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

 

Three Research Paper Tips

Monday, March 19th, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Here is some great advice for writing a research paper from Writing Center consultant Haili Vinson.

It’s that time of year again, Midterms, which means you have probably been assigned an essay of some sort, or are getting ready to start a final research paper for your class. Here are some pieces of advice to help you through the writing process.

1. Keep an annotated bibliography of sorts (even if you don’t have to!).

Ever spent hours frantically searching JSTOR for a source that you think contained something useful? Did you finally find it? How much time did this take away from actually writing your paper? Really, we know annotated bibs are not the most entertaining things in the world, but they can be incredibly helpful in keeping track of the sources that you have read. Most students dislike annotated bibliographies in part because they feel pressured to use perfect citations. Optional annotated bibs don’t require perfect format, so it will be easier for you to simply jot down the author’s name, the source’s title, and where you found it (although if you do end up using this source, you’ll have to cite it eventually!). Write down important information that you would like to remember from this source so you can locate it again. You will be surprised at how much an annotated bibliography can simplify the research process.

2. Know your thesis before you start researching, and find sources that support it.

It’s usually best to mold your research to fit your thesis statement, rather than molding your thesis statement to fit your research. With that being said, if you have absolutely no idea where to start with a thesis-driven paper, it might be helpful to skim some articles on your topic, just to get an idea of the conversation. This can assist you in coming up with your own argument, but once you have it, try to narrow your research down to find relevant sources, rather than choosing the first five articles that pop up and forcing them—like puzzle pieces that do not fit—into your topic. Research takes time, but the effort you put forth will result in better support for your thesis, and, ultimately, a higher grade than might be achieved by using the first sources that you find to fulfill the research requirement. It’s important to note, however, that your thesis could very well change by the end of the writing process. Take a look back after you have finished the paper and adjust your thesis so that it still matches what the essay has turned into.

3. Keep a schedule.

If you have a planner, great. If you don’t, consider getting a small one (or using a desk or wall calendar) to keep track of your writing process. Start on the day that the paper is assigned. First, mark the due date on your calendar. Then, establish weekly (or bi-weekly, or twice weekly) goals for yourself. For instance, after a week, perhaps you’ll have a solid thesis chosen and an outline. At the end of week two, maybe you will have found all of your sources. During week three, you could work on your first full draft. Setting goals of this kind and keeping them will prevent procrastination and allow you to make appointments to the Writing Center. For instance, if you know that, by following your schedule, you’ll have your first draft finished at the end of week three, go ahead and schedule an appointment early so that you can get a time that works for you. (Remember that we are very busy this time of the semester.) Keeping a schedule will also reduce the stress that students can experience when pressured to meet a deadline. Give yourself an equal amount of work each week so that you aren’t rushing to finish (or to get started) a few days before the paper is due.

Congratulations to USF’s Oustanding Writing Center Tutors!

Monday, March 5th, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Jared White and Trisina Dickerson, two writing consultants from the USF Tampa Writing Center, are the winners of this year’s distinguished Southeastern Writing Center Association’s Professional Tutor of Year Award and Graduate Tutor of the Year Award, respectively. This is an unprecedented accomplishment within the writing center community. The USF Writing Center staff traveled to the SWCA 2012 conference Next-Gen WC: Composing Spaces, Exploring Ideas Conference in Richmond Kentucky to generate ideas for the USF center and to be honored by the SWCA. The USF staff was inspired by the beautiful space and brought innovative ideas about how to energize the USF space home to Tampa.

The conference was housed at Eastern Kentucky University’s award-winning Noel Studio for Academic Creativity. The SWCA was established in 1981, and the region is made up of 7 states. Each year the organization awards writing center tutors in four categories to recognize outstanding academic contributions.

