Writing Center Blog

A Blog Post by Gabi Broeker

posted Apr 7, 2017, 3:51 PM by Writing Center

A blog. More specifically a blog for the Writing Center. A blog for my job; one that my peers, colleagues, and bosses (gulp!) are going to read. I’m supposed to write down my great ideas, my perspectives, my secret tips and tools; however, I only have one thing on my mind. SPRING BREAK. How can I possibly lecture about things like grammar and sentence structure? And are you even going to be writing over SPRING BREAK? Well, I’m gonna show ya some cool stuff . . . check it out.

 Grammar doesn’t take a break. In fact, grammar is what makes us sound really smart or really not smart. So don’t disregard it when you are meeting new people on the beach, playing games with your family, or just relaxing. Remember, “me and Billy” didn’t go to California . . . “Billy and I” went to California. And you aren’t “doing good” . . . you are “doing well.” No . . . those are not silly rules. Those are intelligent rules, rules that make you sound that much gooder. Oops. See what I mean?

 Don’t overthink it, but remember that when you share your SPRING BREAK memories and stories with your friends, you’ll want them to sound awesome! Here’s a tip, KEEP A JOURNAL. How simple, how easy, how fun. There’s no prompt, no length requirement or formatting. A journal is all you, all the time. Tell us what happened, good or bad (but hopefully good). And you don’t even have to write in a journal! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, GABI? Well, maybe you can tuck some concert tickets in there to remember what a great time that was. Or you can tape those pictures you took at the photo booth on page nine. Even better, slip a few rose petals in the pages to remember the nights you spent with a loved one.

 See, grammar and writing doesn’t have to be hard or difficult. It can be fun. Grammar helps us carry ourselves and present ourselves in more formal ways. And writing isn’t always academic… it can help us remember all our greatest adventures. Plus, it makes it a little bit easier to write that essay when you get back to school . . . minimal hand cramps and blank stares to the ceiling. Trust me, we’ve all been there. So kick back, relax, and enjoy SPRING BREAK 2k17. See ya soon folks!

Just Do It by Vicki Stanley

posted Apr 5, 2017, 5:40 PM by Writing Center

Writing a paper can feel like an impossible task to complete. Throughout my time in college, speaking with my peers and other writers, I've noticed that many writers (myself included) have felt constricted when writing, and feel like there is only one correct way to write an academic paper. However, this is not the case. While aspects of your paper such as the topic, format or assignment requirements are fixed, the content has flexibility. Many writers, however, may have difficulty finding this flexibility and in turn difficulty writing their papers. Therefore, finding tips to engage a writer in the writing process is crucial to promote the free flow of ideas when writing. Like many writers, I have also experienced “writer’s block” and have thought that a paper was too insurmountable a task to overcome and complete. To combat this, the list I’ve included below has a few tips and tricks I recommend for overcoming these obstacles and discovering the autonomy each writer has over their writing.

1. Just do it! By that I mean brainstorm. Brainstorming is a key element to completing any paper, whether it’s a one page summary paper or a ten page research paper. Getting any ideas out on paper, even if they seem ridiculous at the time, will not only help a writer decide what points he or she would like to touch upon, but will also divide your essay into much more manageable goals.

2. What is important to you? If you have the option to, choose a topic that matters to you. You’ll most likely experience more ease when writing the paper and produce some of your best writing due to your investment in the topic. If you can’t choose your topic, remember that you have the autonomy to include the evidence that you feel is the most important or relevant when building your argument.

3. Breathe. Consider taking a break from writing your paper if you’re feeling frustrated or stuck during any stage of the writing process. This break can range anywhere from fifteen minutes to a day or two. Distancing yourself from your paper can be a good thing, helping you clear your head and sort out your ideas and directions your paper can take. Just make sure you don’t forget to come back to your paper.

As the semester comes to a close, remember when drafting your final essays and anything you may write in the future that you are not powerless when writing. The diction, syntax, voice and ideas in a paper are unique to each writer, resulting in a multitude of academic writing styles and papers. There are many ways to write an academic paper and the writer holds the power over the production of it. So set aside your fears and get started, writing will only get easier if you do. Good luck and happy writing!

