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(Literally) Meeting Writers where they are at Community Literacy Sites

Rachel Rodriguez,  Assistant Director of The Writing Center

My favorite tutoring session this year was a group session, where the two writers were working on drastically different projects.Rachel Rodriguez One writer was working on a paper in which she had to identify an area in her life where she possessed rare expertise, and our brainstorming led her to a past job as a phlebotomist and her unique knowledge on how to draw blood.

This brainstorming and outlining was often interrupted by the other writer, whose projects included buttoning, unbuttoning, buttoning, unbuttoning, and buttoning both her and my jackets, discussing why snowmen don’t need jackets and monkeys prefer bananas, and finding the perfect video on Youtube of children baking imaginary cakes. If you haven’t guessed yet, this “other” writer was about 3.

When you imagine a “typical” writing center session (does such a thing exist?) you probably envision a quiet setting in which two people are examining a draft, exchanging ideas, and conversing, with plenty of pauses to think, consider, and reflect. Sessions in community literacy sites tend to take on a slightly different hue. Community means many, ever-shifting, laughter.

At the Gladys and Lewis ‘Sonny’ Bass Louisville Scholar House Campus, writing sessions happen in an open space designed to look like a Starbucks, with computers and chic furniture. Large windows connect this room to a playplace so moms, many of whom live on-site, can keep an eye on their young ones. Every writer I have worked with at Family Scholar House is a mother, and every one is intensely and impressively dedicated to the pursuit of education.

At the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, tutors sit at a table at the center of the main floor – strategically within view of the entrance as well as the computer banks nearby. While cushioned by stacks of books, the sound of Fortnite is a constant buzz. Here, the typical writer may be a middle-schooler, hanging out with friends at the library after school but before heading home. Sometimes tutors cajole writers to take out their homework with the wave of a coveted piece of gum.

This is all to say that writing sessions at community literacy sites are all the things you might not expect: noisy, chaotic, dynamic. And this is precisely what makes tutoring there so fun!

A key skill in writing tutoring is flexibility, going with the flow, recognizing when a strategy isn’t working and changing it up, moving from poetry analysis to a biology lab report to an engineering dissertation in the span of a few hours. Community literacy stretches this skill to the max, expanding what we think of as a “session,” “writer,” and even “writing.”

This expansion is good for tutors’ brains: we return to the UWC with a bigger sense of what is possible. After all, the University of Louisville doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is part of a vibrant, complex community of individuals, families, and groups who in turn pursue a myriad of writing and reading endeavors. This may take the form of a comic book, rap lyrics, fan fiction, or a personal memoir. The University Writing Center is one of many writing centers that takes as a central tenet the idea of meeting writers where they are, and community literacy projects take this to a new level, literally seeking out writers where they live and play and gather, to listen to their needs and offer up our knowledge of audience, genre, and style. This literacy matters to the UWC, and this academic year, our volunteer tutors have contributed 477 hours towards these sites, with a few weeks to go.
Two former Assistant Directors of the University Writing Center, Dr. Layne Porta Gordon and Dr. Amy Nichols, have both stressed the importance of continuing to “show up” for our community (check our Layne’s post here, and Amy’s here), and I’m proud to continue to move our initiatives forward. Personally, I’m looking forward to a summer of tutoring at Western Branch, where I hope to encounter many writers like my friend so deft at buttoning.


I think it’s fair to say that the denouement of most writing tutoring sessions isn’t having a 3-year-old fall slowly into a heavy sleep on your lap, while talk with your writer of ethos and evidence-based claims is punctuated by the chatter of a tour group of local business people. But that’s precisely what made this my favorite session of the year, and I can’t wait to see what next year has to offer!

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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.

Throw Me a Lifeline: How Outlining Can Save Your Paper and Ultimately Your College Career

Anna-Stacia Haley, Writing Consultant

One of the hardest things to do when writing a paper for a class is actually writing the paper. Anna-Stacia HaleySometimes this difficulty stems from the fact that you may not have read the necessary book or article, but most of the time it stems from the widely known struggle of trying to organize your thoughts. What if I told you that there was a way to help you get off of the struggle bus?

There is: Outlining–you’re welcome.

But outlining is, outlining. How does that save your life? Well, it doesn’t really per se. But it can save your paper and a lot of time.

Outlining is extremely underrated, as many people automatically think of spider-maps, mind-maps and other oddly shaped or insect friendly methodologies. But au contraire mon frère, outlining is what you make it!  It can be as long or as short as you’d like. I have a great friend who’s version of outlining varies drastically from my own.

Her outline could be classified as an entire paper with pretty headings. My outlines start off with headings, then go into subheadings, and then I write a bunch of random stuff about the topic of those headings. It looks something like:

Big heading

  • Smaller heading
    • Blah
    • Blah
    • Blah

Looks easy enough right?

