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USF Writing Studio

A Creative Writer Walks into the USF Writing Studio…

April 19th, 2017

Georgia Blog Pic SPR17

By Georgia Jackson, Writing Studio Consultant

As a consultant, mental gymnastics ensue: What do I do?, What will they expect from me?, What if it’s poetry?

This reaction is only as dramatic as it is common. Creative writing consultations make us nervous. But, they shouldn’t. USF Writing Consultants see everything from (deeply) personal statements to ream-length dissertations. So, what is it about a piece of creative writing that puts us on the spot?

Instead of answering that question, I propose a deep breath.

In.  

Out.  

Good?  

Great.

In the introductory craft book The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Writer’s Guide, Michael Kardos proposes a checklist with which readers can learn to read like writers. Kardos’s book is square-ish and lime-green and probably on the shelf of every student who has matriculated through USF’s creative writing program. Still, Kardos’s checklist is often overlooked.

While the checklist is designed as a reading guide for beginning writers, when applied to a work-in-progress, the checklist functions as a metacognitive challenge: “Why does this story begin when it does?” Kardos asks. “What is the main character’s underlying problem, and how does the story bring this problem into sharper focus?”

Other highlights include:

  • “Is the writing ever less clear than it could be?”
  • “Which parts of the story are dramatized through scenes?  Which parts are summarized?  Why?”
  • “How is the story [or poem] structured?  How else could it be?”

The majority of Kardos’s questions focus on authorial choice (why did the author do that? why not this?). And, by acknowledging that every word, line, and scene, is indeed a choice, Kardos emphasizes the endless possible forms a piece of writing can take.

Next time a creative writer walks into the Studio, remember that we need not practice creative writing ourselves to challenge a writer’s work in a constructive manner. (Why does the story or poem begin where it does?  Might it make more sense to begin somewhere else?).  Let the writer play defense; it’s good craft.

What’s Wrong with Wikipedia?

April 10th, 2017

Paul Blog Pic SPR17.fwBy Paul Flagg, Writing Studio Consultant

“Wikipedia can be a great tool for learning and researching information. However, as with all reference works, not everything in Wikipedia is accurate, comprehensive, or unbiased.” (From “Researching with Wikipedia”)

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, isn’t always recognized as a favorable website amongt professors and instructors of all levels of education. It’s an extremely popular source for information, however, so why is it criticized so much in academia? And when is it okay to use Wikipedia?

“Wikipedia is not considered a credible source”—This is the first sentence in the Wikipedia article for “Academic Use.” Despite lacking credibility, it is used by many, even in the academic sphere, whether by middle school, high school, or college students or university professors—and even doctors. The fact that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone is what diminishes the content’s authority. This isn’t to say that Wikipedia is a bad source; rather, it is an information source that should be approached with caution and should be used solely as a tertiary source. Generally, it’s not supposed to be used in formal research or for publication, but it is excellent for basic learning (or what is often called informal research) to get a general idea of a specific topic.

Even Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said to Business Week in 2005 that the site should not be cited as a source, further stating that encyclopedias in general should not be cited. In terms of research, encyclopedias, including Wikipedia, provide background information and can be used as a guiding source but not as the main substance of one’s research. Encyclopedias, particularly print versions, become outdated quickly, and the information included may no longer be relevant. One of the many benefits of Wikipedia is that it can be updated instantaneously, contributing to the information’s timeliness; however, this same facet can be regarded as its downfall. Information on Wikipedia can be edited or changed at any given moment, and even though Wikipedia has several bots and policies in place that oftentimes protect pages from vandalism, it is not completely foolproof.

In an academic sense, Wikipedia can be a good “jumping-off point” for research because it provides sufficient background information (not to be cited, however). External links from Wikipedia articles connect information-seekers with relevant outside information, and references point users toward specific articles, journals, and other credible sources on which Wikipedia content is based more often than not. So next time you question why Wikipedia isn’t allowed as a source in your research paper, remember that it isn’t considered credible but that there are valuable ways to use this free online collaborative encyclopedia.

