UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

Archive for the month “October, 2015”

Welcome to the New University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Welcome to the new University Writing Center! On Friday we moved to our new, larger space on the first floor of Ekstrom Library. After fifteen years on the third floor, we’re excited about being in a space that is larger, more convenient and easier to find. We’ve always believed that writing is at the center of the intellectual life of the University, and now

The New University Writing Center

The New University Writing Center

we have a space that is even more at the center of the daily life of the students, faculty, and staff with whom we work. We want to use this space to continue to support and nurture a culture of writing at UofL. Our mission is to support and celebrate writing of every kind, from course assignments to dissertations to job letters to poetry. We think the new space will allow us to continue to engage in that mission and offer us the opportunity to realize plans and initiatives that we’ve had for a number of years. The central location of the new University Writing Center space, just to the left as people enter from the east doors off the Quad, will also allow us to collaborate with Library Reference and other offices.

Although our location – and furniture – is new, our fundamental work will not change. We will continue to work with anyone in the University community on any kind of writing and at any point in the writing process. We will continue to offer individualized response and advice to writers about their current writing projects and any other concerns or questions they have about writing. We will continue to help writers with their current projects, as well as offer advice and suggestions that can help them succeed in future writing situations. That said, there are some new features to our new space that will allow us to grow in important ways. For example, our new University Writing Center includes have multimedia consulting rooms where we can work with multimodal assignments as well as conduct online, video consultations with distance education students.

We also plan to start using the new, more visible University Writing Center space for other writing-related events and activities. We will continue to use the Writing Center for meetings of our Junior Faculty Writing Groups, and plan to start offering writing group activities for graduate students and for undergraduate creative writers. Keep an eye on our social media and website for more news about these opportunities. We also hope to hold other writing events in our new space, DSCN3765such as readings by student and faculty writers.

It is important to thank Dean Bob Fox, of the University Libraries, for his vision and ongoing support that made this space possible, as well as Dean of Arts and Sciences Kimberly Kempf-Leonard for her support that allowed us to have new furniture in the Writing Center.

In January we will hold an official re-opening celebration, and we hope you will join us then to celebrate writing and writers at UofL. In the meantime, come by and see us and enjoy the new University Writing Center.

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Feedback Isn’t a Snowflake: Handling Revision Anxiety

This weeDSCN3615k, consultant Karley Miller shares her strategies for navigating multiple (and sometimes conflicting) pieces of writing advice.

My last writing project took me a month to revise. I set a goal to have revisions completed in a week, used that week to think about getting started, then spent the next three weeks stressed about not having met my own self-imposed deadline. Did someone say writing is a process?

Since I sent my revised draft off to receive more feedback, I’ve had some time to think about the source of my revision anxiety. Feedback. It’s potentially the most important, and confusing, and anxiety-inducing thing (for me, at least, and maybe you too). So, feedback is important (you’re writing for an audience, right?). Not only is feedback from one person important, feedback from multiple people, if possible, is even more important. Feedback, especially from multiple people, can be confusing. Each person comes to a piece of writing from a totally unique perspective. No two people are completely alike—neither is their feedback. This isn’t to say that feedback exists, from each source, as its own special snowflake of insight, but the differences in opinion are large enough to create, like, anxiety frostbite if you spend too long scrutinizing them. Maybe that’s a stretch, but sifting through feedback in order to improve a draft can be stressful, which is why I want to share, with anyone who has been kind enough to read this far, my favorite new piece of writing advice (not claiming it as my own, rather it has probably existed since our ancestors scratched petroglyphs into cave walls, and only just now reached me): writing is much about learning when to listen and when not to.

This is not to say that revision anxiety is cured by seeking feedback from two different people and deciding, after reading their comments, that one person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It is to suggest, however, having a little faith in your own purpose. By the time you’ve received feedback from multiple people, you’ve spent hours turning your thoughts into words on a page. I don’t believe you can write a sentence without some idea of what you’re intending to communicate. This is where learning when to listen, and when not to, comes in. If you have a clear idea of your argument, or your story, or your sentence, for example, not every single word of feedback is going to help you better communicate that idea. For example, if I write, “Feedback isn’t a snowflake,” and you say, “This makes no sense,” I’m not going to change my idea (because I am, at this point, very wedded to the idea that feedback can be compared to a special snowflake but is not, exactly, one), but I might, in my blog, try very hard to explain it because your feedback let me know that I was unclear, and I, myself, am able to understand that this sentence is a stretch. If I can’t explain it, maybe I should cut it.

