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Archive for January, 2017

 

The Importance of Writing for STEM Majors

Friday, January 27th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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

Monday, January 23rd, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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

Friday, January 20th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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.

 
 
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