Friday, December 7, 2012

Confidence: Mad Lib Edition

1. noun
2. adjective
3. plural noun
4. plural noun
5. adverb
6. verb
7. verb
8. noun that begins with a vowel
9. plural noun
10. number

Confidence: Mad Lib Edition

When writing, it is easy to lose your (1. noun). Writing is (2. adjective)! From finding (3. plural noun) to attempting to convey your ideas, you can often become discouraged. As a tutor who often works with discouraged (4. plural noun) (and as a student who also finds herself (5. adverb) in that state), I have attempted to create a guide to work through one of the most difficult aspects of writing: loss of confidence.

1. Take care of yourself; shower, (6. verb), drink water and eat healthy. When you take care of your body, you will feel more relaxed.

2. Return with a positive attitude and (7. verb) a smile! Faking a smile can "can raise endorphin levels in your body and trick your brain into thinking your mood has improved" ("Truth or Myth: Making Yourself Smile Improves Your Mood," 2012).

3. Make an (8. noun that begins with a vowel) at the Carruth Center. Though therapy appointments have a stigma associated with them, mental health is as important as physical health. Visit or call (304) 293-4411 to schedule an appointment with trained (9. plural noun) who will work to help you.

4. Make an appointment at the WVU Writing Center. Though our primary role is to help you become better writers, our secondary roles include working to help you navigate the stresses of difficult classes and their respective papers. You can schedule an appointment at G02 Colson Hall, call 304-293-5788 or schedule online through

Whether you complete one of these steps or (10. number) of them, you will be on your way to more confidence, less stress and a much healthier mind!

 Blog original answers:
1. confidence

2. tough
3. research
4. students
5. commonly
6. exercise
7. force
8. appointment
9. professionals
10. all


"Truth or myth: Making yourself smile improves your mood." (2012). P&G Everyday.
     Retrieved 7 Dec., 2012, from

This blog post has been cited using APA.

Write Your Troubles Away

            A common occurrence throughout my college career has been the dreaded essay test.  This is a concept that strikes fear into the heart of every student, and it actually can introduce a negative connotation to writing itself, for some.  Many people write in college, whether it is in the form of essays, short answers, or something similarly torturous, largely because they have to.  These students often limit their writing to hastily thrown-together essays done in the early hours of the morning.  It is viewed as a chore and a necessary evil to pass certain classes.  What is lost in these kinds of routine writings is the potential for catharsis and enjoyment that writing can bring.
            Many students, such as myself, are in majors like sciences and engineering, which involve an extremely technical writing style.  There is no room for flowery detail and colorful prose.  These students typically produce papers that have facts and findings straightforwardly presented in a logical, clear, and concise manner.  Writing such as this is extremely important, and, as a biology major, I can certainly attest to this fact.  This type of writing, however, is really all the exposure science majors have to writing, unless they take steps to make writing a stress-relieving aspect of their daily routine.

Students who are somewhat disillusioned with writing can take several different approaches to making writing an integral part of their relaxation. There is nothing quite like sitting down after a long, frustrating day and simply writing in a diary or journal to get some frustrations out of one’s system.  It is a harmless, fulfilling, and productive way to work through difficult or confusing situations.  Seeing one’s thoughts written on a piece of papers gives them substance and meaning.  Also, college is all about diversifying one’s surroundings, so a great idea to break up the monotony of technical writing is to take a creative writing course.  These types of courses require a different outlook than the clinical one used in the sciences.  Utilizing varied aspects of one’s brain helps widen perspective, and this is very beneficial in all parts of life.  If all else fails, and creative writing doesn’t seem like a good fit, merge some of your interests together.  I took a literature survey class once and was stuck on what to write about.  Instead of writing some generic paper analyzing the themes of the literature, I wrote a comparison of Thomas Jefferson’s editing of the Constitution to the proofreading that occurs during DNA synthesis.  It was very fun to write, and my professor loved it.

Writing doesn’t always have to be a chore, despite college’s best efforts at times.  Utilize it to your advantage as Finals Week rolls around.  If you are frustrated about something, write about it.  DNA synthesis and Thomas Jefferson aside, you never know what kinds of epiphanies you will have!

