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Archive for the month “September, 2015”

Five Strategies for Citation Management

ElizabethdeanElizabeth Dean, Consultant

Quality academic writing draws from the ideas of others, so giving credit to previous authors is an important part of your writing process. Citation styles such as MLA, APA, and Chicago are designed to place your ideas in conversation with other scholars. Using others’ ideas with effective citation grants you credibility as a researcher and helps you establish your place within your field of study.

However, citation styles may seem complicated and overwhelming. Many students feel stressed by the rules and regulations. Here are some strategies to help you manage your citation during a writing project.

Cite as you research

You may find it helpful to create your citation as you read your sources. As soon as you finish reading your book, article, or other type of source, go ahead and create a bibliographic citation for it. This way, it takes less time to remember the information about your source. Writing your citations one by one is a low-stress way to gradually create your bibliography.

Set aside time specifically for citation

As you approach your final edits of your paper, read through it with a focus on citation. Make sure all direct quotes and paraphrases are marked with an in-text citation, and double-check the form of your bibliographic citations. If you plan ahead to set aside time for this purpose, you will be able to catch possible mistakes at the end of your process.

Take it one source at a time

If you find yourself falling behind with the citations in your draft, catching up can seem like a daunting task. However, you can go through your sources like a checklist and focus on one source and its place within your text. Once you have inserted the in-text citations and placed the source in your bibliography, move on to the next one. This strategy breaks up the task into manageable pieces.

Use online resources

There are several online resources with information about using specific citation styles. The University Writing Center has several video workshops that discuss plagiarism, APA, and MLA style. They also have handouts on citation and documentation. The Purdue OWL has sample papers and bibliographic citations. Citation management software such as Zotero and Endnote are available to help manage your citations over the course of a project. (Zotero is free to all users, and Endnote is available for free through U of L.)

Visit the University Writing Center

At the University Writing Center, our consultants can talk to you about your individual citation needs. We have copies of the official handbooks for many citation styles. We can help you understand the overall goal of citations in your paper and teach you even more strategies to help you enter into an academic conversation.

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ATTENTION UNDERGRADUATES: A Few Tips on Preparing for Those Fierce 101 Papers

lindseygilbert Lindsey Gilbert, Consultant

College is quite thrilling, but when classes begin to settle, you might feel overwhelmed. Tests and quizzes give you a studying routine, but what about your essay writing? As your English midterm paper quickly approaches, keep in mind that the writing process may take a little longer than you think, but don’t worry—it’s meant to. You can start your very own writing routine by keeping in mind the seven tips listed below. These tips will greatly help you in any future writing endeavors that you may tackle.

  1. Don’t wait till the last minute to start your paper. Believe it or not, it is best to start your paper early. Reading the prompt thoroughly will help you understand what you are expected to do and allow you the time to think through paper topics. Then you can begin your writing, which will cause less stress overall as the due date approaches.
  2. Your first idea may not be your final paper topic. Unfortunately, it’s true. At times you will begin researching a topic and discover that not enough information may be published about it. Not finding the information you want in order to write your paper is challenging, but that doesn’t mean you’ll fail. Turn to another topic and who knows—maybe it’ll work out better than you expected.
  3. Brainstorm with anybody! Whether you want to talk with your peers, your teacher, or even a Writing Center consultant, brainstorming is the best way to tease out ideas for your paper. You never know what new ideas you will have after brainstorming with others, so give it a try!
  4. Write a first draft, not just a final copy. Okay, so this one may be a challenge, especially since it appears easier to type up your ideas and call it a day; however, this can come back to hurt you (or your grade rather). Get out all of your ideas by writing them down, then go back and read what you wrote. Yes, you may find some grammar errors, but this will begin the constructing process of your paper. After you’ve read it through, you can tweak it to make your arguments stronger.
  5. The five paragraph essay is a format, not your writing style’s way of life. For many of us, we come to college with the mindset that the five paragraph essay is the way to write an essay, but that’s not true. Secondary teachers will often use the technique of the five paragraph essay to demonstrate the format of a paper. This is beneficial for learning essay construction, but it doesn’t have to carry into your future work entirely. Use the foundation of this concept to structure your paper. Essays exhibit many variations for their essay structure based on the number of points and the amount of information provided on those points. Having four major points can make for four body paragraphs, whereas two extensive points may still make for four body paragraphs. As long as your essay structure is strong, your reader will understand the layout of your ideas and your overall paper.
  6. Remember: Writing is a process. You may not receive the grade you want, but keep in mind that writing takes time to perfect. Most authors in the articles that you read for class are nowhere near your age, so remember that developing your writing takes time and dedication. Use your resources, such as your friendly Writing Center staff, to assist you in becoming a better and stronger writer for life.
  7. Come visit the Writing Center! Familiarize yourself with our friendly Writing Center staff. Each consultant’s goal is to help you become a better writer, so if you have questions about an assignment or want a second opinion on your work, feel free to bring it in. With both you and the consultant wanting to strengthen your writing, these sessions will be of great value to you!

