UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

New Places, New People: Working Across Differences in the Writing Center

emily-cEmily Cousins, Consultant

Like traveling, Writing Center work allows us to better understand our place in the world through encounters with difference, and to explore undiscovered terrain within ourselves.

As Writing Center consultants, our discussions tend to focus on how we can cultivate effective strategies to give writers the support they seek in improving their writing. We want writers to walk away from every appointment with more confidence and a better understanding of certain genre conventions or sentence-level features of academic writing. But what is often left out of the ongoing discourse among consultants is what we gain from writers. It is not just writers that are transformed by visits to the Writing Center – we are also being transformed by the writers we see on a daily basis.

The most obvious way in which we’re changing is that we’re constantly learning new things. We get to read papers from a wide range of disciplines, so we’re always processing new information, concepts, data, theories, and discipline-specific vocabulary. This is certainly one of my favorite aspects of Writing Center work. But what is even more fulfilling and transformative is meeting the writers themselves. The feeling I get when talking to different people about their writing is not unlike how I sometimes feel when going to new places.

We often think of travel as requiring flights or hours of driving, but we don’t always have to go far to find an unfamiliar culture in a new place – it could be the next city over, or a new restaurant down the street. I like traveling to unfamiliar places not so much for leisure, but because it’s often difficult and uncomfortable. If prior experience tells me anything, it’s that I seem to be happiest when I am outside of my comfort zone, challenging myself to experience new things.

In the Writing Center, we are always working across differences, in ways that are often challenging. No matter what the writer’s background, no one is going to think or write exactly the way you do. Every Writing Center session requires communicative acts to negotiate differences, and by doing so, we are rewarded with opportunities for reflection and growth.

For the past four years, I worked in a Writing Center at an international university in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and I often took advantage of weekends and holidays to hop on a rickshaw or bus to explore my surroundings. Over time, I’ve come to some realizations about what to expect while traveling, which I think can also apply to Writing Center work.

Expect a change of plans. My excursions taught me to embrace the art of playing it by ear; no amount of preparation could ever guarantee that a day would go exactly how I planned. Likewise, in Writing Center sessions, the less we assume about writers, the more we can allow sessions to take shape organically, arising from the writers’ own agendas. If we do go into a session with a plan in mind, it’s important to be open to revising that plan as we go.

Expect highs and lows. One time, I got on a bus anticipating a 2-hour journey, only to reach my destination 14 hours later. In some Writing Center sessions, we may not accomplish everything that we wanted to, and the writer may leave with unresolved concerns. We may anxiously mull over what we could have done better. On the flip side, just like there are days while traveling where everything seems to fall magically into place, some Writing Center appointments can feel pretty close to perfect. These moments give us the energy and resolve to keep trying our best day after day.

Expect miscommunication. Whenever we travel to a new place, whether it’s to a new part of town or a trip abroad, miscommunication is common. These encounters may be relatively inconsequential and quickly resolved, or may have more significant impacts. In Writing Center appointments, there is always the possibility of misunderstandings. We may interpret what writers tell us differently from what they intended, and vise versa. This might give rise to moments of tension or resistance. All instances of miscommunication are learning opportunities, and through reflection we can try to understand how and why they happened.

Expect to be humbled. Every place has a past. I felt history whenever I ate at road-side teashops in Chittagong, or when I walked down streets lined with old book stalls in Kolkata. Traveling takes me away from a self-centric frame of mind to one where I’m just a tiny piece of an ever-greater whole. Everyone who comes through the Writing Center has their own past. In brief encounters with writers from all walks of life, I find myself constantly humbled by the magnitude of what I do not know.

Expect to be changed. We are moved by landscapes, and inspired by rhythms of city-life. We never know how we’ll be changed; the only certainty is that we will change. As we play our part to support others in their journeys as writers, we can only expect that we will, in turn, be transformed. Sometimes writers will impact us in unexpected ways – writer to consultant, writer to writer, person to person.

A Conversation with Recent MFA Graduate Martin Jennings About the Low-Residency MFA Experience

kevin-bKevin Bailey, Consultant

Have you ever considered pursuing a graduate-level degree in creative writing?  If so, you’ve perhaps heard of MFA programs (Master of Fine Arts in Writing).  An MFA in Creative Writing is a terminal degree (i.e. the furthest one can go in the field).  There are two main styles of MFA programs: high- and low-residency.  Despite this, information sessions on MFA programs tend to focus mostly, if not entirely, on the more traditional, high-residency programs.  I interviewed recent Spalding MFA graduate and writer Martin Jennings in order to get some insight into the less-frequently-discussed low-residency MFA experience and, thereby, open up new opportunities to creative writers seeking graduate study.   As a side note, writers can also achieve a terminal degree in creative writing by completing a PhD.  The following interview, however, is specifically about the MFA process with a special focus on low-residency schools.  Bear in mind that not all low-residency MFA programs are the same.


First off, why don’t you let us know what the difference is between a low-residency MFA program, like the one you recently attended at Spalding, and a high-residency program?