Good luck with finals!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Opportunities Abound

      Around this time in the semester we’re all recovering from one break and trying to punch through the last few weeks before finals. Many of us are busy writing up our final papers for the semester or preparing to do so. As I begin working on my own I was reminded of what one professor said to me last spring. She was giving a lecture before the whole class about our final research papers when she said that college papers are an opportunity for us as students and writers to be heard.
     While I hope you’re not cringing at that, and even if you are I hope that in a weird way it can make sense for you the way it has for me. Consider a few things if you will. Someone is paying for your college education, whether it’s scholarships, grants, your parents, grandparents or student loans that you will one day have to pay back. Doesn’t that mean you should make the most of it? And to make the most of your money shouldn’t these papers be an opportunity?  They can be if you look at them the right way.
     Whether you’re looking to break into the field of Biochemistry, Business Management or just to become an English teacher, the writing assignments you get on the university level are about allowing you to express an opinion you hold and maybe to discover something about yourself. Not only can the writing you do in your field provide you with a background, it can be one of the first and biggest steps you take in determining what it is you want to do with your life. The research you do now is no less important than the research you do in five to ten years. What is different is that on the university level there is room for you to make mistakes and to explore new ideas in your writing and research that may disappear once you commit to your career path.
     The point is that writing is not meant to be a way of filling up our time just to prove we're doing the work, even if we may sometimes see it that way. Many students, myself occasionally included, can have a bad habit of reading a prompt and seeing a requisite page length or word count instead of a chance to learn. The mistake here isn’t necessarily the fault of the student or the professor either. That does not mean that we shouldn’t make the extra effort for our own sake, because as one of my writing center colleagues pointed out, you lose nothing by trying to do better for yourself.
     So in the next couple of weeks as the semester winds down and you get ready to churn out those last few pages, think about how you can make the most of your opportunities. You can go about doing just that by first thinking about what argument your paper is making and see if you actually support it. If you support your argument, think about what you would want to get out of the assignment. You should consider your sources if you have any, and then make sure that you have a clear goal for what your paper should achieve. In the end the work you put into the paper and what you get out of it is a lot more significant than just a grade. Last of all, remember that if you can’t take your own work seriously then there is no reason anyone else should either.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Your Voice Should Be Heard

Over the past several years, I have personally experienced and found through talking with others that voice is something that often gets lost in writing. Using your “voice” is what distinguishes your written words from those of hundreds of thousands of other authors.
Why is it that you and a friend choose to write a paper with the same requirements on the same prompt, and your papers look nothing alike? No two people are ever going to write exactly the same way, and this has everything to do with voice.
If everyone wrote in exactly the same voice, reading would not be a joyous activity. So, where do you find your voice? It sounds easy enough. You write in a way that reflects upon your own personality. However, you still have to develop an appropriate voice for your writing. Simply writing the way you would speak does not necessarily work. Your voice must match the type of writing you are doing. A personal statement would not sound the same a research paper. This has to do with how you personally convey the message. A serious tone may be needed for a paper that relies on credibility, where you may want a lighthearted tone when talking about fond childhood memories.
It is very important (especially in college, during which you write a wide range of prose) to think about and look for voice in writing. To start building the confidence to write in your own voice, write what you know. Writing from your own thoughts and memories, things that you are most comfortable with, will make it much easier to focus on your own voice. After all, these are your thoughts. Because of that, it is easy to begin writing the way you would speak, thus invoking voice.
You must also read and write works to learn more about voice. All writing personifies the writer’s voice, whether it is a classic novel, a fictional short story, a poem, or an academic journal. Read genres that you do not typically pick up, and write things that are foreign to you- a haiku, a memoir, a short story- to become more comfortable with other styles of writing. This will build your skills in letting your voice shine through your work.
The most important thing to remember is that the voice must be your own. Modeling your writing after your favorite author or your professors’ example essays will only make you feel less comfortable with your own writing. You are most comfortable when you are being yourself. Practice showing your true self through writing, and you will find the results much more satisfying.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Personal Statements

