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New Ideas, New Progress, and New Friends: Reflections on our 2019 Dissertation Writing Retreat

By Edward English, Assistant Director

Last week we once again hosted fourteen Ph.D. students who participated in our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. This is the ninth year we have held a week-long writing retreat in May during which the participants spend their days writing and having daily individual writing consultations with members of the Writing Center staff.
Every day we also have small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Revise Work for Other Purposes, and How to Approach Literature Reviews). We also keep everyone well-fed throughout the week with snacks and lunches.IMG_6628

The writers who participated in this year’s retreat represented ten different disciplines at the University: Biochemistry, Biology, Early Childhood and Elementary Ed., Education, Microbiology, Nursing,  Public Health, Rhetoric and Composition, Psychology, and Social Work. The best way to get a sense of the experience of the retreat and its impact on the writers who took part, however, is to hear from the participants and consultants themselves.

Jessica Newman, Consultant (PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition)

This is the third UofL Dissertation Writing Retreat that I’ve helped out with, while working on my own dissertation. For the first two, I was an assistant director at the University Writing Center and so took part in the retreat introduction, breakout groups, etc. This year, though, I participated as consultant only, coming in after lunch and leaving two and a half hours later.

The determination and productivity of the grad students who take part in the retreats were more salient to me than ever this year: rather than arriving each morning as things were getting started, I would instead step from the afternoon heat into a room quiet with reading, typing, scribbling and highlighting, and I would leave before the Writing Center closed for the day, the writers just as focused as when I arrived. I really appreciated working with my two writers as they shared their projects, obstacles and strengths. Talking with them reminded me, as I hope that I and the retreat reminded them, that we are not alone in this.

Rachel Rodriguez, Consultant (PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition)

rachel.jpgThe Dissertation Writing Retreat serves as a designated space and time for individual drafting and revising, but this year I reflected on the myriad of unexpected benefits of the retreat. There is something magical about working in the presence of others (don’t mind my shameless plug for the Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group). Many writers flock to libraries or coffee shops to work within that buzz of human activity, but even if silence reins during the retreat, the gravitational force of a group of individuals all working together on different iterations of the same massive, complex task is undeniable. One writer mentioned that when they felt like they couldn’t focus, they’d look around the room at everyone who was still intently writing and say to themselves, “if they can, I can!” before diving back in.

This week, several of us consultants would even arrive early to work on our own writing projects in the staff room, hoping to ride that productivity wave. When the writers surface for breakout workshops and sessions with their consultants, we’re all given the rare opportunity to act as representatives of our disciplines, verbalizing what we know tacitly about how knowledge is made and shared in our fields.

It’s a strange realization that “dissertating” doesn’t look the same in every discipline, and that a dissertation serves different roles and materializes into different products depending on your field. This exposure to interdisciplinarity crafts us all into better and more reflective scholars. As this year’s group of writers look ahead at seemingly disparate careers in university departments, science research labs, hospitals, K-12 classrooms, and even tropical rainforests, the dissertation writing retreat is one avenue through which we all learn about how writing is contextual, adaptive, and always evolving.

Melissa Amraotkar, Writer (PhD Candidate in the School of Nursing)

The social accountability of being in an atmosphere surrounded by other graduate students working on their dissertations kept me on track. Daily one on one meetings with the same writing consultant gave me more confidence in my writing plan, helped me to be more creative in writing, and provided a space outside of my committee to discuss my dissertation topic. Small group discussions with Writing Center staff members were beneficial in exploring aspects of writing that I hadn’t considered. I would recommend this retreat to any graduate student writing a thesis/dissertation.

THANKS FOR ALL WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLEcassie.jpg

It is important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat, including Bronwyn Williams, our Director; Cassie Book, our Associate Director; and Amber Yocum, our Administrative Assistant. In addition, Assistant Directors Aubrie Cox, Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez , and Christopher Stuck were instrumental in the planning and execution. Finally, the fantastic consultants, themselves Ph.D. students in English, Megen Boyett, Layne Gordan, Jessie Newman, and Christopher Schiedler helped our writers make progress each day. And thanks to Paul DeMarco, Acting Dean of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

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Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Finding a Starting Point to Write

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page and a blinking line for the past hour. Jacob DeBrock know what you want to write about, you’ve done your research, and you’re in the perfect environment to let your thoughts turn into words. The problem is you don’t know how to start or where to go after that.

