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.