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Archive for the ‘USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates’ Category

 

Building the Bones of Your Paper

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

by Carmella Guiol, an MFA student at USF in Creative Writing and a Writing Studio consultant
Skeleton
Our bodies are complex systems containing many moving parts. Each organ and bone plays an important role in the success and life of your body. But, there are some body parts that are more essential than others. For example, without the brain sending signals to all of your systems, your body would not function properly. Nor can a body cannot exist without a beating heart pumping blood through your veins.
Think of your academic essay like a human body; it’s got a brain, tendons, bones, and skin. Let’s start with the thesis statement. This is the brain, or command center, of your paper. Your thesis’ job is to tell the rest of the paper what to do. Without going into elaborate detail, your thesis lays out the bones of your argument. This lets your reader know what to expect in the coming paragraphs. Without a strong thesis, your paper will lack direction and focus.
For example, if I am writing a position paper on how Beyonce is superior to Rihanna, my thesis might look something like this:
Although some critics believe that Rihanna is the Pop Queen, Beyonce is by far the superior pop star because of her outstanding record sales, long list of achievement awards, and international fan base.
Right away, my reader knows my position and what supporting arguments I will be presenting. This thesis statement contains the entirety of my paper: its structure, evidence, and organization.
The rest of your paper is born from your thesis. Remember that each body paragraph should directly relate back to the thesis statement. This connection should be directly apparent from your topic sentences, which can be pulled directly from thethesis.
For example, my topic sentences could look something like this:
  1. Beyonce’s chart-topping record sales make her the ultimate pop star of our time.
  2. Since her rise to stardom, Beyonce has garnered a long list of achievement awards for her music and philanthropy.
  3. As evidenced by multiple sold-out world tours, it is clear that Beyonce’s fan base spans the entire world, making her the ultimate Pop Queen.
Once you’ve got the bones of your paper, all it takes is filling in the meat, or research-based evidence. Language is the blood flowing through the body, bringing life to every part of your essay. These parts are important, but remember that you need a strong skeletal structure before you think about the rest!

Getting Organized with Topic Sentences

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Bookshelfby Jessica Thompson, an MFA student at USF in Creative Writing and a Writing Studio consultant

Many college students struggle with organization when writing essays. They know what information they want in their papers, but are not sure how to make it all fit together. One of the most important things these students should keep in mind is the topic sentence.

Many writers find organizing their papers easier if they do not worry about organization and topic sentences when writing a first draft. Often, brainstorming and free writing comes first. Once the writer has gotten all of the ideas she wants to cover on paper, she can go back and rearrange them, grouping sentences on the same topics into paragraphs.

Once a paper is loosely organized by topic, the writer can then go paragraph by paragraph and make sure each body paragraph begins with a topic sentence. This topic sentence acts as a “mini thesis” in the sense that it contains the main point or argument of that paragraph. All of the remaining sentences in that paragraph should support or expand upon the topic sentence.

Topic sentences can be simple or complex, depending on the paper in which they are found. The Harvard College Writing Center website discusses the various forms topic sentences might take, and can be used as a resource for those writing topic sentences.

Citation Styles: Why Are They Different?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

apa-and-mlaby Ashley Annis, an MFA student at USF in Creative Writing and a Writing Studio consultant

Ever start writing a paper and see that the teacher wants it in APA as opposed to MLA, or perhaps they prefer Chicago over Turabian. What’s the difference? Most students will plug information into citation generators and call it a day, but knowing what the reasoning behind citation conventions can go a long way in making sure you have a properly formatted paper.

For the most part, here in the Writing Studio, papers will conform to APA and MLA guidelines. So, here’s a quick overview of the differences between the two and a brief explanation of why they’re different, so maybe next time, you’ll remember why you’re using direct quotes on your English Literature paper and paraphrasing ideas from a peer-reviewed study in Biology.

APA

APA, created by the American Psychological Association, is a citation style commonly used by the social science fields—economics, psychology, sociology and others, though many nursing and other hard science courses at USF also conform to this citation style. This style focuses on borrowed credibility, meaning the writer of an APA paper should have a wide variety of sources and a relatively large amount of cited material.

