UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

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).

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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.

 

 

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.

Participants

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

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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

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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.

Consultants:

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

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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

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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.

Thanks…..

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!!!!!!

Big Changes, and Big Opportunities, This Year at the Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

While there is no such thing as an uneventful year at the University Writing Center, this year has been notable for the changes  – and opportunities – that have taken place. The most obvious change was our move to a new space on the renovated

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The New University Writing Center

first floor of Ekstrom Library. After fifteen years on the third floor, we finally moved at the end of October to our new space that we helped design. This new space is larger, more flexible, and allows us to begin to hold events that foster and celebrate a culture of writing on campus. We’re also more centrally located and can collaborate more closely with our partners in the Learning Commons, such as Library Reference.

It’s also worth noting that the amazing staff at the University Writing Center made the move in the middle of the semester without having to close for a single hour. Our staff is indeed amazing.

Before listing all the noteworthy accomplishments of the year, I don’t want to overlook the important, daily work the consultants here did in teaching writing. Whether working with first-year students or graduate students or faculty and staff, our writing consultants helped people with writing at every stage of the writing process. Our consultants are exceptional DSCN3839teachers who work with the writers who come here to make the writing stronger and the writers more confident. Just as important, our consultants have to be patient, good listeners, and respectful. We believe in starting with the writer’s concerns, working collaboratively, and focusing on learning, not grading. From our perspective it’s the way the best teaching and learning happens. There is a reason we will have more than  5,000 visits to the Writing Center by the end of the year, and that reason is our talented and dedicated staff of consultants.

I also want to thank my fantastic administrative staff who carried us through this year of change with calm, creativity, and good humor. Cassandra Book, who started this year as Associate Director, has been invaluable in every way, and is the force that keeps the Writing Center together. The four assistant directors, Stephen Cohen, Jamila Kareem, Amy Nichols, and Laura Tetreault also were indispensable in helping with the move as well as coming up with new and creative ideas for the Writing Center. Robin Blackett, with the help of our student workers Carine Basenge and Ecasia Burrus, ran the front of the Writing Center with patience and professionalism. All of them are the people who make the Writing Center work, day in and day out, and make it a positive and productive place for the UofL community.

Finally, we are all grateful for the trust placed in us by the writers who came to us to work on their writing. We are always learning from the writers we work with as they learn from us. The reciprocal and collaborative relationship is key to the work we do. I also thank all the faculty and staff who supported our work by recommending us to their students.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 9, from 9-4 every weekday. Meanwhile, take a look at our website and we hope to see you soon.

Other Reasons to Celebrate

In addition to our daily work of teaching of writing through one-on-one consultations, there are other events and activities that we organize, and other plans we are making. It’s worth taking a moment to point to some of the accomplishments, and to talk about what they are going to allow us to do in the future.

New Writing Center Projects:

Writing Center Events: One reason we are so excited about our new space is that is has allowed us to begin holding events to celebrate and

open mic

Open Mic Night with The White Squirrel Literary Magazine

promote writing in all its forms. Since our move to the first floor we’ve co-hosted an open mic poetry reading with The White Squirrel, writing group meetings in partnership with LGBT Center, a panel on how to get published as a creative writer in partnership with the Creative Writing program, and readings as part of the Celebration of Student Writing. Assistant Director Laura Tetreault led the planning and organization of these events for us. We plan to continue and expand these events in the coming year, so please keep an eye out for announcements.

Graduate Student Writing Groups: We started our first Graduate Student Writing Groups this spring, where graduate students could come and get support for their writing project through conversations and responses from their peers. Our Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, Stephen Cohen, will continue to facilitate these groups during the summer. Check out our website for more information.

Art in the Writing Center: We believe that the University Writing Center should foster

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Looking in at our art from the Library study area.

student expression in many different forms. So, while we may be in a new location, we’ve continued our tradition of displaying student art in the Writing Center. We put out a call for art across the University and were happy to hang work by Sierra Altenstadter, Paige Goodlett, Jenny Kiefer, Ellen Lattz, Tom LeGoff, Claire Nelson, Cheyenne Nolan, and Jackson Taylor that will be on display at least through the summer. We also are excited to have Tia Wells creating paintings specifically for the Writing Center that we should be hanging during the summer.