The Importance of Reading Closely by Kayla Dean

posted Apr 5, 2017, 5:34 PM by Writing Center

I once had a professor tell me that I should never read a book without a pen in my hand. This works pretty well for me; English majors annotate obsessively. Just one look at my collection of Virginia Woolf novels and you’d know that I had to write a paper about them afterwards.

But if you’re a current composition student (one who’s not required to read To The Lighthouse) you probably get tired of your professors teaching you how to annotate yet again. Besides, you learned this skill in high school, right? Just throw in a random highlight here or there and circle a word you don’t know. That will get you the daily points. Yet this is only a small part of what annotating can do. Your professors notice if you haven’t put in the sincere time and effort to read a piece carefully. Additionally, you shortchange yourself the ability to substantively learn good study skills.

Something I always see with my composition students is that they have less to say if they have not annotated the piece I ask them to read before class. Does this mean that without scribbling all over what you read that you can’t understand it? Not necessarily. But here’s the reason that annotating is absolutely vital to a good writing practice in your composition course: technology is distracting and it’s all too easy to get pulled away from your reading if there’s nothing holding you to the page.

We get it over in the Writing Center: it’s not always easy to read what’s required for your classes when there’s so much distraction in every place imaginable. But there are a few life hacks that actually do make your papers stronger. First, annotate as you read, but take a second pass if you don’t feel like you got everything. Also, look for those little compact paragraphs that summarize the whole piece. Oftentimes, a writer will put their point earlier in the text. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t look like a traditional thesis. It may not be at the end of the first paragraph, but it will usually tell you what you need to know to read a piece effectively.

Also, take some time to look at the rhetorical strategies in the text. How do they start their paragraphs? Do they use long sentences or short ones? Oh, and what surprised you about the piece? Did you like/dislike the way that the author presented the information? Summarize each paragraph if this last question poses some difficulty for you.

All of this stuff matters. When it comes to your own writing, you will have to make the same decisions.

Yes, we know that you know how to do basic reading. But annotating lets you actually slow down and understand what the writer wants to say. Skipping this step often means that we miss out on key moves in the text. That’s at least part of the reason why you freeze up when your professor asks a question during discussion. If you know the text (or at least have some notes to remind you what you read about), then coming up with an answer suddenly doesn’t seem quite as difficult.

Don't Be Shy by Alex Zenz

posted Apr 5, 2017, 5:28 PM by Writing Center

Many of the consultants in the Writing Center are students, as well as teachers.  All of us remember—or are currently experiencing—what it is like to take classes at a university.  We know what it is like to be wholly confused by an assignment, even by an entire subject.  We also understand that feeling of panic when an essay is due and not done.  The UNLV Writing Center is here to help improve your ability to succeed in a college environment through aiding you in becoming better writers.  We are here to walk you through the various stages and aspects of academic writing, and to help clear up that confusion and panic when we can.

There is a place on our intake forms where you can write down what your specific concerns are.  If you do not know, that is okay.  Really.  We are happy to start at the top and look at your thesis statement, essay structure, and content. 

If you do have questions, though, do not be afraid to ask them up front.  Consultations are more beneficial to you when we know which elements of writing are the most difficult for you.  We only have 45 minutes at a time to help you with those concerns, so it is best if—when you have specific questions—you make sure to ask them up front. 

It also helps if you bring your assignment guide, notes, professor comments, and anything else you used to help craft whatever stage of your work you have brought in.  We have plenty of room at our consultation tables to lay things out and look at them with you.  Although we can’t always know exactly what your professor is asking for, the more information we see, the better chance we have at giving you accurate advice on how to progress through the writing process for your specific writing assignment. 

If you ask us to proofread your work, we will say no.  Any other writing questions you have, though, we will do our very best to answer.  So please, do not be shy about asking; that is why we are here.

