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


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.


Keep Calm and Write a Sh*tty First Draft

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

by Lorraine Monteagut, a PhD candidate in Communicationkeep-calm-and-write-a-sh-tty-first-draft

The end of the semester is here, and for many students, that means cranking out multiple final papers. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with so many demands, and often, the most demanding force is the little voice inside telling us to be perfect, to wow the professor, to get that A+ and rise above the rest of the class.

Anne Lamott, writing guru and author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, advises against seeking the perfect draft:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft […] Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

If you feel stuck, the best way to break the block is to put pen to paper and just start writing – something, anything. Write exactly what you’re thinking in your own words: “I don’t know what I’m doing” is a great start. See where your thoughts lead you. You will surprise yourself when you let the words start flowing! You will soon have a sh*tty first draft with raw ideas for your paper.

You can then revise by adding supporting material and structuring your ideas into separate sections with transitions. This might seem like more work than writing just one draft, but allowing yourself a sh*tty first draft actually cuts down on total writing time and conserves energy, because you are not stressing over every sentence. Later, you can focus your attention on revising, maximizing your chances of writing good (dare I say, great?) second and third drafts. So start writing your sh*tty first draft now!

For more on writing sh*tty first drafts, see our previous post.


Decoding an Assignment Sheet (Yes—there’s more to it than just reading it)

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

Brianna Blog Pic Lock

by Brianna Jerman, a PhD candidate in Literature and Writing Studio Consultant

Even for confident writers, a writing assignment can be daunting. Unlike the simplistic form of a multiple choice exam, writing assignments vary from one discipline to the next and from course to course. There are lots of things to think about and consider—length requirements, citation and document formatting, target audience, organization, research, integrating evidence, and so much more. Your instructor, however, has most likely given a cheat sheet or a recipe of sorts in the form of the assignment sheet. An assignment sheet will clearly layout the what, why, and how of the essay, and if you read it carefully enough, you should be able to create a checklist to help guide your writing process.

You should always begin by actively reading the assignment sheet. Start by reading the whole document through one time. Then read it again, annotating the assignment sheet to highlight the most pertinent information. Here are some questions to ask and key concepts to look for:

  • Assignment objective

What is the purpose of this assignment? Why is your teacher asking you to do this? Writing assignments are often used by instructors to assess students’ conceptual understanding of course material and to challenge their critical thinking skills. Usually there are a set of objectives defined for an assignment. Look for words or phrases such as “The purpose of this assignment is to…” or “The goal of this essay is…” or “Students should be able to…”. If you can identify why you are being asked to write a paper, this will help you to reflect on your work later on to make sure you have exhibited the skills or knowledge your instructor is looking for.

  • Essay prompt or question

What are you being asked to do? Is the assignment asking you to explain a concept or analyze something? Look for directive words—words like “analyze,” “compare,” and “discuss.” The nuances of these words are very important for knowing exactly what your instructor is expecting. You can find a full list of directive verbs and their meanings here.

  • Research requirements

What resources will you need? Will you need to do research to complete the assignment? For most assignments you will need to reference at least a textbook or course notes or you might need to find scholarly journal articles or conduct an interview. Make sure you understand the level of research you are expected to complete, and since the research phase of writing can sometimes be the most time consuming, make sure you give yourself ample time to complete this step. You can always consult the library’s Research Rescue page for help on how to begin the research process.

  • Assignment requirements

How many pages/words must the essay be? What format will the essay be in? How will you cite your sources? The assignment requirements include things such as length, citation format, and document layout. One thing to consider is that length requirements are usually given to students because instructors know approximately how long it will take to adequately answer the question or prompt.

If you are having trouble meeting an assignment length or are greatly over the word or page limit, go back and check you are truly understanding the assignment first, then come to the Writing Studio for some help!

Brianna Blog Pic


Résumé Writing for Undergraduates

Monday, March 21st, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Sandy Blog Post

by Sandy Branham, a PhD candidate in Texts & Technology and Writing Studio Assistant Coordinator

So, you have to write a résumé, but you’re not quite sure how to begin because you feel like you don’t have any experience. Well, first off, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Many undergraduate students, particularly those who have not worked or have worked very little, believe that they do not have enough experience to compose a résumé. However, I think that once you begin reflecting on your educational, extracurricular, and volunteer activities, you’ll find that you do have valuable experiences that you can highlight on your résumé to demonstrate some of your amazing skills and qualities.