Throughout my educational career I’ve had to craft a plethora of different papers, ranging from a page to twenty plus pages. I found that the higher I went in page length, the more I needed an outline to stay organized. If I didn’t use the outline I’d jumble up my topics and the paper would become difficult to follow.

I also found that, when using an outline, when I ran out of words, I was able to go back and find areas that I could expand upon or that I missed during the rapid fire production of my rough draft. Now, as a graduate student, I dare not consider writing a seminar paper or any other paper for that matter, without at least some kind of draft.

Often times when our thoughts are jumbled the easiest way to make sense of them is by writing them out and taking the time to draw the connections between them–que flowchart. Outlining organizes your thoughts by giving you a map to follow. This map is essentially based off of your thesis statement. Which by the way, if you’re unsure of how to write that, the University Writing Center has a few great resources on our page!

Outlines are great for making sure that your major points stay in line with your thesis and can help highlight areas that needed to be expanded, especially when it comes to your thesis statement.

Outlining may seem like an extra step, extra work and not worth the extra time spent. However, I’d rather spend thirty minutes writing out a outline than waste three hours staring at my computer screen because I’m not sure where to go from there. Wouldn’t you?  Because let’s be realistic, the longer you stay up working on these papers, the more money you’ll be forced to spend on Starbucks. While the CEO of Starbucks might enjoy this, the average college student’s wallet does not.

Link to the thesis handout:

https://louisville.edu/writingcenter/for-students-1/handouts-and-resources/handouts-1/thesis-statements

Need more ideas about outlines? Here’s a Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEQlqWAPD9A

 

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 I Write: Ron Whitehead

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.

“I have long admired Ron Whitehead. He is crazy as nine loons, and his poetry is a dazzling mix of folk wisdom and pure mathematics.” – Hunter S. Thompson

Ron and Rainbow copy.jpg

Ron Whitehead is a poet, writer, editor, publisher, scholar, professor, and activist. He grew up on a farm in Kentucky and later attended The University of Louisville and the University of Oxford.

First recipient ever of The English Speaking Union’s Joshua B. Everett Scholar Award to study at the University of Oxford’s International Graduate School. As poet and writer he is the recipient of numerous state, national, and international awards and prizes including The All Kentucky Poetry Prize, Ariel/Triton College Poetry Prize (Judge, Lisel Mueller), The Yeats Club of Oxford’s Prize for Poetry, and many others. In 2006 Dr. John Rocco (NYC) nominated Ron for The Nobel Prize in Literature. He was inducted into his high school’s (Ohio County High) Hall of Fame, representing his 1968 graduating class. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer recently presented Ron witha City of Louisville Proclamation thanking for him for his lifetime of work in and support of the arts.

Ron has edited and published the works of such luminaries as His Holiness The Dalai Lama, President Jimmy Carter, Hunter S. Thompson, Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, Seamus Heaney, John Updike, Wendell Berry, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, BONO, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Rita Dove, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Hunter,
Amiri Baraka, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and hundreds more.

Location: Louisville, KY & Clarksville, IN.

Current projects: March 1st: THE DANCE by Ron Whitehead & The Glass Eye Ensemble featuring Sheri Streeter (sonaBLAST! Records & Howard & Nancy Wilson release), 10 tracks, online & CD, full art, music, film, photography, live performance Installation at The Tim Faulkner Gallery.

July 16th & 20th: WHIRLPOOL by Ron Whitehead & The Storm Generation Band and Shakespeare’s Monkey featuring Dean McClain (possible sonaBLAST! Records), online & CD, release concerts on 7/16 at The Bokeh Lounge/Evansville and 7/20 at Gonzofest/Louisville Free Public Library.

July 20th: RIDING WITH REBEL JESUS by Ron Whitehead & The Storm Generation Band featuring Sheri Streeter (possible sonaBLAST! Records), 7-track EP, online & CD, live performance at Gonzofest/Louisville Free Public Library. Album cover art by Somerset folk artist Jeremy Das Scrimager.

Last weekend of July: THE VIEW FROM LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI’S BATHROOM WINDOW: Beat Poems & Stories by Ron Whitehead (Underground Books/NYC), Ron will be UB’s featured poet at annual New York City Poetry Festival, Governor’s Island/NYC.

September/October: David Amram & Ron Whitehead, KENTUCKY BOUND: The Cabin Sessions, produced by Vince Emmett and Stephen W. Brown, online & CD, more info to come.

Currently reading: Volume 2 of Winston Graham’s Poldark Series plus several other titles.

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

Poetry and prose.