Moral of the story? All feedback should be taken into consideration, and applied only after you are sure making the change won’t alter your message. Unless, of course, feedback makes you reconsider your message (argument, etc.). In which case, good luck, and the Writing Center is here to give you even more feedback on a new and improved message. Although, as you can see, it’s a process for everyone (very seriously considering revising this blog about feedback/revision to exclude the snowflake comparison, although now I’m thinking the winter theme works nicely with the change of seasons).

You Can’t Teach That: Facilitating Discussion on Tutor-Writer Rapport?

DSCN3709Amy Nichols, Assistant Director

As one of the assistant directors at the writing center, I have the opportunity to teach two lessons in Bronwyn’s “Writing Center Theory and Practice” course, where our graduate consultants receive training during the fall semester. Recently, I facilitated one of our class discussions around “Student-tutor relations in the Writing Center.” Writing center sessions can include wildly varying levels of language and disciplinary expertise between both tutors and writers, making relationship-building critical to successful communication. In addition, rapport is also a crucial (and under-discussed) part of being a successful student, employee, or person generally.

Building individual relationships, particularly in professional settings, is a complex and deeply contextualized activity, and most of what I know about it is instinctive, built on trial and error over time. Because of this, I had a difficult time planning our lesson. For our discussion, I ended up choosing two recent articles from the journal Language and Education: Cynthia Lee’s (2015) “More than Just Language Advising: Rapport in University English Writing Consultations and Implications for Tutor Training” and Innhwa Park’s (2014) “Stepwise Advice Negotiation in Writing Center Peer Tutoring.” Lee’s focus on individual elements that go into building a relationship and Park’s discussion on how to deal with minor disagreements helped us find a way in to this difficult-to-teach subject.

Lee’s framework pulled from discourse and rapport scholarship to detail descriptions of the kinds of behaviors that we often take for granted: greetings, small talk, qualifiers/mitigation devices, open-ended questions, first-person plural pronoun use, and praises/related forms of encouragement (436). Saying hello and chatting about unrelated matters tend to be givens in social interaction, but they can also help ease the tension when two people don’t know one another well. Qualifiers such as “maybe” or “perhaps” and open-ended questions such as “Can you tell me more about your goals for this project/assignment?” help build understanding and ease discussions around disagreements. First-person plural pronouns like “we” and “us” are helpful in creating a more team-oriented work environment during sessions, while encouragement and praise help build confidence.

I don’t know about the consultants (feel free to comment!), but it was really helpful for me to have a conversation about those elements of a writing center session that often go unrecognized and (seemingly) unnoticed, but which can make a real difference to the success or failure of a session. For example, a few of our consultants shared that small talk tends to make them uncomfortable, particularly if students responded to small talk by discussing their frustration with particular assignment or situation, while another shared that she sees such situations as an emotional opening to help writers address their concerns. Understanding a variety of approaches to such small interactions and the rationale beneath them gave me more resources for interacting with a variety of personalities.

Park’s article details the ways in which advice resistance is a negotiated construction for both the tutor and the writer. She discusses the steps that resistance, acknowledgment, and resolution move through within sessions, and I thought her work might prove a helpful springboard for discussing the ways in which we negotiate advice resistance in our own sessions. We did discuss ways that we tend to navigate through (or around) resistance during our discussion. One of our consultants commented that, while she was aware of her own intentional practices in navigating resistance, she had not thought about the fact that writers might also follow certain linguistic formulations in constructing their resistance, such as saying “Yes, but what I was really trying to do there was….”. We also discussed the ways in which people from different classes and cultures might navigate resistance more or less directly than the examples in the article, which led one of our consultants to ask a very helpful question about balancing a knowledge of intersectionality (every person is different) with strategic approaches to consulting (we have to apply concrete strategies to our work).