This blog post focuses on how you can present your educational experiences on your résumé to make up for your lack of job experience.

Typically, the education section of a résumé will look something like this:

Sandy blog Education 1

The typically entry for education includes the name of the university or college you attended; the degree that you earned or are pursuing; any concentrations, minors, or certificates that you earned or are pursuing; your GPA (only if it is high); and your date of graduation. In this example, the writer had not yet graduated and is indicating that her expected date of graduation is May of 2017.

At first glance, it seems that there might not be much to add here. But, there is! Take a moment to make a list of all of the classes that you’ve taken so far in your college career that might be applicable to the position you are seeking. Think here not only of classes in your major, but also of electives that might have focused on skills like communication, writing, or public speaking, skills which are relevant for most professional positions. Then, included the courses that are most relevant in a “Relevant Coursework” section, which might look something like this:

Sandy blog Education 2

Now, with the addition of a list of relevant courses, your reader has a better understanding of your previous educational experiences. For example, we can easily see that this writer not only has significant experience with courses in the hard sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), she also has experience in social science (sociology) and in the communication of technical information.

Maybe adding a Relevant Coursework section is all you need to do to fill up the page. If so, great! You’ve got a full page of content and you’re telling the reader more about your educational background. But maybe your page is still feeling a bit empty. What now?

If you’re in a situation where you have no work experience, the first thing you want to attempt to highlight are your experiences with volunteering or in campus or community organizations. You’ll format these entries just as you would format the entries in an employment section, listing your title, the organization you volunteered for, when and where you volunteered, and including bullet points that described what you did/learned. So, an entry for volunteer experience might look like this:

Sandy blog Volunteer

But, wait! What if you don’t have any volunteer experience? Have no fear; you can highlight your skills and qualifications by presenting the work you’ve done in your classes in more detail. So, just as in your Volunteer Experience section, you can highlight either the projects you’ve completed in your classes, or you can organize this section around your skills. For example:

Sandy blog Projects


Sandy blog Skills

In the first example, our writer is organizing her information based on projects, which is a good organizational pattern to follow if you have several large projects that you can highlight in this way. In the second example, our writer is organizing her experiences based on skills; she might also have subsections in this category dedicated to leadership, time management, or organization, for example. The key here is to be using bullet points to describe the skills and qualities you developed as a result of these experiences rather than, for example, just listing the assignments you completed in a particular class.

Hopefully, this post has helped you to see how, by looking at your experiences from a different perspective, and by making the categories you include on your résumé work for you, you can fill the page and show a potential employer all of the amazing skills and qualities you have to offer!


Professionalism: Five Format and Style Tips to Make Your Paper POP!

Monday, March 14th, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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Written by Rob Alexander, an MFA student in Creative Writing and Assistant Coordinator for the Writing Studio

Although misguided, young Calvin below makes some interesting points, specifically about what a graduate thesis looks like. Whether you are writing a graduate thesis or a first-year composition paper, you must follow certain formats and style (which may vary, depending on your professor) to make your paper look clean and professional.

Rob Blog Pic 1

Watterson, Bill. “Calvin and Hobbes.” CalvinandHobbes.com. Web. 25 Jan. 2016. <http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1989/10/31>.

Tip 1: Read your assignment guidelines to find out which style to use! I cannot stress this enough. MLA, APA, Chicago, and others all have a unique style and format to follow. If you choose the wrong one, your paper will still look good but will not be the correct fit. It would be the equivalent of wearing a tuxedo to a swimming meet, or a ball gown to a job interview.

Tip 2: Now that you know what style to write in, make sure you write in that style! If unsure on all the rules and regulations, visit your local writing studio or do some research online. A fantastic site for such questions is the Purdue Owl, which covers MLA, APA, and you guessed it, Chicago.  Important note: style does not only mean citations. Headings, title/cover page, page numbers, spacing, font, etc., all of these can be affected by whatever style your professor has assigned.

Tip 3: Speaking of fonts, please use a non-irritating font and a reasonable font size. The standard is Times New Roman, size 12. Personally, I suggest that you always use Times New Roman, size 12. Don’t be cute. And don’t try to hit the page count by making your font larger or margins smaller. Professors read hundreds of papers a semester and will know when something doesn’t look write, no matter how sneaky you are. If you absolutely despise Times New Roman, serif fonts are deemed acceptable. As always, read your syllabus to see if your professor has a preference or has banned any outlaw fonts like Jokerman.