At times like this, you might be wishing “Why didn’t I write an outline ahead of time?” Fortunately, I’m here to show you how to make the outline that will make your paper a breeze to write.

1: Think of it like a puzzle

First, you’ll need to figure out what you want in your essay. To go along with my metaphor, these are the pieces of your puzzle, typically dumped out in a random fashion. You’re not sure how they fit, but you know they’re each important.

At first, your outline will look rough and disjointed, like trying to put together pieces without a greater sense of the picture. It’ll take some time, but eventually some aspects will start to come together. An order forms. You might have an edge or a corner of the puzzle done before you begin to feel confident.

As you get more of your paper outlined, the puzzle will start to look like an actual image; you’ll understand how everything connects. By the end of it, you’ll have hopefully come to an understanding of what you want your paper to be and how you want it to flow. All the pieces matter.

2: Be detailed, but not too detailed

Writing an outline isn’t as simple as having a few ideas and putting them in some order. You’ll want to make sure that you know what you want to talk about in each section of your paper to make it as fleshed out and coherent as possible. Each section of your outline should have several points underneath it that structure the section and elaborate what you are going to do with it.

However, this isn’t saying you should have every little detail in it; this is still an outline right now. Instead, pick the most important items you will need to discuss and then build the section around it. Having a good number of first-level details will provide the skeleton for your outline that your paper will be built around.

3: Give it room to breathe

Just because you have your outline set up doesn’t mean it’s going to go the way you expected. You may start writing your paper only to realize that your pieces have been sown together with cheap thread, leaving them barely hanging together in a disjointed body. One should always expect that some part of the outline will not go the way they expected once they start writing. Your outline should have enough space that your paper doesn’t fall apart if a part needs to be altered, shifted, or removed entirely.

Writing a paper is always difficult, especially when it’s a subject that is not a forte. Creating an outline beforehand, however, can take some of the stress of your back. It’s like drawing a map; it takes a while to figure out the basic outline of the terrain, but once you get squared away, the little details just pop right out.

Taking Research Assignments One Step at a Time

Michelle Peña, Writing Consultant

Research projects can seem daunting to many students new to collegiate style work. This type of writing requires a certain degree of commitment, that many aren’t familiar with yet. Oftentimes, new students finish their work in a hurry, without proper research, and without forming an analysis around their research.Michelle Pena

Why this method for approaching projects has failed in the past is because students feel unprepared to grapple with the work they have set before them. I have seen this occur multiple times as a writing tutor. Students, who have not had experience writing a paper of this style, approach me with a forlorn look in their eyes begging me to help them figure out a way to use outside sources to support their thesis. My answer to them, if they are trying to write an essay that makes sense to an observant professor, is I can’t.

What many people who haven’t written academic work do not realize, until far too late in the writing process, is that the focus of their work needs to come from their accumulated research. Actually doing the research as a way to formulate your ideas is necessary toward completing these types of assignments. I understand that many students feel intimidated by the prospect of acquiring that much data for a single piece of writing.

So, as a way to counteract any feelings of uneasiness, I have listed a few ways you can approach this work without getting overwhelmed.

1. Give yourself time to think about what type of work you want to do and why:
Many rush into deciding what they should focus on. This is usually because it is seemingly the easiest or most interesting option available. What I would suggest would be to take your time looking at all of necessary information. If you are writing a research paper for an ENGL 102 class and are given an assignment that asks you to analyze a text, look at that text from multiple perspectives. Later, cater your research to these perspectives and use them to guide what you read through.

2. Actually read what you find:
This step kind of speaks for itself. But actually try to understand the material you find. You don’t want it to come down to crunch time and find out that none of what you gathered works.

3. Spread out your research time:
Try to avoid doing things last minute. I know we have all been warned about procrastination before but heeding those warnings when approaching research papers is actually pretty helpful. Try allotting a specific amount of time for preparing your work. Instead of trying to do every part of an assignment on one night, give yourself multiple days to do the research. Maybe one day you find two to three sources and another day you find a few a more. This way you don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.

4. If you are assigned an annotated bibliography, utilize it properly:
If you are assigned to do an annotate bibliography, take advantage of it by finding sources that are applicable to one another and your topic. Don’t try to find sources with an applicable word in the title; find sources that actually have material that you can work with. I would even go as far as to say you could write an annotated bibliography even if you aren’t assigned one. An impromptu annotated bib that includes the parts of the article that make it applicable to what you’re working on.

