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.