Monday – Thursday: 9am-9pm
Friday: 9am-4pm
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: 1pm-5pm


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


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?


Writing Prompt for the Hungry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you describe your hunger?

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

How to Focus on Grammar in the Writing Studio

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you rephrase this sentence another way verbally?”

“Is ___________ what you meant here?”

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

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

It really is just grammar, I promise!

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

1. The purpose is to learn.

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

2. We will not get through the whole document.

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

3. Think long term.

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

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

Happy writing!


Finding the Right “Hook” for Your Personal Statement

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 | Posted in USF Writing 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!

(813) 974-2729

4202 E. Fowler Ave. LIB122 Tampa FL 33620

Library Initiatives

Scholar Commons | Karst Information Portal
Holocaust & Genocide Studies | Florida Studies Center
Oral History Program | Textbook Affordability Project

Follow Us