The reason APA focuses on a large body of cited material is a rhetorical decision based on the purpose of these types of papers. When discussing scientific research, the more information you have to support your claim, the better (within reason, of course). By borrowing the credibility of Jones et. al, you as a writer are able to show your reader evidence of your claim by showing who has thought of this idea before.

Because APA focuses on ideas and concepts, the citation style is built to be quick and let the reader know as much information upfront as possible. The writer will focus on paraphrasing their sources more so than quoting them directly. For example:

Dr. Jones (2012), professor of Biology at Fake University, asserts that unicorns indeed did exist at one point in history.

In this brief portion, the writer borrows credibility from Dr. Jones without quoting her directly, but the reader still knows 1) who wrote the source 2) when it was published and 3) what the source’s credentials are.

MLA

MLA is a citation style made by the Modern Language Association, usually associated with the humanities and liberal arts. The focus of these disciplines is narrower, making arguments regarding precise use of language or other abstract concepts, such as human behavior or visual art. As opposed to APA, where broad, new ideas are most relevant, and the agreement of multiple sources is ideal, the scope of ideas in most MLA papers is narrower than that of an APA paper, the writer will focus on using a small number of specific quotes, which is why the in-text citation focuses on 1) who wrote the source, and 2) where to find the quote.

For example:

Romantic poetry is characterized by the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (Wordsworth 263).

We can see here that the writer’s argument focuses more on the source’s word choice than the idea, so therefore the quote itself is important. The reader knows where to find the quote immediately, thanks to the citation style.

Still Unsure?

Here’s a handy chart explaining the differences between APA and MLA.

MLA APA
Humanities, Art, Literature, English Psychology, Hard Sciences, Sociology
Relies heavily on quotation Discourages heavy quotation, encourages paraphrasing
Purpose of paper is to analyze and make arguments based upon existing texts Purpose is to search for and reveal new concepts or debunk existing ones
Favors single authors Encourages large collaborations

Feel free to come speak to a Writing Studio consultant when it comes to a citation style you’re unfamiliar with or have never used before (or even ones that you have used before but you just want more clarity). We’d be more than happy to help answer any further questions you have. But isn’t it nice to know that citation styles do have a rhyme and reason?

Writing Prompt for the Hungry

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

WritingPromptfortheHungryby Brittany Cagle, an MFA student at USF in Creative Writing and a Writing Studio consultant

Objective:
We avoid abstractions, or ideas that cannot be experienced through your senses, because they fail to call up an image in our audience’s mind. This makes our writing feel flat. In this exercise you will use concrete details, or language that appeals to the reader’s five senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch, or taste), to learn how to make an abstract idea, such as hunger, tangible.

Introduction:
Before we can begin to understand hunger, we must define it. Real hunger is a biological drive to replenish missing key nutrients. Cravings, often mistaken for hunger, are psychological urges to eat for reasons other than nourishment. Real hunger cannot wait for a few hours. It demands to be fed.

Often hunger is associated with trying times and speaks to more than just the need for sustenance. Some writers have described this sensation as something reaching far into their bones. Others have labeled it as a black hole within the stomach—an overwhelming feeling that completely distracts one from anything other than finding food to fill in that gap.

Examples:
In the 1996 heartbreaking memoir, Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt suffers continually from hunger as he grows up in Limerick, a city on the west coast of Ireland. In the sixth chapter, McCourt describes his memory from geometry class while watching his teacher peel an apple. He writes,

It is torture to watch Mr. O’Neill peel the apple every day, to see the length of it, red or green, and if you’re up near him to catch the freshness of it in your nose. If you’re the good boy for that day and you answer the questions he gives it to you and lets you eat it there at your desk so that you can eat it in peace with no one to bother you the way they would if you took it into the yard. Then they’d torment you, Gimme a piece, gimme a piece, and you’d be lucky to have an inch left for yourself. (154)

Similarly, the 1845 memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, describes Fredrick Douglass’s suffering of hunger. This famous orator and former slave tells his readers he is:

…perfectly helpless both as to the means of defence and means of escape, —in the midst of plenty, yet suffering the terrible gnawings of hunger, —in the midst of houses, yet having no home, —among fellow-men, yet feeling as if in the midst of wild beasts, whose greediness to swallow up the trembling and half-famished fugitive is only equalled by that with which the monsters of the deep swallow up the helpless fish upon which they subsist, —I say… (111)

Through a mental depiction, Douglass describes his own hunger as a “terrible gnawing” and a feeling of “trembling.” He is a helpless fish and a “half-famished fugitive,” vulnerable in the midst of wild beasts.