On Words by Kevin Sebastian

posted Mar 20, 2017, 11:13 AM by Writing Center

Words are fickle things; their meanings are wont to change every so often, and upon investigation, one will find that a word’s dictionary definition looks quite different from its use in earlier centuries. Certain features of meaning may have been inherited, but there is enough of a difference between them, so one can say, when looking at these definitions side-by-side, that they’re probably not sisters—maybe distant cousins twice-removed. For example, glamour presently refers to an appealing quality, typically one associated with looks—it is no incident that a fashion and beauty magazine makes use of the word as its name. Originally, however, glamour referred to an enchantment, a magic spell. Gay is another useful example: the word used to exclusively describe a state of happiness, but now, while it is still used to refer to happiness, a person saying gay in the 21st century understands that it is also a sexual identity. It can even mean both at the same time: calling me gay while I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race with my mom to my left and my partner to my right is an appropriate epithet on both counts. (Although, the word has taken an unfortunate and sinister alteration in meaning, and gay is now being used pejoratively. To this I say: gay is good, people.)

Knowing and understanding words, their meaning, their history, and their relationships to other words are, therefore, important. John Ruskin, an English critic of art and literature, argues similarly when writing that a critically-minded person “is learned in the PEERAGE of words [and] remembers all their ancestry, their intermarriages, distant relationships” (distant cousin twice-removed indeed). Relatedly, the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge posits that good writing employs “a perfect appropriateness of the words to the meaning.” What these two ultimately say is that a thoughtful writer knows which word to use when because of the particularity of each word’s definition, which would be particular to the context wherein it will be used. For example, when explaining a quotation from a source, a writer can choose from a variety of verbs: is the source exemplifying an idea, or is it illustrating it? Perhaps the source is clarifying the idea instead. Of course, each of these words, arguably, may easily suffice as a verb in this case, but a thoughtful writer will understand that while exemplify, illustrate and clarify are close enough synonyms, they each bear a shade of meaning that will guide the writer’s choice in the same way that a painter chooses red over maroon. Like a painter’s pigments, words are the tools of the trade, and writers must utilize them with the same artistic judiciousness.

So go ahead and crack that dictionary and thesaurus open. Just make sure to actually read the definitions when trying to find the most appropriate word you need. You might even learn how glamour came to mean magic of a very different kind.

Heteronormative Notions of “Professionalism” and Writing Center Consultants by Kayla Miller

posted Mar 20, 2017, 10:24 AM by Writing Center

Recently, a call for papers asked questions regarding the garb of Writing Center consultants and how/if it affects the tutor-tutee relationship and ensuing session. As a former high school butch-goth and a current hard-femme dyke, fashion has been and continues to be the frontlines of where identity is formed or, at least, expressed. The locus of garb for the formation of identities, and for their perpetual reformation and malleability, has been integral to my own and countless others’ experience of the interplay of gender, self expression, identity formation, and fluid non-essentialist dialogues. When high school and collegiate dress codes provide additional layers of contextualization and increasing criticism, the question of what should I wear? is crucial.

Though there is an expectation of “professionalism” in a given workplace, and though there is an accompanying idea that “professionals” dress in certain garb and most certainly do not don others, I reject this and all heteronormative, male-centric notions of “appropriate” attire. As a Writing Center consultant, I work as a “first responder” of sorts with students -- often, students will bring questions and concerns to the Writing Center that they do not take to their professors. Furthermore, as a one-on-one tutor and not a professor in front of a classroom, the effects of “professionalism” are further filtered through this context.

My approach is to dress as hard-femme-former-high-school-goth as I like -- my students and tutees should (ideally) recognize my sincerity as a professional from my language, lessons, and acts. The choice to dress as most comfortably expresses my gender and identity formation, and not necessarily as a “professional,” further bonds the tutee and tutor (or student and professor) in a mutual recognition of the life-giving necessity of identity expression. Though a student or tutee may doubt my capabilities upon first seeing me in combat boots and jeans, the likelihood of this feels far less relevant than the content of our session. Doubts about my professionalism are mitigated, perhaps entirely offset, by the comfort of freedom in identity expression and re-expression, formulation and reformation.

Thus, in short, my capabilities can and do speak of their own accord. My wardrobe’s role is not to represent my skillset and knowledge -- it is to liberate my identity from essentializing shackles, to allow its fluidity, iterations and reiterations to sit atop my skin without definition.

