UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

Feasible Futures of Writing Centers

Cassie Book, Associate Director

This week the University Writing Center hosted an exciting event with our regional affiliate of the International Writing Center Association, the Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA). The event,“Directors’ Day Out,” is an opportunity for regional Writing Center Professionals to gather and discuss issues across contexts. Each Directors’ Day Out has a unique theme.

The preceding Kentucky Directors’ Day Out happened in October 2014 at Bellarmine University. Through the theme of “Writing Center Assessment,” we focused on ways to demonstrate our institutional audiences the Writing Center’s effectiveness, impact, and value. We talked about measurable goals, data, and timelines, but also how to share our stories. Scott Whiddon and Rhyan Conyers, from the Transylvania University Writing Center and Institutional Research and Effectiveness respectively, shared their experience collaborating.

Building on sharing stories, our 2016 Directors’ Day Out embraced, broadly, creating a culture of writing in our local contexts. Specifically, how can we push forward our writing center values such as interdisciplinary, writerly agency, non-evaluative response, and dialogic learning into our larger institutional structures? Bronwyn Williams presented the “Future Creating Workshop” as a model for constructing “feasible utopias.” The workshop has three parts: 1) Critique and complaining 2) Dreaming of utopias and 3) Realization and feasibility. We first pinpointed both specific problems and underlying issues. Then, we imagined institutional worlds with unlimited time, money, and influence. For instance, we proposed built-in time for writing and professional development each week, a writing center dog, and writing center satellites (“pods”) for each department across the university. Finally, we stepped back to articulate realistic steps toward our utopian visions, which is why we call it a feasible utopia. For example, one center plans to initiate collaboration with the Athletics department, while another will start the social media hashtag #MarkupMondays to share messy rough drafts.

Although creating feasible utopias was our main emphasis for the day, most also relished the opportunity to speak “our language,” i.e. writing center language. We informally shared experiences, networked, and motivated each another. We enjoyed lunch in the new University Writing Center space while chatting with the UofL writing consultants. Though we recognize that not everyone speaks “writing center language,” we’re hopeful that building community among Writing Center Professionals can help us extend our writing center values within each of our own campuses and communities.

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Writing Center Professionals eat lunch and chat in the new University Writing Center.

Achieving Clarity, Sentence by Sentence

Cheyenne Franklin, consultantDSCN3677

An instructor once told my class that the greatest criticism a writing can receive is that it is unclear. Although clarity does not come from any one formula, there are some tips that can help you get your message across clearly and keep you from writing the complicated texts we all hate.

1. Keep the real subject in the subject slot.

English is an SVO language. This means its basic structure runs Subject, Verb, Object. Sometimes we alter this structure to add variety, but generally readers look for the subject first and then the verb. When we provide these pieces quickly and in this order, readers are better able to focus on the message of our sentence.

Two types of structures can lose a sentence’s subject:

Passive Voice: The text was confused by the unnecessary passive voice.

Revision: The unnecessary passive voice confused the text.

You can find more information about passive voice here.

False subject there: There were two kids fighting at school.

Revision: Two kids fought at school.

In the first version of this sentence, there occupies the subject position right before the verb were. Two kids is the real subject though. The revision forms a clearer sentence with the true subject in the subject slot.

2. Cut deadweight words.

Certain valueless words enter our speech without our even realizing it. In our writing, where we have time to edit, we should always cut life-sucking deadweight that distracts from the sentence’s valuable parts.

Wordy: I believe the results clearly show obesity is a very real problem for each and every one of us, regardless of age.

Revision: I believe the results basically show obesity is a very real problem for each and every one of us, regardless of age.

Although the struck-out words seem to add intensity to the sentence, they don’t add any real meaning. In addition to overcomplicating the sentence, they weaken the statement because they appear to be trying too hard.

3. Write in manageable doses.

If a sentence extends to three lines or more, it has lots of commas/conjunctions, or contains strings of prepositions or which/that, look to see if you have stuffed too many ideas into one sentence. Just because a sentence is long, doesn’t mean it needs to be divided, but it is a good indicator. It’s good to combine ideas in a single sentence when showing a relationship between those ideas, but you need to give each idea its own attention first. This means giving each idea its own space.