Jared White, USF Writing Center Assistant Coordinator, was awarded this year’s SWCA Professional Tutor of the Year Award. Because of the many smiles, laughter and visible “a-ha” moments in Jared’s sessions, he is well deserving of this distinguished award. Jared worked in the USF Writing Center as a graduate assistant tutor from Spring 2010 until he graduated in Spring 2011 with his MFA. He has worked as a professional tutor at both HCC Tampa and the University of South Florida. In addition to being a superstar tutor, Jared is also an accomplished poet. He has had his work published in the journals Confrontation, Mason Road, and Irreantum. He is currently working on publishing a collection of poems entitled Celestial Bodies. Next year he will begin his PhD in poetry at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Students that work with Jared consistently comment how helpful he has been in regard to increasing confidence, overcoming writer’s block, and easing the overall writing process. Thoughtful, considerate, and clever, every day Jared models the best of what it means to be a tutor to the USF community. He thrives on close interaction with colleagues and students, and most importantly, he is interested in learning how to further hone and develop his tutoring skills every day.

Trisina Dickerson, also a USF Writing Center Assistant Coordinator, was this year’s recipient of the Graduate Tutor of the Year Award. Trisina has been tutoring in the center since 2010, and she is currently developing her MFA thesis project, a poetry manuscript about family and relationships. Trisina’s poem “Maillard Browning,” will be published in the upcoming edition of the Louisville Review.

In her writing consultations, students frequently draw their ideas, use highlighters to reinforce something they’ve been talking about, or simply push the paper away, becoming consumed in an animated conversation about the writing project. More than any other tutor, Trisina is great at listening really carefully to students that feel lost, at smiling and helping them transition through their frustration. Her “regulars” come from across the disciplines – engineering, education, literature – and all rave about how Trisina has helped them clarify their ideas and gain confidence in their own writing. Trisina brings an open mind, a positive outlook, and a sophisticated rhetorical awareness to the USF Writing Center.

Research Walk-In Clinics

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Approaching a research project can be a daunting prospect. How do I find a topic? How do I research that topic? Where do I find my research?

The USF Library is hosting Walk-In Clinics which will take place March 5 –8 from 11:00 am – 7:00 pm in room 125C of the Library and the Writing Center.

Students needing help with their research projects from how to approach their project and writing planning (WC)  to finding literature and citing sources (LIB)  can come to either room 125C in the Library and/or the Writing Center depending on their needs.

Please don’t hesitate to stop in with questions and concerns – big, small, and everything in between!

See you there!

Share Your Writing

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Do you ever share your writing? No, not to cheat or copy, but to share your ideas and style choices. A lot of great writers have great readers among their friends and family who are happy to review their work before it is sent off to an editor or publisher. These same resources may be all around you without you even knowing it.

Many times it is easier to review and provide feedback on someone else’s work than it is on our own. We often miss our own errors and skim past thoughts that don’t quite make sense. We know what is supposed to be on the page, so we assume it is there. This isn’t always the case.

Do you have a friend or roommate who is a good reader? He or she doesn’t need to know how to correct every tiny comma error or spell every technical term correctly. As long as someone is a reader, he or she will be able to tell you if your ideas make sense and are easy to follow. Did you prove your point? Did you stay on topic? Did you use effective support?

This is often helpful if we’ve hit a block on what we’re writing. For example, you need to write a 5 page paper for Sociology, but you only 3 pages worth of ideas. Ask someone to read what you have. Ask your reader what is missing. Ask your reader what questions he or she has for you. You may find those last two pages are found in your reader’s responses.

The next time you have to write something –anything-ask someone to read it for you.  A second set of eyes can offer a new perspective and help you create strong, effective writing.

More Ways to Improve Your Writing

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Writing Center Consultant Haili Vinson has more common writing issues t be on the look out for as you improve your writing.

As you continue drafting and revising this spring (and visiting the Writing Center!), here are a few more common issues to look out for in your papers.

  • Pesky words: to combine or not to combine?

The words “everyday” and “altogether” cause trouble for many writers because we can get them confused with their counterparts, “every day” and “all together.” Use the adjective “everyday” as one word when referring to something ordinary or routine, such as “everyday clothes” or “everyday wear and tear.” Use “every day” when referring to each day that something occurs; for instance, “I exercised every day last week.”

Similarly, the meaning of “altogether” changes when it’s split up. The adverb “altogether” means completely or totally, as in, “Altogether, she has five cats.” By contrast, “all together” refers to something done as a group or collection. For instance, “The students sang all together.”

