Thursday, November 10, 2011

Topic Terror!

Choosing a paper topic can be a difficult and confusing task.While a professor giving you control over the subject matter of your paper should make selecting a topic easier,the multitude of topic possibilities can actually be overwhelming.Luckily,there are methods available to simplify your search.
Select a topic you are interested in and feel comfortable writing about.If you write about subjects you hate or do not understand,the writing process will be very painful.
After finding some potential topics,attempt to write basic thesis statements for each one.This exercise can help you decide which topics are viable choices for a paper.If you struggle to create a thesis for a particular topic,rule it out.
Once you have found a potential topic,ask your professor if it will fit the assignment.Since they created the assignment,they know what will work and what won't.Listen to their advice,and search for another topic if they think the one you have will give you trouble.
Using any,or especially all, of these methods can be very beneficial.If you like your topic,you already have a basic thesis statement,and your professor approves of your choice,you are well on your way to writing a great paper.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dress Up Your Writing for Halloween

I will begin by admitting that I am a day late, but if you're like me, Halloween keeps you excited for more than one day. Something about dressing up like any person, monster, or character in the world, regardless of your age, is just simply fun. Indeed, young children, to college students, to middle-aged adults dress up in costumes to celebrate this fun and spooky holiday.

Just as you may have dressed up in an outrageous costume this weekend, Halloween is also a perfect time to dress up your writing. That is, add a little style to your papers. Basically, style is the writing component that allows a writer to show his personality in his text. This is not only done by what is said, but by how it is said. Incorporating your own unique style in your writing is not only a great way to distinguish yourself from other writers, but it can also make your text much more enjoyable for the reader.

It takes a wide variety of factors to be successful in the world today, but one character trait that the world's most successful individuals seem to share is charisma. They seem to have a special zest that distinguishes them from the rest of society. A writer can achieve her own success by incorporating charisma in her discourse. One way she can do this is to replace overused, bland words with more vivid, colorful words. For example, when trying to describe the way a dancer moves, a writer might say, "The dancer danced across the floor." Although this does give the reader some kind of picture of the scene, it is vague and boring. Perhaps a more interesting sentence would be, "The dancer glided across the floor." Now, the reader might imagine the dancer dancing with flawless elegance and grace. Simply choosing a more invigorating verb has added clarity and excitement to the scene.

Another strategy a writer can use to enhance his style is to incorporate a variety of sentence structures in his writing. Reading sentences with the same sentence structure and format over and over again can be repetitive and boring. For example, in an argumentative essay for saving the environment, one might write, "The federal government should enact stricter laws to reduce businesses' emission of greenhouse gases because these gases are destroying the o-zone layer. This is an imminent problem because the o-zone blocks the sun's harmful UV rays. These two sentences first make a claim, and then support that claim, thus using the same sentence structure. Simply using a different structure in each sentence can convey the same message with more style; "The federal government should enact stricter laws to reduce businesses' emission of greenhouse gases because these gases are destroying the o-zone layer. Because the o-zone blocks the sun's harmful UV rays, this is an imminent problem." Now, the writer is alerting the reader of a problem that he feels is important while also demonstrating that he can write with style.

If you feel like you've been using the same basic words and sentence structure in all of your writing, use this Halloween as an excuse to try something new. Replace those bland words with more exciting, descriptive ones, and use a variety of sentence structures throughout your paragraphs. Doing so will give your writing the same character and charisma that that spooky costume probably gave you this Halloween.

Mick Snyder

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

For When You Only Have One Sock Left...........

If you're anything like me, you experience that one week (or two, or three) every semester when everything seems to pile up into one big mess of responsibilities. The dishes are piling up in the sink, you're drowning in laundry, there are about 75 papers due, there's an exam every day, and Netflix is just calling your name. The 24 hours in a day don't seem like nearly enough time to get everything accomplished, and it can be very overwhelming. Luckily, there are some great strategies you can use to ensure that you are managing your time effectively. Time management is an invaluable tool that is worth learning during your college experience.

The most important thing to do in time management is to organize your responsibilities into categories. Placing everything you need to do into smaller chunks has the effect of making it seem as if you have less to do, thereby making your tasks less intimidating. I like to organize everything into these categories: School, Home, and Free Time. Put all homework, papers, and projects into the School section; laundry, dishes, and other cleaning under Home, and any fun down-time activities into Free Time.

The next step to take to improve your time management is to lay out all of your tasks in an obvious, easily accessible place. This ensures that you are fully aware of everything that must be done; it also prevents you from forgetting some tasks that may initially fly under the radar. One place that I find particularly useful to remind me is somewhere I see all of the time: my computer's desktop. Most computers have these nifty virtual Post-It notes, which can be displayed on your desktop. Think about how many times you open your computer to get on Facebook, watch Youtube videos, or use your other favorite form of procrastination (Stumble-Upon, I'm looking at you). These Post-It notes are in a very visible place that is, in fact, probably one of the primary time-wasting tools that you utilize.

Next, plan out a schedule to make sure that you are not overwhelmed with everything you must do. It is unrealistic to assume that everything can be accomplished in one day, so spacing responsibilities apart is key. A possibility is placing 5 virtual Post-It notes, one for each weekday, on your desktop. As you complete each task, delete the Post-It. It is a very satisfying feeling to see it drift away.

Finally, make sure you plan out free time for yourself. The stress from all your responsibilities can be very detrimental, and it is very important to not overload yourself with constant stress. Whether it is exercising, reading a book, or simply taking a nap, down time is essential for keeping your spirits high and your motivation strong. Plus, who doesn't love a good nap? The key to this step is to not give too much free time, which is very tempting. Make sure that all your responsibilities are accomplished for that day before you drift into dreamland.

These time management techniques are definitely essential tools in college students' repertoires. Follow these, and your life will be much less stressful. Also, do your dishes; they aren't getting any cleaner

Friday, October 21, 2011

Charcoal and Run-ons

It's easy to get caught up in the frantic writing fervor that comes about upon realizing a fantastic idea or string of thoughts that can be incorporated into a paper. Whether such an experience comes about from an hour away deadline or simply sitting around deep in thought, the excitement of sudden ideas often presses writers into feeling that all words must be typed or scribbled as quickly as possible onto the empty space and, upon seeing the masterpiece in progress, continue without a second glance at the first splatter of creativity.

