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


Relax, it’s just literary analysis!

Friday, January 15th, 2016 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »


by Danielle M. Farrar, a PhD candidate in Literature and Coordinator of USF’s Writing Studio

So your teacher told you that you have to write a literary analysis paper.

Are you uncertain about what literary analysis is?

Are you feeling anxious because you don’t think you’ve ever done literary analysis before?

I’m here to tell you to relax.

The majority of students have done literary analysis and are usually unaware of this. If anyone has ever asked you to read a literary text and then write about it in ways that weren’t a summary of its plot, then its highly probable that you have done literary analysis.

As a life-long lover and long-time student of literature, I took the process of literary analysis for granted because it was what I was used to writing: why would I write any other way or about anything else? When I became an instructor of literature and the literary analysis genre, I was faced with a very different perspective of this genre: how do I teach literary analysis?

What IS literary analysis, and what is it that we’re actually doing when we DO literary analysis?

The short answer is we’re analyzing literary texts. But what does this mean?

Analysis is a cognitive practice whose task doesn’t change based on the medium being analyzed: dissecting something at the micro level as a means to discuss how it reflects, embodies, or suggests something about the macro level. Literary analysis is no different.

The etymology of analyze suggests an unfastening or loosening up (a relaxing of sorts), which essentially means we take something complex and break it down into parts. We then look at these smaller parts in order to say something about the whole. To help us know how to break the whole into pieces, we have literary tools (sometimes referred to as literary conventions or devices) to help us with this, such as metaphor, symbolism, allusions, flashbacks, and so on and so forth.

For example, if you are reading a literary text and notice that a similar metaphor is repeatedly used, you may want to take note of that. Why would the author repeat the metaphor? What does its repetition suggest? How does its repetition inform your interpretation and why? What does the repetition of THAT metaphor imply about the overall text? The genre? The historical context? The human condition? You can see here how an analysis of the micro (the repeated metaphor) assists in the interpretation/understanding of the macro (the human condition).

For additional how-tos with literary analysis, visit the WritingforCollege.org’s page about critical and interpretive analysis. This resource provides some constructive advice on how to execute this type of essay.

If you need additional help with understanding your literary analysis assignment or would like an extra set of eyes on your work, feel free to schedule an appointment with the Writing Studio.


A Few Pointers for Writing an Out-of-This-World Literature Review

Thursday, November 5th, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Vintage red rocket is on the green asteroid, backdrop blue space.

Vintage red rocket is on the green asteroid, backdrop blue space.

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

Literature reviews are an essential part of a university’s academic curriculum. You can bet that you will perform at least one literature review, in the form of a thesis, dissertation, or even an essay for a class by the end of your program.

What does a literature review typically do? The answer to this question varies depending on the end goal of your writing project. Some literature reviews, which focus less on the analysis, require you to simply summarize the literature whereas others require you to synthesize the literature in addition to the summary. In general, a literature review identifies the current state of knowledge on a given topic and also identifies the gaps in the research and raises interesting questions that need further research. So, how can one perform a good literature review?

One of the key points to remember before embarking on a literature review journey is to be focused. It can be very easy to get lost in the jungles of books, journal articles, and reports when you do not know or keep track of for what it is you you are looking. As such, it would help to clearly identify the topic of interest and also the bounds of the literature review. For example, if you are performing a literature review on the “taste of Brazilian coffee,” you should find out articles that specifically talk about taste of Brazilian coffee. It might be tempting to also review literature on the “taste of Hawaiian coffee,” but that would be beyond the focus of your literature review unless your literature review seeks to identify the similarities or differences between the taste of Brazilian and Hawaiian coffees.

Raising questions enables one to write an effective literature review. There might be a natural tendency to trust reading material especially the material of scholarly nature. However, questioning the material in terms of its methods, limitations, and conclusions, often produces an effective, engaging, and critical literature review.

Finally, a good organizational structure helps build a good literature review. You can perform a literature review either in chronological order, starting from the oldest to the latest or in thematic order where the literature review is layered by themes. For example, while performing a literature review on “air pollution’s impact on human health,” you can discuss the literature on this topic in a chronology (i.e., 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, etc.). Alternatively, you can discuss this topic by looking at air pollution’s relation to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and allergies under separate subtopics.

Additional details that can help in writing effective literature reviews are detailed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Birmingham City University.

