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


Finding the Right “Hook” for Your Personal Statement

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

Fish Hook

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

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

Just writing about it is boring.

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

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

A few tips before we get to an example:

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

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

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


Tips for Writing in APA Format

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!


Writing Literature Reviews

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

Writing Literature Reviews
by Meghan O’NeillWriting Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tips for Effectively Using the Writing Studio

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

TWS Palm Tree Solo

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,

Assistant Coordinator
The Writing Studio @ USF


Giving Yourself Permission to Write (a sh*tty first draft)

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Posted in Dissertations & Theses, USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »


Are you struggling to get started with your latest writing assignment? Feeling anxious? Procrastinating? Well, I have some good news for you, courtesy of my favorite writerly advisor Anne Lamott:

“Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of sh*tty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”

Yes, you too can write a sh*tty first draft. Moreover, you should. You have my permission, and I instruct you, implore you, to grant yourself this same courtesy. Here is why:

Writing Is Thinking
Writing is writing, but writing is also thinking. Have you ever gotten to the end of a paper only to realize that what you ended up writing wasn’t what you thought you were going to write at all? That’s because, as Annie tells us, “very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”  Even the famous ones. Even the best ones. Really. Look here.

Writing Is a Process
Writing is a process, often a messy, messy process (see link above). Part of that process is getting started. Why is this task of putting words on the page so daunting? It is because we have unrealistic expectations about what writing is and how it works. We think we should be able to sit down and write a masterpiece in one draft, but no one does that. We write the mess first, then we clean it up. That is the process.

So, get messy and have faith! When you finish making your mess, you will know what you are trying to say, and you will be able to tidy things up.

For more on sh*tty first drafts, check out Anne Lamott’s original ideas here.


Doing Research with the Library Databases

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted in Dissertations & Theses, USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Research Because of all the services the USF Library offers, its website can sometimes be confusing to navigate, especially for those of you who are new to not only to doing research but also to doing scholarly research. While Google Scholar is a good resource for finding sources, did you know that USF’s Library subscribes to hundreds of databases that contain thousands of credible and scholarly sources? Some of the best places to find sources are in databases like JSTORAcademic Search Premier, Expanded Academic ASAPGeneral OneFile, and many others. Watch the video tutorial below that takes you through how to locate and search the Library databases and good luck with your research! Doing Research: Navigating USF’s Library Databases


Welcome Back!

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by mmmcintyre | No Comments »

TWS photo

It’s the beginning of a new academic year, and the newly renovated Writing Studio (now on the second floor of the library) is here to help!

Are you working on a personal statement? Check out our handout on writing an engaging personal statement.

Are you figuring out how to get started with an essay assignment? The University of Kansas has some great prewriting resources. You might also check out our handout on crafting an effective introduction.

Are you working on a long-term project like a dissertation? Check out the dissertation LibGuide.

Whatever your project or writing task, remember that the Writing Studio is here to support you, so call and make an appointment (813-974-8293) or drop by and check out our new space.


Weekly Resource Roundup: Citing Social Media and Email

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 | Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by | No Comments »


*Photo “Social Media apps on iPhone” by Jason Howie

As digital discourse becomes more prevalent, it also becomes more relevant to our writing. Citation style  guides have, historically, been slow to produce standard citation forms for these emerging resources. This week, we want to share the best resources we’ve found for appropriately incorporating and citing emails, tweets, Facebook posts, and other forms of digital writing.

  1. Teachbyte’s handy-dandy chart shows how to cite a blog post, YouTube video, Tweet, Facebook post, and email in both APA and MLA.
  2. APA’s blog is always a great resource for citation information that may not have made it into the printed style guide yet. This post on Facebook and Twitter offers both examples and explanations.
  3. The Clever Researcher has also collected links to resources on citing social media in MLA, APA, and Chicago.

Have you found useful resources of your own for citing digital writing? Share them with us in the comments!



Top 3 APA Resources

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 | Tags:
Posted in USF Writing Studio Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by | No Comments »

Though it’s hard to believe, we’re nearly half way through Summer A. In fact, some of you are already composing term papers and may have some pressing questions about APA. If you don’t have time to make it to the Writing Center, here are 3 places on the web that can provide some of the answers you need:

  1. The Writing Center’s APA Handout: Our APA handout aims to provide a quick reference of the key features of APA style and provides examples of the most common resources you may need cite.
  2. The APA website’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page: Because it’s updated more  often than the style guide itself, this page offers the most up-to-date information about citation practices and APA style in general. This page also contains a set of easy-to-navigate examples of common references and includes information about citing Twitter, Facebook, and websites, even websites without authors.
  3. The OWL @ Purdue’s APA Style GuideNeed a thorough explanation of all things APA? Then this is your best bet. The OWL provides information about and examples of everything from title pages to in-text citations to reference pages.


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