This is wrong.

There are several reasons why abandoning momentary light bulbs of realization is bad, with one of the most important being that the enhancing qualities that that creativity brings to a paper can at the same time detract from it if left unattended--not only one of the most common mistakes, but also one of the most correctable. The foundation of a paper is built upon a cohesive flow of ideas that unify smaller components into a vivid "bigger picture," but run-on sentences and fragments of ideas are like blotches of yellow and orange on a charcoal drawing. Readers are attracted to the vividness of what they see, but the connection to the piece's artistic substance is missed.

"What's going on here?"

The solution to this problem is different for the drawing and paper, but the principle is the same: the basis of clear expression rests upon a person's ability to incorporate creativity into and with other ideas in a cohesive manner. Reading a paper aloud facilitates the writing process by enabling a greater sense of mental processing via the vocalization of ideas. Oftentimes words that are silently omitted in a paper are correctly or incorrectly inserted into the recitation of a paper, and catching those little discrepancies is vital to clearly expressing individual ideas for others to interpret.

For example, 'I analyzed Green Eggs and Ham for its artistic substance. Make it a popular children's book."

If I were to read that aloud, I could instinctively correct it by saying, " I analyzed Green Eggs and Ham for its artistic substance [and the elements that] make it a popular children's book." A quick glance at those two pieces of information, however, may leave the incompleteness of the second idea undetected due to the completeness of the first.

The charcoal drawing could be made into a painting.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Sickest Email of All

Cold season is here! Flu season is very near! Oh, how I dread this time of year!

All right, I promise I won’t rhyme this entire entry, but a girl has to have a little fun. Many of you probably have already had the sniffles, congestion, sore throat, and headache that usually accompany a cold this year. I definitely have. It might keep you off your feet for a day or two, or maybe a few, depending on how severe. Though, very soon you’re back on your feet and ready to hit the books once again (just what you were thinking of doing once you got better, I bet)! You’re proud of yourself, too. You only skipped the classes that gave you free absences, instead of the ones that you’re required to go to every day.

Along you go, on your merry way in the fall! Then, BAM! Like a brick wall, you’re hit directly with the flu... before flu season! You were just about to get a flu shot next week too… Chills, fever, aches, nausea, and everything else rain down upon you in bed and you struggle to keep warm (or cool, depending on what mood the flu is in that hour). You think about your classes this week. In a panic, you realize that, although you have enough freebie absences left to use up for the week, your mandatory classes are coming up. You decide that you don’t feel that bad – you could probably make it through the class, at least. As the week progresses, and your un-missable class draws ever nearer, you begin to feel worse than before. Soon, you are too weak to even leave bed. You think about emailing your professor, but what good would that do? The syllabus says that you can’t miss class for anything.

So what do you do?

Do you email your professor? Do you try to make it to class? Do you just skip anyway?

Never fear! In fact, I was recently in this exact situation. Here’s some advice: don’t be afraid of your professors! They are people too, not bent on making your life miserable. In my crisis, the same as above happened. Too weak to do much of anything productive, and in a fever-induced stupor, I fretted for hours over what I would do about the classes that I couldn’t miss, or what I would be penalized with if I did miss them. I had been sick for over a week and getting worse, and the plan was to try to get a free few days from class to be able to rest, go to the doctor, and go home with my family to take care of me (who doesn’t love his or her mother bringing them hot tea, soup or maybe some sprite when sick?).

What did I do?

I simply emailed the professors of the classes that I was worried about.

Now, before you get too excited, there are some guidelines to the sick email:

Keep it professional:

As with any email to a professor, despite the fact that you’re sick, you need to still be cordial and professional. Just because you’re ill, doesn’t mean you can jumble up words and letters and not use greetings. Trust me, it won’t make you sound more ill, just like you don’t care. Spell out whole words, use correct punctuation and grammar, and employ good sentence structure, please.

Get the right subject:

I’m not talking about the fact that you’re sick – you know this. I’m talking about the subject area in your email. Most professors prefer their students to type the class title in the subject with another short subject after (ex. PSYC 241 – Class Wednesday). Some professors also like you to put the section number in the subject. Professors often teach more than one class; this just helps them prioritize emails and stay organized. It’s nice to help them out.

Greet your professor:

“Dear Professor Smith,” “Dear Dr. Smith,” “Greetings Professor/Dr. Smith,” and so on. I’m sure you’ve heard all the different ways of greeting someone in a letter – use them! Even a simple “Professor Smith,” or “Dr. Smith,” will do (I personally use this one). As long as you greet your professor cordially, your email will start off being well-received.

Explain, but don’t write a novel:

Chances are that your instructor will want to know what will be keeping you from class. It’s a good idea to tell him or her that you are sick, what is wrong, and why exactly it’s keeping you. However, no professor wants to open his or her email from a student and read an entire novella on the woes of the flu and how you are slowly dying in your bed. Don’t be melodramatic. Keep it simple. Usually, I will tell my professor what I have (if I haven’t been to the doctor, what I think I have), give a few major symptoms (usually the ones that will be keeping me from class), inform him or her that I will be missing class, and ask if I will be penalized/how I can make it up. No sob story needed. Most professors will be more than understanding. After all, most have children.

The end:

End on a good note. This you must do! Be sure to thank your professor for his or her time. Close properly (using “Thank you,” as a closing works too). It will be greatly appreciated. If your instructor responds, be sure to email them back, thanking them for responding to you, or responding quickly, if it’s the case, and acknowledging that you received the email.

Following these rules, you’re sure not to offend a professor, but rather get on his or her good side when asking for a day off or explaining an absence. Usually, instructors are more than happy to accommodate serious and polite students.

Happy fall!

Monday, September 26, 2011

5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing in 5 Minutes

Everyone wants an easy way to fix all of our writing woes, but it takes practice and hard work. Here are a few tricks of the trade that can improve everyone’s writing in just a few short minutes.