Sure.  There are some key differences.  The main one is that while you’re in a low-residency program, you do not stay on campus for two years and live in that area, as you would in a high-residency.   For low-residency, you do most of your work from home, while staying in touch with your professors and regularly turning in packets of new and revised work.  During the residency period, you have your lectures and workshops the same as you would at a high-residency program, except it occurs over a ten-day span, so it’s very intensive.

Early on into your MFA program, I remember you telling me that Spalding had helped you develop your own voice as a writer.  Do you still feel that way, and if so can you explain that in a little more depth?

Yes, I do still feel that Spalding helped develop my voice.  They were very encouraging in my low-residency MFA.   The instructors were particularly interested in seeing students experiment and try out different styles, themes, and perspectives in their stories.  And I was lucky enough to have had mentors who were very knowledgeable and able to point out new (to me) writers and books.  One writer whose work I was introduced to was Nicholson Baker.  He was recommended to me in my last semester at Spalding.  I remember thinking, “How haven’t I heard of him before?”  I saw my own voice, though much less refined, in his writing.  My mentors were very perceptive and able to take what I had written, show me my strengths about my particular style, and also instruct me about things I could do better, so as to make my work more cohesive.

Were there any other changes that occurred in your writing style/lifestyle while getting your MFA?

Yes, there were quite a few changes on both fronts.  As far as my writing style goes, I did a fair bit of experimenting with different types of stories and different narrators, subject matter, varying lengths (including a lot of flash fiction and longer stories) – just to get a feel for how you go about writing each type, what the differences were with each, and what they had in common.  I found myself somewhat favoring the smaller, more concise stories.

And as far as the lifestyle changes go, since I was responsible for turning in 35 to 50 pages of work each month, comprised of both new and revised work, I had to find a new way to incorporate writing into my everyday life.  And this was in addition to working a full time job and managing other responsibilities.  So writing became more a part of everyday life.

How did the low-residency program work for you in ways that a high-residency program might not have?  By contrast, is there anything offered by a high-residency program you feel you may have missed out on?

The volume of work that I produced in my low-residency program, based on what I hear from people who have done the high-residency, was much greater.  You get more specialized attention on your writing in a low-res program, and you’re producing so much material, you get into the habit of writing on a regular basis.  Spalding did offer experience in academic writing, but that was not the main focus – rather the creative writing work was.   I think you could say that low-residency MFA programs are designed for people who want to become better writers, as opposed to people who want to have careers in the teaching or in the academic world.  Generally speaking, high-residency programs seem to have greater teaching experience options – there seems to be more opportunity for it.  This can provide you with job experience.  There were workshops in low-residency that focused on creative writing pedagogy, but again, this was not the primary focus of the program.  And I would be remiss not to point out that low-residency programs are generally not as well funded, which means you often have to take out loans or pay out of pocket.  And it isn’t cheap!

What were some preconceptions you had about getting an MFA that didn’t pan out?

That I would graduate with sort of a collection of short stories that were ready to be published as such.  That by the time I finished – after two years – surely I would have enough pieces to flesh out a full collection and achieve great critical and financial success.  This wasn’t the case.  I did graduate with a lot of strong pieces that have gone on to be published, but it is a much more intense and lengthy process than you imagine going in.

I also had a fear that I would come out with cookie-cutter pieces of writing after having been exposed to a specific program and set way of doing things.  Fortunately, that didn’t come through at all, and I was allowed to experiment and find my own style of telling stories.

Finally, any cautionary words/suggestions for writers considering a low-residency MFA?

I do have some.  I would caution writers to make sure that what they want out of their program is to become a better writer, not to secure a set of marketable job skills.  The low-res program will teach you to be a better writer, and while it may offer some positive job-related skills, producing better writers is the primary goal of a low-residency program.  The focus is always on the writing, not on securing you a job.

Martin Jennings graduated from Spalding in the Fall of 2015.  His work has been featured in multiple publications since his graduation, most recently his story “Bodies of Water” in Sick Lit Magazine and “Hammer Space” in Under the Bed Magazine.  Martin writes, works, and lives in Louisville.


Write About an Experience While in Transit: A Creative Writing Prompt

Ashley TAshley Taylor, Consultant

Transportation scenes are my favorite in any genre or medium. Airplane, train, automobile, boat, ferry, bus, elevators, even bridges and stations. Vehicles can function as devices in liminal spaces, transporting characters and audience between places, worlds, states of being, and can even reflect on social change. They speak volumes when a character is encountering, contemplating, or considering a change on any scale. Because traveling often involves observing or interacting with strangers, using vehicles or stations are common maneuvers for reflecting on the human condition. Transportation scenes augment the symbolism of story, allowing objects and action to serve multiple functions, enhancing the power and meaning of the text.

Think about the function of the Hogwarts Express in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series or multiple plane rides in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or even falling down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. These vehicles, stations, and modes of transportation serve as links between worlds that play to the larger themes of each work: the tension of being between those two worlds. If we narrow the scale from book series and novels to shorter works like flash fiction and poetry, transportation scenes communicate certain codes about what’s going on beneath the surface and in between the lines.

In Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, two characters are sitting at a bar that lies between two train paths, one side of the tracks with lush and fertile land, the other side dry and barren. Hemingway doesn’t explicitly reveal the direction of either path or even the resolution for the tension. The emphasis is placed on the liminal space and pressure the characters feel while interacting between the two contrasting sides.

I encourage you to imagine or reflect on a time in transit or stuck between two places. Whether departing or arriving, explain the condition of the vehicle and/or station. Explore the sensory details, reveal the two worlds, and exploit the tension between them.


Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway


You Tube link that examines an interpretation with visuals:


The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley

Pdf: https://everydayliferhetoric.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/alice-notley-the-descent-of-alette.pdf

Review: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-14-058764-7

From a Railway Carriage by Robert Louis Stevenson


Riding Backwards on a Train by James Hoch


The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin



How I Write: Amy M. Miller

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insights 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.

Amy M. Miller is a writer and Administrative Coordinator for the nonprofit organization, Louisville Literary Arts. Amy’s essays have appeared in Salon, Hippocampus Magazine, [PANK], The Louisville Review, MOTIF, and Under The Gum Tree. She is a graduate of the Amy MillerSpalding University MFA in Writing program and holds an M.A. in English from University of Louisville. Currently, Amy is working on her first collection of essays as well as several children’s picture books. Amy lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and two children.

Location: Louisville, KY

Current project:

I am drafting and revising two essays and one picture book, while simultaneously seeking representation for two other picture books. Lots of plates, constantly spinning.

Currently reading:

I’m finishing a guilty summer read, Sue Perkin’s Spectacles, a memoir from the host of The Great British Bake Off (I’m addicted). I also have a toe in Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, by Dinty Moore, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, and Small Fires, by Julie Marie Wade. I’m a nonfiction writer and reader. All of the nonfiction I read informs what and how I write. That said, I love a good, engrossing novel and next up for me is Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and a kids’ middle grade novel my son is reading for school, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.

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

Well, I’m a multi-tasker (which is a kind way to say I’m distracted). I love many different genres of literature and that is true for my writing, too. I began my MFA work in creative nonfiction, which is still my first love; however, after four years of writing personal and introspective essays, I needed to explore topics that were not about ME. I have always enjoyed the whimsical and hilarious prose of children’s picture books and have collected picture books even before I had kids of my own, so I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and have been writing books for 3-7 year-olds. It’s very freeing to write outside of my first genre, and loads of fun, too. Aside from creative writing, I work on public relations work (web content, press releases, social media campaigns), as well as contract grant writing.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I don’t have a specific time when I write because I have kids who constantly require feeding, chauffeuring, and all manner of attention, plus I work part-time. I write when I can — when my kids are in school, my workload is light, and the house is quiet. My writing spot has moved around the house. I used to make a home at the dining room table, but grew tired of moving my papers and iPad on and off the placemat. Most days, I’m parked at my desk in front of a giant screen in my hard swivel chair. When I’m brainstorming or revising, I might take the iPad or a notebook to the couch, where I sit next to my dogs. Invariably, all of my writing happens in the morning or afternoon. If I write at night, I’ll have too many ideas buzzing around my head to sleep.

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

I love accessorizing — at least for writing. You cannot beat a good spiral bound notebook for notes — something that can lie flat or be folded over. For writing implements, I prefer a roller ball pen because the fluidity of ink allows me to continue writing without pause and doesn’t leave imprints in the paper. We writers are weird about our instruments. I also like odd colors of pens: purples, oranges, greens. But to be perfectly honest, I spend most of my writing time perched in front of the desktop computer, mostly because it is the most reliable device I own and I can save my work on the cloud and desktop. I also use Google Drive to share writing with critique partners. Over the years, I have moved away from listening to music while I write and prefer silence, but I always have a hot cuppa coffee and a bottle of water next to me.

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

I begin a piece in a variety of ways. Sometimes I have an idea while walking the dogs or sitting in carpool or taking a shower. I try to keep a small notebook in my purse or in the car, or at the least, a scrap of paper and pen nearby. Other times, I just sit at the computer and start free writing. I almost never write the full draft in one sitting. On complicated essays, in which I play with structure, I often need to break away from the writing and map out the essay as an outline. I highly recommend reverse outlining for revision. Start with your draft and outline what is on the page. Does it flow from one idea to the next? If not, move the pieces around and use the outline to direct how and where you will make changes. It feels less scary to cut and paste an outline and it’s a great way to look at the piece more objectively and holistically. Another invaluable word of advice: Always find an impartial reader who you trust to give you constructive feedback! My critique partners always see connections and glitches that I am unable to because I am too close to the piece. Lastly, read your work aloud. This is a foolproof way to find where a piece needs work.

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

Be concise, cut your modifiers, and don’t hold your readers at arm’s length — invite your readers to see all of the ugly, messy truth. Readers respond to flawed narrators and non-fiction writers have a responsibility to the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth might be.

