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Caring and Connecting through Letter Writing

Friday, September 1st, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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By Dr. Wendy Duprey, Former Writing Consultant

In honor and remembrance of the Pulse victims one year later, the USF Writing Studio invited participants to write letters of love and encouragement for our LGBTQ+ community. These letters were inspired by an event the Orlando Public Library organized on June 12th called “Orlando United: Letters to Strangers,” and were later shared with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to distribute to student organizations on campus.

However, writing letters of encouragement and support need not be reserved solely for times of tragedy or condolence, but can also be a means of inspiration, motivation, and meaningful connection with loved ones or strangers in daily life.

As librarian and writing consultant Paul Flagg shares, “People are getting away from writing letters, especially handwritten ones, in favor of short, quick messages through email, texting, and Facebook.  But letter writing is a more personal form of communication – more meaningful, more in depth.”

Through his research on prison libraries and his personal friendship with an inmate, Flagg became interested in prison letter writing.  As a librarian, he was curious about the overall operations and quality of library services in prisons, particularly inmates’ access to resources; he ultimately discovered that inmates who have connections on the outside tend to be more successful in society once they are released, thus lowering recidivism rates.

In an effort to help his friend feel less isolated in prison, Flagg began sending handwritten letters.  He even joined the “Adopt an Inmate” letter writing program to serve as “a lifeline on the outside” for other inmates. The organization provides the letter writing connections, and each prison sets its own guidelines on acceptable material to send prisoners. “Particularly for a complete stranger in prison,” Flagg says, “taking the time out of your day to handwrite a half page or five page letter shows that you care. And I have a new friend – like having a pen pal – someone I get to know and identify with as a person.”

Along with Adopt an Inmate, other organizations are committed to caring and connecting with others through letter writing, so check them out and become involved!

Adopt an Inmate: https://adoptaninmate.org/

“Receiving mail from the outside world has a profound impact on an inmate’s daily life. A name called out at mail call signals to other inmates and staff that there is someone on the outside that cares for them – making them less vulnerable to violence and abuse.

Many inmates never hear their name called.

With pen, paper, and stamps, you can change that.”

Operation Gratitude: https://www.operationgratitude.com/writeletters/

“We are told again and again that the most cherished items in the packages are the personal letters of appreciation.

We want all of our nation’s heroes to know how much we care about them, and nothing says that more than your words on a piece of paper that can be saved forever.”

Cards for Hospitalized Kids: http://www.cardsforhospitalizedkids.com/

“Anyone can get involved with us, from anywhere. Individuals and groups across the United States, and world, donate time and creativity to make handmade cards and send them to us for distribution in hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses across the nation.”

The World Needs More Love Letters: http://www.moreloveletters.com/

“The World Needs More Love Letters is a global organization using the power behind social media to write and mail letters to strangers all over the world. Not-for-profit and completely mission-driven, we let anyone nominate someone in need of a love letter bundle. We pick stories that resonate. You get the chance to write a letter and mail it in.”

Love Letters 2 Strangers: http://loveletters2strangers.com/

“Love Letters 2 Strangers first started in September 2011 by Ashley Green. With only a handful of blank note paper, pens and stickers, Ashley began to write words of inspiration, encouragement and love to people she had never met.

The very first time I handed a letter to a stranger I was terrified. I practically ran away from the lady but, before I could get far, she stopped me and gave me a hug and thanked me.  The next thought in my head was…MAKE MORE LETTERS!”


Crafting the Perfect Cover Letter

Monday, August 28th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Paul Blog Pic SUM17

By Paul Flagg, MLIS and Former Writing Consultant

If you’re really serious about getting that dream job or pursuing any opportunity for which a cover letter might be necessary, your application needs to stand out. The cover letter is a crucial document to your application that allows you to expand on pertinent information that may be too detailed to include elsewhere. It should be not only memorable but well-written and professional as well. Applying for jobs can be a monotonous and intimidating experience, but crafting an effective cover letter can make all the difference and even simplify the application process.

Do your homework. Learn about the business or organization to whom you are writing. Include the proper identifying information for the person to whom you are sending your application, such as their name and title as well as the name and address of the organization. To further show that you’ve done your research, discuss relevant information about the organization that shows you have a genuine interest in becoming part of the team, or write about how your goals align with the mission or vision of that organization.

Customize your application. Tailor your cover letter to each job you’re applying for. Pull keywords, job duties, and responsibilities from the job ad or position description. Use action verbs to highlight your strengths, add interest to your cover letter, and ultimately convey that you can fulfill the job requirements.

Make it interesting. Discuss one or two relevant projects or experiences that will separate you from other applicants while also showing your individuality, commitment, and interest in the company or position. Clarity and concision are crucial as is making your cover letter compelling for your reader.

Proofread. Always double-check your work. It can be so easy to overlook minor details in a cover letter as it is in any piece of writing, and you don’t want this to be the reason your application is rejected. Ensure that the names, titles, degrees, places, addresses, contact information, etc., are spelled correctly.

Be positive. Never highlight your negative attributes or discuss any shortcomings that may prevent you from being qualified for the position you’re applying; it’ll only sound like you’re trying to make excuses for yourself.

Be professional. This isn’t a personal email, a text message, or a written conversation with a friend. Write professionally. Use contractions sparingly, avoid exclamation points, don’t use slang, and NEVER use ALL CAPS!

Don’t overuse “I.” One of my favorite college professors—a public relations guru—always said that if she received an application with a cover letter that used the word “I” more than three times, she would immediately discard it. Now, this isn’t necessarily a rule that all hiring managers apply, but keeping this idea in mind can help you to become more aware of how self-centered any document written in first person can potentially read. We know your cover letter is about you and that you want to tell us about yourself, but you need to do this in a way that ties you to the organization and addresses how hiring you can create a mutually beneficial relationship. Yes, you do have things to offer, but the organization has something to offer you in return. Keep an eye out for the “I”s.

Include a greeting. As mentioned before, do your research and try your best to find out the direct contact you’ll be sending your application to. “Dear” or “To” preceding the name should suffice. Generally, if you don’t have the contact name, you want to avoid the cliché phrase “To Whom It May Concern” and, instead, use “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resources Representative.” At the end, it is safest to conclude with a succinct and professional “Sincerely,” rather than a more intimate phrase like “Yours Truly” or “Best Wishes.”

Additional Cover Letter Resources


A Creative Writer Walks into the USF Writing Studio…

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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 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?

Monday, April 10th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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.

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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

Friday, March 24th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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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

Friday, March 10th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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

Monday, February 13th, 2017 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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.

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