1) Use sentence opening variety

Why you should use it: Sentence opening variety is using better, unique words to start an opening sentence in order to draw your audience in. It’s better to say, “Throughout the film The Social Network, the foundation of social media is discussed” than “The Social Network discusses the start of social media.” You may not see much of a difference at first, but you will with time, and so will your English teachers! Here’s a list to start with:

Therefore As a result of On the other hand

Throughout Another In order to

Since Whether Upon

Through While However

According to In addition Consequently
Furthermore Moreover Nevertheless
Similarly On the contrary Whereas

Where you should use it: The good news is you don’t have to use sentence opening variety in every sentence. It’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with ‘the’ or ‘a’ when it’s buried in the paragraph or as a sentence starter a couple of times (but not too many). Start by trying to write your topic sentences with one of the words above and see how it feels. You may need to move some words around, but I bet your sentence will sound better.

2) Spell Out Numbers

Why you should do it: It is much easier to hit the 8 button than type out eight, I know. However, some professors, especially those in English, get picky about typing out numbers. In general, it makes you look more professional so for most college papers you’ll want to spell them out. If you’re writing an informal paper it’s okay to stick with the number keys, but be careful!

Where you should do it: Everyone has a different preference of which numbers should be spelled out. Spelling out 0-10 is most common, but it’s best to check with your teacher. You definitely DO NOT have to write out 26,439!

3) Don’t Use Conjunctions

Why you shouldn’t use them: You’re probably saying, but you just used a conjunction! I did, BUT this is an informal piece of writing so it’s okay. Basically if you’re writing a paper in college you’re probably going to want to spell contractions out.

It sounds more professional to say, “I cannot believe her argument is not in support of the government.” versus “I can’t believe her argument isn’t in support of the government.” It may not seem like a big difference, but it will be to your English teacher and it’s an easy fix!

Where you should/shouldn’t use it: You have to know if your paper is formal or informal. Usually if you’re talking about yourself or your life, it’s informal and you can use contractions. However, if you’re writing about another subject and can’t use ‘I’ or ‘we’ then it’s probably formal and contractions are a no-no.

4) Eliminate that

Why you shouldn’t use it: Often ‘that’ is just a filler word. There are times when you have to use it like, “that ride was really fun,” but there are also A LOT of times when it isn’t needed. For example “when I blew out the candles I wished that I would get good presents” still makes sense if you just say “when I blew out the candles I wished I would get good presents.” You still understood what I meant and I didn’t say ‘that’! Woah, it’s mind blowing, I know!

Where you should use it: EVERYWHERE! This may not be something teachers focus on, but you never know. Cutting out ‘that’ can make your writing more concise. If that’s (this one’s okay!) something your teacher says you’re lacking then I suggest looking at an old paper and circling all of the ‘that’s, it could be the problem.

5) Don’t start with because

Why you shouldn’t use it: We’ve all heard since Kindergarten not to start a sentence with ‘because’, but sometimes it may seem unavoidable. The next time you start a sentence with ‘because’, see if replacing it with ‘since’ or ‘as a result of’ would work.

Where you shouldn’t use it: I can’t think of a place where ‘since’ or ‘as a result of’ couldn’t take the place of ‘because’. For example, saying, “Because I went to the bar last night, there’s no way I can go to class” sounds better if you say, “Since I went to the bar last night, there’s no way I can go to class.” Same with “Because of my exam grade, I got a B in Biology,” which can become: “As a result of my exam grade, I got a B in Biology.”

Give these 5 quick types a try and see how it goes. Your teacher may not notice a few of them, but they will make you a better writer and help you in the future, I promise!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get Your License!

As a Creative Writing major, I tend to have to go through my papers for other classes to make sure I did not throw in an ungrammatical sentence. Like this.

Just thinking about the topic of Creative License, or Artistic License, gives me the warm fuzzies inside. I love the freedom I have in a Creative Writing class to write however I choose, however my brain sees fit at the time. How comforting it is to know I don't have to use correct grammar (though most of the time I do) and structure! What I place on the paper is right, no matter what. With Creative License, we have the power to do anything with our stories, poems, essays, etc.

this, for
example. I
canwrite a poem
shaped like a Christ
mas tree about the love
of others during the season.
And I can putspaces and periods
I choose.

That's a poetry example. For prose, we could do the same thing, but it is not very common. Usually in prose, the creativity comes from the structure and the language. Once I wrote a nonfiction essay consisting of five short paragraphs separated by white spaces. They all narrate completely different scenes, but they share a common topic.

And for the creative writer, it makes perfect sense.

If it weren't for the solid training I had in formal writing in middle school, I would not have proceeded to write creatively in high school. Similarly, if it weren't for the solid training I had in creative writing in high school, I probably would not have grown as a stronger formal writer in the rest of high school and college. The two types of writing complement each other. What good is a formal piece if there is no creative voice, nothing that stands out from the rest?

And, well, what good is a creative piece if there is no skill in writing in general?

So, will you get your license?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

As Summer Draws to a Close...

A commonly used cliché states that you should go out with a bang. Working at the WVU Writing Center, a common problem I see is in a neglected conclusion. Most professors stress the necessity of a strong introduction, and while this is essential to any good paper, so is a good concluding paragraph. In my experience, I have come across many wonderful introductions, yet it was obvious that the writer focused most of their energy on the beginning, causing the end of their paper to be lacking. Therefore, as the new semester begins, I hope that you will begin to consider the necessity of ending your paper with a bang.