Family Scholar House: Amy Nichols, one of the Writing Center Assistant Directors, has been holding regular writing workshops and consultations at Family Scholar House this academic year. Amy plans to continue and develop this work in the coming year as part of exciting plans to engage in more community literacy work.

New Literacy Tutoring Course: We proposed, and had approved, a new English Department course, English 508 – Literacy Tutoring Across Contexts and Cultures. This course will focus on the theory and practice of teaching writing in one-on-one and small group settings and will cover the theoretical foundations of teaching writing effectively in academic, professional, and community settings. Students will explore effective pedagogical strategies for working with writers from a variety of backgrounds in a variety of contexts. Students completing this course will be eligible for internships in community-based settings such as Family Scholar House and the Louisville Free Public Library. We will announce when the course will be offered as soon as we have that information.

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Directors’ Day Out Writing Center Workshop

Directors’ Day Out: The University Writing Center sponsored the “Directors’ Day Out” professional development workshop for college writing center directors from Kentucky and southern Indiana. Cassie Book wrote about the day’s events in an earlier blog post.

 

The Growth of Ongoing Writing Center Projects:

Writing Center Website: We expanded and revised parts of our website, such as our Writing FAQs – which are out responses to frequently asked questions about undergraduate and graduate writing – and our resources for faculty who want to develop their approaches to teaching writing.

Faculty Writing Groups: We continued our Faculty Writing Groups to provide support and feedback for faculty writers.

Writing Center Social Media: We continued to communicate our ideas about writing and the teaching of writing through our presence on Twitter and Facebook as well as our blog.

Dissertation Writing Retreats: Our Dissertation Writing Retreats remain popular and we are having the pleasure of seeing 90 percent of the students who attend the retreats complete their dissertations.

Workshops: Our Writing Center staff conducted a broad range of writing workshops in both courses and for student organizations on issues such as revision, writing a literature review, citation styles, and resume writing. If you would like to request a workshop, you can contact us through our website or by email.

Support for Distance Education Students: Jamila Kareem, assistant director of the Virtual Writing Center, not only continued to provide online writing consultations for students taking online courses, but also worked to include such students for the first time in the Celebration of Student Writing.

Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center, in addition to its teaching mission, is also an active site of scholarship about the teaching of writing. Staff from the Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.

Cassandra Book, Associate Director of the University Writing Center, Co-authored a chapter titled, “Tutor Observations as a Tool for Creating a Supportive and Productive Tutoring Environment,” in the editing collection, Communicating Advice: Peer Tutoring and Communication Practice. Her co-author was with Maureen McCoy, who is on the UofL REACH staff. Cassie also presented at the International Writing Center Association Conference,  the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture, and the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Stephen Cohen, Assistant Director of Graduate Student Writing, presented at  Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Jamila Kareem, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center, published a chapter titled, “The Mogul Ethos and the American Dream in Contemporary Mainstream Rap.” In the edited collection,  The Good Life and the Greater Good in a Global Context.

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The University Writing Center Staff

Jamila also presented at the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, the Workshop for the Transitioning to College Writing Symposium, and the Conference College Composition and Communication, where she was a recipient of a Scholars for the Dream National Travel Award.

Amy Nichols, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center, presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Amy also received the English Department Creative Writing Award for Poetry.

Laura Tetreault, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center, had a coauthored article (with Bruce Horner) titled “Translation as (Global) Writing” accepted by the journal, Composition Studies. She has also had a co-edited book collection (with Bruce Horner )accepted for publication, titled: Crossing Divides: Exploring Translingual Writing Pedagogies and Programs. Laura also presented at the Feminisms and Rhetoric conference and at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Emily Blair presented at the Southern Studies Conference.

Rhea Crone has been accepted into the MA in English program at the University of Pittsburgh.

Cheyenne Franklin had her article, “Quintilian Education and Additive Bilingualism,” published in the journal Queen City Writers.

Jessica Good published five articles during her internship at Louisville Magazine in Spring 2016. Jess will also be the Henry James Review Graduate Teaching Assistant next year.

