidelines or rubric either in the text of the appointment form, or as an attachment. This information is also incredibly important because it provides consultants with a sense of what your instructor is looking for and grading you on.
  • Before you make an appointment, take some time to peruse our website, especially the videos and handouts page. These are excellent, easy-to-navigate educational resources. Some questions may be answered without the need for a full appointment. Of course, we are happy to help you in whatever way we can, but we would also like to make best use of the time and attention we have.
  • Take a deep breath. As our fearless director says, “there is no such thing as a composition emergency.” Not even COVID-19. Your friendly neighborhood writing consultants are here to help. This page is intended to help you make the best use of the Writing Center during this time.  I also recommend that you check our Facebook, Instagram (@uoflwritingctr), and Twitter for updates! Our front desk is staffed from 9-5 p.m. and you can either call us at 502-852-2173 (please leave a voicemail) or email us. For any technology issues, you may called UofL’s IT HelpDesk at 502-852-7997.
  • Be patient and be well. We are all in the same boat, figuring out how to navigate in this weird time. Your professors, colleagues, friends and family are all feeling the stress of uncertainty in their personal and professional lives. Make sure to treat yourself with the same compassion you offer them. Wash your hands, clean your keyboards and your workspaces, and check in with your community. We hope to see you soon at the WC!

How We Will Work With You Online During the COVID-19 Campus Closure

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

During this extraordinary moment when UofL courses have moved online, we, at the University Writing Center, have been working to implement a plan that will continue to offer UofL writers a way to get thoughtful responses to their drafts. All University Writing Center dscn2185consultants and administrative staff will be working from home. Below I will explain our plan to work with writers online and point you to other online resources about writing effectively that we have available for you. I will also offer suggestions for how to make the best use of online writing response. In the weeks to come we will offer more blog posts about how to work effectively from home and tips for completing your assignments successfully. Although the coming weeks will clearly often be a stressful and uncertain time for all of us, we maintain our commitment helping you with your writing in a spirit of collaboration and generosity.

The Details of Our Online Tutoring System

While the University is delivering courses online in the coming weeks, the University Writing Center will be offering only online appointments in which you upload a draft and receive written comments in response. You may use the University Writing Center or Virtual Writing Center schedules to make a written feedback appointment. Both schedules will be available for appointments starting Monday, March 16. For detailed instructions on how to make your appointment, including a how-to video, and what to expect from written feedback, follow this link.

Here are some details about how appointments will work during this time:

  • We will offer only written-response online appointments. There will also be no online live-chat appointments.
  • If you have a face-to-face appointment already scheduled between March 18-April 4 on either the University Writing Center or Health Sciences Writing Center schedules, your appointment will be automatically converted to an online, written feedback appointment. However, you will need to upload a draft to your appointment if you would like feedback. Please cancel your appointment if you do not want written feedback.
  • When you make an online, written response appointment, you must upload your draft by noon the day before your appointment, or your appointment will be cancelled and the time made available to other writers. We do this to make sure that as many writers are able to use appointment slots as possible.
  • Writers will be limited to two appointments per week during this period.
  • We also have online resources on our Handouts, Video workshops, and Writing FAQs to help answer your questions and concerns about writing.
  • If you have questions about how to make an appointment, please email writing@louisville.edu or call 502-852-2173.

Some Tips to Make the Most of Your Written-Feedback Appointment

If you have never made a written-response appointment with us before, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of the experience. In these appointments, because we can’t have a conversation with you during the appointment, there are some things you can do before and after that are helpful

When you make your appointment: In addition to uploading your draft, please upload a copy of your assignment prompt. The prompt is a huge help for your consultant in responding effectively to your draft. If you don’t have a prompt to upload, please tell us everything you can about the assignment or writing task you are working on. Along those same lines, the more detail you can give us on the appointment form about your top concerns about your draft, the more able we are to respond effectively to those concerns. If, rather than just list a few words, you can write a detailed note about your concerns, we’ll be better able to give you suggestions and advice to address your concerns.

When you receive your draft with comments: You will receive your draft with your consultant’s comments as an email attachment within one business day of the appointment’s start time. (You can also access your draft with comments from your appointment in the scheduling system.) Your consultant will write a note at the top of your draft that summarizes the suggestions and insights the consultant has about your draft and how best to approach revising your work. In the margins of your draft you will find more detailed questions about your draft and suggestions for revision. Keep in mind that, as with face-to-face appointments, our online appointments are 50-minutes long. Our consultants will comment on as much as they can within that 50-minutes. If they can’t reach the end of draft, they will note where they had to stop.