5. Pre-Organize your outline using your sources:
I understand that some people don’t like doing outlines, so if you are of the type that avoids outlining like the plague, this step may not apply to you. (But I would urge you to open your mind for a moment.) Once you have collected all of the necessary pieces of your research and you have decided what points support what you want to say, write them down in the order they will appear throughout your work. After you have done this, write where your sources will be listed underneath them. This process will help with bringing everything together in the end.

Remember, research assignments aren’t designed in the hopes that you will fail; they are designed so that you might learn. So don’t get overwhelmed and take your research one step at a time.

The Blinking Cursor of Doom: How to Begin Writing Academically

Brooke Boling, Writing Consultant

Across the board, writers both new and veteran acknowledge how difficult it is to begin an academic paper.Brooke Boling Do you start with a thesis? Do you write from introduction to conclusion? Should you make an outline? Where do you put your research in the flow of your argument? What is the “best” way to start a paper?

The best-kept secret in academic writing is this: there is no “correct” process to writing or beginning a paper. There’s no way that works better than every other way. Lots of writers who are new to academic writing, returning after a long hiatus, or write academically as a career are daunted by beginning a paper and making an effective argument. You might feel like that blinking cursor on your word processor might as well be a physical wall stopping you from getting started.
A few questions to ask yourself when you’re starting a paper might be: what, to you, is the most important part of your paper? What ideas do you need to get down before they slip away? What is the overall argument you’re aiming to make? What pieces of research and evidence do you think are the most important? These are some great places to begin thinking about your paper overall.

I, personally, write my introduction first, and it is always long and rambling, leading to a thesis that is comprised of keywords rather than a solid claim. This process does, however, enable me to get all of my formulated ideas in one place, and it helps me order the rest of my paper. I can always go back and edit, so I try not to get hung up on grammar or spelling in a first draft (which is also a helpful tip as you’re beginning your paper). Some consultants in the Writing Center outline extensively, plugging in their research and relevant quotes in different parts of the outline, and even spending more time on their outline than their paper when all is said and done.

Other consultants find it helpful to free-write and see where it leads regarding the topic; I find this to be especially helpful in creative writing. Still others write all of their paragraphs out of order before figuring out where each element of their argument belongs, and then write around these paragraphs once they put them in order to make their overall argument. Lots of writers claim that writing their introduction last is what helps them get started on their paper. If parts of these approaches resonate with you, mix and match and see what works!

The bottom line is, feel free to experiment with different writing processes and ways of ordering your writing. There is no correct way to begin to write, and the more ways you experiment with, the more you will find what works for you, and you’ll be well on your way to developing your own personal writing process.

How I Write: Dr. Suzanne Meeks

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.

Suzanne Meeks, Ph.D. Professor, Psychological and Brain ScienceMeeks headshot 6-19-18 (1)

Dr. Meeks has worked at the University of Louisville for nearly 32 years. She conducts research on mental health and aging. She has received grants from the AARP, National Institute of Mental Health, and Kindred Foundation. Dr. Meeks teaches doctoral courses in ethics, assessment, and geropsychology, and an undergraduate course in tests and measurement. She currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of The Gerontologist, a multidisciplinary journal dedicated to research and scholarship on aging and care for older people. In her years at the University of Louisville, she has mentored 25 honors students in thesis work, and 33 doctoral students (28 of whom have achieved their Ph.D.). When not teaching, editing, or writing, Dr. Meeks enjoys reading literature and mystery novels, knitting, attending theatre, horseback riding, and doing crossword puzzles, among other things.

Location: 111 Life Sciences Building, Belknap Campus

Current project: I am between major projects; my students and I are collecting data on end-of-life care in nursing homes, and I have data from various other projects that I need to analyze and write up. There is a grant proposal pending review in the VA on which I am a collaborator, and I am collaborating with two of my U of L colleagues on a federal training grant proposal.

Currently reading: I am catching up on research journals that piled up during my 9.5 years as chair of my department. I am focusing on research about leisure activity and positive affect in late life, hoping to design a study on this theme before the end of the semester. I am also reading a book that I recommend for all would-be science writers:
Writing Science: How to Write Papers that get Cited and Proposals that get Funded, by Joshua Schimel. Oxford University Press, 2012. On Audible: Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. On my bedside table: Native Son by Richard Wright.