Concluding paragraphs, along with the introduction, provide the back-bone for a good essay. This said, a conclusion can be one of the most difficult things to write in a paper. The point of a conclusion is to help a reader relate the ideas in your paper to their everyday lives by establishing a logical ending to your writing. Abrupt or inadequate endings can suddenly cut readers off in the middle of an idea, and long, wordy, conclusions may leave a reader hanging or confused on specific issues. Therefore, writing a good conclusion is essential. For an ending that reinforces the main points and flows smoothly, a couple strategies can be used:

  • Ask yourself "so what" about the information and ideas presented in your paper to help yourself discover what you want to say in your conclusion.
  • Start the concluding paragraph by finding new words in which to restate your original thesis.
  • Synthesize, don't summarize. Blend your main ideas in a brief summary.
  • Have a clincher to end your paper. For example, challenge the reader to seek more information, point to the broader implications, or look to the future.
Additionally, there are a few things that you should strive to avoid doing when writing a conclusion. For instance, you should try not to introduce new ideas, use clichéd phrases such as "In conclusion," and reword the introduction instead of restating the thesis. A conclusion is meant to wrap up your paper. It should not be just another body paragraph with a concluding sentence tacked on the end, nor should it be only a sentence or two. Good conclusions will hopefully leave your readers happy that they read your essay.

On the whole, while concluding paragraphs can sometimes be difficult to write, with the proper help and knowledge, not all endings have to be painful. Whether a conclusion lacks substance because the writer just wants to finish their paper quickly or because a person is ignorant of what a proper conclusion should contain, I hope with the information I have just provided, you will now know enough to not be able to claim the latter as an excuse. Alas, as the conclusion allows you to have the final say in your paper, I will conclude this blog entry by wishing you good luck and happy writing for the fall semester!

Friday, September 2, 2011

7 Ways to Be Successful Early in the Semester

Now is the time of year when classes have just started, and students are beginning to force themselves back into the academic routine. While everyone probably feels like they can slack off at the start of the semester and make up for it later in the year, starting off on your best foot can really help you once it comes time for mid-terms and finals. In order to help out with the end of the summer drag, the WVU Writing Center is offering seven easy tips to help students be successful early this academic year.

1. Come to Class: I know that no one wants to be awake and thoughtful for an 8:30 AM class, but simply showing up on time, listening to lectures, and taking a few notes will seriously aid you in the long run. By doing this, students know what the teacher covers from a particular chapter in the book or section of the class and can be better prepared when it comes time to study. Not to mention the fact that nobody should lose any easy points for attendance.

2. Write down Due Dates for Assignments Early: Once I receive all the syllabi for my classes, the first thing I do is record every due date for a paper and every test date. This way, you can see which week or day will be particularly difficult from having multiple assignments and exams overlapping. Later, on, you will thank yourself for the early warning.

3. Put Your Best Effort into Classes Early: Even though everyone is tempted to put off readings, papers, and studying at the beginning of the semester, it’s always best to keep on top of your class work at the start so that you won’t get overloaded with work once it comes time for the first exam and mid-terms. Also, you will perform better overall if you stay ahead of the work early before finding out exactly how difficult a class will be.

4. Make Lists: Sometimes the pure act of listing what needs to be done will help you remember to do school or house work and give you the motivation to complete it. I know that it’s tempting to simply watch TV or surf the Internet whenever you get a break, but keeping a to-do list will remind you to budget that time wisely. Then once you feel good about crossing off your work as done, you’ll enjoy checking up on Facebook or watching TV that much more.

5. Get on a Good Sleep Schedule: Figuring out the time that you should be in bed by may seem very juvenile, but getting a good night of sleep is imperative to being rested and ready for class the next day. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be more motivated to do school work when you aren’t drowsing off into a mid-day nap. While becoming adjusted to a different bedtime routine is difficult at first, once you get into the groove of being in bed by midnight or so, you’ll find it hard to break your new healthy pattern of sleeping, that is until the weekend rolls around.

6. Don’t be Afraid of Your Professors: Making a good impression on your teachers early on in the year will definitely help you at the end of year when grades are given. I’m not saying that you will automatically get the best grade in the class without putting in any effort, but I am saying that your professor will look upon you more favorably. First, you should try to sit at the front of the class and not be afraid to participate if the opportunity presents itself. Second, you should try to visit professors during their office hours to get extra help. Not many students take advantage of the opportunity to get to know their teachers during this time and get extra feedback on papers and studying.

7. If you get behind, don’t get stressed out! This advice doesn’t mean that you should give up or not try; it means that getting overly stressed will only hurt your performance and health in the long run.

The WVU Writing Center wishes students good luck and a great job this new semester. Following these tips is an easy way to get a head start on the academic year. Though some may sound like common sense, it’s always helpful to have a reminder of what we should be doing, especially when it seems like the hard choice.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Blog about Writing Blogs

Lately, many students have been coming into the WVU Writing Center interested in receiving help in developing their blogs, whether for a class or personally. As tutors, we have been working with these students, coming up with ideas for posts or figuring out the blog's format. But what really makes a good blog? Here are some tips to help your blog achieve web stardom:

Attracting Readers: The most important part of a blog is what you have to say. The content of your blog will attract a certain audience who will return and read your posts if they are interested and enjoy the material. Make sure you avoid using jargon or terms that your audience will not be able to understand. You do not have to flaunt your smarts on your blog, but include intelligible content that your readers will relate to and learn from as well. Keeping your blog posts simple will keep your readers engaged!

Using Keywords: When you are writing your blog, make sure you use keywords! These will link to search engines and people will be able to discover your work from Google to Bing. This will also be useful if you have ads on your blog and are trying to make some money off of readers' clicks. Be careful about your use of keywords though! Do not fill your posts with keywords, rather place them in here or there when relevant.

Creating an Eye-catching Format: If your blog is filled with long blocks of text with little breaks, your readers may become bored and lose interest. Using headings, bullet points, and short paragraphs will make your blog easier to follow and enticing. Also, using a layout that is colorful or has images that relate to your blog's content is important in making your blog stand out from the millions of others online.

Incorporating Pictures: Placing pictures into your blog is also very important. For example, if your blog is about baking and you are writing out the steps of a recipe, using a picture to demonstrate the directions can be very helpful for readers. Pictures help put what you are writing into context, but make sure that they are your own or that you have permission to use them!

Looking at Feedback: When your readers post comments on your entries, take time to read their ideas. Sometimes your readers may have suggestions that could possibly improve your blog. Paying attention to your audience's wants and needs is very important!

