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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Write What You Like!

Let’s say your professor hands out the prompt for the next writing assignment and, surprise! You can write about anything you want. Yeah, they put a few restrictions on it. Maybe it has to be a certain number of pages or include a detail about each sense or connect back to a book you’ve been reading in class.

Well, if you ask me, that’s the best writing assignment. But sometimes all of the possibilities can leave you overwhelmed. It’s understandable, everyone sometimes gets overwhelmed by all the possibilities a not yet started paper can present.

But maybe I’m not talking to you yet. Maybe you have the opposite problem. You don’t know what to write about.

Either way, hopefully this will help. You’re a person, not a robot. (Probably.) As a person, you have interests. These can help you either narrow down your options, or broaden them. Whether you like fly fishing with your grandfather or art, designing crafts to sell on Etsy or watching old movies, there’s something you enjoy that most other people don’t really understand. You might be a little disgruntled with me right now. You might be asking me how you’re supposed to write about your passion for fly fishing when you’ve got to somehow connect your essay with the book you read in class.

Yes, it might be difficult, but your love of fly fishing is probably a smaller part of your love for the outdoors. Analyzing the way nature is portrayed in a book or how the setting works is a perfect idea for an essay. You still have to worry about things like page requirements and how the setting actually does work in the story, but sometimes even that fragile connection can make you more energetic about your assignment.

You shouldn’t settle on writing a four page essay on something because it’s easy, when you’re not interested in it. It’s your paper to write; enjoy it. Be creative. Although it might be scary to hand in a paper where you compare the different sections of the book to a soap opera, sitcom and chick flick, it might get you a better grade. You’ll be so interested in the idea yourself, you just might fool yourself into doing more work. The research will feel less like work and more like an interesting scavenger hunt.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Logical Fallacies: The Slippery Slope to Mediocre Writing

When presenting an argument, even if the premises of the argument are reliably true, faulty reasoning, as is the case with logical fallacies, can be misleading and deceptive, leaving the conclusion of your argument logically unsound. In other words, even if the points to your argument are accurate, since no one is perfect, it is possible to fall into logical pitfalls if you are not aware of them and don’t make a conscious effort to avoid them. Thus, it is imperative that as a writer, you avoid logical fallacies, as they can render related arguments logically unsound. This in turn can diminish credibility in your writing, making your argument less convincing.

Although it would be impossible to list every conceivable logical fallacy that a writer can commit, here are some of the most common ones:
·      Ad Hominem – Rather than presenting a sound argument, this logical fallacy is when you attack the person you are arguing against rather than addressing their argument (e.g. “You think aliens are scarier than zombies? No they’re not because you are silly”).
·      Slippery Slope – This fallacy occurs when you argue that if A happens, then B, C, … X, Y, Z will happen too, so if we want to prevent Z from occurring, we must not let A transpire either (e.g. “If we start exploring space, then aliens will come and attack us, and therefore, we will inadvertently destroy the world”).
·      Hasty Generalization – This occurs when you present a conclusion when you have insufficient evidence (e.g. “Somebody came to the hospital last night with an unknown illness. It must be the zombie virus”).
·      Begging the Question – The conclusion to your argument is validated in the claims (e.g. “Those unnatural and disgusting aliens should be kept away at all costs to mankind”).
·      Circular Argument – When your argument is restated rather than substantiated (e.g. “Zombies are good predators because they hunt well”).
·      Ad populum – This fallacy occurs when your argument appeals emotionally to positive or negative notions rather than the real subject (e.g. “A true American would support the right to safely live without extraterrestrial influence in their lives”).
While these logical fallacies are important to look out for, it is still necessary to review your writing to ensure accuracy in your argument. After all, if you use logical fallacies, it will permanently discredit your writing and you will fail out of school and work at a fast food restaurant for the rest of your life. Just kidding! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Introducing Online Scheduling

The WVU Writing Center now offers online scheduling through Simply click here to book your next appointment.