  • Weaving quotes in

You’ve probably heard this more than once from your teachers: quotes shouldn’t be  simply “dropped in” your papers, but stringed along with your own syntax. The easiest way to accomplish this is to introduce the author, add a strong verb, a comma (when necessary), and begin the quote. For example: Plato attests, “Love is a serious mental disease.” Another easy beginning: According to Plato, “Love is a serious mental disease.”

You could also write: Plato describes love as “a serious mental disease.” I didn’t use the entire quote here because I rephrased part of it, then used the rest to finish off my sentence. In this way, the quote fits neatly with my own syntax. Whatever you do, don’t force the quote into your own language; make sure your grammar stays accurate when weaving them in.

  • Fun with semicolons

Semicolons are one of the most frequently misused marks of punctuation. I didn’t use them correctly until my first semester of graduate school (hey, no one explained them to   me!). Use a semicolon only when what appears on either side of it could stand alone as a full separate sentence (with a subject and predicate), and when those sides directly relate to one another, as in you would like them combined in the same sentence.

For instance: “The media anticipates high voter turnout this election season; polls suggest an increase of 11% compared to the last cycle.” Be careful with words such as “which” and “while” that create dependence and turn complete thoughts into dependent clauses. For instance,       the following semicolon is inaccurate, and should be replaced with a comma: “The media anticipates high voter turnout this election season; which has been predicted through early polling.” You can also use semicolons to separate lengthy clauses in a list, or when    a list involves items with commas; for instance, “Jordan has been to the mountains in Denver, Colorado; to Central Park in New York, New York; and to the shores of Miami Beach, Florida.”

  • References to individuals

This rule is simple, but one that writers easily forget. When you refer to a person for the    first time, use his or her first and last name. Each time afterwards, use only the last name. Never refer to a well-known individual by only his or her first name. For instance, we would never write, “Barack became the first African-American U.S. president in 2009.” An exception applies when writing about certain fictional characters, such as Harry  Potter. Most would agree that it’s acceptable (and even preferred) to refer to him as “Harry” while writing about the novel, partially because the reference “Potter” may result in confusion of characters. However, “Snape” could refer only to one character, and is appropriate for use. Always ask your instructors which rule they prefer in regards to   writing about fictional characters.

  • Talks about

Students frequently use “talks about” when signifying what an author, well, talks about.   This quickly became a pet peeve of mine as an instructor because there are so many stronger (and more specific) synonyms available, such as discusses, explores, analyzes, explains, demonstrates, asserts, shows, evinces, provides, illustrates, delineates, indicates, details, notes, denotes, maintains, develops, affirms, holds, evaluates, addresses, reasons, examines, finds, suggests, posits, offers, observes, etc. Try to avoid “talks about” by practicing with more vivid and clear verbs. Your writing will be more varied and accurate for it!

Tweet to Stay Focused

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Do you ever find yourself zoning out while trying to finish your homework? It’s easy to lose focus while trying to get work done outside of the classroom. It’s even harder if that work is in a subject that doesn’t hold our interest.

Researchers at Lock Haven University recently completed a study where they asked students to Tweet about the class outside of class time. They found that students stayed more interested and engaged with the course if they were asked to “micro-blog” via Twitter on their own time.

“Professors Use Twitter to Increase Student Engagement and Grades” http://bit.ly/hWK7pF (more…)

Common Writing Errors

Thursday, January 5th, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Welcome back everyone! To get the spring semester started off, let’s go over five common errors in writing. Keeping these straight will help you improve your writing at any level.