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

Scientific journal articles, grant proposals, email (yes, that is writing!) and other professional writing, article and grant reviews, letters of recommendation.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I write in my faculty office, and in my home office. I try to write at home one day a week. I write constantly, but many of the things I write relate to my editorial work – correspondence with authors, correspondence with remote staff, and article reviews. When I am working on a journal article I try to allocate larger chunks of time, most of which are at home. I spend as much time crafting emails and letters of recommendation as I do sentences in scholarly products. I never send an email without rereading it. If it is at all controversial I read it a minimum of 3 times. I edit and re-edit my own scholarly writing before submitting. Often it is easiest just to write anything that comes quickly, and then go back over it, rearranging, adding, and subtracting, until it works.

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

Both my writing spaces are personalized and comfortable. A comfortable desk chair, two screens (monitor + laptop – if I am writing a result section I need to have the statistical results up on one screen while I write about them on the other), and pictures that please me (of my grandchildren, e.g., other family, beautiful places I wish I could be). I type everything, so I do not have much need for any tools but a computer, though I might need a pencil to mark something in an article that I am writing about, or to make a list of numbers from my data. I like it quiet, but I take frequent breaks. These might involve jumping up and pacing, filing my nails, playing with my cat (when working at home), getting a cup of tea. A tea kettle, tea mug, and good tea are essential implements for writing. So is dark chocolate. I try not to multitask but I do check email in my breaks.

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

For getting started: just get something down on the proverbial paper. If you cannot write the first paragraph, write the second one, or write whatever section is easiest. You do not have to write things in order, but you should not walk away from a writing session without getting something written, even if it is just a few sentences. I agonize the longest on the first sentences and so I sometimes consider it a sufficient triumph in a session just to have written the first and second sentences of a paper. This of course assumes I have not waited until the last minute to write it.

For revision, you have to leave yourself enough time, so you cannot procrastinate the initial draft. You must read your own work critically and revise. All of us tend to use way more words than we need (see my answer to #5 below), so think about saying the same thing in fewer words. Pay attention to those blue squiggly lines that Word has placed under your words and phrases. What is it that the grammar editor did not like? Writing with colleagues is a blessing because then you get help and multiple perspectives. If you are writing a grant proposal, the more eyes the better.

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

My parents both implicitly taught me to edit/revise my work by editing all of my juvenile products. By instilling a love of poetry and literature, they taught me another crucial piece of advice: to be a good writer, read lots. Recently, Sir Harold Evans has challenged my writing with his book Do I make myself clear: A practical guide to writing well in the modern era (Little, Brown, 2018). It is funny and inspirational; it will send you back to your writing with a ruthless editor’s pencil. (A shorter, less fun, but still very helpful alternative: Writing science in plain English by Anne E. Greene, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2013).

Beyond Following Directions: Getting the Most Out of Your Assignment Prompts

Liz Soule, Writing Consultant

Have you ever read the instructions for an assignment and felt totally stumpedLiz Soule

You’re not alone. Last semester, dozens of students came to the University Writing Center to talk with me about their assignment prompt. Given how common this issue is, I thought it might be helpful if I share some of my tricks of the trade. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing methods any writer can use to decipher prompts and demystify assignments. We’ll begin by looking at the different features of a writing assignment prompt. To do this, we’ll review an assignment prompt I received in my English 102 class.

For your analysis of fiction essay, you want to choose a story and provide an analysis of some aspect of the story (a character, a theme, a metaphor, foreshadowing, or catharsis, for example). Your thesis should state specifically what aspect of the story you are analyzing and then HOW you will analyze it. The body of your essay should break down into 4-6 supporting sections. The conclusion of your essay should place your thesis in a social context.

The first step to understanding any assignment is to understand the task at hand. To do this, we look at the assignment prompt for certain understandings. We should find out what actions we are being asked to take, how we should go about it, and what the requirements of our assignment are.

What am I being asked to do?

Looking at the first sentence of my assignment, it becomes clear what kind of paper I am writing: an essay about fiction. The question is, what am I to do in this essay? By looking for keywords in my assignment, I come to understand what action I’ll need to take. As you can tell by the words I’ve formatted in bold, there is a trend regarding the word analyze (and related words, analysis and analyzed). This tells me that the focus of my essay is to analyze fiction.

How do I do it?