Anthony Gross presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture and at the Indiana University Comparative Literature Conference.

Jenny Kiefer had her poem, “Between Our Legs: On Women of the Warren County Jail,” published in the journal White Squirrel. Jenny also selected for an editorial internship at Louisville Magazine for Spring 2016 and will be the Assistant Director for Creative Writing Department next year.

Karley Miller received a Creative Writing Scholarship from the Department of English.

 

 

 

 

 

Apathy and the Writing Assignment

Rhea Crone, consultantDSCN3687

Are you feeling tense or anxious about an upcoming paper? Inconveniently suffering from writer’s block halfway through your assignment? Having trouble getting started, in the first place? Chances are you’ve experienced some, if not all, of these. All writers inevitably do. There is an incredible amount of helpful advice articles and blog posts about these common dilemmas circulating in the internet ethers, and therefore no shortage of discussion regarding their remedies. There is another dilemma that a markedly fewer number of sources address, however, that is no less dire than the aforementioned frustrations.

Apathy.

That’s right—it is a truth universally known yet not always acknowledged that writers sometimes simply do not care about an assignment. This does not mean they are “bad” writers, of course. They instead suffer from a deeply felt lack of interest in the topic they are writing about. This blog post will be a brief, practical guide for writers just trying to get words on paper when they would rather watch paint dry, or scroll back past the same Tumblr post for the 99th time. It will not aim to inspire, or change hearts and minds about just how rewarding the writing process can be. Rather, it will offer a few tricks and tools to get writers to the last sentence on the last page of a paper they would just as soon fold into an airplane and toss through a window. Without further ado, let’s get through this.

1. Attempt all possible means and methods of making yourself interested.

No blog post detailing ways to get through an apathetic writing venture would be complete without first suggesting that everything within reason be done to make the paper topic interesting. Try listing at least three things that are remotely intriguing about the topic in question, and writing on your topic from a different perspective. The latter suggestion can be carried out by arguing for something if you find arguing against it particularly draining, and vice versa; moreover, if the assignment in question is a research paper, this suggestion can be taken up by incorporating an unexpected, yet valid and scholarly, source.

Lack of motivation is hopefully impermanent and can be cured by an impending deadline (or two). In these cases a writer might very well find themselves in a state of panicked writing and/or blind terror regarding the poor grade a hastily written paper might receive. Sometimes, however, even with looming deadlines, writers still have no desire to compose a paper, and therefore experience no anxiety or regret. With that said: writers who simply cannot muster an ounce of interest in the subject matter they are expected to write about, the rest of this list is for you.

2. Set small goals.

 

If completing an entire paper seems not only boring, but daunting, try breaking the paper into small sections, and set the goal of completing one of these small sections per day, or, on a slightly larger scale, per week. Completing papers incrementally can make the composition process seem much less taxing. Indeed, sitting down to write on a topic you have no interest in is a much less painful experience when you are armed with the knowledge that you will only be composing a few paragraphs or so.

 

3. Set up a reward system.

 

Reward systems vary drastically from one writer to the next due to differences in writing style, pace, and—perhaps obviously—what different people find rewarding. Whether you are rewarding yourself for drafting a thesis statement, or getting a particularly complicated paragraph down on paper, treat yourself. For longer papers, try to set up a slightly more strenuous system: for each full page you complete, promise yourself some form of reward. This reward can be simple or extravagant, and should take on whatever (legal) form that will make it an effective means of encouragement.

 

4. Give yourself permission to get it done.

 

It goes without saying that we all want to be the best writers we can, and produce the best work we can. Sometimes, however, we’re faced with an encroaching deadline for a paper that bores us to tears, and we have to take a somewhat drastic measure. Put bluntly, we have to give ourselves permission to simply get the paper done. When getting a paper done, it is crucial—as always—to ensure that all guidelines and parameters of the assignment have been met, and that the finished essay adheres to otherwise generally accepted conventions (e.g. each paragraph includes a topic sentence, all quoted material is contextualized within the paper’s argument, etc.). In other words, produce a paper that fulfills the criteria of the assignment, submit it, and be done with it. There will be other papers; there will be other topics. This is academia, after all.