Exercise:
Using the sample excerpts as a model, write a 1 page first-person description of a time when you felt hungry. Perhaps this was a time when you had forgotten to eat entirely or remained stuck in traffic between class and dinner. Perhaps hunger might have been something more—a reality of not knowing when you would consume your next meal. Use language that appeals to the senses of your reader. Describe not only the physical, but also the mental crippling effects of hunger. You may ask yourself, how does one begin to describe this sensation? Use the following questions to guide you in your writing.

Can you describe your hunger?

  • Through the traditional five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, or touch)?
  • Is it a rumbling? A deafening roar? Complete silence?
  • Does your stomach feel like it’s caving in? Pressing up against your back?
  • Is there a sense that something is missing? That something didn’t quite hit the spot?
  • Does it feel hot? Cold?
  • Does it taste like your favorite meal?
  • Is it a physical sensation (shaking, stirring, stillness)?
  • Through color?
  • Through thoughts? (Does it make you angry? Irritated? Want to whine?)

How to Focus on Grammar in the Writing Studio

Monday, January 12th, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

grammar focus in studioby Ashley Annis, an MFA student at USF in Creative Writing and a Writing Studio consultant

As most repeat clients know, the Writing Studio is a place that focuses on writers honing and refining their craft, rather than having someone read over their paper and “correct” their mistakes. But is grammar a part of writing? Of course it is, and an important one too. Do the Writing Studio consultants help with grammar? Of course! But maybe not in the way some writers think.

My teacher says my paper doesn’t make sense—it must be the grammar!

Oftentimes, “grammatical” concerns in writing boil down to unclear wording or lack of specificity, which isn’t a grammar issue at all, but rather an organizational issue. In this case, your Writing Studio consultant will ask you a lot of questions:

“Can you rephrase this sentence another way verbally?”

“Is ___________ what you meant here?”

“What is this sentence trying to accomplish in your writing?”

These questions are to help you understand your writing more thoroughly, and in turn, help you organize your points in a way that comes across clearly to the reader.

It really is just grammar, I promise!

If your issue isn’t an organizational or clarity issue, and is indeed a grammatical one, we’re here to help with that too. Here are some expectations to have in mind when booking your appointment.

1. The purpose is to learn.

Any Writing Studio appointment will focus on ways to help improve your writing, and a grammar appointment is no different. Keep in mind that the Writing Studio is not an editing service, so don’t expect the consultant to point to places where you need commas. The session will be slow, focusing on a particular sentence at a time, breaking down its parts and putting them back together. The session should allow you to go home with an understanding of two or three grammatical rules and how to identify them, not an edited document.

2. We will not get through the whole document.

When focusing on sentence-level issues, the rate at which your consultant can discuss your work decreases drastically. If you have serious grammatical concerns, a realistic expectation is around one page, though there have been consultations that are able to cover more and consultations that have only focused on one paragraph. Keep these thoughts in mind going into your appointment, and schedule accordingly.

3. Think long term.

Keep in mind, you wrote the whole paper. Chances are, you won’t completely change your style of writing on page two. This is helpful because in grammatically-focused sessions, your consultant will focus on patterns of error, or grammatical errors that occur in your writing frequently. Ususally, a pattern of error implies that this is a rule a client simply never learned, or perhaps forgot. By addressing patterns of error, the client will learn the patterns of their own writing and will be able to walk away with two or three concerns to look for in the rest of the document, along with the knowledge of how to find and address these concerns.

The Writing Studio is here to help—having clear expectations of what can be done during a session will only allow your time with a consultant to be more productive.

Happy writing!

Finding the Right “Hook” for Your Personal Statement

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Fish Hook

by Aaron Singh, an MFA student at USF in Creative Writing and a Writing Studio consultant

Personal statements are a tricky beast; most of us haven’t been trained to write about our own lives in a compelling, thoughtful way. Instead, we are taught the Five Paragraph Essay for most of our academic career, taught that our intro needs to end with a thesis statement, and our thesis statement needs to include the three points we wish to expand upon in the body of the essay.