Creative Writers Welcome

Cassie Book, Associate Director 

Since we moved to the first floor of Ekstrom Library last October, we’ve hosted an open house/art exhibition, an evening of bad love poetry, a dissertation writing retreat, and graduate student and faculty writing groups. This academic year, our first complete one in our new space, we intend to continue growing our list of events and activities! For instance, during first-year orientation, we opened our doors for Kickback in the Stacks. Students dropped by to take a break from the controlled chaos in the library to play Story Cubes or Hangman. We like Kickback because it gives us the opportunity to talk to writers without the (often) added stress of a deadline or impending project. We also got a chance to plug some of our upcoming events and activities. When talking with students, I discovered that many were excited to hear that we’re starting a Creative Writing Group.

Tuesday, August 30 kicks off our new Creative Writing Group, led by Jessica Newman, an Assistant Director of the Writing Center. Though we’ve hosted graduate student and faculty writing groups before, a Creative Writing Group is a new adventure for us. We envision a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff meeting monthly to share writing, give and receive feedback, exchange ups and downs, and, of course, have fun. Anyone in the UofL community who enjoys creative writing is welcome—amount experience or investment doesn’t matter. At the kickoff on Tuesday, Jessica will facilitate discussions about writing, a few collaborative writing activities—poe-e-tree and prose—and ask for feedback about what participants want to get out of the Creative Writing Group. If you’re interested in creative writing, join us on Tuesday!

What: Creative Writing Group Kick Off
When: Tuesday, August 30, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
Where: University Writing Center, First Floor, Ekstrom Library
Who: UofL students, faculty, and staff are welcome

Questions? Contact Jessica Newman or call the Writing Center at 502-852-2173


How I Write: Maureen McCoy

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 is Maureen McCoy. Maureen is the Coordinator of the REACH Learning Resource Center at the University of Louisville. In August 2016 she began a doctoral programMaureen McCoy focused on College Student Personnel in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville. Maureen’s Bachelor of Arts degree is in Humanities and Art History, and her Master of Arts degree is in Humanities with a focus on art history and medieval/renaissance studies.

Location: REACH, University of Louisville

Current project: Class papers

Currently reading: One More Thing by B.J. Novak

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

I am enrolled in a doctoral program in Counseling and Personnel Services through UofL.  Much of my writing is based on research or studies of theory and attempts to apply what I have learned to practical contexts.  I also work in the REACH program on campus as the coordinator for the Learning Resource Center, so I write occasional articles for publication.

When/where/how do you write?

I write in different places.  Sometimes I work at home, but I will also go to the library if I really need to make myself focus.  I like to spread out my materials, so no matter where I am I prefer to have a large table ore area to work.  I will jot down an outline or the major points for my paper and which sources I will use to support them.  This gives me a chance to organize my thoughts and make a plan.  Then I start writing.  I usually work on it by section if I have a clear outline, or I will work through it by source, putting them together as needed.  I cannot write everything in one setting usually, and I take breaks throughout the day to stretch or refresh myself.  I will also proofread my work at the beginning of each writing day to get myself in the right mindset, fix errors, and identify holes in or problems with my argument or organization.

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

I mostly need space for my resources and notes and my laptop.  I prefer quiet, but I will put on instrumental music if I am at home and not in a public place.

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

Gather everything together and try to make a plan before you get started.  This will help you organize your thoughts.  I revise my work every day as I am working.  I will even walk away from it for a day or two and then revisit it to make sure that it all still makes sense.  Getting started early is essential for me because having time away from the work gives me time to reconsider what I am doing and where I am going when I get back to it.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Do your citations and reference pages as you go so that you don’t miss anything!

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

Creating and Sustaining a Culture of Writing

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Someone once told me that any time you move it takes six months to learn how to live in a new place. After we moved into our new space on the first floor of Ekstrom Library last


University Writing Center on the first floor of Ekstrom Library

October, it did taken us a while to figure out how the furniture worked best, get some art on the walls, and buy some new plants. Now, however, as we get ready to start the 2016-17 academic year, we are settled in and excited about the opportunities that our new surroundings offer us.

We plan to take advantage of our new space with a number of new and expanded programs and events in the coming year:

Creative Writing Groups: We are starting new creative writing groups for anyone in the UofL community interested in working on creative writing projects. The groups will meet once a month on a Tuesday during the fall semester allowing people to explore creative writing in a safe, open, and encouraging environment. Meetings will be times when people can will write, investigate issues of craft, read and respond to writing, and have fun. Any member of the UofL community is welcome – undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. We welcome any genre of writing and any level of creative writing experience—all you need is an interest in creative writing. For more details and the schedule of meetings, see our website.

Graduate Student Writing Groups and Faculty Writing Groups: We are going to continue with our writing groups for graduate students and for faculty. These groups will provide time for writing followed by discussions of writing concerns and issues. More details and schedules for the graduate student group and the faculty group can be found on our website

Writing Center Events: We’re going to have a number of events in our new space this fall,

open mic

“Bad Love Poetry” Open Mic Night from Feb. 2016

from participation in the National Day of Writing on Oct. 2o, to a Finals’ Week Write-In to support getting final papers finished, to an open mic night on Halloween for scary stories and poems. See our Events page on our website for more details.