Ultimately, I enjoyed our discussion, but I would love to hear some comments. Consultants, how did the session go from your perspective? Colleagues (and that includes you, too, consultants), how would you/do you encourage productive discussion on building relationships/rapport during writing center sessions? Writers, what kinds of discussions have been most helpful to you in moving your writing forward?

University Writing Center (r)Evolution?

Cassie Book, Associate Director

Many posts here on our blog are about the writing and tutoring processes, but another important part of “who we are and what we do” is participate in scholarly conversations. This month I attended the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) annual conference. The theme, Writing Center (r)evolutions, challenged me to rethink my own assumptions as a consultant and administrator. I’m sharing a few of the half-formed thoughts and questions. I want to invite you into my conference experience. By doing so, I hope to blur the invisible boundaries between daily practices, personal reflection, conversations, and research; I want to make our behind-the-scenes writing center conversations a bit more visible.

  • Foremost on my mind is the University Writing Center’s impending move to the first floor of the library. We’re excited to gain a more visible space and digital consultation rooms. But we’re also gaining new neighbors: the Digital Media Suite, REACH Computer Resource Center, and Research Assistance and Instruction. Stacy Rice’s presentation confronted anxieties that exist when separate centers, such as writing, speaking, digital, or communication, have somewhat overlapping missions. She challenged all centers to not attempt to divide communication into different realms and instead simply respond rhetorically to the writers and composers who seek response and feedback. Our new space and location affords us the opportunity to collaborate in ways that previously may have been difficult. Will each center embrace opportunity or retreat into our separate spheres? What are the best ways to collaborate?
  • Regardless of any (r)evolution or renovation, I think it’s safe to assume our writing center services will always include the individual consultation. Yet, writing center research still has work to do in understanding the dynamics of writing tutoring. Molly Parson’s research focuses on consultants’ perceptions of conflict during sessions. Parsons made me think about the expectations consultants and writers have for sessions. She seemed to suggest that while both sides may think “good” or “productive” sessions will be those that steer clear of conflict, but, in reality, conflict can spur ideas and those “ah-ha!” moments. Do we learn because of, not despite, conflict?
  • We work with many multilingual writers. Nicole Bailey’s presentation suggested that centers should consider providing tutoring in writers’ home languages when possible. Her ethnographic research in a multilingual university in South Africa suggests that when writers feel comfortable, they will learn more. She’s already embraced the practice at the writing center she directs. How can we bring writers’ home languages into the writing consultation?
  • All the consultants in the University Writing Center are graduate students who complete a course called Writing Center Theory and Practice. Kelsey Weyerbacher and Jack Bouchard, two undergraduate consultants, presented their experience and research data. Their perspectives challenge the (mis)conception that a tutor is just a tutor. Yet, writing centers are fruitful sites for research that informs issues of learning, writing, development process, response, space, and conversation. What happens when tutor-initiated research becomes the rule rather than the exception?
  • Matt Dowell’s presentation suggested that writing centers should pay more attention to paratexts—handwritten notes, charts, marginalia, and drawings—written or drawn during sessions. These texts may have untapped potential. In a separate presentation, Matthew Rossi argued that doodling in sessions can create opportunities for common ground and understanding that talking simply cannot.

Finally, a panel organized by Muriel Harris challenged writing centers to better use online spaces—listservs, blogs, databases, and websites—to share across centers and among local contexts. An important question that arose during the discussions was: Who do our blogs reach? Our UofL Writing Center blog had 7,541 unique visitors in 2014. We’ve had 6,263 so far in 2015. But who are you? Is there a better way to reach our target audiences?

To that end, I encourage you to be radical—comment on the blog and let us know. What are your thoughts on writing center (r)evolutions?

How I Write: Brian Buford

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.

Our featured writer this week is Brian Buford. Brian is Assistant Provost for Diversity and Director of the LGBT Center. With nearly 30 years of service to the University of Louisville, Brian has dedicated his career to building a campus community where all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, safe, and included. Key achievements under his leadership include: opening a staffed LGBT Center in 2007, the first of its kind in Kentucky; earning a five-star rating on the Campus Pride index; launching the Bayard Rustin themed housing community for LGBT students and allies, the first of its kind in the south; opening a satellite LGBT Center on the Health Sciences Center campus; partnering with community leaders on Feast on Equality, a signature fundraising event; and being hailed by LEO Weekly as “the most LGBT friendly public university in the south.”