Just writing about it is boring.

The one aspect of personal statements that seems to give most of my clients the most trouble, however, is the “hook,” or the beginning: that pesky first paragraph that makes your personal statement stand out from the rest. Not because it’s experimental, weird, or because it reinvents the wheel—but because it shows the type of mature thought that comes from a graduate candidate. The type of student who can make sense of his or her life without an ego or without melodrama.

The first thing I tell my clients to think of:  scene, scene, scene. The OWL at Purdue has a great article that includes the difference between summary and scene, and before you run away before trying it, just think:  the easiest way to hook someone into any piece of writing is by getting the person to feel like they just experienced something, themselves, without being told what or how to feel.

A few tips before we get to an example:

  • Start with a time and/or place. Examples:  When I was four years old; Three years ago; When I saw; During a shift at the movie theater; etc.
  • Think about the five senses. What was it like to be in this time and/or place? What did it smell like? Look like? Sound like? Taste like? Feel like? Many times, we can get rid of the “When I was four years old” first sentence by starting on a concrete detail that gives the reader the when or where information while also painting a picture with the senses. Example:  The scent of butter floated in the air and my concessions stand line was getting long, forming a snake of hungry movie goers all the way to the entrance doors. (This gives us the time/place—a movie theater—and we know the narrator works there by the language used.)
  • Don’t forget to wrap the “hook paragraph” up with a tie into the program you are applying to. Don’t be afraid if the story isn’t completely the same theme as the program you are applying to. This contrast often hooks our attention even more. Of course, this sentence should still be relevant to some of the details of the story. Example:  I knew then and there—watching all the people wait in line for overpriced food before their summer movies—I wanted to study Food Science.

My go-to example comes from a sample paper featured on the Medical College of Wisconsin’s webpage. In this personal statement, the author chooses to place us in her life at seven years of age. The entire first paragraph is a scene of the young writer watching her mother give birth. It’s intense, descriptive, and engaging. It makes us want to keep reading.

So go give your personal statement another try. Think in scene. Use the five senses. And, of course, have fun with it. It’s not every day you get to write about something from your own life that interests you.

Tips for Writing in APA Format

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Angry writer.fw-Adib Amini is a PhD student at the University of South Florida

For many students, writing in APA format can be a challenge. Some majors in particular, such as Nursing, now require students to observe strict APA format for their essays. There are a variety of resources available online and in the library to help you write in proper APA format. Here are a few of the highlights.

One of our favorites is the Purdue OWL APA Formatting and Style Guide. The tabs on the left side of the webpage offer a variety of different situations and categories to choose from. Also, when you click on one of these options, there are usually numerous sub-categories as you scroll down the page. Spend some time clicking through the tabs to familiarize yourself with the website content so that you can find what you need.

One of the best parts of the Purdue OWL website is the APA Sample Paper. It not only shows you what the formatting looks like, but also includes comment boxes that explain the rules for each part. This can be a great easy reference to get an idea of how to format your paper.

One of the common questions we also get is about citation formatting. Both the Purdue OWL website as well as a handout available on the Writing Studio website can help you, but it takes some patience to find the right format for the type of source you are using. There are also a variety of automatic citation generators available online, as software, and even included in Microsoft Word. These, however, are only tools and ultimately you are responsible for making sure they are correct.

If you have more questions about APA, feel free to make an appointment at the Writing Studio to work on it with a consultant. Good luck!

Help! I feel overwhelmed! (In other words: How do I start? How do I stay focused?)

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Adams PicThese are two of the most common questions I hear at the Writing Studio.

First of all, I’d like to say that I think many people get hung up on the structure of an essay or paper. Introduction, Body, Conclusion. My short answer to the first question is: you should start however and wherever you want. Of course, in your final draft, the “Introduction”should come first. But while you’re writing, if you feel more comfortable starting with the “meat”of your paper (body paragraphs), or, heck, even with the conclusion, that’s fine. In fact, depending on how you prefer to write, starting with the body may help you stay focused on your topic; likewise, starting with your conclusion might help give you a clear goal to work towards. In my opinion, it’s all up to your preference at that point.