Tip 4: Nothing screams amateur as much as a glaring typo. Proofread your work. Proofread your emails. Proofread your texts, twitters, snapchats, everything. Sure, we are human. We make misteaks. But when a professor sees that you wrote dime store instead of dinosaur, they may view you as lazy, or might think that you rushed through the assignment. Read your paper out loud. Read your paper backwards sentence by sentence. Have a friend read the paper. Say it with me now. No more dime stores! Make dime stores extinct! As for grammatical and punctuation errors, check out The Writing Commons, and the wide variety of information they offer.

Tip 5: You may have noticed that I’ve been using exclamation points and bold lettering. What’s that old saying? “Do as I say, not as I do.” Yeah, that. Don’t use exclamation points. Don’t bold words. Don’t write in ALL CAPS. DOESN’T THIS FEEL LIKE I’M YELLING? DOESN’T IT LOOK UNPROFESH? Also, do not abbreviate words or use slang. Spell it out. Do not be unprofessional. Many professors will also tell you not to use contractions, which means, don’t use can’t and won’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t, etc.

To conclude, I would like to say that your professor or instructor trumps all. Always follow the professor’s guidelines. Keep in mind, errors of sloppiness can greatly alter how your professor reads and responds to your paper. Don’t anger the beast. And beware the frumious Bandersnatch. The simpler and cleaner your paper looks, the better.

My last metaphor of wisdom: beauty is only skin deep. Skin covers up the meat and bones and blood, which can be unsettling if seen. However, without all that chunky stuff inside, skin is just a loose and raggedy bag. You still must write content, cite your scholarly sources, and make intellectual/stimulating arguments. Content is not style. You can write a great paper that looks sloppy, but you can also write an awful paper that looks fantastic. Both are poor choices.

Let’s see how it worked out for our boy, Calvin.

Rob Blog Pic 2

Watterson, Bill. “Calvin and Hobbes.” CalvinandHobbes.com. Web. 25 Jan. 2016. <http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1989/11/04>.


Finding Your Topic via Google Scholar

Friday, March 11th, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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by Sashi Gurram, a PhD student in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Writing Consultant

Okay! You have an academic paper due on a topic about which you know nothing. If you are a seasoned writer, you already know how to get started on this. But if you have never written a paper, you might be panicking, “How do I get started?” or “Where can I find the resources?”

Well, don’t freak out yet. In fact, as a Writing Studio consultant, I usually get a few students every semester who specifically come for advice on finding research articles. There are several online academic database search engines that you can rely on to search for these resources.

But, the question is, “How do I know, which database or search engine is apt for me?” Perhaps the best place to start is Google Scholar!

According to the University of Illinois Library, “Google Scholar is an online, freely accessible search engine that lets users look for both physical and digital copies of articles. It searches a wide variety of sources, including academic publishers, universities, and preprint depositories.” While Google Scholar is not entirely perfect, few disagree about its user-friendly features and usefulness for the uninitiated. All you need is a set of key words that are related to your topic. For example, if your topic is titled “Impact of traffic-related air pollution on human health,” you can simply type in the words traffic, pollution, and, health into the Google Scholar search bar, as shown below.

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The results are generally sorted by their relevance to the keywords although you can also sort them by year using the sort by date link on the left side of the page. Often, the title of an article gives a good indication of its relevance to your topic. For example, in the figure above, the first 4 articles seem to be close to our topic. However, in some cases, it may not be possible to decide the relevance of an article simply based on its title.  If this is the case, you can open the specific paper and quickly read through its abstract to see if it matches with your topic of interest.

Using these techniques, you will find at least one article of interest within the first two pages of the search results. Otherwise, you may try modifying (by either adding or removing) your keywords. Additionally, you can also filter these results by year using the date filters on the left side of the search page. Once you find an article of interest, you can use it to search for additional related articles in two ways; 1) using the reference list at the end of the article, you can find similar articles that are cited by this study and 2) using the Cited by link below the article on the Google Scholar page, you can find similar articles which cite this study. In this way, budding academic researchers can use Google Scholar’s features to their advantage and successfully navigate the maze of academic research.

To start researching, visit Google Scholar here!