By investing time into mastering your blog's writing style and content, your blog's readership will increase every day. Blogging can be a lot of fun and rewarding as well! If you use these helpful hints, maybe one day your blog will be almost as awesome as ours! :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


As your professor hands back your argumentative research paper, you notice “Excellent Thesis” scribbled next to the last line of your introductory paragraph. You quickly turn the pages in anticipation of that A++ you were hoping for…when you are taken aback with the grade that lay before you. Comments such as, “remember the rhetorical triangle?” and “will your audience find this believable?” litter your final page.

Writing an argumentative research paper for the first time can be a daunting task. Although the thesis and supporting evidence (body paragraphs) entail the main framework of an argumentative paper, there are other aspects that cannot go ignored. By focusing entirely on the thesis, many students ignore certain elements of rhetoric that are absolutely essential to effective argumentation. Referring back to the mini story at the beginning of the post, how do you improve a paper that already contains a strong thesis PLUS ample supporting evidence? This is where the elements of the Rhetorical Triangle come into play. So, what do words like ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos mean anyway?

Interestingly enough, each and every one of us utilize these terms on a day-to day-basis. Do not allow the seemingly bizarre nature of the words themselves to overshadow their underlying simplicity. Let’s take pathos as an example. As you approach the MPA employee ticketing your car in the Mountainlair, what is the first thing that you do? You tell a sob story about your life to get out of it, that’s what! Not only are you making a claim, but you are strengthening that claim with a pathetic appeal (sob story). Remember, persuasion is an essential element of everyday life. The following presents a more detailed analysis of each of the elements of the Rhetorical Triangle:

Ethos: The author’s (of a particular source) credibility is just as important as his or her argument. Imagine that your thesis effectively argues for the implementation of a simplified tax code. Utilizing a publication (as supporting evidence) from the top researcher of the American Tax Association would provide more convincing support to your thesis than simply paraphrasing an anonymous author from Wikipedia.

Logos: The main framework of your paper consists of your claim (thesis) and the supporting evidence (main body paragraphs). How will you utilize evidence to support your thesis? Will you employ extrinsic evidence that is mainly pulled from outside sources (Data/Other author’s arguments)? What about intrinsic evidence? Can you form your own reasoning as to why your argument should be deemed superior?

Pathos: Empathy is an important concept to consider when writing to your audience. In other words, how can you tailor your writing style to appeal to the emotions of your audience? Let’s refer back to the example of an argumentative research paper that argues for a simplified tax code. Imagine that you include a paragraph on family hardship and discuss the fact that the complexity of the tax code forces families to pay burdensome fees for the services of a professional tax preparer. Rather than simply stating that these taxes “create hardships” for families, utilize charged language in order to keep your reader more engaged and more empathetic to the lives of these families (“extremely burdensome” instead of “creates hardships”).

And last, but certainly not least, is kairos. Rather than jumping right into the core of your argument, take a step back and analyze the entire issue with which you are arguing. How will you position yourself (and your argument) within this issue? Is the issue current? If so, can you use a sense of urgency to your advantage? For example, imagine sending a letter to Congress to prevent controversial legislation from passing. An opportune time to present this letter may be the day before the legislation is to be voted upon. At this point in time, the stress level within Congress has probably reached its maximum…raising the possibility that politicians are more easily swayed when they are weak-willed (aka highly stressed). You may still be asking, is kairos even that important to consider? Imagine presenting this same letter the day after the legislation is passed. That would assuredly be an inopportune time to present an argument when the issue has already been decided upon. Thus, it is vitally important to analyze the entirety of the issue before picking a side and defending it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tutoring Across the Disciplines

Nearly every time that I tell someone on campus about my job as a tutor at the Writing Center, their immediate response is, "so you're an English major." The truth is that I'm not, and neither are at least half of the tutors working at the WVU Writing Center. The value in having student tutors from diverse academic backgrounds is that the Writing Center can then better cater to a wide range of students across the disciplines. If any student has been wary of coming in with a paper outside of an English class, tutors are still there to help and alleviate any reservations.

Since the writing style in each major is different, any student coming in to work with a tutor outside of their discipline cannot expect the same level of expertise on the content that is possessed by professors in their classes. However, this doesn't mean that the Writing Center is powerless to help students. Luckily, language and ideas can traverse the academic divisions. The organization of paragraphs into single ideas remains the same; awkward wording and other grammatical mistakes also remain the same. The student coming in for help must realize this limitation and cooperate to overcome the divide.

Furthermore, the Writing Center tutors are aware of the differences in academic writing, and the differences can translate into a benefit. In a paper, the writer must convey their ideas to the reader, and the tutor who may not be knowledgeable on a topic is then left to the student's explanations. The discussion between student and tutor in a session is useful to ensure that the student's ideas translate into the text. Then, if an issue comes up that is outside of the tutor's understanding, the student can be steered in the right direction for the help they need.

As long as both tutors and students are aware of these limitations on the writing style, then any problem becomes minimal. When coming in for an appointment, the academic background of an assignment can be addressed so that the best help can be offered. Tutoring outside of the major can then be beneficial to both. Students should never feel isolated from the Writing Center because of their academic area or class level.

Friday, April 1, 2011

10 Tips on How to Write Badly

Just kidding, all. It's April Fools Day! I was browsing the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website today and found an older article (dated from last fall) that I thought would be handy to pass along. “10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly: Do Your Job Better” is written by Duke University’s Michael C. Munger, who outlines 10 key points for more successful writing. The title is a bit curt, but the information is valuable for anyone looking for ways to improve both the writing process and product.

Below are the first five tips, and you can find the original article—with all 10 tips—here.

1. Writing is an exercise. The fact that this tip is listed first is an indication of its extreme importance. If we want to write better, we have to write, write, write. The old cliché “practice makes perfect” didn’t become a cliché for nothing. If we want to become good at anything, particularly something as complicated as writing, we have to practice. It is also helpful to practice reading—books, magazines, the newspaper—to absorb different types of writing that can also influence how we write.