In addition to our Writing Center events, we also have some other new initiatives we are excited about.

New Undergraduate Tutoring Class : We have had approved a new course for undergraduates and MA students interested in learning more about teaching writing and then potentially doing internships in community literacy settings. The course, English 508 – Literacy Tutoring Across Contexts and Cultures will be offered in 2017-18. Students who take the course can then take part in tutoring internships in the community with organizations such as Family Scholar House and the Louisville Free Public Library. 

Community Literacy Projects: We are also going to continue, and expand, our ongoing writing workshops and writing consultations at Family Scholar House. We view this partnerships as one of the key parts of our efforts to provide more writing consultation services to the larger Louisville community.

Of course, it isn’t only what is new here that is exciting. One of the most exciting things that will happen this fall is what happens here every semester. Day after day writers from across the university will bring their drafts and their questions about their writing to the Picture1University Writing Center and engage in thoughtful conversations with our consultants about how to make that work as strong as it can be.  We have an excellent incoming staff of consultants who will be doing what we do best: helping writers improve the projects they are working on today, as well helping them become stronger writers in the future. On our exit surveys, more than 90 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their University Writing Center appointments both help them with their immediate writing concerns and that what they learn in appointments will help them with other writing projects.

We will also continue to offer our successful Dissertation Writing Retreat, our Graduate Student Writing Workshops, workshops on writing issues for classes and student organizations at UofL, and our consultations on the Health Sciences Campus.

The mission statement for the University Writing Center says that we believe writing is an “indispensable part of the intellectual life of the university.” We stand behind this belief and it is central to what we do. But, as the new semester begins, I think the events and programs we will offer in the year ahead will allow us to add to our mission the goal of creating and sustaining a culture of writing of all kinds, on campus and in our community.

Please see our updated website for more information and resources, as well as for information about how to make your appointment for a writing consultation.

Good luck with the new academic year and I hope to see you in the University Writing Center.


There’s More than One Way to Build a Writing Center – A Visit to The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Writing Centers – around the world – can be found in all kinds of locations, both physical and institutional. We’re fortunate at the University of Louisville to have a large and prominent new space on the ground floor of the main Library and to have the institutional support of departments and administrators across the university. Other writing centers have to find other ways to create spaces and identities for themselves when the university around them may not yet have figured out how much it needs a writing center – or even what one is. Recently, when I attended the Writing Development in Higher Education conference at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, I had the opportunity to visit and learn about one of the more exciting and innovative approaches to creating a writing center that I have seen  – The Writing Cafe.

The Writing Cafe is exactly what it sounds like. Located on the top floor of one of the


The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University

academic buildings, it is a place where writers (from both the university and community) can come to get a cup of coffee, have a writing consultation, attend a workshop, or just have a communal, social space to write. It’s a warm, welcoming space that combines the relaxed ambience of a coffee shop with conversations about writing. Even a brief visit made it clear that it was a place that was fostering and sustaining a culture of writing on campus and in the community – which is part of the essential role of any writing center. It certainly tempted me to get a coffee and hang out and write rather than going to the next conference session (but I did go to the next session….)

What makes The Writing Cafe so exciting for people doing Writing Center work, however, is not just the space itself. The story of how Helen Bowstead and Christie Pritchard created and put together The Writing Cafe is instructive – and inspiring – for people wanting to establish a writing center or just find a new way of thinking about how a writing center might inhabit a different kind of institutional and social space. Faced with a university that was reluctant to provide the space and furnishings for a writer center, they came across the abandoned cafe space and convinced the university to let them renovate and


Literacy artifacts at The Writing Cafe

use it. They furnished it with cast-off tables and chairs they scavenged from around campus – as well as abandoned literacy artifacts of, such as an old typewriter, globe, and camera. Their explicit goal was to drawn on “coffee-house culture” to create a place that was social and informal, but also generative and engaging. They also had the ongoing support of the Learning Development team at Plymouth University. People coming to The Writing Cafe don’t make appointments, but just drop in to talk with the consultants who are on call at that time. Unlike some writing centers, they have decided not have appointments or keep records of consultations, so that the atmosphere and experience remains one that is more focused on nurturing a community of writers and less focused on assessment and evaluation of writing. The goal is not only to help people with their writing, but to give them an experience that helps them feel different about writing. Writing Cafe has been a huge success – primarily publicized through word of mouth among students.

Of course, this model doesn’t work for every writing center, but it is a reminder that there are other approaches and values that can be supported in writing centers in addition to


What happy writers have written on the board at The Wrting Cafe

just helping people with the draft in front of them. The idea of a space that offers writers a different emotional experience about writing, and that emphasizes the importance of conversation and the social nature of writing, is refreshing and exciting in a time when universities in many countries are increasingly focused on assessment and evaluation of writing. The Writing Cafe treats student writers – and all writers – like authors with something to say. Finally, The Writing Cafe is an example of what can be done, in a time of shrinking budgets, if you can be creative and work with what you have at hand. As someone interested in the idea of writing centers as “enclaves” of different practices, I was glad I got the chance to find out about this place.