You can also read one of our older blogs that discuss literature reviews and synthesis matrices found here.


Thesis Statements

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »


by Joanna Bartell, a Doctoral Candidate in Communication and Writing Consultant

Everything you write is intended to express something. Whether you’re writing a poem, short story, essay, article, or diary entry, you are writing with the intent to express. With the exception of free-writing (stream-of-consciousness writing), your writing is about something, and somewhere in each piece of writing you produce, there exists an argument, or thesis. As the organizing principle for your writing, developing a strong, concise thesis is key to the coherence and clarity of your work.

As a student at USF, it is likely that most of your writing will be academically driven pieces that integrate course concepts, course readings, personal observations, research, etc. Therefore, this short post will focus on academically motivated writing. While the type of writing assignments may vary from course to course, and while different types of academic writing require different levels of formality, the academically driven writing you do as a student requires a guiding principal.

This guiding principal is your thesis, and, when constructed with some thought and care, it will accomplish a significant amount of work for you. Perhaps you’ve heard one of your professors liken thesis statements to movie trailers. Take a look at this trailer for The Bourne Identity:

Based on this trailer, we understand the basic premise of the movie. We know that Jason Bourne, somehow associated with the U.S. Government, ended up shot and floating in the ocean after a failed assassination attempt on a prominent world figure. Now, the U.S. Government wants Bourne dead; but Bourne is suffering from amnesia, and has no memory of his past before waking up on the boat that saved him, and he is left running for his life as he tries to figure out who he is, who wants him dead, and why. Importantly, we also know that Jason Bourne is kind of a badass.

As you know, the point of movie trailers is to give audiences a clear idea of what the movie is about, how it will develop, and why they should be interested. Your thesis statement should accomplish the same general tasks so that your readers understand the main point of your writing, have a general idea of what you’ll discuss, and have a sense of what is interesting about your topic or argument. Essentially, your thesis statement should answer the questions, “What is this?” and “Who cares?” Just like the movie you want to see, the point of your academically driven writing should not be a mystery.

Your thesis statement should:

  • Offer readers a road map of your paper
  • Informs your readers how you frame/interpret the subject matter
  • Informs your readers of the significance of the subject matter
  • Makes a disputable claim/argument
  • Act as the organizing principal of your paper

Finally, as the organizing principal of your writing, the rest of your points, paragraphs, and arguments throughout the rest of your paper will continuously work to support and refer back to the thesis statement in your introduction.

Below are some resources that offer tips, examples, and illustrations to help you conceptualize and construct strong, clear thesis statements for your writing assignments.


Moving Forward: Setting Limits and Making Choices in Your Writing Process

Monday, April 27th, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

by Wendy Duprey, a Doctoral Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition andDuprey Blog Pic Writing Studio consultant





In preparation for the final weeks of the semester, consider this question from the problem-solving work of Herbert Simon:

“What is going to facilitate action rather than paralyze it?” [1]

As writers, we can become paralyzed with feelings of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and even apathy when we feel overwhelmed by a task.  Sometimes a task feels too large to complete before a deadline; other times we feel stuck at a certain point in our writing process, unable to find a way to move forward.  During these times, we often need to set limits and make choices in our writing process.

Setting limits and making choices in our writing process requires creating realistic and attainable goals.  Rather than aiming for “the perfect paper” or “the best project,” learn to satisfice.  According to Simon, satisficing works when we look for good, better, or satisfactory ways to solve a problem, rather than the best or most optimal way.  Since writing is an activity that consistently calls for discovering “what’s next,” it is helpful to think about multiple possibilities that would satisfice the next move in your process.  Figuring out your next good move depends on a number of factors:

  • The writing task: At the Writing Studio, we usually begin our consulting sessions by reviewing the project description or the writing assignment with the writer. We do this because the assignment sheet typically outlines the requirements, criteria, and boundaries of a particular writing task.  As consultants, we want to understand how to think about the piece of writing as readers.  By turning to the writing task, it shapes our expectations and frames appropriate ways to respond as readers.  A good way to move forward, then, is to think about where you are in the writing process in connection to the writing task: Am I satisfying all of the external requirements?
  • The writer: Particularly in moments when we are pressed for time, such as at the end of a semester, we need to be mindful of our individual limits. Limits are useful to think about and honor as writers because they create a respectful space for us to work and live within.  Although some of us thrive on the externally-placed limits of a deadline, we need to consider our internal, embodied, and environmental needs as well.  Some questions to consider might be: What responsibilities and commitments do I need to maintain while completing this writing project?  Realistically, how much work, in terms of time, energy, and effort, can I devote to the project without it becoming detrimental to my health, well-being, and relationships?
  • The audience: Writing is a highly creative and empathic activity, requiring us to imagine our audience’s needs in relationship to our ongoing process and emerging text.  Understanding that our readers also have limits can be a useful guide for helping us make choices.  At the Writing Studio, we help writers understand our limits as readers when we ask questions such as, “What do you mean here in this sentence?” or “Can you help me understand why this term is important for your project?” These are often clarifying questions, as a way to help the writer and the reader reach a common ground of understanding.  Throughout your writing process, practice asking the question, “What will satisfy my reader’s needs and expectations?”

With looming deadlines and final papers just around the corner, the Writing Studio encourages all writers to schedule an appointment or drop in for a Compression Session to have a conversation about your writing.  As one writer recently shared, “It’s better to have a dialogue about my writing than a monologue in my head.”  We invite you to come in for a productive dialogue and move forward with your writing process!

[1] Simon, Herbert.  The Sciences of the Artificial. 3rd Ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.  Print.


Deconstruction Guide for Evaluating a News Source

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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

Don’t be tricked by unreliable news sources—

  1. Summarize the main points of the story.

Do the headline and “lead” support the main point(s) of the story?

  1. Assess the evidence supporting the main points of the story:

What is verified?

What is asserted?

  1. How close does the reporter come to opening the freezer?

Is the evidence direct or indirect? (Open the Freezer: Truth-Testing the News)

  1. Are the sources reliable?

Sources checklist:

  • Named sources are better than unnamed sources
  • Multiple sources are better than a single source
  • Authoritative sources are better than uninformed sources
  • Sources who verify are better than sources that assert:

“I know” vs. “I believe”

  • Independent sources are better than self-interested sources
  1. Does the reporter make his or her work transparent?

(Media transparency is the concept of determining how and why information is conveyed through various means)

In communication studies, media is transparent when:

  • there are many sources of information—all in competition of each other
  • the method of information delivery is known
  • the funding of media production is publicly available
  1. Does the reporter place the story in context?
  1. Are the key questions answered?

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

  1. Is the story fair?

Can you reach a conclusion, take an action, or make a judgment?


Example 1:_________________________________________ 

Pregnant man is expecting baby in July 


March 27, 2008, The Advocate Magazine

An Oregon transgendered man who used to be a woman says he’s five months pregnant.

Thomas Beatie, who’s expecting a girl, tells his story in a first-person account published in “The Advocate” magazine that includes a picture of him while he was 22 weeks pregnant.

Beatie, legally a male, lives with his wife, Nancy.  He claims to have stopped taking his testosterone injections to get pregnant.  “Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy, but kept my reproductive right.” he wrote in the story for the gay and lesbian magazine.

“How does it feel to be a pregnant man?  Incredible,” he adds. “Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am.”

Beatie is expected to give birth in July.

How many sources are used? Are they reliable? Why or why not? What is missing from this news story?


Example 2:_________________________________________ 

The Chinese toddler chained through love and fear

Tania Branigan in Beijing, The Guardian

It was a picture that shocked viewers around the world: a Chinese toddler chained to a post outside a shopping centre in the freezing Beijing winter.

However, behind the image of two-year-old Jingdan lies a tale not of intentional cruelty but, it seems, one of misplaced love and fear: his sister disappeared from the same spot just two weeks ago.

“I was afraid I would lose him too,” their father, Chen Chuanliu, said today.

Four-year-old Jinghong has not been seen since 22 January, when Chen left her playing with friends while he worked. Although Beijing is generally regarded as safe, he, like nearby residents, believes she has been abducted.

Tens of thousands of children go missing each year in China; most are the offspring of impoverished migrant workers like Chen, snatched and then sold on for anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand pounds. Officials have warned that the problem is on the rise.

Boys are often sold to families desperate for an heir; girls can be reared as future brides for rural men. Both sexes are taken for labour or to beg for gangs, say experts. 

Does the reporter place the story in context? 


Example 3:_________________________________________ 

Report Says Principal Put Students in Cage to Fight


DALLAS — A high school principal and his security staff shut feuding students in a steel cage to settle disputes with bare-knuckle fistfights, according to an internal report by the Dallas Independent School District.