Around this time of year, many people are going through the complicated process of applying to graduate schools. First, you have to choose which programs and universities you want to apply to. Then, as if finally deciding which program and university is right for you does not present enough of a challenge, it's time to actually work through the application material. A common element in almost all graduate school applications is the personal statement. Whether you're applying to a master's program, law school, or medical school, you will most likely need to write a personal statement. 
Universities receive thousands of applications a semester, and your personal statement gives you a chance to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes programs cite specific requirements for what to include in personal statements, but for the most part the content and structure is left up to you. In general, your personal statement should include the program you are applying for, the reason you are interested in the program /university, you education/professional goals, and contributions you can make to the program. When drafting your personal statement, try to keep these points in mind:
1. Be Original-Try to avoid writing a bland personal statement that does not communicate your personality and enthusiasm.
2. Be Concise-Try to avoid wordiness. Application committees have to sift through thousands of statements, so they will want you to be clear and to the point.
3. Be Relevant-Application committees are only interested in information that relates directly to you reasons for applying to their program and why you are a suitable candidate. Including unnecessary anecdotes and details will work against you.
4. Be Careful-Follow any guidelines the program provides, such as content, word count, and format. You do not want to be disqualified for not following directions.
These are only a few of the points to consider when writing a personal statement. You can access many personal statement related resources on the internet, as well as asking professors for advice. Writing a personal statement can be a stressful experience, but following these rules and using all of the available resources will put you on the path to writing a successful personal statement.     

Friday, October 26, 2012

Don’t Judge a Book by Its – Author?

           If you’re as much of a Potterhead as I am, J.K. Rowling’s name on the cover of any book is enough to pique your interest. Unfortunately, the nostalgia-induced excitement won’t be enough to get you through Rowling’s first post-Potter attempt, The Casual Vacancy. The story gets its impetus from the death of Barry Fairbrother, parish council leader and pseudo mayor of Pagford. The seemingly peaceful English village is secretly on the cusp of civil war with its citizens divided over how to deal with The Fields, the housing projects on the edge of town. Under Fairbrother, government housing is protected from the opposing political faction that wishes to foist it off into the hands of a neighboring town. With his seat up for grabs, tensions between the Pagfordians heighten and the future of The Fields is called into question. The remaining 400 pages detail numerous political and personal quarrels that are intended to offer a searing social commentary pitting the selfish, class-conscious citizens against those fighting on behalf of the Fields. Rowling’s argument, though noble, falls flat. Rather than allowing you to become emotionally involved in the conflict, the characters used to narrate the story alienate you through their pettiness and preoccupation with local gossip.
It’s understandable that Rowling, after completing Harry Potter, would want to deviate from her previously spell-strewn path. However, in creating the antithesis of Harry and his world she goes too far, trapping herself within the dank, lack-luster walls of reality. Where Hogwarts is enthralling and warm, Pagford is isolating and generic. Potter characters are fully developed with faults and backstories that reveal their motives, earning your admiration or censure. The Pagfordians are as charismatic and well rounded as ply board, leaving you uninterested in their successes and failures. Ultimately, weak characters and tedious plot lines combine to form a novel that is as disappointing as it is dreary. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Moving Past Disappointment

On Saturday, October 13, the Mountaineers suffered their first defeat. With hopes for a perfect season dashed, players and fans felt disappointed, to say the least. However, we don’t have much time to dwell on this blunder since we face the Wildcats on Saturday.
Like a football player or fan, a writer often has to move past disappointments. One of the worst feelings that can overwhelm a writer occurs when a professor returns your paper absolutely covered in red pen. At this point, it can be easy to give up. Some writers don’t realize, however, that this seemingly disastrous predicament provides the best chance to really impress your professor – not to mention, yourself. Has your professor provided you with the opportunity to revise your paper? Yes? Great! The question then becomes how to transform your paper.
The first thing to do is to identify what works and what doesn’t work within your paper. Is your topic too broad? If this is the case, you can narrow your topic by focusing on one main point and the implications of that point. An example of a broad paper topic is, “Chocolate is delicious.” A way to make this topic more specific would be to name the type of chocolate that is the most delicious and why. The new and improved topic could be something like, “Milk chocolate is delicious because its creamy texture melts in your mouth, making the taster happier by the second.”
If your topic was great but you didn’t support your argument well enough, try to add more force to your point. Go back and reread your paper from the opposite point of view. Do you see any claims you make that you would disagree with in this state of mind? If so, try to add emphasis to your original point. For the chocolate paper, you could reread the paper from a chocolate hater’s point of view.
Maybe your topic and support were great but your organization could be better. If this is the case, you’re probably better off than you imagined. Try taking a copy of your paper and cutting out each paragraph. With each paragraph separated, you can try different ways of organizing your ideas. The best part of this process is that you get to completely destroy and reconstruct your paper without doing lots of hard work!
Even if your professor will not allow you to revise your paper, you still have a chance to impress him or her with your next paper. Don’t be afraid to take some risks. For whatever reason, your original technique isn’t what your professor was looking for. A new approach might be exactly what you need to revitalize your paper. Most importantly, remember to take this great opportunity to really prove to yourself and your professor what you can accomplish!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Did You Say That?