2. When/where/how do you write?

Two writing studios: one my wife created for me at our home in historic Clarksville, the other at my writing hermitage, 919 Cherokee Road, which was built for me by Howard and Nancy Bruner Wilson eight years ago. I write an equal amount at both
locations plus I write wherever I am. I travel often, near and far.

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

Pen, paper, tablet.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision, (5). and what
 is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Young folks (of all ages) often ask what they should do to become better poets and writers:

14 Suggestions for Aspiring Poets and Writers

1) Join a writing group. Outgrow it as soon as possible.

2) Dig deep into your childhood. Write the best and the worst memories. Embrace your past. You’ll find your voice by fully embracing your past. Be an autodidact. Teach yourself. The School of Hard Knocks is The Best School of All! Learn everything you can about everything you’re interested in. Learn things you don’t even want to learn things that are uninteresting but are related to your poem your story. Read everything you can get your hands on.

3) Take classes classes classes on literature, poetry, prose, and on writing.

4) Master grammar and scansion, the terrible mechanics of prose and poetry.

5) Be a master skeptic. Doubt and question yourself and everyone else.

6) Be a master believer. Believe in yourself and nearly everyone else.

7) Submit submit submit your work to every publication under the sun and moon.

8) You’re gonna get rejected. A million times. Get used to it. Suck it up. Develop your will power. Quit whining. Be strong!

9) Gather your poems and stories into book manuscripts and send them to publishers and when you’re rejected publish your own work.

10) Read read read your work out loud in private in public at open mics read read read your work out loud to dogs cats birds people to anyone and everyone.

11) Entertainment is central! Captivate your audience! Do you want to be bored by someone reading their poem their story?! Put all the energy you have into your reading. Sing your work. Even if you can’t carry a tune sing your work out loud. Listen for the rhythm. Get rhythm. Build music into your poem your story. Poems and stories are dancing songs.

12) Listen. Listening is the greatest art of all. We’re all dirty potatoes floating in the same tub of polluted water. The more we bang into each other by openly honestly sharing the stories of our lives the more we come clean. By listening to others and to yourself as you read your work out loud you will become a better writer a better editor.

13) On the darkest stormiest night of the year take everything you’ve learned and get in a car and drive as fast as you can along the coastline with a deep cliff falling down to the pounding ocean and throw everything you’ve learned out the window while screaming as loud as you can “Farewell!” “Goodbye!” then go your own way and start anew. Be your own original voice.

14) Language is an experiment. Always has been. Always will be. Have fun. Never give up!

Ron Whitehead’s official website is http://www.tappingmyownphone.com

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.

Youtubin Your Way Through Literary Theory

Edward English, Assistant Director to the Writing Center

Years back, I began my freshman year at The University of Oklahoma knowing I would be an English major. Edward English Why not? English classes were my favorite in high school. I did well analyzing literature, waxing philosophy during class discussions, writing compelling essays about how Rasknolnikov’s struggles to combat guilt were not too unlike my own teenage worries that I wouldn’t find a prom date.

But as I began my college-level courses, something emerged in my English classes which I felt ill-equipped for—literary theory. Literary theory was, and still is, difficult for me for a number of reasons. While a single piece of literature may have little to no variance in its written composition, the theoretical framework(s) we use to extrapolate meaning from that same text can be seemingly infinite. So where do you begin? And which theoretical lenses are worth valuing and why?

What’s more, the philosophers/theorists canonized in contemporary literary criticism frequently appeared to me little more than a random amalgamation of scholars from various fields at numerous historical periods used to propagate particular political interests. Not to mention that many of these writings are incredibly dense and difficult for a beginner to absorb. I can recall making my way through the deconstructionists and thinking I might as well be reading a foreign language.

In time though, my disposition towards literary theory has shifted dramatically. As a current graduate student in English here at the UofL, it now feels like half of my life revolves around geeking out with my friends and colleagues about various theoretical takes on a piece of writing. There is one resource, however, that I wish would have had in my undergrad (had it been available): the YouTube channel The School of Life.

With relatively short videos (5-10 minutes), this channel entertainingly distills the main ideas of various literary theorists, as well as explicating the life and writings of specific famous writers. Watching these videos can be helpful on several levels. Maybe you’ve read through some literary theory but want to know how well you understood a given theory. Perhaps you’d like to prime yourself beforehand with an overview before you jump into the denser theory itself. Or, could be you just want to watch an engaging, and often silly, video that will expand your mind on how you can read a text. Either way, check them out! They are well worth your time.

Some of the major literary movements, theorists, and authors available on The School of Life:

Jacques Derrida
Michel Foucault
Karl Marx
Friedrich Nietzsche
Jane Austen
Leo Tolstoy
Virginia Woolf 
Marcel Proust
George Orwell
Romanticism

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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