Staying Focused by Alice Hastings

posted Mar 7, 2017, 9:52 AM by Writing Center

If you’re anything like me, you get distracted easily. I open the internet to get to Webcampus, and suddenly it’s an hour later and I’m on Youtube watching live Cher videos. And so I close the internet, open Word to start that essay, and suddenly I’m on Facebook, years deep into my old high school lab partner’s tagged photos.

The internet is the enemy of productivity. I wanted to share some of the free tools I use to help me stay focused, be productive, and get that essay done on time.

  1. StayFocused is a Google Chrome extension that limits the amount of time you can spend on websites of your choosing. The app has options for days of the week, active times, restricted time, and more. For instance, you can limit your Facebook time to 20 minutes on weekdays, but have unlimited browsing time on the weekend. This app is a good, easy choice for daily distraction control.

  2. LeechBlock is a Firefox extension similar to StayFocused, but unlike StayFocused, it also allows you to block websites for designated time periods. For instance, you could block Twitter from 9-5 on weekdays, but allow yourself 50 minutes on the weekend.

  3. SelfControl is a Mac app that allows you to block websites of your choosing for up to 24 hours. You can delete the app, restart your computer, or throw your laptop out the window—no matter what you do, it won’t allow you to access your blocked sites until your time is up. Great for dedicated procrastinators!

  4. FocusWriter is available for Mac, Linux, and Windows. It blocks everything on your computer screen except what you’re writing, and allows you to set goals for yourself. For instance, you can set a goal to write for 30 minutes, and the app will alert you when you reach it. This is very similar to WriteRoom for Macs or Dark Room for Windows.

These are some of the most popular apps available now, but depending on your OS and specific needs, there are many other options to choose from. Pick one that works for you and start writing!

I'm Talking About Style by Scott Hinkle

posted Mar 7, 2017, 9:30 AM by Writing Center

My typical style involves a billowy scarf and a pencil-thin mustache. Sometimes when I’m feeling extra fancy, I’ll add a beret and shiny pantaloons.

Just kidding. I don’t wear these things, and I’m not talking about that kind of style.

Although we consultants are able to apply a certain level of adaptability when necessary, we all tend to employ a basic approach or default style during our Writing Center consultations. For example, while I’ve noticed some of us really dive in at the sentence level (some won’t budge until each one is “right”), I’ve tended to be a bit less prescriptive there.

I am always primarily concerned with the soundness of the thesis and whether the body paragraphs follow through with it, but when it comes to the sentences themselves, other than correcting grammar issues that obscure meaning or hinder readability (such as comma splices and run-ons), I tend to leave them alone.

To clarify, I guess you can say that I tend to focus more on content (or “ideas”) than on style; on what is being said rather than how it is being said. For example, I’d focus more on eliminating unnecessary repetitions or irrelevant information (as it affects content) rather than, say, the rhythm and flow based on the length of the sentences, or even vocabulary (as long as the word is not entirely incorrect to the intended meaning). This sometimes means letting a few awkward phrases slip through, as well as some of those dreaded “passive” sentences. However, if they leave with solid ideas and logical organization, I consider the session a success, the time well spent.

But like the seasons, styles change. For me, that season is this coming Fall, when I will be working at the Writing Center’s Journalism Satellite. This change means I’ll need to be all about style. Associated Press Style, that is. Soon I’ll be required to focus on exactly how things are written at the sentence (and even at the word) level, because AP Style calls for some very specific guidelines in addition to its general guiding principles of “consistency, clarity, accuracy, and brevity” (Purdue OWL). I’m very much looking forward to the change, and am learning as much as possible in the meantime. I’m looking forward to becoming stylish.

Maybe I should trade in my beret for a newsboy cap.

Writing as Self-Care by Zach Wilson

posted Feb 27, 2017, 11:29 AM by Writing Center

“Treat yourself” may be the most popular phrase that expresses an important aspect of handling the stress of daily life. Buying that pint of ice cream after a week of grueling, thankless workouts. Going out for drinks on a Wednesday because you took the hardest midterm of your life earlier that day. Giving yourself time to watch an episode of that guilty pleasure show after a rough shift at work (don’t lie, we all have one). All of these are examples of self-care: prioritizing your mental, emotional and physical health enough to realize when your stress has hit a dangerous level and you need some comfort.