  1. Using e.g. instead of i.e. (and vice versa). “i.e.” roughly translates into “that is” or “in other words.” “e.g.” equates to “for example.” Mixing these up can completely alter the meaning of your sentence. Check out this site for examples of when and where to use these abbreviations: http://www.grammar-monster.com/easily_confused/eg_ie.htm
  2. Mixing up “affect” and “effect”. This one drives me crazy. Not as a reader, but because I always have to look it up when I write (so don’t worry, you’re not alone on this one). It can be a difficult thing to master since when we speak these two words often sound the same. This may help you: Affect = Verb; Effect = Noun. Try replacing it with a common noun or verb and see if the sentence still makes sense. If not, you’re using the wrong one!
  3. Not using the correct citation style OR not being consistent with your citation style. While you certainly want to be sure you are using the right style, you also want to make sure you’re not jumping back and forth between APA and MLA (or any other style). Check with your professor to see what citation style fits your career field and major. Once you know what style to use, be sure to keep it the same throughout your entire paper, report or memo. Proofread for this just as you would for grammar errors to make sure you didn’t make a mistake and change it up anywhere.
  4. Using could of, would of, and should of. This is another problem that comes from the way we speak. In everyday conversation we often say “should’ve” which we’ve translated into “should of.” The correct way to say (and write) this, however, is “should have.” Could have, would have, should have.
  5. Using an apostrophe to make a word plural. Apostrophes are great. They tell us when a word is possessive or a contraction. They help us to be clear and concise in our message. But they do not make a noun plural. To make a regular noun plural, simple add an “s”.

I hope these tips help you to fine-tune your writing this semester! Have a great spring!

The Struggle to Write a Personal Statement

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Sometimes writing that personal statement is anything but personal. Between word counts, trying to “sound smart”, attempting to come off as interesting/funny/serious/intellectual/etc, the whole process is exhausting! From graduate and medical school to scholarships and grants, many of us will find it necessary to write these statements and try to explain our entire reason for being in 500 words or less.

The New York Times recently published an article about these difficulties and discussed how writing a college application is a lot like writing poetry. It’s an art form.

The article’s message? Don’t feel bad, you’re far from being the only one struggling with this genre of writing.

Highlighting & Error Finding

Monday, November 7th, 2011 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Here is another great tip from Writing Center consultant Sandy Branham.

A tool that has been helpful for students performing critical analysis is the highlighting method. This is particularly helpful in papers for composition classes. Highlighting can really be used for anything, but I use it in 3 different ways.

1. I ask students to highlight each quote or paraphrase in their paper. Then, I ask them to use a different color highlighter to indicate areas in which the student analyzes source material. If the student uses yellow to highlight quotes and paraphrases and blue to highlight analysis, every instance of yellow highlighting should be followed by blue highlighting.

2. I use highlighting to deal with issues of tense – I ask students to use 3 different colored highlighters, and to highlight each verb in the paper. Past, present, and future tenses are each highlighted in a different color, enabling the student to easily identify areas in which unnecessary tense shifts occur.

3. I also ask students to use highlighting to identify passive voice by focusing on “to be” verbs. By highlighting each instance of a “to be” verb in the text, students are able to identify areas of passive voice and can then revise these sentences in active voice.

Grab a set of highlighters at home and try this yourself. See if you start to notice your errors and learn how to fix them on your own.

Reverse Outlines

Friday, October 28th, 2011 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Do you have a hard time revising your papers for organization? Writing Center consultants Sandy Branham and Meagan Araujo find reverse outlines to be very helpful.

Often, we focus on outlining as a prewriting tool, but it can be just as useful after you have something written. Specifically, it helps writers check to see if they have written what they have set out to write. Reverse outlining also helps writers identify their main points, decide which order to present them, and verify if they presented sufficient supporting material.

Here’s how it works:

The process is simple: we simply read through the paper paragraph by paragraph, stopping after each paragraph to discuss the function/purpose of the paragraph. If the student identifies the paragraph as serving more that one main purpose, we discuss whether or not the student should separate the differing ideas to create two cohesive paragraphs, each with a clear and definite purpose.

If a student identifies a paragraph as having no purpose, we talk about what it would be useful for the paper to do at this particular point, allowing the student to redraft the paragraph with a clear purpose in mind.

After identifying a purpose for each paragraph, we are able to discuss the ways in which each of the paragraphs relate to one another, considering whether the student can move paragraphs around in order to increase the overall effectiveness of the organizational system in use in the paper.

So, the next time you are ready to revise, take the time to create an outline based on what you have written. Ask yourself, “What is the point of each paragraph?” Then, check to see if have made your points in a logical succession. Finally, verify your supporting material.

 

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