Composing essays, no matter the length, is oftentimes no easy task. Even for the most experienced scholars among us, the effort that must be put into the writing process can seem downright herculean. In the midst of attempting to make a particularly droll topic interesting, setting goals, granting yourself rewards, and gearing yourself up to simply get the paper done, try to remember: you are certainly not the first writer to stare at a blinking cursor, unable to believe how little they care about the piece of writing that must be produced. For further resources on different aspects of apathy management, feel free to peruse the following sites:

 

For when you do not care but think you can still be motivated:

http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/procrastination/

For when you do not care and are in need of commiseration (this author “know[s] personally how boring writing an essay can be . . .”):

http://thewritepractice.com/writing-an-essay/

For when you do not care and need to write quickly:

http://www.pitt.edu/~kloman/Anthony/news-paper.html

Write What You Know: Researching for Fiction

Jenny Kiefer, consultantDSCN3660

All creative writers have likely heard the phrase “write what you know.” But fiction would be comprised of a fairly boring (though surreal) collection if authors were limited solely to experiences they had personally experienced. Historical fiction would be nonexistent. So how can you write what you know if it’s something you haven’t experienced? Research! Research probably reminds you more of writing a scholarly essay than a short story. Fiction is a made-up story, right? So why should you research for something you’re creating?

There are many reasons why research can benefit your creative writing. The main reason would be to provide verisimilitude (a fancy word for believability) and credibility. Readers can likely tell when you’re winging it, and even small errors can bring the reader out of your story. They shouldn’t believe your story actually happened, but they should believe it could have happened. Further, small, specific details can make your story entirely more believable. As a knitter, for a visual example, I immediately find fault with a movie or TV show when knitting is animated wrong. Not only am I drawn out of my immersion in the story, but I can’t help but wonder: the animators or creators couldn’t have spent ten minutes watching a video or learning what it looks like to knit?

Another reason to research is to learn more about your characters or setting. During the research project, you will probably uncover interesting and new details and facts that will improve upon your existing character or setting. (Unfortunately, sometimes a detail you wanted to include is actually incorrect and you have to put it away for later use.) Even if you don’t use every little thing you uncover–and you likely won’t need to–it will still make your story more realistic. For example, if you’re researching Air Force bombs, you might find a lot of technical information that will give you a good idea of how to write about their destruction, even if you don’t tell the reader that it fell at 600 feet per second.

So what are some methods you can use?

  • Internet. The internet is probably the most obvious source–but it is usually better for smaller research tasks. YouTube Videos can be useful for mechanical and technical tasks like crafts, cooking, how to load a gun, etc. Google Maps can help you see a far-away place and “walk around” by using the street view.

  • Documentaries can provide factual and visual information on a topic.

  • Memoirs can provide a personal and narrative aspect to your subject.

  • Newspapers can provide historical information and editorials can illuminate social opinions of certain times.

  • Relevant museums, places, or restaurants can give you a hands-on experience without traveling (through time or space). Eating at a French restaurant can help you describe French food, for example.

  • Interviews will allow you to ask specific, pointed questions about someone’s real life experience.

Research is a necessary tool when crafting a work of fiction, if you want to create a believable story. You might even end up discovering that you are having fun researching–just be sure you actually get around to writing!

Essays Need Characters: Imagining Audience

Karley Miller, consultantDSCN3615

Fiction writers often struggle with writing stories that are “too close.” Many things can make a story too close—a protagonist they identify with, an event they’ve experienced and are now writing about—some element of autobiography. When writing about something they feel strongly about, or have experienced, writers often have difficulty removing themselves from their story. The end result is that their audience, oftentimes in workshop, can feel that the story is autobiographical. Stories that are too close to their author fail to do what we expect of a story—build tension, have an arc, et cetera.

But why?

Let’s say my grandmother recently died, and I’m torn up about it, so I decide to write a story about her funeral. I think it’s a great story idea because the death of my grandma certainly moved me, so it will surely move others as well. I write my story, and end it with a scene between my protagonist and her father (because I don’t know where I should end it, and my dad did say something uncommonly nice on that day, which moved me to tears).