Self-care comes in many forms, and not all of them involve splurging on sweets or binging Netflix. One of these methods is expressive writing—yeah, I know, the idea of writing voluntarily makes most people want to run the other way. Hear me out first.

In a study done by Harvard Health, Dr. James Pennebaker observed how a group of people with normal to high stress levels (full-time workers, students, or both) were affected by journaling for fifteen minutes a day. He found that freewriting even for this short amount of time was effective in helping these individuals regulate their emotions and even reduce anxiety; a small sample of students with test-anxiety who wrote about their feelings before the exam received higher overall grades than those who did not.

If you’re still not convinced, I should add that journaling has no guidelines or expectations. Some people write angsty poems (mine are cringe-worthy), while others just vent about a coworker or professor who, like, totally has it out for them (again, don’t lie, we all have one). Another technique is making up a story to take your mind off of the all-too-real stressors you might be feeling in your normal life. These can be anything from writing yourself as a Jedi to imagining you’re on your way to the Grammy’s with husband Frank Ocean (anything is possible! It’s your journal, your fantasy).

In order for writing as self-care to be effective, it’s important to think of it outside of the academic mindset you might have when crafting essays for a grade. Writing for yourself is meant to alleviate some of the stress piled on you from other areas of your life (including writing those intimidating essays and research papers) instead of adding more. Writing for a few minutes at the end of a long day can help to remove some of the emotional and mental anxiety you’ve accumulated by writing it out physically; sometimes it feels really satisfying to rip out the paper and crumple it up afterwards, so you can literally throw away your negativity. So the next time you’re at the end of your rope, grab a notebook and try it out. The benefits are real, and you might even feel a little more relaxed the next time you open your laptop to write that essay for your most critical instructor.

NO, I DON'T WANT TO DO IT! by Layla Barati

posted Feb 21, 2017, 12:13 PM by Writing Center

We’ve all been there.

I’ve been there. You’ve been there. Your peers have been there. Heck, even your professors have been there.

We’ve all been given a task that seems impossible or inconvenient to do when we much rather attend to the hustle and bustle of our busy, hectic lives. Having to write an essay or figure out a writing assignment when you would prefer to attend to your own things can be an awful feeling. To make matters worse, writing can really seem impossible when you aren’t sure how to begin doing so. But nothing takes the cake more than telling yourself you’re bad at it.

In my experience working here at the Writing Center, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard writers preface our session with, “I’m a bad writer so…I need help”. While it depends on the individual I’m working with, it’s as if I can almost hear the defeat in their voice. Sometimes this mentality can go further and harm the individual, and it is seen in their writing. The draft screams, “I’m not good at this. I don’t really want to do it anyway, so I’m not going to try”. While I’ll admit at least with this latter mentality there is an actual physical draft to assess, I understand why for some students this fear can be paralyzing.

Why should you begin something you’re afraid you’ll fail at? Why even start if you’re not going to do well? While some of us may not think these thoughts consciously, there is always a lingering doubt that we might never attain a certain standard that we’d like to achieve (while on the other hand, there are some writers who think anything they create is a flawless gift to humanity...but that’s another story).

I’m here to tell you there is not a thing anyone creates that does not have a flaw. There are the gifted (our Shakespeares and Hemingways of the world) and then there’s us. But the thing that we have in common is that we can always be better. The most important way to ensure that you get better is to start. It’s easy to get caught up with seemingly more important things just like it’s easy to procrastinate and avoiding tasks until they are no longer avoidable. Although it would be nice to hear that you could get through life easy that way, it just isn’t the truth. But taking the first step to becoming a better writer is actually an easy one: permission.

You should permit yourself to turn off that voice. That voice that admits defeat before you’ve even gotten a chance to start. That voice that prefaces your abilities with an “I’m not good at this so why even try?” Don’t let being “bad” at something be the rationale that devalues your work. You deserve better. Even though it seems the writing assignments you do won’t affect your life down the road, the mentality you develop now can carry you far. It’s okay to not be the best at something just like it’s okay to want to be better. The most important thing I can advise you to do is to just start.

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