Coming Up with a Good Essay Topic

Monday, February 29th, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Jessica T Blogby Jessica Thompson, an MFA student in Creative Writing and Writing Consultant

One of the most common issues beginning college students have is difficulty coming up with compelling essay topics. Many students’ natural inclination is to choose subjects they think they are “supposed” to write about, such as highly debated topics they hear in the news (think gay marriage or medical marijuana), or the specific examples their instructors mention in class. Don’t give in to this urge! The best essay topics are those that you are most interested in, and most willing to research deeply.

While the common topics we hear argued on television day after day might be easier to write about before doing research, they won’t really challenge you and are likely boring and tedious for your instructor to read since she probably sees them rehashed semester after semester. Also, the example an instructor mentions in class is just that–an example. Some students think if the instructor mentions a topic it indicates the instructor really likes it and the student will win points for choosing a topic the instructor likes. Probably not! It’s more likely that writing your paper based on the teacher’s example will make it look like you couldn’t come up with an original idea.

So, how can you come up with an original, interesting, smart, detailed essay topic?

Step one: Brainstorm the top five things you like the most. Students often compartmentalize, separating their personal lives and interests from their academic lives and interests. Unfortunately, this can lead to really boring research topics that students don’t care about. You know all the fun, cool stuff you like in your everyday life? There are researchers studying it in an academic way, and you can write about it for school as long you know how. You might not know how yet because you haven’t done the research, and that’s okay.

At this step, simply brainstorm a list of things you like the most, even if they are things that sound non-academic such as chocolate chip cookies, instagram, dogs, Netflix, and breakdancing. For each topic you come up with, brainstorm as many related topics as you can think of. For chocolate chip cookies, this might include boutique sweets shops, sugar addiction, and comfort food. (Note: the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has an excellent list of brainstorming exercises you can do to help expand upon your original topic.)

Step two: Pick the lens through which you want to view your topic. This might already be decided for you depending on the assignment and the class. If you’re in an ethics class, for example, you probably have to write about ethical issues surrounding your topic (i.e., should chocolate chip cookies and other sweets be sold in public schools?). Other classes, however, particularly writing courses, might allow you to approach the subject through the lens of any discipline. Marketing and advertising experts will focus on how to best sell chocolate chip cookies, while those in the medical field will focus on how chocolate chip cookies affect human health. (Note: the USF Writing Studio helps with “pre-writing,” which includes brainstorming topics and how to frame your paper. Make an appointment if you’re getting stuck on this step.)

Step three: Start skimming the academic literature. Visit the USF libraries homepage and search for your topic, limiting the results to academic and peer-reviewed sources. This will help you find ways scholars have studied and written about your topic. Try limiting your search topic by keywords indicating the lens through which you want to view the topic. For example, if I want to study how chocolate chip cookies make people feel, I might search “chocolate chip cookies mood,” or “chocolate chip cookies psychology.” If these limit my search to too few results, I might decide to expand my topic from “chocolate chip cookies” to “cookies” in general, or “dessert,” if “cookies” still returns too few results.

After doing a few searches, you will probably have a good idea of whether or not your favorite topic is one that has been researched before. (Note: almost everything has been researched before, so if you’re having trouble finding results, consider contacting a USF librarian for help.) If the first topic you brainstormed isn’t returning enough results, try the second topic you brainstormed, or one of the first topic’s subtopics.

Step four: Settle on an awesome topic and dig in. Once you’ve found a topic or subtopic that you are interested in and that has some solid-looking scholarly articles about it, make your decision to stick with it and continue doing research. This is also a good time to draft a thesis statement. You don’t want to simply use the first few articles that pop up as your sources and begin writing about them. Be sure to skim the abstracts of several articles and choose those that will best fit your thesis.

Final tip: Once you find a topic or two that excites you, write about these in more depth and from different perspectives in each class you take. You can write about different facets of chocolate chip cookies for classes in business, psychology, economics, biology, and more. With that approach, instead of simply doing assignments for the sake of the class, you are building expertise that you can take with you when you go into the job market or to graduate school. Of course, if you find that you hate writing about your chosen topic, that’s a good sign that it’s time to pick a new one, in which case you can begin the process over again at step one.


Something about That “-s”

Friday, February 19th, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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by Paul Flagg, an MA student in Library and Information Science and Writing Consultant

One of the most common errors in writing I have seen in the writing studio involves words that can be spelled multiple ways, such as “anyway(s),” “forward(s),” “backward(s),” and “toward(s).”