Dense Sentence: If the chemicals combine, they can produce a toxic fume which can harm a human and might even kill plants and animals, presenting a serious risk and outweighing the good that such chemicals could provide in the home.

Separate ideas with connection following: If the chemicals combine, they can produce a toxic fume. This fume can harm a human and might even kill plants and animals. These dangers present a serious risk and outweigh the good that such chemicals could present in the home.

The revision splits the complicated sentence in places where which, and, or a comma was present.

4. Use the Old-New structure

The old-new structure involves both sentence and paragraph structure. It clearly strings together related ideas or steps by reusing key terms. Sentences begin with a term used in the preceding sentence (the old) and connects it to the next idea (the new). The sample sentence showing the revision of a dense sentence demonstrates this structure.

Old-New: If you turn to your right, you’ll see a yellow envelope. In that yellow envelope, you’ll find a note, and that note will give you your next instructions.

The repeated words yellow envelope and note serve as landmarks that orient readers and show connections between the old and new information. Notice that when a term is repeated, you usually place the word that/this before it.

How to Get into the “Flow” of Things: Writing a Well-Structured Essay

Lindsey Gilbert, consultantlindseygilbert

Many writers come into the Writing Center with concerns about the “flow” of their ideas in their papers. Occasionally, this concern comes up late in the writing process, allowing for little or no time to review the final piece with a writing consultant. A good way to resolve this issue is by simply examining the organization of the paper on your own. This answer may seem like a no-brainer, but many approaches exist that can help you reexamine and strengthen the structure of your paper, allowing for smooth transitions between ideas.

Outlining

While this is not a new approach by any means, creating an outline before writing can greatly help you structure your paper. Seeing how the ideas shift into each other allows for an easy edit to the structure of your essay if necessary. Even though prewriting strategies such as an outline may seem tedious, they can greatly help and even speed up your overall writing process, meaning you spend less time crafting the structure during or after writing.

Identifying Key Ideas: Reverse Outlining

Structure is a key component to keep in mind while writing an essay, but you may not know how to structure your paper until you begin writing. After completing a draft, you can read through and mark down the main idea in each paragraph. Compiling all of the main ideas will provide you with the groundwork for shifting paragraphs around to illustrate a logical progression throughout your paper.

Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences

If you decide to rearrange your paragraphs, you will want to read through and reorganize your thesis statement. Remember, the thesis statement is the spoiler of your paper and outlines what topics you are covering and in what order. If your thesis statement reads, “Dogs are soft, fluffy, and cute,” the body paragraphs should be in the description order of “soft” first, “fluffy” second, and “cute” third. In turn, the topic sentences of each paragraph should align with the descriptions presented in your thesis statement. This will allow your reader to understand the main topic of each paragraph before reading through it.

Working with Transitions

New topic sentences help to create better organization throughout your paper, but a smooth transition is needed in between paragraphs for the ideas to build on each other. Make sure to develop strong transition sentences between paragraphs by concluding the ideas of a paragraph and finding a link to the next topic that will be covered in the following paragraph. This provides a logical flow of ideas for the reader.

Subheadings

Transition sentences are greatly important for the ideas in your paper to shift efficiently, but some concepts may be too large and drastically different to allow for an easy transition. For example, if you write a position paper, you will need to state the advantages and disadvantages of a specific topic. These two areas are drastically different and could contain much detail and explanation, allowing for multiple paragraphs to develop in the process. In this case, the use of subheadings can be greatly beneficial to make that shift for the reader, allowing him/her to follow along with larger ideas that cover a greater length of pages.

The approaches provided above can greatly strengthen the organization of your paper, providing the “flow” that is so desired by the reader. Organizing your ideas well can ultimately give you more credibility as a writer, a strategy that you should keep in mind before you submit your final essay.

Ready to start writing, but not quite sure how? Read our blog post on non-generic ways to start your paper.

Happy writing!