For those searching for an idea about what to actually start typing on their first page, I have these remarks: try to be both interesting and logical. This means you will NOT begin your paper with a statement like, “This paper will…”and you will also not use something like a dictionary definition to try to grab your reader’s attention (it won’t). Now, I would also caution writers not to agonize over the perfect “hook”—if it doesn’t come to you initially, you can always add it later. Additionally, it does well to keep in mind that, while the introduction does provide background information, you still want to keep it all relevant to your topic (beware sidetracks here).

If you feel you are struggling with digressions, don’t panic; they happen to us all. Just be aware of this as you revise/rewrite your paper, and don’t be afraid to be critical. As you read through each paragraph, ask yourself: why am I writing this paragraph? Evaluate the worth of each sentence; do they all tie-in to help support your thesis/claim? Can you easily identify a strong topic sentence in each paragraph? By asking yourself these questions as you read (and write), you can prevent yourself from accidentally transforming your paper into something it was never meant to be.

Happy writing!

Writing Literature Reviews

Friday, October 17th, 2014 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Writing Literature Reviews
by Meghan O’NeillWriting Tools

We’re nearly halfway through the semester, and for some of us, that means we’re transitioning from reading about our research topics to writing about them. Now that you have acquired in-depth knowledge of your topic—its controversies, dominant and marginal perspectives, and ongoing debates—it’s time to join the conversation and offer an original argument.

But before joining the conversation, you should first write about the conversation itself. In other words, an important step towards writing a compelling and original thesis statement is writing a literature review. A literature review assesses and synthesizes a selected body of published material on a particular topic. It can stand alone, independent of your researched paper, but more often appears as a section of your paper.

As an essay-within-an-essay, the literature review has its own thesis statement and its own organization. A literature review thesis statement makes an informed claim about your selected body of published material. Depending on your discipline, your literature review thesis statement may:

  • combine older material with newer material in order to reveal how perspectives have changed over time
  • reveal unanswered questions or unsolved problems in previous research
  • offer fresh insight into long-standing debates or controversies

Through its thesis statement and organization, your literature review not only contextualizes your larger paper with what has already been published about your research topic, but also establishes why your larger thesis statement is relevant.

For example, a literature review thesis statement might argue current climatology research persuasively reveals the long-term effects of climate change, but has left the question of short-term solutions inadequately answered. This literature review thesis statement lends credibility and relevance to a paper’s larger thesis statement about the need to increase financial incentives for homeowners to retrofit their houses with solar panels.

For more general information about writing literature reviews, please visit the OWL Purdue’s Literature Review page.

If you need help synthesizing your sources, this handy matrix created by NC State University Writing and Speaking Tutorial Service Tutors is useful.

Tips for Effectively Using the Writing Studio

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

TWS Palm Tree Solo

The semester has picked up some steam since our last post! Now that deadlines are approaching, we thought you might be interested in a couple of ways to stay on top of your writing assignments during the semester.

While using the Writing Studio as a writer, I’ve found myself developing better writing habits. This is because our consultants are trained to support writers in developing a plan of action for revision and future writing.  For this reason, I recommend you schedule a time to come work with one of our consultants.

Here are some tips to use the Writing Studio @ USF most effectively as you work on creating healthy writing habits:

  • Be sure to book as early as possible! As soon as the semester gets underway (like it is right now), the Writing Studio can book out up to a week in advance.
  • Watch our twitter feed (@USFWriting), or check out the twitter feed on the lower left hand section of our homepage, for walk-in availability.
  • If you have questions about citation styles, check out some of our resources!
  • If you know when your assignments are due (if they are on your syllabus), try and book appointments to come in to the Studio a week or so before the deadline with a (nearly complete) draft. That’ll give you time to revise your materials and perhaps visit us again before your deadline.

Like most skills, writing abilities change and grow with practice. The more we write and revise, the less stressed and frustrated we feel as deadlines approach. You’ve probably got a deadline coming up in the near future; we encourage you to make an appointment!

See you soon,

Johanna
Assistant Coordinator
The Writing Studio @ USF

 

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