What does OWL mean to you?: Creating New Web-Based Resources for the Writing Center

Cassie Book, Associate Director

The University Writing Center is always open to improving our online resources and services for on campus and at-a-distance students, faculty, and staff. Currently, we offer virtual tutoring, a robust website, social media, (this) blog, and several online resources such as our Writing FAQs, but we understand that technology and student-needs push us to revise and add. I recently had an opportunity to research Online Writing Labs (OWLs) and reflect on our center’s online resources for a graduate course in Online Writing Instruction (OWI). Moreover, as a project for the course, I developed a new resource, a video workshop, “Writing a Literature Review,” to add to our current collection of six video workshops. This blog describes my development process and briefly connects it to research on OWI and OWLs.

I choose to create a video workshop on literature reviews because it is a logical need for graduate students. Moreover, the Writing Center already has an established in-person workshop on Literature Reviews, co-hosted with the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies (SIGS). While we (humbly) think our in-person workshops are great, it is inevitable that some students are unable to attend due to timing or access to campus. Some students’ learning styles may also be better suited to a video with pause, rewind, and captioning tools. So, it makes sense to create online, access-anytime video workshops. However, creating online resources that also are accessible and not just a one-way stream of information (imagine: videos with talking heads or a 100% lecture-based course), is not the easiest task. I’d like to share how pedagogical goals, technology, and accessibility needs shaped the final product of the video workshop I created.

For those who have not viewed the workshop, this paragraph briefly describes it. The workshop is approximately ten minutes of video-recorded PowerPoint slides defining a literature review and offering strategies for research and writing. As you might expect, it has an audio voice-over. The visual components are are text, images, animation, and captioning. The interactive component is multiple-choice and open-ended questions that appear on the screen periodically. These questions do not have correct answers; instead, they ask the audience to connect a concept to their own context, provide customized suggestions, or jump to a more relevant section of the video. I also created a text-only script to accompany the video link on our website.

Though the learning outcome for the workshop is fairly straightforward, that the audience understand the conventions and components of a literature review as part of a larger project, simply presenting decontextualized information is not a good teaching strategy, regardless of the setting—an on campus or online classroom. Kelli Cargile-Cook, professor of English and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech, argues for pedagogy-driven online education in contrast to technology-driven. Even in an online space, content delivery should be more interactive, “similar to dialogic onsite classrooms” where “instructor and students provide course content” (59). Our Writing Center staff present in-person workshops with interactive delivery, but the nature of the online, accessible by anyone at any time, video workshops makes the issue of real-time response, impossible for the medium. In order to allow pedagogy to drive the development instead of the technology, I employed the free version of Zaption. Zaption allows the presenter to insert questions into a video hosted by YouTube with the outcome being a self-directed video lesson. Although Zaption seems to be intended as a venue for self-paced quiz-based courses, I created more of an interactive space by creating questions without “correct” answers.

Because it was important to have a text-only script as a component of my final project, I began drafting and story-boarding in a Google Doc. After I completed a draft, I moved to PowerPoint because I was preparing to create the video with audio voice-over to host on YouTube before importing into Zaption and adding the interactive questions. I thought I had a good script draft before moving to PowerPoint, but I encountered issues such as repetition and text-heavy explanations. I wrote as I would speak, not as I would present key words and concepts on slides, ideally using movement, images, and figures to demonstrate concepts. I moved back and forth between the PowerPoint and the script, making sure that both covered the same material. For example, the description of the purpose of literature reviews, in the script was: “A literature review has two related purposes. First, to evaluate existing research related to your topic and second to position your argument within the existing research.” Adapting this to PowerPoint, I employed a “SmartArt” graphic and an animation to show the relationship between the two purposes. A balance with several citations appears with the first purpose as the slide’s title. Then, the second purpose appears in the gap between citations (fig. 1).

slide owl

Figure 1. PowerPoint slide four. The slide first appears without the box “2. To position your argument within the existing research.” The arrow indicates how the text moves onto the screen.

I tried to build in access into the design from the beginning, as Sushil Oswal, in “Physical and Learning Disabilities in OWI,” recommends. Oswal directs teachers and course designers to, “Always place accessibility at the beginning of all planning; it should remain an integral part of all subsequent course design and delivery processes” (282). I created a text-only script to include as a link next to the link to the Zaption video on our website, but I adapted the text script to exclude references to what the audience might be “seeing” on screen. I also used YouTube’s captioning feature, which allows me to type the audio and auto-sync the timing. For the ten minute video, it took me about 45 minutes to create captions. I also had multilingual users in mind because there are many international graduate students at the University of Louisville who visit the Writing Center.  In “Multilingual Writers and OWI,” Susan Miller-Cochran recommends “that instruction in writing should be clear, and that oral and/or video supplements also should be provided” (298). I explained the purpose and objectives clearly at the beginning and summarized them at the end, which should be helpful to most all learners.