Event: Many Voices: Writing About LGBTQ+ Issues

We are excited to offer an upcoming event in partnership with the LGBT Center at the University of Louisville. Details below!

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Text of flyer:

Many Voices: Writing About LGBTQ+ Issues
Tuesday, March 1
5:00-6:00 p.m.
University Writing Center, First Floor Ekstrom Library
This workshop is open to all student creative writers who identify as LGBTQ or as an ally, and will focus on writing about LGBTQ identities, experiences, and issues in a safe, supportive space. We will talk about finding the words for difficult or often silenced experiences, produce writing through guided prompts, and make connections with other writers.
Participants will not be required to share their work, although they are welcome to do so. Contact laura.tetreault@louisville.edu with any questions.

IWCW Day 5: A Culture of Writing

Our final insights for the week are from Assistant Director Laura Tetreault and consultants Karley Miller and Jessica Good. They share some ways our Center fosters a culture of writing at the University of Louisville.

Laura
“I have a lot of favorite things about working at the University Writing Center as one of the Assistant Directors: mentoring our awesome staff of consultants; planning programming and events; visiting classes in different disciplines; and working with writers from widely different backgrounds and learning about their projects during sessions. It’s a great opportunity to meet so many writers and hopefully help foster a culture of writing on campus.”

Join Laura for an upcoming Writing Center workshop: Writing About LGBTQ+ Issues
Tuesday, March 1 at 5pm in the University Writing Center, all UofL student writers welcome

Jessica
“Having the opportunity to talk writers through ‘assignment anxiety’ is probably my favorite part about working in the Writing Center. Writers often come in questioning their ability to interpret prompts, articulate ideas, or write in a new genre. The assignment has become this overwhelming thing that makes them feel powerless and alone. I like being able to emphasize that they aren’t weird or “bad” at writing, that all writers (including myself) have the same fear(s). This moment of connection enables us to focus on demystifying the assignment and renewing the writer’s sense of control. I absolutely love to watch a writer’s demeanor grow more and more confident throughout a session.”
Jessica answers: What Justin Bieber can teach us about genre?

Karley
“The best part of our writing center is Robin’s desk (and all the great people who work behind it). They take care of getting people registered, on the schedule, and to the right consultant. At UofL’s Writing Center, we work with everyone–including many people who might not feel comfortable using the online appointment system. Without Robin and her team, I don’t think we’d be nearly as accessible. Not to mention, the folks at the desk are constantly modifying the schedule to keep up with change throughout the day, and making sure as many people as possible are able to make the appointment they need.”
Karley’s suggestions for handling revision anxiety

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Karley meets with a writer.

 

IWCW Day 4: Valuing All Writers

Often we’re asked: What kind of writers visit the University Writing Center? Our honest response is always: All types. Really.

We welcome everyone in the UofL community–students, faculty and staff– and many writers a year take us up on that offer. (Side note: we tallied over 5,000 consultations last year). Today, Assistant Director Amy Nichols and consultants Emily Blair and Elizabeth Dean share how they value the writers who visit our Center.

Elizabeth
“I really love working with writers several times over the course of the semester, because I really get to know them and their work. Writers work so hard to do well in a difficult course or to perfect the details of their application, and it’s always exciting to hear that they were accepted to their dream internship or got a good grade in their hardest class. It’s so rewarding to watch their hard work pay off, and I feel like it’s a privilege for me to be a part of their process.”
Elizabeth’s Five Strategies for Citation Management

Amy
“I really enjoy watching writers experience someone taking their ideas and their writing seriously. When we start to have conversations about what a writer wants for their work, I often see questions of organization and language start to answer themselves, and those moments are so rewarding.”
Amy expands upon the “bigger picture” of writing center work, the writers (from 2013)

Emily
“I think my favorite thing about working in University of Louisville’s Writing Center is how diverse the writers are who visit us. We have writers from around the world who are working on everything from English 101 reflections to doctoral dissertations. I get to work with non-traditional students coming back to school for the first time in decades, and students who are the first people in their families to go to college. I learn from every student’s unique perspective through working with them on their writing, and I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to have dialogues with so many people every day.”
Emily’s Five Tips for Successfully Rewriting

IWCW Day 3: Experiencing Writing

When we asked them about their favorite aspect of writing center work, three of our staff mentioned the opportunity to experience writing. As we continue our celebration of International Writing Center’s week, today we hear from Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center Jamila Kareem and consultants Deanna Babcock and Jenny Kiefer.