The principal of South Oak Cliff High School, Donald Moten, was accused by several school employees of sanctioning the “cage fights” between students in a steel equipment enclosure in a boy’s locker room, where “troubled” youth fought while a security guard watched, according to the confidential March 2008 report first obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Such fights occurred several times over the course of two years, the report said.

Mr. Moten, who resigned from the district in 2008 while under investigation in connection with a grade-changing scandal, denies the cage-fight accusations.

“That’s barbaric,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “You can’t do that at a high school. You can’t do that anywhere. It never happened.”

But investigators with the district’s Office of Professional Responsibility gathered testimony from two employees at South Oak Cliff High who said they had witnessed students fighting in the cage from 2003 to 2005, among others who heard about the fights.

One employee overheard Mr. Moten tell a security guard to take two students who had been at each other for days and “put ’em in the cage and let them duke it out,” the report states, and the practice was so embedded in the school’s culture that one student remarked to a teacher that he was “gonna be in the cage.”

Find an example of direct evidence, then find an example of indirect evidence. 


Example 4:_________________________________________ 

In Southern Afghan City, Fears of Taliban Takeover

By Noor Khan and Nahal Toosi

The Associated Press

KANDAHAR, AfghanistanSouthern Afghanistan’s largest city, Kandahar, is slipping back under Taliban control as overstretched U.S. troops focus on clearing insurgents from the countryside — a potentially alarming setback for President Barack Obama’s war strategy.

Afghan authorities promise a counteroffensive against the militants in Kandahar — a pledge that appears aimed primarily at boosting public morale after a devastating bombing killed 43 people on Tuesday.

“Because there’s one bombing, it doesn’t mean the situation is going down the tubes,” said Maj. Mario Couture, a spokesman for NATO in Kandahar province.

Nevertheless, many Afghans believe more Taliban forces are operating clandestinely in the city, while the Islamist movement tightens its grip on districts just outside the urban center.

As guerrillas, the Taliban doubtless don’t want to capture and run the city. Instead their goal is probably to wield enough influence to block any government efforts to expand services, prevent international relief agencies from operating there, force merchants to pay protection money and undermine the government’s image in one of the country’s major cities.

“The Taliban are inside the city. They are very active. They can do anything they want,” said an Afghan employee of an international aid organization who requested anonymity because he feared reprisals from the militants.

Identify and weigh the anonymous source. 


Example 5:_________________________________________  

Pulling all-nighters earns lower GPAs

By Michael Virtanen, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — Students who rely on all-nighters to bring up their grades might want to sleep on that strategy: A new survey says those who never study all night have slightly higher GPAs than those who do.

A survey of 120 students at St. Lawrence University, a small liberal arts college in northern New York, found that students who have never pulled an all-nighter have average GPAs of 3.1, compared to 2.9 for those who have.

The study, by assistant professor of psychology Pamela Thacher, is to be included in the January issue of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

“It’s not a big difference, but it’s pretty striking,” Thacher said. “I am primarily a sleep researcher and I know nobody thinks clearly at 4 in the morning. You think you do, but you can’t.”

A second study by Thacher, a clinical psychologist, had “extremely similar” results showing lower grades among the sleep skippers. Many college students, of course, have inadequate or irregular sleep, for reasons ranging from excessive caffeine to poor time management.

Prav Chatani, a St. Lawrence sophomore who wasn’t involved in either study, said the findings made sense.

The neuroscience major has been pulling fewer all-nighters, but recently stayed up until “around 4 or 5 in the morning” to prepare for an organic chemistry test and a neuroscience presentation, he said.

He found himself unable to remember some of the things he had studied.

“A lot of students were under the impression all-nighters were a very useful tool for accomplishing work, that caffeine intake was very useful in meeting deadlines and stuff like that,” said Chatani, who had a 3.4 GPA last semester and doesn’t expect to do too badly this semester, either. Dr. Howard Weiss, a physician at St. Peter’s Sleep Center in Albany, said the study results make sense.

“Certainly that data is out there showing that short sleep duration absolutely interferes with concentration, interferes with performance on objective testing,” he said.

Find an example of inference.


Example 6:_________________________________________ 

Club Ultra closed because of safety violations

By Karla Ray, NBC2 News

NAPLES: Huge spring break crowds and dangerous fire violations don’t mix anywhere, and in North Naples they’ve gotten a popular club closed for the weekend.