Brian_BufordLocation: Louisville, Kentucky

Currently reading: I’m always looking for good articles and social media to use in my Multicultural Issues class.

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

For my own personal growth, I keep a journal and, in fact, have stacks of them hidden away that I wrote years ago. I think I still have the journal I kept when I was 15. It’s sort of sweet to read what my 15-year old self was thinking. For work, I often write to communicate with people about LGBT identity. Sometimes people feel more comfortable interacting with me through email or social media, so I write to answer their questions and to help them move along in their journey.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I have a hectic life, so I carry my journal with me wherever I go. I was writing in it at the dentist’s office the other day because that was my only break.

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

On the one hand, I’m old school. I like a hardbound notebook, with no lines, for writing and journaling. But when it comes to reading, I’ve completely embraced the e-book. I love the idea that I can travel light but still have plenty of good reading at my fingertips.

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

If I’m writing a sensitive email message to someone who’s coming out or struggling with their identity, I read it over and over to make sure the words convey just the right message. I know from first-hand experience that leaving out one word can change everything. I think my comfort zone is writing conversationally. So I also try to ask myself if this is how I would say it if we were having a chat.

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

If you’re submitting something to be published, or even if you are just sending in a cover letter for a job application, ask the best writer you know to proofread it for you. You’ll be amazed at the little things we all miss. That being said, I’ve been on the run today and I’m sending this in without following my own advice.

The Scientific Method of Writing

Copy of DSCN3660Jenny Kiefer, Consultant

If your middle school experience was anything like mine, the words “science fair” conjure images of a loud gymnasium, colorful tri-fold cardboard displays, and perhaps even small aquariums with animals or displays to touch and hold. It was during these science fairs that I was first introduced, as I’m sure you may have been as well, to the scientific method.

Why am I talking about the scientific method on a writing center blog? Believe it or not, the scientific method is very much related to writing. The same six steps which may have led you to performing an experiment about whose nose was better between a dog and a human are the same six steps which can help you with your next writing project.

Question

Every piece of writing starts with some spark of interest. Whether you are delving into your own experiences for a personal narrative, dissecting a novel for analysis, or beginning a long research project, your writing and research should begin with a question that interests you and makes you want to uncover the answer. What was a moment in which I felt like an outsider? Why do butterfly wings develop spots that look like eyes? What would happen if aliens landed on earth? The more passionate you are about your question, the more fun you will have researching and writing.

Research

Once you have your question, you’ll need to do some research to give you some background to use in order to answer your question. This research could include journal articles, prior experiment reports, or primary texts like a poem, novel, or even a film. If you are writing a creative piece, your research might include interviewing family for more information to include in a personal narrative or looking up the proper procedures for an EMS responder for a short story.

Hypothesis

Once you have done your background research, you can formulate your “hypothesis” – your argument for your writing. The “hypothesis” may be, in many cases, your thesis statement. It is the answer to your original question and the main point or set of points that you will claim to be true. Just like in your grade school’s science fair, your hypothesis should be based on your research findings.

Analysis

Once you’ve done your research and formulated your thesis, you’ll need to create an analysis. You’ve told your reader what you have found to be true – whether it is that butterflies developed “eyes” to ward off predators or that Antigone is a true representation of tragedy – and now you need to convince the reader that your findings are, indeed, accurate. While you may not be hosting an experiment with control groups for your writing, you will need to provide evidence of your claims, just as you would when presenting scientific fact. Often the best evidence is quotations from a primary source (which may be a novel or relevant book) and secondary sources (journal articles, prior experiments or case studies) which provide support to your argument. If you are trying to convince your reader that the society in The Great Gatsby was shallow, you might quote Daisy’s famous line regarding her daughter to support your argument: “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

In creative writing, this evidence is often called “showing instead of telling.” While you may not be attempting to persuade your reader of a certain belief or conclusion in a poem or work of fiction like you may be in other types of writing, you are trying to convince the reader of other things, such as emotions or motives. The best way to do this is to show these things to your reader, by describing things like body language, dialogue, setting, and mood. Instead of simply telling your reader that your character is sad, you’d instead show this by the tears in his eyes, the jeans he’s been wearing for several days, and the frown on his face.

