USF Writing Studio

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 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.

Interrogating Your Writing: Asking the Right Questions

January 20th, 2017

Alex Bog Pic FA16By Alex Cendrowski, Writing Studio Consultant

When you sit down with a blank page and a pen or keyboard, what are the most important things to ask? What (am I writing)? Why (am I writing it)? And How (can I write it best)?

Let’s break it down:

What (am I writing)? Sometimes considered the most deceptively complicated of the three core questions (by whom?), “What?” is best answered by addressing the assignment or project you’re working on directly. For some writers, this will be easy: “I’m writing [an assignment] as detailed in my instructor’s elegant and helpful assignment sheet.” Others will be less fortunate, with looser guidelines or, indeed, no guidelines at all. Still, it’s crucial to know what you’re setting out to create before you actually create it. Even creative writers, who often learn about their creation through the process of creating it, will do well to have some idea in mind of what the initial goal was—even if that goal ends up being tossed into the trash and wrapped in a rotting banana peel.

Why (am I writing it)? Well, probably for a grade, in many instances. But that’s a surface-level “Why?”; and, if there’s one thing I want you to take away from the words on this web page in this corner of the Internet, it’s that true answers rarely come from the surface. If you’re like the majority of our writers, you’re taking a course at a university in order to get a degree. You’re getting a degree to get a job. The job is willing to hire you because the degree shows you’ve committed yourself to learning a certain set of skills and have the ability to practice those skills actively. Ergo, you’re probably writing your paper in order to learn from doing so. With this in mind, the ways you think about the subject matter, methods of writing, and time spent writing will hopefully change—if learning is the most important thing you’re doing here, you should prioritize the method of doing so. If there’s a different reason you’re working on a specific assignment or project, your writing will follow that mode.

How (can I write it best)? Let’s be honest: you skipped to this point. The good news is that there is an answer. The bad news is I can’t give it to you. Every writer must individually come up with the answer for “How?”, and the process by which writers get to that answer will inevitably change from project to project. For some projects, the answer will come, again, in the form of an assignment sheet that details the exact ways to move from Point A to Point B. For other projects, your instructor’s spoken advice will give you the tools to achieve your goals. And for many, many others, you’re going to have to think—you’re going to have to look at the “What?” and “Why?” You’re going to have to interrogate the purposes and practices of your creation. And sometimes, when you’ve exhausted your questions and know everything you can, you’re just going to have to write.

Writing a Historiography

November 28th, 2016

Giuli Blog Pic FA16

By Giuliana Gazabon, Writing Studio Consultant

What is a historiography? 

First of all, a historiography is NOT a research paper; rather, it is the written history of a history. Essentially, a historiography exposes the different interpretations scholars have written on specific events or persons throughout time. In any discipline, it is common for academics to find differing results on the research they have conducted. Their biases depend on the availability of sources, any advances in technology, the scholars’ previous academic influences, and the methodology they use to conduct their research.

What is the purpose of writing a historiography? 

Having a myriad of analyses about a specific topic is the reason why historiographies are written. They allow future researchers to gain a clearer understanding of where the academic conversation on their researched topic has been, what the current conversation is, and where it might go in the future.

Here are a few steps to writing a successful historiographical essay.

  • Step 1. Pick a topic (i.e., an event, a person, a theory, an idea etc.)
  • Step 2. Research different sources such as academic peer-reviewed journals, books, archaeological findings, artworks, etc. on your topic/person.
  • Step 3. Read your sources and choose a time frame.
  • Step 4. Do not merely summarize a source; rather identify and analyze each author’s argument (thesis), conclusions, and the sources they used as evidence to prove their claim(s).
  • Step 5. Make sure to explain the claims that scholars brought and/or are bringing to the academic conversation on the specific topic/person.
  • Step 6. Lastly, explain how the academic conversation on your topic changed (or not) throughout time.

Once again, remember that a historiography is NOT a research paper. While writing a historiography, it is your job to explain what scholars have written about your specific topic and how their academic conversations have changed (or not) within the time frame you chose.

Where can I find outside sources to help my writing. 

Trent University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have specific examples on how to write successful historiographical essays.