How am I to go about doing this? My professor laid out some breadcrumbs for me to follow in the form of essay parts: thesis, body and conclusion. In the thesis, I should lay out what aspect I am analyzing (e.g., a theme), and how I will do it (e.g., evaluating key plot points). The body needs to include 4-6 supports, which means that there will be 4-6 body paragraphs, each including their own unique story-related evidence that supports my thesis. Finally, the conclusion has to tie my overall point into a social issue.

But what if you’ve gone through this process and you’re still not sure? What if the assignment instructions are vague or unclear? What then? Sometimes, you need to think a little deeper, beyond the instructions, and look to the outcomes. Although they might not feel like it in the moment, writing assignments aren’t meant to torture you. Professors assign them so that you can practice skills, and show what you know.

What are you supposed to learn by writing this? (What is the course supposed to teach you?)

One of the ways a professor might teach you about discipline-related information (e.g., concepts in sociology) in your course is through the process of writing. This is known as “writing to learn”. Essentially, it’s thought that writing helps us engage with ideas more actively than reading might. You might be putting concepts together through writing, or coming to understand a text or topic better through the process of writing about it.

In other cases, writing assignments are utilized to help students hone their writing skills so that they can tackle more complex tasks. Many assignments in English 101 and 102 both connect together and build upon one another. For instance, in English 101, you might be asked to write an argument, then summarize another’s argument, and finally write an argumentative essay. In English 102, you may analyze an artifact, which leads to an annotated bibliography, which culminates in a research project.

In both of these cases, you can show what you know by engaging as best as you can with the skills or content areas you are supposed to be learning. This not only help you complete your assignment, but will help develop your knowledge and abilities overall.

 What knowledge can you show through your writing? (What is your professor hoping to assess?)

This leads us to the other goal of writing assignments: student assessment. This might seem like an obvious statement, but in the midst of writing the assignment, we can lose track of what exactly this means. As we write, we often focus heavily on how clear or eloquent our writing is, or how close we are to meeting requirements. In times like this, it’s important to step back and think: what have I learned in the course? How can I use this assignment to show what I know? This often leads to a more authentic assignment.

Finally: Talk to your professor.

If you’ve completed all these tasks, and you still aren’t sure, then it’s time to approach your professor. Try and think of specific questions you have about the assignment. For instance, if the format of the assignment wasn’t clear, you could ask about that. Likewise, if you’re not sure how it connects to what you’ve learned, you can always ask.

As always, University Writing Center consultants are here to help you in breaking down assignment prompts and getting started. We’re happy to help you read through your assignment prompt and answer these questions.

For more help, check out the following resources:

How can I better understand my assignment?

Common keywords in assignment prompts

Five tips for interpreting writing prompts

How to Support a Writer (When You Don’t Work in the Writing Center)

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center

On this blog, we talk a lot about writing from the perspective of the writer–preparations for writing, how to navigate writing, research for and revision of writing, etc.Aubrie Cox  But as writers, we have to remember that sometimes we’re also asked to be readers, and sooner or later, someone we know will ask us to read their writing. Within the University Writing Center, we have certain practices and pedagogies we follow, but even if you’re not a writing center tutor, or in a peer review setting, there are things you can do to support the writers around you

Read Closely and Attentively

If a writer asks you to read their writing, it’s because they trust you. The best way you can honor that trust is by reading what they’ve written. Read closely. Be attentive. You might be the first person the writer is willing to share with, and sharing one’s writing can be unnerving. Even if you feel you can do nothing else, you can commit to what the writer has asked and be present for their words. Let them know when you finish.

Consider What Kind of Feedback the Writer Wants (and You’re Willing to Give)

While some writers will want honest, critical feedback, others may just want to share, or a few kind words. Before you start reading, ask what the writer is looking for. Not only will this help you to prepare, but it will show the writer that you are taking their writing, and their feelings, seriously.

A writer has the right to ask for a specific kind of feedback, but you’re also not obligated to give it. If what the writer is asking for may be hard for you–either because of the amount of work, or you have a hard time not commenting–be honest about it. The writer will decide whether or not they still want you to read their work.

Be Honest in Your Feedback

Even if someone is looking only for encouragement and positive feedback, don’t praise anything that doesn’t deserve to be praised, or be hyperbolic in your reaction. You may want to be nice, but undue praise isn’t going to help anyone. A self-aware writer will know their writing isn’t perfect, and your comments may seem as though you’re not taking it seriously; a less aware writer may be slower to work if they don’t know there’s room for improvement. You can be honest and still be kind. Find at least one thing you like about the work. If the writer does want constructive feedback, read knowing the work is in progress. Don’t forget, constructive criticism means reading with the question: What does this writing have the potential to become? How can the writer build upon what they’ve started?

