USF Writing Studio

Archive for June, 2016


How to Start Writing (Part I)

Monday, June 27th, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Joey Blog Pic1

by Dr. Joanna Bartell

My office mate, a first year M.A. student, turned in her desk chair to look at me, “Hey, can I ask you a question?”

“Go for it,” I said as I turned to face her, happy to look away from my grading.

“How do you start writing? I mean, how do you start something new?” She looked back at her computer as she continued, “Maybe it’s a dumb question, but I have such a hard time getting past the blank screen and the blinking cursor. I write a sentence, and then delete it because I don’t like it, and then write another sentence, and delete it again, over and over.”

I smiled. “It’s definitely not a dumb question. Starting something new can be difficult, and the blank screen is intimidating,” I assured her.

So we talked about it for a little while. I brought up some of the most common methods I’ve heard that are effective for many people, and then we talked about some methods that are less conventional. These are mix and match methods, so don’t get discouraged if you’re not suddenly a brilliant novelist after trying just one method:

  • Focused Free Writing: Sit down with a blank page and a timer, think about the paper you need to write, set your timer for 5-10 minutes, start writing, and don’t stop. You should start with something related to your paper/topic, but the trick with free writing is to keep writing, even if what you’re writing seems only tangentially related to your topic. Follow your thoughts. Let it all out, although try to remain focused on your general topic. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or coherency; just get your ideas out, and whatever you do, don’t stop writing until your timer goes off. This exercise is helpful in many ways, including helping you get into “the writing zone,” and allowing you make connections that you may not have previously seen.

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  • Mind Mapping: Mind mapping and free writing share some similarities, and mind mapping after free writing is an excellent way to progress. There are different ways to mind map. For the more creatively inclined, hand drawing mind maps can be a lot of fun and offer some creative reprieve. For those who like straight lines and a typed look, there are some great mind mapping apps available, for a cost, and some for free that might not be as fancy or user friendly, but will get the job done. Take a look at Wikipedia for some more info and general mind mapping guidelines.
  • Outlining x 6: I had a hell of a time starting the first chapter of my dissertation, even with an outline. My project was big, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it as a whole; the weight of it felt crushing, and every time I tried to start, I would get stuck and end up frustrated. A friend who had recently completed his dissertation told me that he’d read a book on dissertation writing, and that one of the things the book suggested was outlining each chapter, or chapter section, 6 times. Now, like I said, I had written up an outline and was trying to work from that, but I only had one version. After my friend suggested Outlining x 6, though, I went home, and I did it, and it was amazing. Here’s what worked for me:
    • Get 2 pieces of blank printer paper.
    • In “landscape” orientation, draw two lines on the paper so that you end up with 3 equal sections on each piece of paper, for a total of 6 sections on both pieces (for your 6 outlines).
    • I wrote my first draft in pencil. When I was done, I looked at it to see how it could be revised. I used different colored pens to note changes I wanted to make (including additions, re-organization, etc.).
    • In my second draft, I included the changes I notated in my first draft. As I was writing the second draft, I started including more detailed information under each major heading. I then made notations like I did in the first draft.
    • I repeated the steps in the second draft in drafts 3, 4, and 5.
    • When I was ready to start on the final draft, I realized that the little section I had left was not going to be big enough to fit the full outline I wanted to write, so I turned the paper over and used the back. My 6th draft was a thoughtful, clear, well organized, and detailed outline that gave me a clear picture of what I wanted to write and, importantly, made the task at hand seem less daunting and more manageable.

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  • Write a Sh*tty First Draft: Writing consultant Lorraine offers some suggestions for this helpful method here. Used, individually, these methods can help you get past writer’s block and moving forward. Used together, these methods can offer a writer’s-block-resistant path to a well organized, thoughtful, and engaging piece of writing. These methods have a high success rate, and are therefore some of the most popular, but there are other, less conventional methods, too. For information on some less conventional methods, keep an eye out for part 2 of this blog.

Coherence and Cohesion: Putting the Right Pieces Together

Friday, June 24th, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Bryan Lordeus Blog Pic

by Bryan Lordeus, intern for the Writing Studio

As a graduating Professional Writing major, one of the main lessons I learned in my classes was how to be straightforward in my writing. Too many times, writers fall into the temptation of thinking that more words and longer sentences will impress professors and readers. While it’s essential to develop your vocabulary, there’s more to successful writing than just using fancy words from a thesaurus. Rather, the key to effective writing is organizing words and sentences in a way that communicates a complete thought.

A book that I found helpful was Style Lessons in Clarity and Grace, written by Joseph Bizup and Joseph Williams. Introduced in my Expository Writing class, this book helped me understand the concepts of cohesion and coherence. Here is how Bizup and Williams define cohesion and coherence, respectively:

Think of cohesion as pairs of sentences fitting together in the

way two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle do.


Think of coherence as seeing what all the sentences in a piece

of writing add up to, the way all the pieces in a puzzle add up

to the picture on the box.

From these definitions, what sticks out to me is the jigsaw analogy. Think of writing your essay, story, or other literary work as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. A tedious task, yet when the right pieces are put together, it creates an amazing picture. Cohesive sentences aid the reader in understanding your train of thought through each paragraph, while coherence gives a sense of wholeness. For starters, Bizup and Williams recommend reducing redundant modifiers (two examples are unique differences and absolute truth) and replacing a phrase with a word (the reason for can be replaced with why). In addition, here are two more tips to consider when wanting to be more cohesive and coherent in your writing.

Avoiding Distractions at the Beginning of a Sentence

You might be familiar with the phrase throat-clearing. When giving an oral presentation in class, you were told to avoid ummm and ahhh when speaking. In writing, a similar concept called metadiscourse is seen with words like therefore, and, or but. Such transitional words and phrases address both the writing and the audience. However, they can also prevent the reader from knowing the topic of the sentence when used excessively throughout the paper. Should one of your sentences begin with a bunch of words before the topic, use your discretion and decide whether they enhance the topic of the sentence or distract the reader from understanding.

Faked Coherence

I’m sure at some point you used words like thus, therefore, however, and so on to connect sentences. I admit I’m guilty of relying on these words too much when it comes to my rough draft. Bizup and Williams advise that you use these words sparingly. Similarly to throat-clearing, faked coherence gives the illusion of connection. As you develop your writing skills, focus more on the logical flow of your ideas.  You can use transitions when you want to enhance clarity in certain areas. There is nothing inherently wrong with transitional words or phrases if they are used correctly.


To summarize, Bizup and Williams restate the process and benefits of incorporating cohesion:

Sentences are cohesive when the last few words of

one set up information that appears in the first few

words of the next.


In every sequence of sentences you write, you have to balance

principles that make individual sentences clear and principles

that make a passage cohesive. But in that tradeoff, give priority

to helping readers create a sense of cohesive flow.

Revision is key. It’s important not to cut away so much information that you leave the reader without any content, or put too much information that ends up overwhelming the reader. Whether it’s taking a few words out or discarding the sentence altogether, be objective in the way you write and what you want to present to readers. Cohesion and coherence are the solid foundations for composing any piece of writing. Like every story, it’s about having a strong beginning, intriguing middle, and a fulfilling end.

For more helpful writing tips, check out this previous post about concision or pick up the book on Amazon here.

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