As you revise your writing: If you’re not sure where to start in using the written comments to revise your draft, we recommend out handout on “Using Written Feedback When Revising.” You may also find our other handouts that cover writing strategies from writing introductions to citation to grammar and usage issues helpful when revising.

Other Online Resources to Help You with Your Writing

We have a wide range of online resources to help you with your writing.

  • We have Video Workshops on issues such as citation styles and formatting and how to use sources effectively.
  • We also have more than 35 handouts online with advice about writing processes, grammar and usage, strategies for approaching different parts of a draft, and more.
  • We also have Writing FAQs that cover the kinds of questions that come up often in our work and offer you suggestions on how to approach common writing situations.
  • We will be using our social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Our Blog) to post ideas and resources about writing, and some things just to brighten the day.
  • Finally, over the past eight years, the consultants in the University Writing Center have offered, in their posts in this blog, a wide range of advice about writing issues. You can browse the blog for a lot of good advice and, in the coming weeks, we will highlight some posts we find particularly useful for writing advice.

In the Weeks to Come

We are all in uncharted waters with this current situation. We know that, as writers, you may at times feel stressed, isolated, and unsure how your assignments and courses are going to work now that they are online. Our consultants, who are also graduate students, are going through the same experiences and are both sympathetic to your situation –  and feeling some stress on their own. As always, however, we will respond to your work as thoughtful readers and do our best to offer you helpful suggestions, questions, and encouragement.

We have an special community in the University Writing Center, both among our staff and with the writers who trust us with their writing. The best way to get through this current extraordinary situation is with the support and help and empathy of others. We all need to show patience and generosity to each other. Even if we’re working in different places, we are still a community and still stronger together. We look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead.

Looking Back and Forward from International Mother Language Day

Tristan DeWitt, Writing Consultant Tristan DeWitt

This past Friday, February 21st, the University of Louisville Writing Center celebrated International Mother Language Day. This celebration offered me the chance to interact with students from different cultures and languages who are members of the university community, which opened my eyes to how diverse our campus is. If you are unfamiliar with this day, like I originally was, it has a fascinating history worth researching.

This observance was established by the United Nations in 1999 to promote multilingualism and language diversity across the world. The history behind this day has its roots in the Bengali Language Movement – a movement that emphasizes the stakes associated with multilingualism. On February 21, 1952, demonstration were head at Dhaka University, in what was then East Pakistan, against the adoption of a new state language at the removal of their mother tongue, Bangla. This event resulted in the killing of demonstrators who gave their lives to preserve their language. This event also lead to Bangla becoming one of the state languages of Pakistan. Until the writing center event this past week, I did not know the significance of this day, but I now have an entirely new perspective on the importance of multilingualism. As someone who grew up speaking English in America, the cultural significance of language was not something that often occurred to me, particularly not the impact that a loss of language can have on a culture.

As we celebrated on Friday, I realized that the relevance of this day within the university community and is crucial. As a university with over 700 international students and 200 scholars, recognizing and understanding the need for language diversity becomes even more significant, as language is foundational in preserving cultural tradition and diversity. The United Nations states that “When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.” These characteristics of language highlight the importance in preserving an encouraging multilingualism, especially within our university community.

Instead of seeing language as a barrier, the university allows us the opportunity to learn from other cultures through a variety of ways. Even though International Mother Language Day has passed, there are still a number of ways to interact with a diverse range of cultures on campus. The University of Louisville offers a variety of ways for students to connect with and learn from other languages, ranging from classes to clubs, such as the American International Relations Club, which is open to all students interested in multilingualism. There are also clubs like the Arabic Language and Culture Club and the Chinese Club, as well as events like the French Film Festival (showing films until 3/7!), which focus on particular languages and cultures. By participating in these clubs and supporting more language diversity on campus, we can help to create an environment that fosters and celebrates a variety of cultures, viewpoints, and opinions.

If you’re interested in finding a club, a list of UofL organizations can be found here.