 Go to Events the Writer Participates In

 If a writer you know participates in an open mic or reading, show up. Your presence as a friendly face will mean the world. Sharing writing with an individual can be intimidating; sharing with a full room can be potentially overwhelming. Or worse: sharing with an empty room can be disheartening. This goes beyond reading the writer’s work, but it’s the kind of support that will help any writer feel acknowledged.

 If the Writer Gets Published, Share Their Work

 Like attending a reading, this can encourage and support a writer beyond giving them feedback on their work. If the writing is available for purchase and you can afford it, that’s great, but if you’re on a budget or the work is free, the next best thing is to share their work on social media. You can combine this with some of the other tips. For example, consider pulling your favorite quote to post with a link to the work. This can help encourage others to read as well.

Supporting a writer isn’t just about celebrating the work they’ve done, but encouraging the work they’ll continue to do.

The Writing Session Process: How Preparation Helps Us Help You 

Catherine Lange, Writing Consultant

Have you ever gone to class feeling underprepared? Yeah, I have too. It’s a scary feeling to walk into a classroom and hope that you will not be called upon to talk.Catherine LangeIn some ways, a Writing Center session requires preparation, though not necessarily in the same way. When you have a session at the writing center, your consultant is there to help you create the best piece of writing you possibly can. Being prepared for your session helps us to help you. Here are some things you can do to prepare for your writing center session: 

  1. Have the requirements for your piece of writing at hand for the session. 

This suggestion helps your consultant know what they should focus on in the session. If your text is due to your professor immediately after the session, then it would be counterproductive to suggest reframing part of the text. Closer deadlines mean that the session is better spent fine-tuning the piece at the sentence level.  

Having the requirements for the piece means that your consultant can also help you meet all of the specifications for the submission. Some requirements include multiple objectives, and we can best help you meet those objectives when we know what they are. Class assignments frequently will include specific questions that must be answered in the text, and I have had consultations before where looking at the assignment prompt allowed me to point out where a writer needed to address another part of the prompt. 

2. Tell your consultant what you want from your session. 

As a consultant, I rarely know what my writer will have when the consultation begins; we assist with written pieces from brainstorming to finalization. With this in mind, we sometimes have consultations where the writer has received a request for significant changes to the written piece and the writer is frustrated. This is a natural reaction to such a request, and it is one that we can help with. However, a consultation functions best when your consultant know what will help you make the required changes. Brainstorming, outlining, and talking through the prompt objectives are all particularly productive ways of addressing feedback to writing, and knowing what you think will help can maximize the efficiency of your consultation. 

3. Give feedback to the Writing Center after your appointment. 

The Writing Center wants to provide writers with the best experience possible. One of the ways we seek to improve consultations is by adjusting to feedback from our writers. If you have a suggestion for how we can improve, tell us by taking the post-consultation survey. Just as writers become better at their craft by using feedback, consultants give better consultations by using writer feedback.  

These tips will help you get the most out of consultations at the Writing Center. Your consultant wants to help you leave your session with writing tips that encourage your development as a writer. From brainstorming to finalizing, we can help you with your writing. Don’t forget to have your writing requirements at hand, communicate with your consultant what you want to achieve during your appointment, and give feedback on your consultation.

The Ultimate To Do List!

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director to the Writing Center

         To-Do List

1. Embrace the fact that your first to-do list is only a draft. You won’t like your handwriting, so you’ll rewrite it on a clean post-itRachel Rodriguez

2. Write “write to-do list” on the to-do list

3. Adopt a skewed sense of the passage of time as you envision bewildering productivity, and amass a semester’s worth of tasks to accomplish that day. Feel great.

4. For good measure, add a few freebies, like “take out trash” and “return Redbox movie” so if the worst comes, at 11:48pm you could still get 2 things accomplished.

5. Think about the to-do list in the shower, while you’re stirring oatmeal, as you apply mascara. Add to the to-do list about 70% of the tasks that occur to you during this time, and save the rest for existential dread dream-material.

6. Break down large projects into small tasks for more check-off-ability. Long lists are impressive and convince you of your own work ethic, and checking off items frequently is vital for kindling the small fire of hope in your breast. If at all possible, this must be an eternal flame.