Keep these seven tips in mind as you begin working on your next English paper, among other potential subject papers. The task of writing may seem quite daunting, but just like any other subject, putting time and effort into your writing will help you become a better writer and, in return, help you write strong papers for your classes. Focusing on bettering your writing style now will only save you time down the road. I hope to see you at the Writing Center this year!

Five Tips for Overcoming Blank Screen Anxiety

alexwassonAlex Wasson, Consultant

For many writers, the angry blinking cursor on a blank Microsoft Word document is one of the most intimidating barriers to overcome in the writing process. The flashing cursor is like the ticking of a clock, reminding writers of a deadline fast approaching. And the blank screen mocks what we writers fear most: that we have nothing to say.

Entering the drafting stage of writing a paper is a daunting challenge for even the most experienced writers, regardless of the length and the theme of the assignment. You are not alone if you have put off getting on the computer until the last possible minute, acutely aware of the blank document hovering on your screen. You are not alone if your writing is so burdened by the anxiety of self-doubt that starting the process seems impossible. If this difficulty with the beginning of the writing process is familiar to you, there is absolutely hope; our papers, more often than not, are completed and submitted. But how can we make the beginning stage of the drafting process a bit easier on ourselves?

As it is the time of the semester for blinking cursors and blank screens, here are five tips for overcoming the anxiety that often accompanies typing the first words in the drafting process.

Write Down Anything

Writing “chicken salad chicken salad chicken salad” or other non-related gibberish at the top of the Word document may be just the trick your mind needs to believe that you are making strides in the assignment. I always begin my drafting process by writing the complete heading on my first page so that I can see something on the screen other than white space. Sometimes I write a nonsensical story to fill up space (often about my dog) and unconsciously transition into writing that is more on-topic. Write down whatever comes to mind, and eventually you will find yourself in the “zone” and able to hone in on the topic at hand.

Begin with Pencil and Paper

Avoid the blank screen altogether by doodling and jotting down notes on a piece of paper. A piece of paper often seems less confrontational than a computer, and the ability to scribble in a nonlinear, abstract fashion may inspire an out-of-the-box introduction for your essay. Once you have something written down on paper, revisit the computer and type in your notes to get rid of that blank screen.

Talk to a Friend

Chatting about your topic with a friend can inspire new ideas and strategies for getting started on your assignment, especially if you are more comfortable speaking aloud than writing. If you are like me and forget immediately what you say aloud, record your conversation on your phone and then transcribe the conversation. The typed transcription will defeat the blank page and give you a good start on a draft. Can’t find anyone willing to have a conversation about 16th century baroque architecture or the economic implications of raising minimum wage? The writing center is the perfect resource for you.

Write Everything You Know about Your Topic

For longer assignments, typing everything you know about your topic may not be feasible. But for the 3-5 page paper, a bullet point list of what you understand about your topic can provide a good sense of direction for a paper that seems impossible to begin. These points might just encompass the heart of your paper, and they also help you assess just how well you understand your topic in the first place.

Write it Backwards

Don’t know how to start a paper? It’s important to keep in mind that a paper does not have to be written in order from introduction to conclusion. It may be helpful to start at the end, what you want your audience to take away from your paper, and work your way back to the introduction. You may be very confident writing a particular section of the body paragraphs but unsure of how to get started with an introduction; if so, start writing where you are most comfortable and return to the introduction after you get a better understanding of where you want your paper to go. Beginning the drafting process in the section where you are most comfortable will build confidence and prepare you for the more difficult sections ahead.

Gender-Neutral Pronoun Usage in Academic Writing

Anthony Gross

Anthony Gross, Consultant

Pronouns are a part of speech that belong to a “closed class” of words, a class to which new words are rarely, if ever, added. Unlike those parts of speech that belong to the “open class,” such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives, pronouns in the English language are more stable. Since the 1970s, though, there has been a demand for less sexist and more gender-neutral language that has led to scrutiny of English’s gendered pronouns. This scrutiny is of interest particularly to those in the academy who must be aware of biases in their writing practices. As part of an academy comprised of men, women, and an increasing number of individuals who do not identity as either traditionally prescribed gender, it is important for student writers to be aware of gendered language and to avoid it (and, therefore, gender biases) when possible.