Incorporating Learning Strategies into Your Writing Process

April 4th, 2017

Study Skills - email-02By Dr. Wendy Duprey, Writing Studio Consultant

Along with the Writing Studio, Study Skills Tutoring is another great resource on campus to help writers cope with the stressful demands of writing.  Located on the second floor of the library in the Academic Success Center, writers can schedule one-on-one appointments with a study skills tutor in order to understand and change their counterproductive behaviors while studying or writing, such as procrastination, lack of motivation, and poor time management.

Stephanie Sanchez, a Graduate Assistant and Study Skills Tutor in the Academic Success Center, highly recommends three evidence-based strategies that can help writers effectively plan their time, visually organize their ideas, and actively read for their assignments.

Planning: Schedule Intense Study (Writing) Sessions

When planning your time during the writing process, Sanchez recommends scheduling intense study (writing) sessions based on one hour blocks of time.  For each hour, break up the writing assignment into smaller goals.  By chunking the writing process in this way, Sanchez claims the assignment becomes less overwhelming and more manageable to accomplish.

Here is how she describes an intense study session:

  1. Set a specific and attainable goal (2-5 minutes). For example, if you have to read an article that is 20 pages long, set a realistic goal of reading 3-5 pages over the next 30 minutes.
  2. Work on accomplishing your goal (30-40 minutes). In the case of reading, actively engage in the process by taking notes, highlighting the text, or creating a concept map.
  3. Take a break (10 minutes). After working on the task, purposefully take a break to clear your mind.
  4. Review your progress (10 minutes). Finally, reflect on how well you understand the material; or, in the case of writing, review what you’ve written and assess your work from a reader’s perspective.

Wendy Blog Pic SPR17 1

Organizing: Create a Concept Map

Concept mapping is a tool that can help writers organize their ideas visually, quickly, and holistically.  As Sanchez notes, concept maps can be useful during any stage of the writing process for:

  • Representing how ideas are connected
  • Showing the whole picture
  • Getting the creative process flowing
  • Tapping into a deeper level of attention
  • Saving time while brainstorming
  • Improving memory and concentration

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Reading: Engage in the Parrot Process

As shown in the image, the Parrot Process encourages active reading through the following method:

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Sanchez points out that most people tend to focus on the reading part of the Parrot Process, hoping that they will retain the information.  However, she emphasizes that an active reading process requires previewing and questioning your prior knowledge about the material before reading, along with being able to explain and organize what you read in a tangible way (flash cards, concept maps, outlines, notes).

Along with these three learning strategies recommended by Stephanie Sanchez, studying skills tutoring can help if you are having difficulties managing your time, keeping up with assignments, or passing exams.  For more information, visit the Academic Success Center on the Second Floor of the Library or call 813-974-2713 to schedule an appointment with a study skills tutor.

USF’s Academic Success Center: A Personal Perspective

March 24th, 2017

Rachel Blog Pic

By Rachel Stacy, USF Academic Success Center Ambassador

I greatly appreciate having the opportunity to work as a member of the front desk staff at the University of South Florida Academic Success Center. Had it not been for this position, I would not have known about the excellent resources that our school provides to help us with our coursework. We have a SMART Lab, tutoring center, and Writing Studio on the Second Floor of the Library. Specifically, the Writing Studio is a very unique and helpful addition to the Academic Success Center at USF. Here, students can book appointments to work one-on-one with writing consultants, who are qualified graduate students. They can receive help in a wide variety of subjects, such as First-Year Composition, résumés, cover letters, brainstorming, APA and MLA formats, personal statements, and more. The consultants work very hard to make sure they a providing the students with skills to help them with writing in the future as opposed to simply reworking their paper for them. Having the opportunity to work at the front desk, I see many students come to the Writing Studio with many different problems. I love to see the look of relief and thankfulness on a student’s face when I let them know that we can help them, and I am able to book an appointment for them. The Studio is a very useful resource that not a lot of students know about, so whenever someone discovers us and can leave and tell their friends about us, I feel like we’ve done a really awesome job here.

Online Writing Consultation: Celebrating USF Student Diversity

March 10th, 2017

Thumb up for success!

Thumb up for success!

By Brianna Jerman, Writing Studio Consultant

If you search for images of “college students” on Google, you’ll find pictures of young adults holding books, smiling, and sitting in a dorm room, the library, a classroom, or on the quad.