Jenny
“I love learning about all of the different subjects and genres writers bring in with their essays. I appreciate seeing the multitude of different ways writing can be used in many different fields. Most of all, I love being able to help these writers express their ideas and arguments.”
Jenny explains how the scientific method could help with your writing process.

Jamila
“My favorite part of working in the Writing Center has to be seeing how all of the writers we work with use written language to achieve do many different goals. As a lover of writing, working for the Writing Center gives me the opportunity to experience it across genres, contexts, and meanings while helping others become more confident writers.”
Learn more about Jamila and the Virtual Writing Center for distance students

Deanna
“My favorite part of working in the Writing Center is having the opportunity to teach writers something new. I especially love it if I see them again and they’ve used my suggestions in a new piece, indicating that they’ve learned a new skill, or that they’re at least trying it out.”
Deanna’s advice for avoiding cliches at the beginning of your paper.

IWCW Day 2: Reciprocity and Tutoring

Our consultants continue to share their favorite aspects of the Writing Center to celebrate International Writing Centers Week. Today Anthony Gross, Rhea Crone and Lindsey Gilbert exemplify the reciprocal nature of writing tutoring. The consultant learns and grows alongside the writer.

Rhea
“I suppose my favorite part about working in the Writing Center is being given the opportunity to set aside my own academic stressors and focus my attention on all the different kinds of papers and people that come through our big glass door. It’s pretty rare to be given the chance to so fully engage with dozens of diverse, disparate topics, or the time to understand new and evolving sets of writerly concerns. I also appreciate the insights into my own work that I’ve gained, simply by having candid, open discussions with all the writers I get to consult with during any given week.”
Rhea discusses “academic voice.”

Anthony
“I’d say my favorite part of working at the Writing Center is helping writers understand something they didn’t grasp before, whether it’s how to use a comma, how to write a thesis statement, or how to be sensitive to particular audiences. Likewise, writers are constantly helping me understand things I’d never considered before.”
Anthony’s advice for making significant, but difficult, revisions

Lindsey
“Being able to connect with writers who regularly make appointments with me and seeing their growth throughout the year are by far my favorite parts of working in the Writing Center. Both the writer and I become more comfortable with each other, allowing for our conversations to develop from talking about the weather to ‘How did your friend like your gift?’ or other details that I’ve learned since our first appointment together. I find myself and the writer more at ease in these situations, allowing for personal growth and creative expression to occur during each appointment. These appointments bring me much joy, and I often find myself looking forward to them more each week.”
Lindsey weighs in on those “fierce” English 101 papers.

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Lindsey meets with a writer.

“Since the Beginning of Time:” Avoiding Generic Opening Sentences

Deanna Babcock, consultantDSCN3612

Throughout history, students have continuously used generic opening sentences in their essays. Teachers continue seeing papers with the same types of openings again and again and, despite any attempts to change students’ habits, they keep cropping up. A likely reason is that students are being told to avoid certain sentences in their introductions (if they are told at all) without being taught what to do instead.

There are a number of phrases that can begin an assigned paper, but are ineffective, too general, or just plain boring. An example of this is, in fact, “throughout history…”

Here are some other phrases you should avoid:

  • “Since the beginning of time/history/mankind…”
  • “Everyone/we all…”
  • “So and so dictionary defines ____ as…”

These phrases are very broad and essentially ‘empty,’ and your instructor will likely see them as having no important value to your paper. They are also very general and start off the topic too broadly. If you are writing about different dog breeds, defining either the term “dog” or “breed” is unnecessary and does nothing for your essay. Telling us that “dogs have existed since the beginning of time” is not necessarily true and is also vague and pointless, and saying “we all love dogs” or “everyone has a favorite dog breed” can isolate readers who are not dog fans and cause them to lose interest.

clicheClichés are best avoided, as their meanings are abstract and likely will not add anything to your ideas, especially at the very beginning of the paper. “All that glitters is not gold” is a common saying, but is so common that it would be too general to start a paper with. Use your own words instead to be original and express your individual ideas. If you’re not sure, check here for more examples of cliches.