If you would like to become more involved in the community, here are a few places to start:

Americana Community Center

Kentucky Refugee Ministries 

La Casita Center

Interfaith Paths to Peace 

ESL Newcomer Academy 

 

How a Writing Center Consultant Prepares for the Next Appointment

Writing centers are one of the few places in a university setting where every single Michelle Buntainstudent can be assisted. Every student has to write, and every kind of writing is welcome at the University Writing Center. But, given all the variables that come with working at a university of over 21,000 students, how does a writing center consultant prepare for their appointments?

At the University of Louisville Writing Center, we pride ourselves on our accessibility to every writer we encounter. We have trained, studied, and practiced our skills to make sure that your experience in the writing center is the best it can be. This includes:

  1. Taking a class on Writing Center studies: Consultants take a class that teaches us about writing center theory, ethics, and strategies for the teaching of writing.
  2. Reflecting on appointments with our colleagues and our supervisors: We have formal and informal reflections on appointments with our fellow consultants as well as our supervisors, including the Director of the Writing Center.
  3. Discussing new ways to approach the teaching of writing: We are always sharing new ideas about how to approach our sessions with writers. Our best tips and strategies are often the result of what we have learned from each other.
  4. Staying up-to-date on citation methods: Citation methods can be confusing, especially since they are updated every few years. We study the new versions and update our handouts on different citation styles. Just last week our Associate Director gave a lecture on the 7th edition of APA!
  5. Mentally preparing ourselves before each appointment: Before the day begins, we open WC Online and look over the scheduled appointments. Each appointment form tells us what the writer wants to work on, so we make sure that we are comfortable with addressing the writer’s particular concerns before the appointment. If the writer is working on a kind of assignment or genre of writing that is less familiar, we will do research and ask our colleagues for advice. This preparation helps us begin a session with a good sense of what the end product should look like.

When a session is over and we return to the consultants’ office, we like to share our successful strategies and ask each other for advice. No session goes perfectly, but we take our work seriously and we constantly strive to do better. When you come to the University Writing Center, know that we are prepared and excited to help every writer achieve their goals!

Love, Generosity, and Attention: How Do You Tend to Your Writing?

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.Rose Dyar

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson: I do?

Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson: I was just describing it.

Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson: Sure, I guess I pay attention.

Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thinglove and attention?

 

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film, centers on the experiences of a young woman as she goes about her senior year of high school. It’s about growing up and coming to terms with where you are from. It is also, at its core, a film about paying attention. The quote at the top of this post comes from a scene in which the titular Lady Bird reviews her college application essay with her advisor, Sister Sarah Joan, who notices the particular care Lady Bird treats her hometown with in her writing. The devotional attention Lady Bird has paid to a place translates into her writing and helps her to recognize a love that she was not able to name before the writing. Writing, love, and attention— these things are linked. Sometimes we just need a companion to help us to see that. Once that link is made clear, though, it is hard, at least for me, to not think of that relationship each time I sit down to write.

It is no secret that writing can be hard work. Sometimes, it is taxing. Sometimes, it is a struggle. Sometimes, it is just confusing. That is why places like the Writing Center exist. But hard work can also be joyful work. A theory of attention, I believe, can help to make the hard work of writing a practice of love.

Deciding to write means to deciding to attend to a topic or an idea. It requires committing to a process of discovery and showing up for the words that come out of it. There are many ways to begin this process. Maybe for you it starts with a daily journal and a singular prompt. Maybe it looks like a free-writing session that concludes by scanning for the sentence that worked and moving forward from there. Or maybe it’s an outline that helps you to see what you are writing toward. All of these rituals help us to turn our attention to our words, and ultimately, to our ideas.

When we turn our attention to an idea, we have the opportunity to devote our entire selves to it. It’s a lot like intentional presence in sitting with another person. When we do these things, we learn and listen. These are activities that make room for the possibility of transformation.

“Attention,” French philosopher and political activist Simone Weil wrote, “is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” I think of this quote often, especially when I am writing or thinking about writing or procrastinating from writing. It strikes a chord with me because of its recognition of the difficulty involved in the desire to pay attention. We try, but it doesn’t always work. So we show up again— a lot like writing. The practice of writing requires attention, so what has captured yours lately? Have you noticed anything special or mundane or strange today? What do you need to say? And, can you write it down?