There are pictures of intense group study sessions in the library; girls studying from on top of lofted beds in their dorms, and guys wearing backpacks and giving a giant thumbs up before they presumably walk into their classrooms. These images most likely fit the stereotype that comes to most people’s minds when they hear the term “college student,” but, odds are, if you are a USF student, you don’t fit this description for one reason or another.

USF is an academic home to a diverse population of students who learn from a variety of places in a myriad of ways. Consider these statistics:

  • 79% of students live off campus
  • 25% of students are part-time students
  • More than 70% of students work 20 or more hours a week
  • 17% of the courses offered at USF are online courses (this doesn’t include the courses that take place in off campus locations or those offered during study abroad sessions or alternative calendar courses)

Even without considering the number of students who live more than an hour from campus, or who do not have consistent transportation to campus, or who have families to care for during the day, these statistics paint a picture of a student body who are a far cry from the images Google portrays. Unfortunately, a vast majority of resources available to USF for students are housed on campus during regular work-week hours, making them inaccessible to students who fall into one or more of the above categories.

The Writing Studio has made an effort to meet the diverse needs of our students at USF. We are open evening hours and on Sundays, have walk in appointments for students who can’t guarantee they can make an appointment on time, and now we offer online consultations.

These virtual consultations are an innovative way to provide students with the same quality services they receive in our face to face sessions. While many online services provide written feedback to students on their documents in the form of comments and an endnote (Like Pearson’s Smart Thinking Writing Tutoring Services ), the Writing Studio has found that our interactive session are successful in equipping students with the skills they need to progress as writers and improve both their current and future projects.

Here’s what you need to know to take advantage of our online consultations:

  • You don’t need to be an online student to use our online services. The Writing Studio’s online initiative is open to all USF students, regardless of where they live or how/when they attend classes.
  • All consultants are trained to do online consultations. If you book an appointment online through Accudemia, you may notice that only one consultant is designated explicitly as an online consultant. Unfortunately that consultant only has so many appointments a week. In class or work during those times? Or have you been working with a consultant you really like? You can request that any session be an online session. Call the studio to make your appointment, or, if you’ve already made an appointment, call and talk to the front desk about changing your existing appointment to an online appointment.
  • You can use our online service just like you would a face-to-face service. Have an assignment and need help planning? Our virtual meeting space has a whiteboard for brainstorming, mindmapping, or outlining with a consultant. Need help with research? Our online consultant can use screen share so you can conduct a search for resources together. Have a paper you need to revise? Our file sharing application allows the student and consultant to view a document together and make notes on it together. We also have all of our helpful handouts available for our online students just like they are in the studio.
  • Read the directions for how the online consultations work. Students who are familiar with using Canvas for their courses will have no problem with online consultations. Everything from submitting your paper to meeting with your consultant takes place on the Writing Studio’s Canvas page. As soon as you make an appointment, you’ll be invited to our Canvas page and emailed a set of direction. Give yourself time to read the directions so you aren’t scrambling 2 minutes before your session.
  • Make sure you have the right equipment. You need a computer, a web camera, and a speaker/microphone set up. We suggest a pair of headphone with a built in mic so both parties can hear each other well.
  • Show up to your consultation. Sometimes it’s easy to forget an appointment you don’t have to attend in person. But online consultations are just like face to face consultations: you need to be there to benefit from it.

We hope to see you for an online consultation!

Working a Writing Center Front Desk: A Personal Perspective

February 27th, 2017

Jakob Bloc PicBy Jakob Hartung, USF Academic Success Center Ambassador

The Writing Studio is not just another paycheck for its employees but rather a great environment with the opportunity to help students in need. Throughout my personal workday, I find that being a successful student at the university is all about troubleshooting. Much like a programmer works through their code making adjustments, a desk staff employee (what we call Academic Success Center Ambassadors) like myself, has to work through a student’s schedule, conflicts in class, and make sure they are not turned away without help in order to “troubleshoot” their unique academic or professional obstacle they wish to overcome.