Fire inspectors on Friday shut down Club Ultra, located at 15495 Tamiami Trail, because of safety violations.

“We found numerous life safety issues that needed to be rectified,” said Sal D’Angelo, deputy chief of the North Naples Fire District.

Liquor shipments were turned away Friday, traded instead for fire system inspections.

Signs on the club’s front door detailed the violations, which included expired fire extinguishers, an improper sprinkler system and unsuitable locks on the doors – to name a few.

“The fire alarm panel needed to be tested and inspected, you had a fire sprinkler system that needs inspection, electrical issues that need to be taken care of,” D’Angelo said.

“We want to work with building owners and the business owners, but our number one goal is life safety, and we’re trying to prevent our people in our buildings from getting hurt and or killed.”

From the club’s standpoint, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Pictures found on Facebook say it all: The line was through the parking lot Wednesday. Girls Gone Wild hosted an event at the club, and hundreds of spring breakers followed.

Crowds like this, according to D’Angelo, make the situation life-threatening.

“From the overcrowding perspective, the potential for something to happen if a fire were to break out it would be very dangerous,” he said.

The problems are already being fixed, but D’Angelo says people will have to find another place to party this weekend.

Attempts to reach the club’s owners were unsuccessful. 

  1. Find an example of transparency.


  1. Are all of the major questions answered?

What We Can Learn from How Written and Oral Language Differ

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

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

A common pitfall I see with my clients in the Writing Studio comes in the form of their writing feeling too much like oral language in tone, organization, and filler words. Sure, there is a time and place for conversational writing, such as when you are writing a creative piece or responding to a reading in a response paper. However, there are a few lessons we can learn from looking at how talking and writing differ.



In oral language, speakers use body language to convey subtle details for their audience. These gestures can be as simple as cupping hands together in thanks, waving to generate applause, or even a “stop” gesture to get the audience to pause or garner anticipation.

In written language, we don’t have the luxury of body language. Instead, we use grammar to pace our writing. We use colons to start an enumeration or a list, em dashes to offer a brief pause before switching to a new thought, or a variety of other pieces of punctuation to signify ends of clauses, sentences, or ideas.

Why this is important: Understanding that our audience cannot actually hear us shows how important it is to use grammar for pacing and clarification.

How to apply this lesson to your work: Brush up on how to properly use commas, colons, semicolons, and em dashes. You can find good grammar guides at Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips.



Oral language will always have more immediacy than written language simply by the nature of the medium since its audience does not actively need to do anything, such as read, in order to be invested in what is being communicated. However, even though oral language can hold attentions longer than written language, it is harder to be as detailed as written language, and audiences sometimes cannot retain as much information as when they read.

In written language, writers have the benefit of knowing exactly what their audience is going to see, which means writers begin a process of drafting in order to make sure they are saying what they want to say as clearly as possible. This is not to say a speech cannot be precise–however, since words cannot be unheard once spoken, speeches become part performance.

Why this is important: Understanding that in written language it is harder to keep the audience’s attention shows us how important it is to get to the point without any unnecessary filler.

How to apply this lesson to your work: Go through your work and remove any unnecessary words. Many times, the words “of,” “that,” and “which” can all be quickly edited out with simple changes to sentence construction. Be on the lookout to remove “to be” verbs and introductory clauses, as well.



Lastly, in oral language, the speaker has the benefit of being able to change his or her message based on crowd reaction. Visual and audio cues help the speaker figure out whether the crowd is comprehending or responding to his or her material, which makes it easier to pursue attempts at relevance, humor, or anything needed to make the audience more invested in the work.

In written language, writers have no immediate response from their audience. Often, no one will read their message until after they have spent a considerable amount of time on their work. This makes it harder for writers to “hook” their audience and communicate to them what is at stake in their writing.

Why this is important:  Understanding the lack of a quick response to how our audience will react shows us how we need to be able to anticipate how our audience will react to our work. In order to write something engaging to an audience, we need to stay a few steps in front of them.

How to apply this lesson to your work:  Include a strong hook in the introduction of that shows how your work has relevance or importance. Consider using anecdotes or interesting statistics throughout the writing as a way to keep the audience understanding why your work is important.


Building the Bones of Your Paper

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Posted in USF Writing Studio 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


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 Studio 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 Studio 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, 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 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.

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?

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