Results

Just like a scientific report, in the conclusion of your writing, you will provide the results of your research and thesis. Your results are the culmination of all of the previous steps of your writing project. Instead of using your conclusion to merely summarize what you’ve already said, you can model even this section after a scientific report: what is the importance and significance of what you’ve written? How does it advance the understanding of your original question? You’ve given your argument and you’ve given your evidence to support your argument; your conclusion is where you further express the implication of what you’ve written.

Writing is definitely more of an art than a science; however, thinking about writing and the writing process in different ways can often aid with writer’s block through the various stages, especially getting started. The next time you begin a writing project, imagine a flashback sequence to the sixth grade science fair and think of the scientific method.

Opportunity Instead of Failure: 5 Tips for Rewriting

DSCN3636Emily Blair, Consultant

So you’ve realized that your paper maybe doesn’t fit the prompt as well as you imagined, or your professor suggests you need to rewrite some or most of your first draft. At the University Writing Center, we can help with this common writing situation, but here are a few tips to get you started on your own.

  1. Don’t think everything is “wrong.”

When you hear the phrase “substantial revision,” you might think you need to throw out all of your original paper and begin again. While this MIGHT be true (see tip #2), it probably isn’t. Perhaps your thesis statement didn’t reflect your ideas well, or your research skewed toward an interesting idea that unfortunately didn’t always fit with the prompt. However, if your ideas and thesis are solid, a “substantial revision” might mean rewriting a body paragraph or two in order to better support that thesis. Don’t think that everything you’ve already done is useless now!

2. Don’t be afraid of the blank Word document, again.

So you spent a week tweaking this paper, perfecting your word choice, refining your argument to a fine point, and your professor wrote Revise! in the margins. While you might be tempted to ignore their suggestion because of the amount of time and energy you poured into your work, this is commonly referred to as a Sunk Cost Fallacy, meaning that you shouldn’t compare the time you spent on a project that will not, in the end, work, against the time you would have to spend revising it. If your goals for the paper are to successfully navigate a writing assignment, don’t be afraid of the new document, or of reworking a major part of your paper. The time spent revising will pay off.

3. Ask for clarification.

If your professor suggests that you should substantially revise your paper, ask exactly what she means. Perhaps the ideas, research, and thesis are great, but you have some sentence structuring issues through the paper. Maybe one of the body paragraphs doesn’t support your thesis, but the rest of the paper reads well. Without clarification, you might spend time and energy changing things that don’t need changing, or actually be weakening your paper in the process.

4. Go back to the beginning.

What was your first thought when you received the assignment or prompt? How did your thought process progressing to your final paper draft? Were there points where you knew parts of your paper were less than stellar, but you continued working because of a deadline or other pressures? Or, were you rushing to finish the paper because of a time crunch? Many factors affect how college students write and edit their work, and being able to chart your working attitude with your writing can help you see where you might expand, improve, and revise.

5. Carry revision strategies into your next first draft.

I know, thinking about your next writing assignment while in the throes of a rewrite sounds ridiculous, but rewriting allows us to revisit our writing process and consider what we might improve on for the future. Do you spend too much time on sentence level revisions and ignore the larger flow of your paragraphs? Do you find yourself distracted from your thesis, leading to a muddled body section? Are your conclusions focusing too much on previously stated facts and not enough on connections and expansions? Rewriting is the time to look at your writing with fresher eyes than you would while editing a first draft, and you can and should think about the revising process as you begin brainstorming for your next assignment.

Peter Elbow wrote in Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, Second Edition, “Don’t let yourself engage in taking the whole thing apart again for major revising even though your feelings say, ‘This thing must be completely done over, it’s worthless’” (174). He describes the nausea that sometimes accompanies the revising process, and even as a published and respected writer and professor, he feels the panicked revulsion at what he has written, and how he thinks he should change his writing. So you aren’t alone if the revision process seems overwhelming! At the University Writing Center, we enjoy working with writers at every phase of their writing process, and hope you will come in with a revision (or anything else) soon!

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