Why We Call Everyone a “Writer”

Kelby Gibson, Writing Consultant

Kelby Gibson

“Well, I don’t write.” I’ve heard that sentence about 100 times over the last six months. People come into the Writing Center looking for some help because they think they have no idea what they are doing, when, in fact, they do. In today’s world, we’re surrounded by technology –  which has both advantages and disadvantages. A lot of people, myself included, get sucked into the world of social media and can lose hours of their day watching videos of cute animals, reading about their hometown drama, liking photos of the celebrities they follow, etc. It can be addicting. In having a phone glued to a hand though, people are also doing something else. People are constantly writing. Composing text messages, replying to a tweet, commenting on a post, captioning their photo for Instagram, posting ads on resale apps, typing in delivery directions for DoorDash. The list could go on. People fail to realize that they are writing – in some form – every single day. Just because it isn’t ‘academic’ doesn’t mean it isn’t writing.

When communicating through written text, most people still try to be effective. If they give bad directions to the delivery driver, they may not get their food. If they don’t pay attention to wording, they could upset their friends, or potentially create chaos on social media with family. An ad needs to appropriately represent the product, otherwise it may not sell. These are all reasons people carefully and intentionally use writing in their day to day lives, even they do not realize they are using their own writing processes for these seemingly mundane actions.

I often urge writers to take what they know about all of these types of writing and apply it to the writing they are struggling with. Sometimes this works, sometimes it takes more explanation and practice before the application of it sticks. To be fair, this is way easier said than done. I think we all could take care to be more thoughtful and aware of the writing we are doing on a daily basis. The more we practice both the writing itself and reflecting on the skills and tools we are employing in doing so, the more we can improve ourselves as writers, whether it be seemingly simple social media posts or for a grade at school. Chances are everyone will use writing at some point in their chosen career field. The greater capability they have of being an attentive, thoughtful, and reflective writer, the more likely they are to be able to transition to new types of writing and be more effective writers in general.

When we more carefully approach our everyday writing, we will learn more from it. We will learn more about ourselves as writers, as well. I know a lot of people do not think of writing as vital to their fields. Maybe they want to be nurses, police officers, biologists, zookeepers, engineers, personal trainers, etc. They may not be thinking about how important their writing skills will be in taking down patient information, writing incident reports, note-taking on studies, scheduling routines for employees to follow, applying for grants, personalizing meal plans and workouts, etc. But these things will be important! Being clear in your position, intent, meaning, and more will make all the difference for those the writing is about and those it is meant for. In other words, writing pops up everywhere all the time. It may not involve writing full papers, writing for publications, or other instances where one’s writing will be graded or ‘judged’ for a lack of a better word, but they will still likely have to write, and it matters how understandable that writing is. When we start to think about how we are practicing this writing every day, the better chance we have at making that practice matter.

Commas Rule! Common Comma Rules and Tips

Hayley Salo, Writing Consultant

There are a ton of guides to comma rules, so I won’t spend this entire blog post rewording what those rules are. Instead, I’d like to take the time to go through the most common mistakes and discuss ways to identify, correct, and avoid them. This will require a bit of rule discussion, but bear with me.

Connecting Complete Sentences

There are multiple ways to connect complete sentences, and commas are certainly one of them! However, this is also where most comma mistakes are made, including comma splices and many run-on sentences. So, what’s the deal? Why is this part so hard?

Well, we tend to talk differently than we write; the pauses we make while speaking often do not match the pauses we grammatically require. Although this goes against the age-old advice of “read your work out loud,” it’s true! Reading your work out loud is a great way to catch comma mistakes that you are already familiar with, but it’s less effective at helping you catch the really tricky mistakes, including comma splices.

For instance, if we read the following sentence out loud, it sounds pretty normal:

Sally went to the store, and she bought an apple.

But so does this sentence:

Sally went to the store and she bought an apple.

The comma here is very hard to hear. Since the “and” tells us how the sentences are connected, it’s easy to assume that the “and” implies the pause, too. However, we need both the comma and the “and” for this sentence to be grammatically correct (Sally went to the store, and she bought an apple).

Since it’s hard to spot the missing comma while just reading an essay, it’s helpful to proofread one sentence at a time. Take the time to divide long sentences into two or more shorter sentences. Then, proof the punctuation by referring to the rules and recombining the sentence. The example above can be divided into two completely separate sentences:

Sally went to the store. She bought an apple.

Once we have the sentence divided, we can check the comma rules for how to connect complete sentences. We would see that we need both a comma and a connecting word, so we would know to combine the sentences into the following:

Sally went to the store, and she bought an apple.