Which of these words do you tend to use? Think about the differences in how you talk and how you write.

In actuality, all of the aforementioned word variations are correct in some way, but they are not always acceptable to use in any writing scenario.

Although none of the terms are technically incorrect, they can be used to demonstrate the nature of the writing or its place of origin. For example, “backward,” “forward,” and “toward” are all related in that they can be both adjectives and adverbs, meaning they either modify or describe a noun (adj.) or that they alter the meaning of an adjective, verb, or another adverb, most specifically in terms of manner (adv.).

These expressions might also vary based on American English versus British English. In standard American English, “backwards,” “forwards,” and “towards” most often omit the “-s,” whereas British English includes it. A simple way to remember this, according to Grammar Girl, is by thinking of Americans as accustomed to taking shortcuts, or perhaps the simplified way of doing things.

When it comes to the word “anyway” versus “anyways”—an adverb—differences in spelling can be used to express formality. Oftentimes, in casual (or informal) conversation, people will say “anyways.” This is an acceptable use of the term, but it is known for its informality, whereas “anyway” would be the more proper reference. For this particular word, it may be safest to omit the “-s” in all uses. But, for those that like to use this variation, feel free to use it in written discourse between close friends or family to indicate a more personal nature of conversation.

British English v. American English
UK Spelling US Spelling
axe ax
backwards backward
cancellation cancelation
colour color
forwards forward
grey gray
liquorice licorice
likeable likable
mum(my) mom(my)
pyjamas pajamas
storey story
towards toward
traveller traveler

Writing as a Social Process

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Ryan Blog Pic

by Ryan Blank, a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition and Writing Consultant

I’m a second-year PhD student in Rhetoric. As a student, I take three courses each semester, often averaging 450-600 pages of reading per week. As a graduate assistant in the department of English, I teach one technical writing class each semester and work 10 hours per week in the Writing Studio. Of all my professional commitments, my time in the Writing Studio is the most fulfilling. Here I work a vast array of writers: first-semester students in their first college writing class looking for a second opinion on paper topics or structure; PhD students in Computer Engineering or Literature or Women & Gender Studies or Art History looking to refine articles for publication or chapters of their dissertations; professors, instructors, or recently graduated writers that are applying for positions at new programs; even other writing consultants!

One thing that all of my writers share is a desire to improve their ability to communicate ideas of varying sophistication to a variety of audiences, ranging from familiar correspondences to lay audiences or disciplinary specialists. Composition itself is a great equalizer: it puts writers of all ability levels through the same inventional obstacles. This great leveling that is writing necessitates that:

We must conceive of a topic worth exploring or an argument worth delivering. In other words, having decided upon a topic, we must invent or create the best proofs, warrants, or arguments to develop.

We must sort through myriad possibilities for the arrangement of our discourse, ultimately deciding on the line of reasoning that seems most befitting of our audience and purpose.

Having come up with a topic and explored a variety of trajectories for our work, we must then find the most decorous, or perhaps proprietous or suitable style in which we will compose. From what vocabulary should we compose? A high level, best suited for delighting an audience? Or perhaps a more accessible middle register, more suitable for everyday speech? Further, how complex or simple should our sentence structures be?

These are the building blocks of composition and have been such for some 2,500 years. It is easy to get lost or overwhelmed by the subtleties of composition, and so even the most “advanced” writers benefit from second opinions. In fact, Cicero, the greatest Roman orator and the genius behind the systemization of what would become the rhetorical canon (invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery, the latter of which are more germane to oratorical performances) developed his greatest orations with the aid of his most trusted servant!

Writing, like speaking, is inherently social and is informed by our interactions with and understanding of others. From the inception of rhetoric—from the Ancient Greek ρητορικε (rhetorike), itself derivative of ὁ ρητορ (ho rhetor), a word meaning orator—the composition and presentation of discourse has been studied and taught as necessarily social and has existed in public realms.

What I hope to have shown through my own brief exploration of the composition process is that from our earliest understandings of education and composition—rhetoric—people have composed with the help of others and for the reception of others. This makes the services available through the USF Writing Studio perfect for writers of all levels and abilities during any stage of the writing process.

A fun read on the life of Cicero:

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician

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