Perhaps the most blundersome use of gendered language in many students writers’ academic writing is the default to the masculine, third-person, singular pronoun he and the possessive his. In the past, the academy was comprised of mostly men, and despite the entrance and proliferation of women in academics, these masculinized parts of speech have remained the standard. This standard is most evident, and perhaps most problematic, in sentences where writers address hypothetical individuals. For example: “If a firefighter didn’t wear his protective gear, he would be risking serious injury.” In the previous sentence, the hypothetical firefighter is defaulted to being male. Though the writer avoided gender bias in the use of “firefighter” in place of “fireman,” the bias remained in the masculine pronouns. In this particular case, the writer may have defaulted to the masculine pronoun because, in American society, people tend to view firefighting as a masculine profession. This writer, and many others, may not even be aware of this tendency to use masculine pronouns to refer to individuals who hypothetically could be either male or female.

Even if writers are aware of their masculine pronoun usage, they may assume that readers understand the usage as hypothetical and not gender-determinative. However, there have been studies that evidence the masculine pronoun’s tendency to evoke masculine images in readers’ minds (see Gastil’s 1990 study “Generic Pronouns and Sexist Language: The Oxymoronic Character of Masculine Generics”). With the threat of such latent biases seeping through our writing into our readers’ minds, what are our options to make our writing more gender neutral?

While the answers to eliminating gender bias in your academic writing may be more complex than simply dropping the pronoun he from sentences with hypothetical persons, it’s a good place to start. One option writers may opt to use is replacing he with he or she. This addition is more gender-inclusive, but writers must be aware that some professors and general readers may find this option distracting because it can make sentences too convoluted (for example: “A dog owner should walk his or her dog at least twice a day so he or she won’t face accusations of being neglectful.”). Other options include combining the masculine and feminine third person singular to form “s/he” or alternating pronouns throughout a piece of writing. These options, once again, may be distracting, the former for readers’ inability to immediately recognize the combination and the latter for readers’ potential inability to quickly comprehend that the different pronouns are referring to similar hypothetical persons. All of these options also embody the issue that not everybody identifies with the traditional binary of male and female, and, therefore, pronouns involving different forms of he and she are not completely gender-inclusive.

An alternative to gendered pronouns that has gained increasing popularity is the use of singular they. In conversational English, it is not uncommon to use they as a singular pronoun in instances where a speaker has not provided gender information. For instance:

Speaker A: “I’ve really been wanting to try the new restaurant down the road.”
Speaker B: “I have a friend who went there last week.”
Speaker A: “What did they think of the food?”

Speaker B did not provide information about the gender of the friend in the conversation, so Speaker A used the singular third person gender-neutral they to refer to the friend. This usage of they makes sense because the gender of the friend is not important to the content of the dialogue. The use of singular they is not a novel idea but one that is already being adopted by notable institutions. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) recommends, in addition to the balanced use of he and she, using the singular they/their form, noting that the “construction is becoming increasingly acceptable.” Based on NCTE’s guidelines, The Writing Center Journal (WCJ) has also adopted the use of they as a singular pronoun in their submission guidelines. The University of Vermont is one of the first universities to adopt the gender-neutral pronoun, incorporating it into their campus information system. However, despite the shift some academic institutions are making in how they use gender, they’s adoption as a grammatically-acceptable, singular pronoun is still a point of contention. As NCTE warns, “classroom teachers need to be aware that state and/or national assessments may not regard this construction as correct,” and neither will many university instructors.

So what should student writers do until the issue of gendered pronouns is resolved? This writer suggests that context is key. If you are interested in using a gender-neutral pronoun like they in your writing, consult your professors to make sure they will accept the usage as correct. Likewise, if you find yourself submitting to an academic journal like WCJ, check its submission and style guidelines to see if such usage is acceptable. Style guides like The American Psychological Association (APA) have yet to accept the use of they in the proposed context, but APA does acknowledge the need to avoid gendered pronouns. The Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab lists some acceptable alternatives for those writing in APA, some of which were outlined above. From the Lab’s list of gender-neutral alternatives, the use of plural pronouns is perhaps easiest to incorporate when possible (for example: “the students like their writing” instead of “the student likes his writing”).