Three Ways Keeping a Personal Journal Will Help You with Your Writing Prompt

November 22nd, 2016

Lorraine Blog Pic Fall16By Lorraine Monteagut, Writing Studio Consultant

I journal so I do not have to remember everything. It frees up space in my brain and will help me remember when I forget about it later. – Stacy Duplease

An open writing prompt can be more difficult than being handed a topic, and there are few things more anxiety-producing than a blank page when a deadline is approaching. As a writing consultant and a teacher, students often tell me: “I don’t have anything to write about.” But when I talk with them, it becomes clear that every single one of them is juggling an overwhelming amount of thoughts – about work, about family, about relationships, about politics. Every single one of them has something to say, but they either censored themselves because they didn’t think their preoccupations were important in an academic setting, or they had just plain forgotten about a topic of interest until our conversation brought it back to light.

That’s why I tell them to keep a regular journal. Before you run away, regular does not have to mean daily! It can be a weekly or even a longer monthly entry. In my spare time, I facilitate a monthly community circle in my neighborhood, and one of the things we do when we get together is write in our journals. The entries can be anything — a catalog of what happened in the month, observations we’ve made, questions we’ve been pondering, lists of things we’d like to accomplish, anything! The people who have attended the circles over several months tell me that the process of writing without constraints has helped them remember their ideas and see the connections between their experiences and larger issues in their worlds, and this awareness improves their performance at work and home.

Similarly, keeping a journal can help you keep track of your life experiences so you may later make connections to concepts you are learning about in your classrooms. Even if your writing assignments don’t call for personal reflection, your ability to access your uncensored thoughts will prove to be a wellspring of creative ideas. When you are truly dedicated to journaling, nothing goes to waste! Here are three ways that keeping a journal has helped me generate rich, original writing when faced with open writing prompts:

  1. Writing observations and questions helps me generate ideas for research.

Sometimes, especially when I’m not feeling too creative, I jot down observations and questions about the world around me. As an example, I live in a neighborhood that is rapidly changing. In my journal, I record the new restaurants, breweries, shops, and apartment buildings that have recently cropped up. I write about my reactions, the pros (more shopping and entertainment options) and cons (rent is going up) of this kind of development. And I ask myself questions: What do people mean when they say a neighborhood is becoming “better”? Is it only about developing business? How will this affect me?

How this has helped with my writing: Sometimes, what I write in my journal ends up becoming the seed for a paper. As I was reading over my journal for inspiration about writing topics, I realized that what’s going on in my neighborhood might interest others who live there or are experiencing similar changes. Returning to my questions, I was able to find a starting point for a paper about gentrification, focusing on the issue of how rising commercial property values affect residents. My personal connection to the issue helped me better understand academic sources about the topic and fueled my motivation to write for a specific audience.

  1. Not censoring myself in my journal leads to welcome surprises.

Another exercise I often use in my journal is freewriting, the practice of writing what comes to mind without stopping to edit. Usually, I set an alarm for 15 minutes, and until I hear the alarm I will write anything I think, exactly as I think it — even if what I’m thinking is “this is stupid.” If I allow myself to continue, I usually come up with some really weird stuff, things I probably wouldn’t say to anyone. I surprise myself. This is where the gold is!

How this helps with my writing: One of the difficult things about writing is that sometimes we think about our audience (usually our teacher) reading our work and we immediately censor ourselves. The pressure “to be good” can be stifling to creativity. When I allow myself to freewrite, I come up with at least one original sentence per session, something I would have never chosen as a topic until I allowed myself to write anything. (Remember, you control what you share, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!)

Here is a link to an article about freewriting: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/04/unleash-your-creativity-now-how-to-freewrite/

  1. Writing in my journal provides an emotional outlet so I have more energy for my academic writing.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more I write about my personal life — what’s bothering me, what’s happening in my family, what my dreams and fears are — the more time I have for my academic writing. If something is constantly on my mind without an outlet, it will inevitably affect my productivity. Knowing this, I allow myself to write a weekly “therapist entry” to my journal; I write things that I couldn’t tell anyone else (remember, this is your private journal, and only you are the audience!) until I am satisfied that I’ve gotten everything off my chest.

How this helps me with my writing: Writing as an emotional outlet helps me remember what’s important and become more aware of my reactions to the happenings in my life. Giving myself time to just explore my existence without the need to produce or report to anyone makes me feel more balanced and in control, so later, these thoughts won’t plague me when I have to be on task. And you never know, sometimes a piece of wisdom comes through in these confessional writing sessions — something you can write more about!

You are a unique, complex, intelligent person, after all, and I assure you, you have a lot to share. Try starting a journal without expectation, and see what arises!

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