      I think I can speak for a lot of students when I say, "Yeah, I know English pretty well and consider myself a good writer. Growing up in America and going to a school where English was the language used for class instruction, I'd become accustomed to the bombardment of grammatical rules and exercises that highlight K-12 English classes. Honestly, I never enjoyed those classes, especially high school level English, because classes often felt like one big grammatical exercise and my 10-11th grade teacher was pretty ruthless in the area of essay grading. After endless paper critiques and error filled grammar worksheets, I eventually came to accept the rigidness of English class, "sucked it up," and started making an active effort to ask why  rules were put in place in certain instances but not in others, what exceptions there were to different rules, and how I could utilize what I was learning to create a final product that I was proud of and enjoyed writing.
      From there I've worked to make each piece of writing a product of meticulous, cautious yet imaginative, always alliterative creation. I don't so much think of the why while writing anymore but rather the how  this  can be crafted in my usual writing style while addressing the given purpose. This brings me to the feeling of sudden discombobulation that I experienced while tutoring one day when an ESL student asked me, "How do you know when you're supposed to use in which and in that instead of just which or just that?"
      I was unable to produce an immediate answer because that wasn't something I had thought about for a long time, and I found myself mumbling up a storm as I thought out loud. While attempting to "jazz up" a piece of writing, I usually don't consider why saying a certain phrase in a certain instance is grammatically correct, I just think of the "fanciness" that I am thereby conferring to my paper. Instead of wasting more time trying to recall specifics, I used situational examples to illustrate how each phrase (that, which, in that, in which) could be used and how the meaning would be changed if one were used in place of the other. Although my initial confusion also inspired fleeting disappointment, as I like to be as specific and informative as possible, I was still able to elucidate some light on the complex process of writing, and for that the student (and I) were content, because we both learned something that day. Even though life is pretty yucked up with rules, sometimes you just have to go with what you know.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Even the Kids Are Doing It

After working at the WVU Writing Center for the past three years, I have applied my learning from my tutor training practicum appointment after appointment, day after day, and semester after semester. Although I was aware of the effectiveness of these strategies in practice at the center, I had thought that they were place-based, specific to the writing center learning environment.

As an Elementary Education major, I am learning how to teach students literacy skills in the classroom, helping them develop as not only readers and thinkers, but also as writers. In one of my methods classes, I am currently learning about the importance of establishing a time in the elementary classroom for "Writer's Workshop." During Writer's Workshop, students take part in the writing process and work collaboratively with their peers. Teachers model for the students how they should go through each step of the process and then allow the children to work with each other to develop their best writing possible. Students engage in conversations, brainstorming ideas for their writing, drafting pieces, and editing their work to make their ideas more clear and specific to their audience, all the while avoiding proofreading until they feel satisfied with all other aspects of their writing. This seems quite familiar...

Although I would never tell a second grader that they should think about the higher order concerns of their writing before they should think about their misuse of a comma, this similar structure applied in the elementary setting shows that learners of all ages benefit from their involvement in the writing process. When we can talk about our writing with someone else and bounce ideas off of one another, we are able to engage in collaborative learning experiences that help us foster our writing skills. And by going step by step to create a final product, we can look at how our writing has evolved and how we have grown as writers. This growth does not only occur for the person whose writing is being discussed, but also occurs for the peer.

Now reflecting back on these past three years as a tutor, I realize that just as the elementary-schoolers that I am student teaching benefit from their writing experiences, I too have benefited and am continuing to benefit from my work at the writing center. I have not only learned tutoring and teaching skills as an undergraduate tutor, but also have developed as a writer, appointment after appointment, day after day, and semester after semester.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Are We Writing?