7. Once you’re satisfied with the list as it stands, transfer to new post-it in perfect handwriting and cross off #2.

8. Keep the list nearby as you work, like a little nagging buddy, like a cute kitten who wants to sleep on your laptop keys.

9. Watch about 28 minutes of kitten videos. Once you reach Sarah McLachlan, stop.

10. Check in on the list at lunch, and feel panic encroaching. Add “take shower,” “make oatmeal,” and “relax with virtual cats” to list, then promptly cross off.

11. Savor the delicious tug of the pen as it swipes across the items that no longer exist as things you need to do. They are behind you now, cities in your rearview.

12. After a good bout of work, sense the futility of your long list. Adjust as the boundaries of actual space and time demand. Start tomorrow’s draft list.

13. Much more satisfied, allow yourself to accidentally fall asleep in the warmth of the Saturday afternoon sun, which is of course, the best kind of sun.

14. Wake suddenly from a fathomless sleep and immediately add something incredibly pressing and completely clear to “current-you,” yet enigmatic for “future-you” to decipher. See #5. Example: “Beavers and Ducks!”

15. Work diligently.

16. Return the Redbox movie. You only rent movies anyway so you can return them. Both renting and returning are valid reasons to drive around outside and see humans.

17. At the end of the day, acknowledge the stragglers on your list. There will, of course, be several items that have managed to linger through multiple iterations of lists, perhaps even for weeks. These are things you are avoiding. Probably important emails to write, or meetings to schedule. Try to confront at least one scary thing, and reward yourself by moving all other avoidances to tomorrow’s list. At the top, of course, for added visibility and guilt.

18. Save perfecting tomorrow’s list for tomorrow, to give yourself an easy start.

19. Always end your to-do list on an even number of tasks. For luck.

20. Breathe.

What To Do Before, During, and After Your First Writing Center Appointment

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

We’ve all been there. We’ve got a paper that we’re working on that’s puzzling us in some way or that we want someone else to look over. You might have heard about the Writing Center from other people, but you’ve never been there before, so you don’t know what’s like. How much information do I need to bring?Jacob DeBrock Is the tutor scary? Will they put my paper in a shredder if they think it’s bad? The answers are, respectively, at least some, only before 11, and no… for now.)
This blog post should hopefully make your first writing center appointment a less stressful and helpful experience by just learning a few simple tricks in advance, whether you’re a freshman or in your last semester.
1) List as much information as you can when you sign up for an appointment
First things first: you have to sign up for an appointment. While there are quite a few things you have to fill, the two most important things are what you are working on and your concerns are.
For the former, you don’t have to state every single aspect of the work; rather, this helps to give us an idea of what tactics and structure we will use in our appointment. The way we tackle a personal statement will be different from a research paper or a creative work. By knowing this in advance, we are able to get started quickly on the meat of the paper or other material.
Concerning concerns, if you are not sure about what they are in advance, that’s fine; sometimes, you only notice things odd once you hear them through the voice of another. However, if you are able to think of any concerns, this will help us to direct the appointment in a targeted approach to get at the heart of these issues.
2) Bring any and all materials relevant to the task at hand
Syllabi, assignment prompts, previous notes, texts that you’re working off of: your paper goes beyond your words. Having these materials with you provides us with a map to make sure that we understand what it is that you are working on and that, if you have any questions about it, we have something to look at for any potential answers.
3) Use your voice
Oftentimes, I get the feeling that people see our words as the final verdict to a paper’s issues and problems, but that’s not our purpose. We’re not editors; our main goal is to help improve you as a writer now and in the future. As such, we’d like you to speak up any moment that you are unsure about why we are asking you to do something. This way, you will leave the center with a better understanding of what exactly it is you need to better about yourself and how you can do it.
4) Think about your writing center experience
Your appointment doesn’t end after 50 minutes. After your first appointment, take the time to think about your appointment. Was there something that your tutor did that you really liked? Was there something you wanted to ask them, but didn’t get the opportunity to? Asking yourself these questions will not only help you to become a better writer, but to make sure that your next writing center appointment will be just as good as the first.
Going to the writing center can be a stressful experience. There’s a vulnerability, that you are letting someone look over your words and critique them. Yet we serve a vital purpose to the college community. We offer a service that cannot be found anyone else, solely dedicated to helping writers grow and become stronger. So, when you’re walking through our doors for the first time, know that we’re not here to judge or scorn or look down upon you; we’re here to help, to nurture, to strengthen.

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