So what should you do instead? There are other ways of starting an essay that avoid these general phrases and cut straight to the point while still grabbing your reader’s attention. Here are some other ways to start your paper:

Start straight off with your topic.

Not a general idea, but the specifics. If you are writing about the themes of a novel, your readers do not need to know much, if any, background information on the author or the novel itself. Briefly discuss your specific subject, paving a clear path for your thesis statement and the rest of your paper.

General: “There are many different breeds of dogs.”

Specific: “Knowing the difference between dog breeds can help pet owners and shelter workers do what is best for each dog.”

Figure out the scope of your paper.

What can you realistically address in terms of time, place, and audience? You will likely never write a paper that requires you to address everything about your subject “since the beginning of time.” It would also be simpler to discuss a smaller scope than the entire world (think countries, states, even cities), and to address an audience who might actually be interested in or have reason to read about your topic. If you are writing about a recent issue, your audience likely does not need to understand the entire history of the issue to understand your stance on it.

General: “We should all consider the issue of poverty throughout the world/throughout history.”

Specific: “Legislators should consider the current problems facing those in poverty in the  city of ___ when creating new laws.”

Begin with a rhetorical question.

Keep the question open so it could not be answered with a simple yes or no. Ask something that the audience should not already have the answer to; the question indicates what you plan to answer in your essay. It should also be something that you are able to answer. If you only have 5 pages, you should not tackle a question about how to solve world hunger, but you could address a smaller issue related to hunger problems.

General: “How can we solve world hunger?”

Specific: “What can we do about widespread hunger in so-and-so city/state/country?”

Additionally, these questions could be phrased as statements, where the question is implied rather than directly asked. These create a question in the reader’s mind that can    be assumed to have an answer provided.

General: “There are several ways we could go about solving the problem of world    hunger.”

         Specific: “The hunger problem in ____ can be dealt with, if we…”

There are a number of other ways to begin an introduction; these are certainly not the only ones. Keep in mind that your first sentence should spark the reader’s attention and make him or her want to continue reading, and remain as close to your topic as possible.

For more tips on beginning a paper, check out the University of Louisville Writing Center’s handout on introductions. The UNC Writing Center’s page on introductions is another good resource.

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Happy International Writing Centers Week!

In honor of International Writing Centers Week, we’re highlighting our wonderful staff! Today we feature Assistant Director Stephen Cohen and consultants Alex Wasson and Cheyenne Franklin.

What is your favorite aspect of working in the University Writing Center?

Stephen
“For me, the most rewarding thing about working in the Writing Center is getting to share in what people are working on. I’ve seen some amazing projects in process, from Art History papers to articles on new MRI techniques. Every appointment is a new chance to see what’s going on elsewhere in the University, and it is always so impressive!”
Stephen’s advice for focusing personal statements

Alex
“Collaborations with writers on resumes, personal statements, and cover letters are my favorite moments as a writing center consultant. There are few moments more nerve-wracking in a person’s life than job or program applications, and I aim to do everything I can to soothe nerves and help writers put their best foot forward.”
Alex’s suggestions for overcoming anxiety at the beginning of the writing process

Cheyenne
“My favorite part of our Writing Center is the fun our consultants and writers have together. Just the other day I overheard a writer smiling and joking with his consultant as they worked on his paper. Whether writers come once or they are long time regulars, we welcome them to come grapple with writing and have a little fun doing it.”
Cheyenne’s tips for interpreting and understanding writing assignments

Cheyenne

Cheyenne talking with a writer.

Do you have a good memory from the University Writing Center? Share it in the comments!

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