Although I designed my video workshop, “Writing a Literature Review,” with the tools and intentions I outlined here, that does not mean that the outcomes will be as I anticipated and carefully planned. Usability studies with OWLs, such as Allen Brizee, Morgan Sousa, and Dana Driscoll’s in their research with the well-liked Purdue OWL, remind OWL developers that users are the ultimate authority to the effectiveness of a learning object, tool, or lesson. To complicate matters further, Zaption just announced that it was bought out and is shutting down in September. The availability of tools, especially free open-access tools, is a reality for OWI and OWL. Losing Zaption is not good news for us if it happens that the Writing a Literature Review workshop is well-liked.

So, what do you think? Do you like the interactive questions? Do they get you thinking? Or are they distracting? We will keep the workshop available on our website as long as possible, but we will be exploring new options for our video workshops to create accessible virtual learning experiences . Your recommendations can be helpful to us as we move forward with refining our online resources, so please comment here or email writing@louisville.edu with suggestions!

Works Cited

Brizee, Allen, Morgan Sousa, Dana Lynn Driscoll. “Writing Centers and Students with Disabilities: The User-centered Approach, Participatory Design, and Empirical Research as Collaborative Methodologies” Computers and Composition 26 (2009): 107-121. Print.

Cargile-Cook, Kelli. “An Argument for Pedagogy-Driven Online Education.” Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers. Eds. Kelli Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie.
Farmingdale, NY: Baywood. 49-66. Print.

“FAQ: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.” Zaption. Zaption, 2016. Web. 16 May 2016. (https://www.zaption.com/faq)

Oswal, Sushil K. “Physical and Learning Disabilities in OWI.” Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric Depew. Fort Collins, CO: WAC
Clearinghouse and Parlor Press, 2015. 253-289. Web.

Miller-Cochran, Susan. “Multilingual Writers and OWI.” Foundational Practices of Online
Writing Instruction
. Eds. Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric DePew. Fort Collins, CO: WAC
Clearinghouse and Parlor Press, 2015. 253-289. Web.

Update September 30, 2016: I migrated this workshop to a YouTube video because Zaption is shutting down. – Cassie 


Writing Time, Feedback, and Momentum: The Dissertation Writing Retreat – 2016

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The sound of people thinking. That’s what you would have heard had you come to the University Writing Center this past week. With fourteen UofL Ph.D. students focused on  writing their dissertations. I swear that, given the intensity with which they were working, you could hear them thinking. This year marks our fifth annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. During the week, the schedule was the same: Writing in the morning, a short workshop and discussion on some area of20160525_104409

Dissertation Writing Retreat writers hard at work

research writing at noon (How to Write and Effective Literature Review, How to Revise and Respond to Committee Members’ Comments, How to Turn Dissertations into Publications, How to Keep Writing) , and the individual appointments with University Writing Consultants in the afternoon (and more writing…). The writers who took part in this year’s Retreat worked with a dedication and commitment that was inspiring. They came from eight different disciplines at the University: Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology, Education, Engineering, Rhetoric and Composition, Humanities, Psychology, Public Health, and Sociology. 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.


Amanda Pocratsky, Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology: It’s hard to synthesize in few words how much this retreat has transformed my dissertation writing experience. As a graduate student in the biomedical sciences, I was initially concerned about how effective this retreat would for me. These concerns proved unfounded. In the span of one short week, I’ve written my dissertation abstract and a complete first chapter. I will leave here with over half my dissertation completed, a well-defined outline of my discussion, and incredible momentum to push through the final stages. Moreover, the writing skills I’ve cultivated from this experience will effectively translate throughout my scholastic career. I strongly encourage students to apply and come prepared to succeed.

Yvette Szabo, Clinical Psychology: The Dissertation Writing Retreat has been invaluable to my dissertation progress! I am still collecting data for my dissertation, so I was able to


Meghan, Rene, and Yvette hold a group consultation

use this protected time to write and edit large parts of my Introduction, Method and then outline my results and discussion. Overall, I doubled the length of my dissertation and received feedback on all sections.  Typically, I shift between many roles as a graduate student, so having the quiet space to work (relatively unplugged) was necessary and much appreciated. And working with the same consultant all week allowed me to talk through presenting ideas for my complex study as well as receive feedback on organization and parallel structure. Thank you for a wonderful experience!

René Bayley-Veloso, Clinical Psychology: I would highly recommend that any graduate student who is working on their dissertation attend the Dissertation Writing Retreat. I have made substantial progress on my dissertation in a very short amount of time. The retreat also helped me organize my thoughts and questions, which allowed me to have a necessary and productive meeting with one of my committee members.  I have learned quite a bit about my own personal writing process through this experience, and will be utilizing this knowledge to maintain momentum moving forward.

Jamila Kareem, Rhetoric and Composition: The 2016 Dissertation Writing Retreat has not only been the most productive time I’ve spent on my dissertation, but it has been the most valuable. The structure of the Retreat worked well, because it allowed me to prioritize my writing and get the most crucial aspects finished while I had guaranteed feedback. The Retreat helped me develop a more structured process to stay on track and to feel rewarded when I do. I’ve had a process that has worked pretty well, but the staff at the Retreat gave


Dilan and Layne work together

me strategies to build upon it and work smarter. And it’s free! Just look for professional dissertation help around the Internet—prices are crazy! I would recommend the Dissertation Writing Retreat to every doctoral student whether they are having trouble getting started or almost done. The feedback, time, and structure you receive are invaluable.