2. Set goals based on output, not input. This piece of advice speaks to one of our earlier blog posts. We should set writing goals based on how much writing will be done, not based on how much time we will spend writing. If you set a one-hour goal versus a one-page goal, the one-page goal will ultimately be easier to reach; technically, you can accomplish nothing more than Facebook-stalking in an hour. Once you finish that one page, though, you can take a productive break and feel good about having written something.

3. Find a voice; don’t just “get published.” This tip is intended for writers who are trying to publish, but it is also applicable for students who are interested in getting a good grade. It is always important to express our ideas in ways that are genuine and true to our own voices; we can write in “Engfish” all day long, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re making any good academic points. Writing that is clear and natural is much more likely to make an impact on readers—if nothing else, they will understand what you’re saying!

4. Give yourself time. This piece of advice is something that we have also covered in detail on this blog. We never write our best work at the very last minute or on the first go. We have to have time to think about ideas, to work through multiple drafts, and to take the time to say exactly what we want to say.

5. Everyone’s unwritten work is brilliant. There are always people who want to talk about how their recent project is going to be brilliant. The problem? They haven’t written it yet. However, they’re still super confident that it will be the most awesome writing the world will encounter. This particular tip is interesting because Munger stresses the importance of not stressing. He warns that the people who flaunt their writing as “brilliant” probably aren’t working hard enough. It is important to recognize that writing is an often-frustrating, time-consuming process; however, working through those frustrations and producing a quality product is very rewarding—maybe even brilliant.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring 2011 NewsPrezi Available

The WVU Writing Center Spring 2011 NewsPrezi is available online. Check it out at:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How to Handle Instructor Feedback

Receiving feedback on our writing is often incredibly intimidating, especially when it comes from our instructors and professors. How can we make the most out of their feedback? And the more pressing concern, what do we do if we do not receive a grade we expected?

First, look over your instructor's comments, even if you received a great grade. Think about what improvements you can make for the next paper. Your instructors are experts, especially in your major, and the comments they make will likely apply to other coursework and will improve your writing in the long-term.

But it is tempting when we receive negative feedback to be angry, and to believe that the instructor "hates us." Take a day to calm down, and then speak to your instructor. You'll see that they're not hoping you'll fail but are actually invested in your success as a writer. Most instructors are willing to clarify their comments and help you integrate them into your writing. It is very important to speak to your instructor with respect and professionalism and to be sure to never accuse them of anything other than trying to help you.

If you feel uncomfortable speaking to your instructor, the tutors here at the Writing Center can do their best to work through your instructor's feedback with you. However, none of us can know exactly what your instructor was thinking, and we can't tell you what kind of grade your paper will get. Our goal is the same as your instructor's: to help you improve as a writer, but if you really feel confused by the feedback you received, we can't take the place of speaking to your instructor one-on-one.

Remember, instructors and tutors care about your writing and want to help you become a stronger writer. Never take negative feedback as a personal slight; instead, see it as our way of building you up toward success.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mid-course Corrections: Visiting the Writing Center at Midterms

It’s that time again—midterms. Maybe you had a few last week, or maybe this week is your “cram” time, but however you slice it, this is a stressful point in the semester.

One way to start alleviating that stress is to plan ahead and get your writing assignments done so you can focus on other important school items, like the tests and presentations at hand.

The WVU Writing Center can help you get a head start on any writing assignment you have, for any class. The tutors at the center range in major, class rank and expertise, so there is a good fit for everyone. You can bring in your papers at any point in the writing process—from simply brainstorming about a topic to putting the final touches on a 10-page piece.

Time management is an essential part of success in college and, really, in life. When you start to see that the next several weeks are crammed full of assignments and papers, take that time to structure your writing time. You probably aren’t going to sit down and write a 5-page paper all in one marathon typing session. Instead, you can make a few weekly checkpoints to stay on track, and on top, of your busy schedule. If you want to make sure you’re on track and staying focused, incorporate the center into those checkpoints to help ensure success.

Midterms and dead week are two of the busiest times for the center, so your best bet is to make an appointment to ensure you get to work with a tutor. You can make an appointment by stopping by G02 Colson Hall or by calling 304-293-5788. Good luck during this crazy time!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Group Work: Surviving and Thriving

"Plays well with other children.”

Did that show up on your first grade report card? If not, would it show up now? The ability to work well with peers isn’t just a crucial skill in elementary school, or even in college. Almost every profession requires that one have the ability to work successfully with a team. One way that college professors try to prepare students for the world of work is by assigning group projects. I am currently in the process of working on two group projects at once. Because I have little experience in this department, I decided to ask my learned friend, roommate, and classmate (oddly enough, we’re in a group together, too) for advice on how to successfully navigate The Group Project. Here are her tips, together with a few of mine.

• Understand the purpose of group work - learning to work with others.
• Meet early with the group to discuss expectations.
• Exchange contact information with all group members.
• Clearly and evenly divide the workload according to each person’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.
• Know that it is difficult to perfectly divide group project responsibilities and that someone will most likely end up doing a little more work than the others. Do not, however, use this as justification for not fairly sharing the workload.
• Be prepared to calmly resolve conflicts within the group if necessary.
• Consider organizing information electronically so that each member has access to project data at all times.
• Make sure that someone is responsible for taking attendance at all group meetings.
• Establish group progress dates.
• Be prepared to compromise.
• Set a group goal for what grade you want to get.
• Find out if you will be receiving an individual grade along with a group grade.
• Consider writing a group contract.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Upcoming Writing Center Workshops!

Join us for our Spring 2011 workshops.

February 15, Proposals and Conference Presentations. 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm in Colson 130

March 29, Writing a Research Proposal for Psych 202. 5:30 - 6:30 pm in G02 Colson

April 11, Where my Blog's at: Designing and Maintaining a Relevant Blog. 5:30 pm - 6:30 pm in G02 Colson

Call (304) 293-5788 to register or for more information.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Not Your Grandma's Outlining: One Tutor's Writing Process

We all have moments when we start to write an academic essay and simply don’t know what to say. Or maybe we know what we want to say, but after hours of writing, the essay takes a turn in a completely different direction.