Whether you are a grammar-stickler or a pro-singular-they reformist, I offer you this bit of information: language is an ever-evolving and expanding entity, and though traditionally pronouns are a closed-class part of speech, English’s acceptance of they as a singular pronoun would not be the first shift of its kind. The second person pronoun you that is now used singularly—as noted by Dennis Baron, a linguist at the University of Illinois—once functioned as the accusatory plural of thou. If you once referred to a group of people, then why shouldn’t they function as a single person, especially given the demand for gender-neutral pronoun identities in a world that is becoming increasingly less defined by a gender binary?

How I Write: David Bell

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. Thanks to writing center consultant Jenny Kiefer for this week’s post.

Our featured writer this week is Dr. David Bell. Dr. Bell is the fiction professor at Western Kentucky University, where he has helped lead a new MFA program. An award-winning author of several horror/suspense novels, his most recent work is titled Somebody I Used to Know. Dr. Bell received his MA from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and his PhD from the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Bell will be hosting a discussion and book signing for Somebody I Used to Know this Saturday, September 12, at Barnes and Noble, located at 801 S. Hurstbourne Parkway. The discussion will begin at 1 P.M. and the book signing will begin at 2 P.M.

Location: Bowling Green, KYDavidBellphoto-2

Current projectSomebody I Used to Know

Currently reading: Cabal by Clive Barker

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in? I pretty much only write fiction. Novels and novellas. Unless you count Facebook posts and Tweets. Those are usually non-fiction.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I have to use a computer. My handwriting is so bad even I can’t read it. I mostly write at home, either at my desk or out on my back patio when the weather is nice.

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

I can write in a lot of different places. In the summer and during the holidays I visit family so I write in their houses. I write in my office on campus. If there’s a deadline–and there usually is–I can work anywhere. I really can’t listen to music when I write because tSomebodyIUsedToKnow_18.7_redhe music distracts me.

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

Don’t worry about how bad the first draft is. Revision can save a bad first draft. Just get it down and then figure out the problems later. No one has ever written a perfect book or story, so you don’t have to try to either.

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

Write the kind of book you would like to read.

Rethink the New Semester Reset

Cassie Book, Associate Director

As the first two weeks of fall semester wound down on a hazy August Friday afternoon, I found a spare moment to reflect on the work already done in the University Writing Center. Typically, when I imagine writing situations early in the semester, I immediately think of getting started on class writing assignments. In fact, when I visit classes to speak about the University Writing Center, I suggest students visit at the beginning of their writing process, to brainstorm and plan. Yet, many of the writers we’ve met here in the past two weeks aren’t just getting started. What are they up to?

We’ve met writers with projects not limited by the semester timeline. Some were in the final stages of editing academic journal articles; the research likely began several years ago. Others spent the summer revising personal statements for graduate school applications and wanted more feedback before submission. Still others have returned to U of L as graduate students with a renewed commitment to improving their writing with each opportunity. These writers embrace writing as a lifelong process and practice. They haven’t pushed the “reset” button at the beginning of the semester like, I’ll admit, I tend to do.

What if you’re already in the mindset of resetting at the beginning of each semester? You’re not yet working on a personal statement for graduate school. You wouldn’t know where to start on research for a journal article. Relax. I’m not suggesting that you embark on a lengthy writing project. There are other ways to commit to building and bridging your writing skills from semester to semester. Instead of starting from scratch each semester, take stock of what you’ve already learned and know about writing and your writing process.

We learn best when we begin to integrate concepts from one class or experience with new experiences. Another way to think about it might be learning a sport, say, basketball. You first try it out—shoot hoops with friends or family. Then, you play casual one-on-one. Next, you add more players and basic guidelines, maybe parameters like a time clock or a referee. Eventually, you’ll advance to having a specialized role (guard, center, forward) and even breaking the general guidelines. Of course, the learning process is never so straightforward, structured, and sequenced. The point is you’re always learning because each game the context is slightly different. You’re constantly building on your skills, observing others, listening, and responding to the other players. Learning to write is a similar process, though the “rulebook” is much more flexible than a given sport’s.

When confronted with a “new” writing task, take a few moments to reflect on how it relates to the writing you’ve already done—any writing, for academic or personal reasons. Maybe the subject matter is different, but can you identify similarities in structure, purpose, or audience? What do you know about your process? How do your professors and peers typically respond to your writing? How do your Twitter followers respond to your writing? Though at first a writing task might seem unfamiliar, try to link it to what you’ve already accomplished. If you shift your approach and thinking now, you’ll be better prepared later to embark on more in-depth and high stakes writing with confidence.

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