My workshop day arrives, and the class fixates on the fact that the story wasn’t as much about the funeral, and my protagonist’s relationship with her grandmother, as it was about my protagonist’s relationship with her father. No one can understand why it takes place entirely in a funeral home, instead of somewhere that the father-daughter issues can be resolved.

This is embarrassing to me because I don’t get along very well with my father but didn’t think it came across in my fiction. I hadn’t considered that other people have experienced funerals in all sorts of ways, and that just because I thought an interaction between the protagonist and her father, at her grandma’s funeral, would be moving (because that had been my experience), it doesn’t mean that my audience will find it so. I was too close to the story to see that the scene didn’t belong.

Oftentimes, fiction writers remedy this issue of closeness by making their protagonist someone who is obviously not them (for example—I once made my female protagonist 5’ 11”; I am not 5’ 11”), which allows for distance. However, the issue is really one of audience—and is applicable to all sorts of writing, particularly analytical essays.

Had I kept the audience of my story in mind, and not just written what I, personally, found cathartic, I may have been able to write a better story—one that moved my audience and didn’t reveal my personal issues. Likewise, when writing an essay in which you are instructed to take a side, or do an analysis, it is best to keep audience in mind. If your essay is fueled by a personal bias, and not by a fair assessment of the material, your audience will know.

So how do you remedy this?

Because you have no protagonist to reimagine, I would suggest inventing a character for yourself—one that might come from a totally different background, and have a different bias toward the material you’re working with. Imagine this person reading your essay; would they see an analysis, or you?

The Narrative Arc: Where Storytelling Meets Professional Writing

DSCN3636Emily Blair, consultant

Consider your favorite book or movie. You have probably been reading and watching TV since you were young. Some stories are more exciting than others; some have adventurers, travelling bands of heroes, or great villains that need conquering. Other stories place you within the mind of a character not so unlike yourself, showing how one person’s life unfolds in a realistic world

Now, think about an email to your professor. You likely don’t think it is as exciting as a blockbuster film; in fact, you probably don’t think about it as a story at all, but rather, a completely utilitarian writing assignment. However, it can be helpful and productive to think of your writing as an exercise in storytelling, with some relation to the narrative arc that you know from years of enjoying books, movies, TV shows, and video games.

Let’s take a professional email as an example. I need to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation, which would be a great favor. I might be tempted, for brevity’s sake, to write something like this:

Dr. Smith,

Can you write me a letter of rec for grad school?

–Emily Blair

This style of email likely will not get the response you hope, not only because of its brief tone but also because there are ways to make this story more compelling in a way that allows my professor to see why their letter of recommendation would help me achieve my goals. Depending on the situation, you can employ different facets of storytelling, such as characterization, exposition, the building of plot, climax, and conclusion:

Dear Dr. Smith,

I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation for the University of Louisville’s Master’s program in English. I felt that your class in Southern Literature in Fall 2015 informed my understanding of current literary research in contemporary regional literature, as well as what my own place could be in the field. You had mentioned that my papers in your class were well thought out, and I consider you a mentor in this vein of literature. I would like to earn my MA at U of L because the work that Dr. Jones and Dr. Lakes are doing in Southern and regional literature before going on to a Ph.D. program with those focuses as well.

If you have any questions, or would like to see my resume, please let me know. Thank you for considering writing me a letter of recommendation for a graduate program.

Sincerely,

Emily Blair

The difference between these emails is not only length but also how I, as a student, could speak to a professor using a narrative. I have walked the professor, my audience, through not only why I am applying to this graduate program, but also why they, in particular, have the ability to help in my application process. I have drawn a direct line between this professor’s class and my future Ph.D. program, allowing the professor to follow the story of my path through a literature education. I have also made myself a unique person, or a “character,” in this narrative by reminding Dr. Smith of my performance in their class and setting myself apart with specific goals to attend U of L.

While most of the things you write in a professional setting won’t be as exciting as Lord of the Rings or as entertaining as Friends, you can use some creative writing techniques to better convey your narrative to others.

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.

lunch

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!

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