This semester I am enrolled in a couple introductory level classes to complete a minor and fill GEC credits.  I sit in large, resonant lecture halls twice a week and fill my notebooks with information; these types of classes are new to me, as I’m more used to smaller classes generated largely by lots of discussion and interaction. What I hear an overwhelming amount of from my fellow students in these larger classes is: Why do we need to be doing this? Not only do students ask this question, but commonly do so with a bit of frustration in their voice.  In particular, when given homework assignments, the students around me question why writing is so important in, say, a geography or astronomy class.  
To this I say: writing is crucial to anything and everything you do in life.  It is a basic means of communication, and having honed in good communication skills will only help you with anything you want to do. Think about it this way—how could it hurt?  If you’re a biology major looking to do research in a particular field of medicine, you’ll need sharp, clear writing skills to report your findings. If you’re in a geography or astronomy class, it is important to be able to write well in order to show that you understand not only the facts, but also the concepts you are studying.  If you’re a math professor and you want to find a better means of explaining a challenging concept, you’ll need to use words and language to do so in a manner that your students will understand.  Even when it comes to winning an argument with your parents over spending too much money on the weekends, a good sense of communication will probably help your case.  Chances are, no matter what you end up doing in the “real world”, you’ll need to be able to write a full statement that communicates your thoughts, and does so well.  One thing I’ve learned over the last few years in school is that these assignments are doled out not to drive you crazy (though it can certainly feel that way at times), but as a means of helping your improve something—each and every little one of them.  
There are some easy ways to adjust your attitude when it comes to writing something you simply don’t want to, though getting these down to habit may take time.  I feel that having a good attitude towards writing is probably one of the most important elements of improving, the same way you can only really learn to ride a bike (without falling) if you want to in the first place.  Here are some of my most basic tips:

·      Try to make the most of every assignment. I know this can be hard when they’re handed out like candy, but instead of looking at an assignment as simply just that, try to read into and understand why your professor would make you write a short essay on, say, a political cartoon. What is he or she trying to get you to think about and why are these ideas important? 
·      Another difficult one—try not to wait until the last minute to do this work.  This is something you’ve probably heard a hundred times already, but you’ll find the longer you work on it that it does make a real difference.  That being said, this is probably the most challenging habit for me to get into, personally, between having jobs and homework and maintaining a personal life, but it’s a noticeable, good feeling when you finish a writing assignment with plenty of time to spare.  This will allow you to put more thought into your writing, give you time to go back and tweak (should you realize later that something isn’t quite right with it), and will allow you to pay attention to small things you wouldn’t normally if you’re rushed. 
·      Try to write away from any distractions that may seem more important than what you’re doing.  This means putting your phone back in your bag, logging out of facebook, turning off the TV, and really focusing on what you’re doing.  This may seem oddly uncomfortable at first, but it’s my experience that working without these distractions allows you to pay better attention to what you’re writing and how you’re writing it, and allows you to take note of important ideas that may be coming up as you write.  You'll be more in tune with not only how you're writing, but also how you're learning. 

Hopefully by trying one or all of these you’ll begin to see an improvement not only in your writing, but also in the way you view writing as an academic activity.  Changing these things won’t mean that writing will always, 100% of the time, be a blast from here on out (it won’t; this coming from a creative writing major!), but it will help you see the importance of what you’re writing and allow you to put a real effort into it—more than is just what is needed to get the A.  After all, going to school isn’t just about grades, but primarily about learning something in the process. 

Amanda Clark

Monday, September 17, 2012

Don't Fall Off!!

It's the time of year again when we're all scratching our heads and wondering what happened to summer.  We feel like summer just started, but sure enough, in a few days, summer will end, and the fall season will begin.  While this may be depressing to some, the fall season certainly brings its perks.  The changing colors of the leaves brings beauty to the campus, and the cooler temperatures may mean that students can actually walk to class without breaking into an outright sweat.  Yes, fall can be a wonderful time of the year.

Beware, however, of falling off academically.  The semester is flying by; this week marks the fifth week of class.  Many students may be reaching the point where they feel overwhelmed by their school work and just want to be lazy.  After all, watching football all day sure does sound more appealing than writing that paper that's due later in the week...

Now is a terrific time to focus on managing just that:  your time.  As the amount of school work continues to pile up, students may find it extremely beneficial to better organize their schedules.  We all have our own unique ways of doing things, but why not make your life a little less hectic?  That paper due next week?  Start it now.  By simply scheduling a little time each day to work on assignments, especially large ones, students can make their school work drastically more manageable.  Procrastination often sounds appealing until the deadline approaches.

The same holds true with scheduling appointments at the Writing Center.  While we are always happy to work with students on their completed papers, feel free to stop in and see us early in your writing process.  Again, a paper may not be due for another week, but by working with a tutor to generate ideas in the prewriting process, students may be able to generate and organize intelligent ideas, leading to smooth, painless writing later on.  What's more, you may find yourself less stressed about that paper if you get started on it before the night before it's due.

Mick Snyder