After freewriting, researching, and drafting, sometimes we realize that there are more important topics to address than our original topic idea. If this happens, we need to re-work other parts of the essay to compliment new ideas, but that's not the end of the world. However, it can be frustrating, especially when working on an academic essay that is required to be on a particular topic.

As simple as it may seem, I almost always use outlining to sketch out my ideas and to stay on track.

Traditional outlines--you know, the ones with the roman numerals and the precise indentations--are often too confining for writers who are still in the preliminary stages of drafting. There are a couple strategies that I find much more effective: one that works similarly to clustering* or webbing and one that I will term “quotation outlining.”

When you cluster, you start with an idea and list multiple points that connect to that idea. Let’s say you start with “social networking” as a potential topic. Clustered ideas may include “online privacy,” “Facebook,” or “cyberbullying.” Then, you take these new threads and think of other related ideas. Take “cyberbullying” as an example. You may jot down factual information newspaper articles you have read, specific language from recent legislation that has passed, or ideas for how to more globally address the issue.

Once you hash out these ideas, clustering allows you to visually see the knowledge you already had. Because it relies mainly on what is already known, it is most effective in the beginning stages of topic brainstorming.

Quotation outlining is more helpful once you have a clearer idea for a topic, have done a bit of research, but are still unsure what angle to take. (And actually, quotation outlining can be helpful even if you do have a clear plan; it allows your evidence to all be in the same place!) Working with the texts that you plan to use for your essay, compile all relevant quotations. If you’re not sure yet what will be relevant, type out the quotations that seem most interesting. Then, organize those quotations by theme. What themes surface? Do some of the quotations overlap? Do you have more quotations about, say, digital copyright laws than you do about digital design?

Once you have organized evidence, you can make a clearer choice about what argument to make. Then, the themes of the quotation can help guide your essay.

While there are multiple types of outlining, and brainstorming more generally, these are two that I have found helpful. For the last few years, I have always done some form of quotation outlining for any major essay that I have to write. It allows me to see all my research in one space, and it allows me to discover different themes that I may have missed before.

*The University of Richmond’s Writing Center website has a helpful article that gives more information on clustering/webbing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sinbad Lives!; or, Who's Afraid of Wikipedia

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Never, ever, use Wikipedia for a college essay.” Such advice is, no doubt, meant to be helpful, to remind students of the website's inherent flaws and to emphasize its lack of “scholarly” material. And, to be sure, these are valid complaints leveled at a site that allows users to add and delete encyclopedic content, resulting in changes that aren’t always “true” or intellectually responsible.

Nonetheless, we should question the notion that professors and researchers in the university (and beyond) have blocked Wikipedia from their own browsers. In fact, it’s possible that those same instructors who forbid students from citing Wikipedia in academic papers are themselves using the site. How, then, can we move beyond the often hypocritical prescriptions of instructors who live in fear of Wikipedia's influence?

The answer lies in an investigation of the ways that Wikipedia can be and is used by conscientious students, professors, and researchers alike. James Purdy, in “Wikipedia is Good for You!?” (despite the noncommittal punctuation of the title) sets out to describe the many ways that Wikipedia stands to make us better researchers no matter what our educational level. Purdy outlines three primary ways that Wikipedia can be used for good: as a source for ideas, as a link to other texts, and as a resource for generating additional search terms (209).

Further, the process of incorporating information into a Wikipedia entry, for Purdy, “parallels what you do for research-based writing assignments” with its emphasis on reviewing what others have posted before making a “new” post (214). Thus instructors could, according to Purdy, use the site to teach responsible research methods and to discuss the often complex and confusing academic research process.

“But wait,” says the white-haired professor in the tweed jacket. “Wikipedia is full of inaccuracies."

Purdy points out, though, that “misinformation isn’t limited to Wikipedia,” citing the work of Jim Giles who claims that Wikipedia is nearly as accurate as Britannica, a far more respected encyclopedia source (207). The point is not that Wikipedia should be used in the same manner as scholarly publications, it is rather to illustrate the chinks in the armor of the latter. Put differently, the academic attacks on Wikipedia might be distracting us from the fact that even universally accepted resources have flaws.

It is worth stressing that Wikipedia isn’t an acceptable source for citation in academic work. But, students and professionals should feel free to begin by browsing Wikipedia entries which can lead to more credible information and tangential entries that can expand their horizons. The result may in fact be better researched claims and more enlightened thought.

At the very least, we might follow Purdy’s overarching advice: if “you are going to use Wikipedia as a source for writing assignments regardless of cautions against it,…it is more helpful to address ways to use it effectively than to ignore it" (205).

James Purdy’s essay can be accessed through the following link:

Jim Giles’s essay can be found (with university access) through the following link:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Everyone Poops: The Value of Shitty First Drafts

Taro Gomi's book Everyone Poops tries to take what might be a scary experience for some children and show them that pooping is totally normal.

It might seem a strange comparison, but in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott shares an aim similar to that of Gomi. Writing can be a scary process, but as Lamott explains to her readers, all good writers produce "shitty first drafts." This process is not only normal, but a good way to begin any writing project.

In Writing Without Teachers, writing theorist Peter Elbow explains that some writers are nervous about the idea of freewriting because it runs counter to all the hard work they have done to become better, more careful writers. According to Elbow, writers worry that that this process will infect their writing and ruin future writing projects.

Elbow sees this concern tied to a larger feeling of helplessness in the face of new writing projects. For this reason, he sees freewriting, or freeing the expectations of a first draft, as a way to get beyond some of the anxiety that writing can produce and begin the process. In response to the skeptics he states:
Yes, it produces garbage, but that's all right ... It might [infect future writing] if you did nothing but freewriting - if you gave up all efforts at care, discrimination, and precision. But no one asks you to give up careful writing. It turns out, in fact, that these brief exercises in not caring help you care better afterward.
To prove this idea that "shitty first drafts" can develop into something writers can be excited about, it would be great to provide an example of a paper that has grown from a "shitty first draft" into something worth submitting, but for the sake of time let's try to isolate some smaller, yet still important, part of writing that can benefit from this process.