I have to constantly make sure I am offering every service that not only the Writing Studio has but anywhere on campus that can assist a student to achieve the academic standing they desire. The Writing Studio is a welcoming home filled with many dedicated consultants and great employees to help you find your way. I love that the Studio does not restrict any USF student from trying to access our services. At any moment, you can find engineering grad students to First-Year Composition students working toward improving either their assignments to “ace” the class or a résumé to “get the job.” For me, the Studio has allowed me to help and meet many new faces and hear various unique stories, and, for this, I cannot wait to continue to be a part of the ASC Ambassador team. I encourage all students to give us a try because I know all the immense help that we can deliver to each individual student and hopefully reduce a lot of unnecessary stress.

Hope to see you soon!

Thesis Statements: Changing One Sentence to Fit Your Paper

February 23rd, 2017

Will Blog Pic3By Will Forde-Mazrui, Writing Studio Consultant

As writers, many of us believe that a piece of writing must be written in chronological order: from start to finish. Not only do we struggle to put the first word onto a blank page (for help with this specific issue, see the advice from Lesley Brooks on January 23rd, 2017), many students think they have to choose a thesis at the end of that first paragraph and stick with it. Many years into my academic career, I was given this piece of advice:

Why change your paper to fit one sentence? Change one sentence to fit your paper.

This was the best piece of writing advice I ever received; however, while writing a paper, it IS important to have a thesis in mind, as this will give the paper a central argument that makes each part work together. I call this preliminary argument the working thesis, as it helps keep each section of a paper working together, without the pressure of THE thesis. Accomplishing the change from a “working thesis” to a final “thesis” can be managed in a few “simple” steps.

Step 1: Create a “working thesis,” or, what you expect your paper will argue.

Step 2: Write the rest of the paper, essay, or assignment. (If only it were this simple!)

Step 3: Read through each section of the essay, except for the introduction.

Step 4: Ask yourself, what does this paper argue, prove, show?

Step 5: Re-write your introduction and thesis to ask THIS question. Often, the “working thesis” is similar to THE thesis, but this may not be the case.

By following these steps, students can prevent receiving feedback like “This essay claims to answer _____; however, it answers _____.” Or, “This essay is well organized and argues ______; however, the introduction and thesis claim to investigate _____.”

A working thesis is something that many Writing Studios believe can be an invaluable addition to the writing process for students, regardless of their level. For additional advice on how a “working thesis” can help throughout the research process, visit East Tennessee State University’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Writing Center’s great tips about “Arriving at a Working Thesis.”

Grammar: The Dreaded “G” Word

February 13th, 2017

Seth Blog Pic SPR17By Seth Spencer, Writing Studio Consultant

Nobody likes talking about grammar – it’s just one of those subjects that causes massive outbreaks of narcolepsy among students. As unpleasant as this topic may be, “good” grammar is a cornerstone of effective communication. It’s one of the building blocks of language, and it could mean the difference between sounding like an authority on the subject of your writing and sounding like a total buffoon.

Recently, several YouTube channels helping writers tackle this tricky topic have sprung up. If you’re struggling with a particular grammar question or you just need a quick refresher on “who” vs. “whom,” take a gander at these channels. Your fear of the dreaded “G” word will fade, and you’ll master this aspect of writing with the help of these resources!

Grammar Girl

Grammar Girl, primarily known as a website devoted to answering various grammar questions, now employs YouTube as another medium to spread its message. The lengths of the videos vary, ranging anywhere from 15 seconds to 15 minutes, and they cover just about every topic under the sun. Not only do they address pretty standard topics like passive voice and contractions, some even address literary terms like irony, and others talk about the craft of writing dialogue for plays and screenplays. One of the handiest features is the “Quick Tips” series. These videos, in 15 seconds, address common grammar questions many students have in an entertaining and informative way.

Check out Grammar Girl’s YouTube channel here. You can also find Grammar Girl on Facebook as well as many other sites.

Comma Queen

Mary Norris, AKA the Comma Queen, is a copyeditor who has worked for the prestigious magazine The New Yorker for 24 years. Recently, she has released a series of videos addressing some of the most frequently asked grammar questions posed by writers. Most of them are quite short, ranging from one to five minutes. Her videos, with amusing titles such as “The Semicolon; or, Mastering the Giant Comma” and “Excuse Me! Your Participle is Dangling,” educate writers on these diverse topics while maintaining a light-hearted, accessible tone.