This process of dividing sentences will become very important once the sentences get more complex.

Lists

Lists can be surprisingly difficult to proofread, and there are even two correct ways to punctuate the same list! Long, complex lists can be challenging because it’s hard for writers and readers alike to separate all of the ideas. As a result, dividing lists into shorter, simpler sentences is a great way to proofread. Let’s look at a simple first example before getting into a tougher one.

Correct: I like to walk, hike, and swim.

Correct: I like to walk, hike and swim.

Incorrect: I like to walk, hike, swim.

The first correct version uses the “Oxford comma,” which is just the optional comma before the “and.” The second correct version does not use that optional comma. The key here is that “and” is always required between the second to last and last list items, no matter how long or complex the list is.

As I mentioned earlier, we can divide lists into shorter, simpler sentences:

Correct: I like to walk. I like to hike. I like to swim.

This division makes it easier to see that “walk,” “hike,” and “swim” are all things I like to do. As a result, they are all part of the same list. But what happens when lists get more . . . listy?

Correct: I like dogs and cats, cake and cookies, and coffee and tea.

Correct: I like dogs and cats, cake and cookies and coffee and tea.

Incorrect: I like dogs and cats, cake and cookies, coffee and tea.

In the above examples, we have lists within a list. The primary list is things I like. We can see this more easily by dividing the sentence:

I like dogs. I like cats. I like cake. I like cookies. I like coffee. I like tea.

Very few people want to read that many short sentences. However, they are equally unlikely to want to read this long of a list:

I like dogs, cats, cake, cookies, coffee, and tea.

In long lists like these ones, readers are likely to remember only the first or last list items and tune out the middle ones. This is where our original example, with more than one “and,” comes in. We can simplify that list to a lesser extent:

I like dogs and cats. I like cake and cookies. I like coffee and tea.

Now it’s easier to see the categories of things I like: animals, food, and drinks. So, what we really have is a list of three things I like, but within that list, there are two-item lists arranged by category. Sounds pretty abstract, right? But it’s so much easier to see when it’s divided up like we did above. Once we know that we have lists within a list, it’s easier to know that we need an “and” between items in each two-item list, a comma between each category, and a final “and” between the second to last and last two-item list:

Correct: I like dogs and cats, cake and cookies, and coffee and tea.

Correct: I like dogs and cats, cake and cookies and coffee and tea.

Feel free to use or omit the Oxford comma.

Bottom line: lists can feel like a theoretical wormhole. Break them down into their smallest components and then carefully, deliberately, put them back together. We often write over-complicated lists in first drafts, so it’s up to us as later proofreaders to come back and fix them.

Optional Information

Generally speaking, optional information is separated from the rest of the sentence by commas. However, sometimes it’s hard to tell what is optional and what isn’t, which makes proofreading for comma mistakes very difficult. The trick here is to determine if the sentence’s core meaning changes when the information is removed. Let’s look at a few examples:

The dictionary, which is blue, is on the table.

“Which is blue” is grammatically optional; we can take that part of the sentence out and still have a complete sentence with the same meaning:

The book is on the table.

Nothing fundamental about this sentence has changed. We are still talking about the same book and the same table.

However, some writers and readers may not consider that information optional in certain situations. Take the following situation, which takes place in a library with a ton of books scattered around the floor, shelves, and table:

Sally: I need you to look up a word for me.

James: Where do I find the dictionary?

Sally: The dictionary, which is blue, is on the table.

James certainly does need to know that the dictionary is both blue and on the table in order to efficiently find the dictionary. However, it still isn’t the main point of the sentence. James could still find the same dictionary without that specification.

Commas shouldn’t be used when the “that,” “which,” etc. section really does affect the meaning of the sentence:

The dictionary that I own is in bad shape.

This sentence is talking about the physical appearance of my personal dictionary. If we take out “that I own,” we get something very different:

The dictionary is in bad shape.

This sentence implies that someone needs to do some serious editing and save our dictionaries! Not the same as our first sentence at all, so skip the commas.

Summary

When working with commas, try these tips:

  1. Read the sentence out loud to get a general feeling for what it is saying and how it is saying it.
  2. Divide the sentence into shorter, simpler sentences.
  3. Look up the rule for the kind of sentence you’re working on.
  4. Apply the rule and carefully recombine the sentence.
  5. Proofread similar sentences in the paper one after another to practice the rules and methods.