To do this I will use an example thesis to show how embracing the process of writing can help writers: first, to generate ideas and questions and, eventually, to refine those ideas into something that helps focus future writing.

Let's imagine that I have been given an assignment to write an argumentative paper about a famous speech. My mind goes blank as I struggle to think of a speech, any speech, I actually know anything about. The recent holiday has inspired me to choose Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech and write about that.

As is often the case for writers on a deadline, maybe I don't know that much about the speech. I might also feel like there is nothing new to say about my topic. It's important for all you writers out there to remember that feeling like this is okay. As you tackle your own writing assignments, just remember that how you approach the assignment will impact how it turns out. Stay optimistic and open-minded, and as you continue with the assignment, hopefully you will find some way to take ownership of the project and make it unique. For this example, I'll get a basic idea down and see if I can find something that makes the speech unique and interesting to me as a writer: something worth getting excited about.

Thesis Draft One (My "Shitty First Draft"):

The speech "I Have a Dream" was very important to the people of the time.

This is certainly true, but not exactly exciting. It is also hard to imagine anyone really disagreeing with me. The important thing is that I have my first thought down, and now I can continue to play around with it.

When you find yourself at this stage of the writing process, ask yourself questions and try to answer them. Maybe you know the answers, or maybe your questions point you to places where you need to do further research.

In the example above, I can look at "very important" and ask myself how it was very important. Push yourself to be more specific. For example, I also mention "people" and "time," and so I might ask myself who are the people involved, who is the speech given by, when and where was it given? I don't have to answer all of these questions immediately, but I should keep them in mind as I try my next version of the thesis.

Thesis Draft Two (Continuing the Freewriting Process):

With his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King Jr. moved people to action.

What do you think? It seems like this thesis is moving in the right direction. By freewriting this draft, and by keeping those questions in mind, I now have indicated that Martin Luther King Jr. is the person who gave the speech. I have also started to address how it was very important: it moved people to action. What are some questions I still might ask myself about this thesis?

Well, first I still have some of the original questions floating around (e.g. who are the people?), but I also might ask myself what "action" was taken and what was the result? What did King move them to do exactly? Again, during the drafting process give yourself space and time to play with the drafts without stressing about answering all your questions. If you think it is helpful, especially with longer papers, jot your questions down and take a break. Then come back and freewrite again. Write anything that comes to mind and allow the questions to guide you without dictating where your writing goes.

Thesis Draft Three (The Final Freewrite):

With his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King Jr. united Americans to confront racism.

By this draft, I have addressed a couple of my questions: the people were Americans, the action taken was to confront racism. One thing I will want to keep an eye on as I write my next draft is the part where I say "united Americans" because this could give the sense that all Americans were united against racism following the speech. That would be nice, but is obviously not true.

After you have done some freewriting, asked and answered as many questions as you can, and have begun to gather scholarly sources, it is then time to really draw on your research. For the sake of space, I'm only going to provide one more thesis example. The example will have a little bit of research behind it, but I hope at this point you recognize that, even though it is the last one provided, it is just another draft in the process. As you gather research, you will find that it is more difficult to contain your thoughts in a single sentence, as demonstrated below.

Thesis Draft Four (The "Final for Now"):

Many people remember Martin Luther King Jr. for his "I Have a Dream" speech, and what they remember from the speech is probably his famous line about his children being judged not "by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." As a result, it is likely best remembered as a speech about uniting Americans, across color lines, to confront the issue of racism. What is often forgotten is that "The Great March on Washington" was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Recognizing this, it becomes easier to understand economic metaphors in the speech, but it also highlights King's increasing interest in economic injustice toward the end of his life. His final speech, "I've Been to The Mountaintop," was given as he attempted to support Memphis sanitation workers who were on strike. By looking at his final speech, and the events that led to the speech, it becomes easier to see how King recognized economic and racial injustice as interconnected.

So what do you think? I know there is a pretty big jump between the last two drafts, but remember that this is the first draft that I did not freewrite. I spent time reworking lines and looking at my research.

One thing I did was to look at other speeches by King to see what I could find. Ultimately, a credible timeline helped me to put his life and work in perspective. The timeline states that before his final speech, King announced a march on Washington for an "Economic Bill of Rights" that would, among other things, guarantee employment to anyone capable of working. Given the current economic crisis, this seemed like an important part of his life to discuss. Also, because I couldn't remember hearing about it in any history class when I was growing up, it seemed like it might be new for other people. The timeline, the relevance to current situations, and the potential newness encouraged me to do further research. All this made the idea of writing this paper exciting.

My research helped me to understand King's interest in economic freedom, and that helped me to notice and to understand certain lines in both of the speeches I mentioned in my still-developing thesis paragraph.

I first thought of his "I Have a Dream" speech, and I thought about it in terms of civil, not economic, rights. To be safe I could double-check my claim with an instructor, but you can also see that I have phrased the lines carefully so that I don't overstate my claim.

Ultimately, the research made me want to write about his final speech. It is worth noting that, depending on how much time I allowed myself to write before the due date and how much research I did on the other speech, this kind of change might not be possible.

The final thing to keep in mind is that, while my argument isn't the most controversial thing in the world, my thesis is starting to take shape in a way where it is actually possible to imagine someone disagreeing with me. My confidence that this is "new" information for many in my imagined audience, and the fact that it might be a contentious claim, allows me to move forward more confidently with my paper.

As writers, it can sometimes be frustrating to look at "good" work, but this is because "good" writing eventually hides the process. A blog post about process is no exception. Our hope is both that the content and writing of our blogs can always be of a certain, high-quality level. Hopefully, you find it encouraging that even for this work, after I used freewriting for the first draft, there were:

10 drafts before it was posted, 2 people who gave me feedback during the process, and there was 1 person who proofread my work.

Additionally, there were 9 outside sources consulted about the speech and process-based writing.

If you are interested in checking out either of the speeches, you can go to American Rhetoric's database of the top one hundred speeches to read, watch, or listen to them.