Check out her video series on The New Yorker’s YouTube channel here.

engVid

engVid is a fantastic resource used by writers for whom English is not their native language. Not only can you learn basic sentence construction and tackle complex grammatical issues, but the channel features eleven different “teachers” you can choose from depending on your preferred learning style. engVid even hosts videos that help English language learners in certain social situations, such as how to start a conversation, how to tell a joke, and the correct lingo to use while texting! The videos also feature a mixture of traditional “whiteboard” lectures and eye-catching graphics that reinforce the lessons. Most of the videos are short, lasting around five minutes.

Check out engVid’s channel here.

The Importance of Writing for STEM Majors

January 27th, 2017

Karl Blog Pic FA16By Karl Payne, Writing Studio Consultant

For many students from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, writing can be challenging. “We’re STEM majors, so what’s the importance of being able to write well?” is one of the sentiments expressed by undergraduate STEM majors. It’s somewhat surprising that students sometimes undervalue the importance of the role effective communication skills play in their disciplines. From a biotech start-up to academia, interdisciplinary approaches to problem-solving are becoming more common. This will require STEM students to communicate with audiences across a broad spectrum of disciplines.

Beyond being able to communicate effectively, some of the same problem-solving skills required to tackle complex problems in science and engineering are required for writing. The scientific method requires skills such as modeling, synthesis, and abstraction. For example, in science, abstraction is required for taking a complex process and reducing it to the most salient characteristics. In writing, an analogous process is necessary for expressing an idea that requires a balance between being concise, and providing enough details for the reader to understand the main concept being conveyed.

Now that social media is playing a more prominent role in disseminating scientific findings, communicating in an exciting and engaging way has become increasingly important. As the general public learns more about scientific discoveries and technological advancements from social media, clear and accessible writing will be a necessary skill. Through frequent writing practice and applying the same methodological approach as with science assignments, writing will become a less frustrating process for STEM majors.

Scientific American agrees that effective communication yields better science.

The Blank Page: A Challenge All Writers Face

January 23rd, 2017

Lesley Blog Pic FA16By Lesley Brooks, Writing Studio Consultant

Often, one of the hardest parts of the writing process is getting started. Beginning a piece of writing is difficult as we, as writers, face the blank page that must be eventually filled with

-coherent ideas,

-logical organization,

-and analysis, all strung together with visible words.

The blank page is intimidating, as it not only represents the work that still needs to be accomplished but also the uncertain success of the final product. Tackling the blank page is not an easy task in any discipline, but, sometimes, thinking about the writers who came before us and the difficulties that they faced allows us to view our own writing struggles from a new perspective.

We have to remember that famous authors did not just appear out of thin air nor did they work in a vacuum. They were, like all writers, a product of the circumstances in which they lived, the society that they were a part of, and the challenges that they faced. They were also influenced by the writers that came before them, steadily building their own strengths. We must remember that before there was a Jane Austen, there came the achievements of Aphra Behn, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Eliza Haywood, and Frances Burney (among many others) slowly shaping the novel as a genre during the long Eighteenth Century. Without their contributions, how differently would the novel look today? Without the work and writings of female authors who faced societal pressure to refrain from writing (as “female authorship was widely considered to be the literary equivalent of prostitution” during the Eighteenth Century (Pettit Fantomina and Other Works 9), the novel as a genre would look drastically different today, not to mention threaten the works of later authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Harper Lee, and Alice Walker.

For these writers, the blank page became an opportunity to have a voice, to make a social commentary, and to highlight injustice.

The writings that we produce can have the same impact as the works of these authors. Like all writers in every discipline, we need to consider:

 

  1. Why do we write?
  2. What do we want to produce?
  3. And, what do we hope to shed light on or change?

 

Knowing the answers to these questions helps to shape the purpose, structure, and tone of our writing. These answers will, of course, evolve and change as we experience new things, face new challenges, and read more. Not every piece of writing will become a masterpiece, but every piece of writing has the potential to motivate, to convince, to highlight, and to influence. The blank page is both a challenge and an opportunity that all writers face, and it is up to you to determine how you will tackle the page.

Aims Community College’s (in Greeley, Colorado) Online Writing Lab offers some straightforward tips on “Getting Started” when we are faced with a blank page.

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