Abby Burns, Epidemiology and Population Health: The Dissertation Writing Retreat provided an encouraging environment to work quietly alongside other students who all have the same ultimate goal – completing their dissertation and graduating.  It helped hold me accountable, but more importantly helped me build momentum that I hope I can run with in the following weeks/months.

Denise Watkins, Humanities: As someone who is married, a mother, and works full-time, the benefits of this retreat can’t be adequately explained. I was able to steal away from all other responsibilities and make significant progress. In one week’s time, my outlook towards my dissertation has changed from an insurmountable “where will I ever find the time?” project to a feasible, doable task.

Heidi Williams, Sociology: The Dissertation Writing Retreat provides supportive, focused writing time, as well as workshops and advice that help participants approach and manage their work. Working with a writing consultant helped me realize I was fixating on a problem, rather than making progress in an attainable way. I learned how to breakdown my writing into manageable, daily tasks that led to tangible results – an exercise that I could not put into motion myself.


Laura Tetreault, Assistant Director: In my conversations during the Dissertation Writing Retreat, either with the writers I was working with or the other consultants and writing center staff, we often circled back to one idea: writing is hard. (And interesting, and fun, and exciting, but also hard a lot of the time.) As a Rhetoric and Composition PhD candidate


Laura Tetreault leads a workshop discussion on turning dissertations into publications

and Assistant Director of the Writing Center, people sometimes I expect that I have this whole writing thing figured out, but the reality is that I became interested in writing teaching and writing center work because I also find writing to be really difficult a lot of the time. But instead of finding this discouraging, I actually find it comforting that most writers express at some point how difficult writing can be for them. The common experience of struggling with writing helps to diminish the inner critic that many grad students have in our heads. I can tell that critic: hey, it’s not me; writing is just hard sometimes. And it gets a lot easier for me when I can find a sense of community in the struggle.

Amy McCleese Nichols, Assistant Director: Watching writers work on their dissertations this week has reminded me why I love one-on-one writing conferences. It’s been great to talk through ideas and text with writers who have differing processes. For some, it seemed like the chance to talk through small sections of writing/thinking gave them better language to describe their overall argument and intervention by the end of the week. For others, designing study frameworks and making targeted edits to various sections of text


Rose and Amy discuss Rose’s dissertation

helped them accomplish larger goals. Working the retreat has also given me a better sense of what it might look like to write my own dissertation in the future; this is definitely an event I’d like to return to as a participant next year.

Layne Gordon: As a soon-to-be second year PhD student, I was so inspired this week by the progress of the writers I was working with! At the end of each meeting, we took a couple of minutes to set some writing goals for the next day. Although sometimes those goals had to shift or be adjusted (writing requires so much flexibility!), the writers always made progress and pushed themselves to get as much done as they could. While I got to learn a lot about their respective topics, I also learned a lot about the dissertation writing process itself and the importance of just not stopping.

Brittany Kelley: I learn so much when working with others on their dissertations, especially when it comes to the writing process. This year, I learned that it’s important to create a hierarchy of goals for your dissertation. The highest/most important goal is getting words on the page. The next highest/most important goal should be your well being. After you’ve got words on the page, remember to rest. See friends. Exercise. Eat well. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. You deserve it. Always.

Ashley Ludewig: I have always enjoyed working with students of all levels on their writing projects and this week’s retreat was no different.  But, even though I participated in the retreat as a tutor, this week was also really helpful for me as someone who is also writing my dissertation.  Talking with other writers as they thought through some of the most complicated parts of their projects and reflected on their writing processes reminded me to be more accepting of my own writing process and helped me see why I was feeling stuck in my own work.  Now, instead of beating myself up over a lack of progress, I feel prepared to re-think my priorities for the next few weeks and make a plan that will actually work!

Meghan Hancock: This year at the diss retreat I was reminded of the importance of setting aside concrete time to write in a space without distractions. It seemed like many students most valued the amount of quiet work time that the retreat provided them with, and in my last consultation, we talked about how to create those kinds of spaces after leaving the retreat as well as how to continue to block out time in schedules just for writing. Though I always encourage others to maximize their productivity in these ways, I don’t always practice what I preach. Being able to see the amazing work ethic that students at the diss retreat had this year has inspired me to try harder to follow my own writing advice and to set aside more routinely scheduled quiet times for me to work on my own dissertation.


It’s also important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat – Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and Robin Blackett, our Administrative Assistant, and Assistant Directors Stephen Cohen, Amy Nichols, and Laura Tetreault. Thanks also to the fantastic consultants (themselves Ph.D. students) who do the most important work of the week in working with the writers: Layne Gordon, Meghan Hancock, Brittany Kelley, and Ashley Ludewig. And thanks to Dean Beth Boehm, of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

See you next year!!!!!!

Post Navigation