USF Writing Studio

Archive for December, 2015


Dealing With Criticism In Writing: A Writing Consultant’s Perspective

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

It is not uncommon to consult with writers who have been criticized about their writing. In fact, most writers who have been in a university/professional environment (including yours truly) have faced this from their bosses, albeit in different magnitudes. I have shared my office space with colleagues, who despite being proficient in the spoken language (native English language speakers) have often been told to seek help with their writing. They do not take this well at all, especially if the criticism comes from a non-native speaker. And it’s not uncommon even for teachers to simply shunt their students off to the writing studio to ‘fix their writing’ (let’s prepare more of that magic potion!).
I am penning this down fresh from consulting with Ms. E who had received a severe dressing down on her final term paper. E came in during my compression session in the evening and sat there, almost blank-faced. Upon asking her what she wanted to discuss during our 25 minutes (she had circled on ‘Research Strategies’ in the intake form), she pulled up the review comments from her professor. As I was reading through the comments (15 comments on a 3-page paper, the last of which was half a page long summarizing the professor’s views), my very first instinct was to side with the writer. All the signs contended to my initial hypothesis – that even if the teacher was well within her right to do such a detailed dissection, she could have been a bit more polite in the way the views were conveyed to E. 
The crux of the teacher’s comments seemed to have stemmed from the frustration of seeing a student who had decided to not cite any of her findings. So it seemed that all this information that E was putting in her term paper was indeed hers, which was not true. On top of this, it had come to the teacher’s attention that E completely missed the point about focusing her paper around her thesis statement. On further investigation, the thesis statement seemed pretty disorganized and broken as well. Since this was a 3000 level course, the teacher did manage to vent out her frustrations coupled with a few personal remarks (I will fail you on the grounds of plagiarism if you don’t make amends!), and it was evident that E had been adversely affected by it. And with 5 hours to go before the submission deadline, this was great news! Except that it was not. 
I started the session not knowing how this would end. I knew for sure that there was no magic formula to fix her issues. But it was also important to not bog E down further. Even though we as writing consultants would not lose sleep over such kinds of situations we encounter at work, it was important to not pull the writer down further into the abyss. I gave E my unbiased view of what I felt after reading through the comments, and only sided with her regarding the tone of her teacher. It was important to let E understand that the teacher was well within her right to critique the writing and provide some feedback (though E seemed to think the teacher was ‘ridiculous’, per usual). The tone used may have been purely borne out of the frustration of the task at hand and the only thing E could do at this point was to move on with the assignment rather than building up a siege mentality.

I then spoke to her on the need for citations and how it was paramount that she had to address these significant aspects in her writing in order to improve her grades. E seemed to have taken my suggestions well. Perhaps an unbiased view from a second person was all that she needed.

— Nikhil Menon, Ph.D. Student in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Emotions in the Writing Studio

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Based on what I study and investigate, I have read in recent literature that beliefs and emotions are related to actions in complex ways. As several researchers have stated, the human brain is an emotional brain (Lewis, Haviland-Jones, & Barrett, 2008). Therefore, learning involves thought and emotion (Lewis, 2005). Moreover, it is known that emotion “functions as an amplifier, providing the intensity, urgency, and energy to propel our behavior” in “everything we do” (MacIntyre, 2002a, p. 61). On this occasion, I would like to reflect on how beliefs and emotions tend to influence action, by referring to a difficult session I had this term in the Writing Studio. I have been a consultant for four semesters, but I had never had such a difficult session product of a writer’s emotional state. One would imagine that difficulties in general are associated to the piece of writing, but in this case I think it was the writer’s actions (influenced by his beliefs and situated emotions), that prevented him from being fully involved in the session, which at the same time prevented me from helping him in the way I would have desired.
The writer had anticipated me from the beginning of the session that he was in a hurry because the deadline was that same day. He expressed, as some writers do at some point, that he wanted me to go over his writing “quickly”, by only correcting the mistakes. Moreover and most importantly, he did not even let me make another copy, as he thought it would be a waste of time. I tried to explain to him the philosophy of the Writing Studio, but his anxiety did not even let him listen attentively to what I was saying. This situation clearly explains how beliefs and emotions reflect certain behaviors and ways of acting. And even if I tried to lower his anxiety at different moments during the session, the writer’s behaviors remained the same.
Of course the result was a session full of tensions between his beliefs and my beliefs of what writing and feedback entail, which prevented us from performing in the way we would have wanted. Reflecting on this makes me think that it would be interesting to read more about writers’ emotions during the writing sessions, and what could be done in the Studio in order to enhance positive emotions and try to reduce negative ones.
By Matilde Olivero, PhD in Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology
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