Diary of a Writing ConsultantUWO Writing Center Blog
10 Tips for Battling Writer's Block
by Sam| Writing Center Consultant | May 14, 2019
Writing consultants at the Writing Center have come across writers who have no idea where to begin in the writing process. Some writers are intimidated by an assignment, or they don’t know what topic to write about. These situations often cause writers to develop the dreaded writer’s block, which happens to us all. Starting the writing process can be difficult for writers of all levels, s you should not worry! Here are some tips that I have learned throughout the years that have helped to eliminate my writer’s block Read more…
So There's No Red Pen?
by Khaila| Writing Center Consultant | April 17, 2019
While working at the Writing Center, I have noticed that a lot of writers who have not been here before have misconceptions on the types of services we provide. For instance, a lot of writers assume Writing Center consultants are editors who take the notorious red pen and scribble out all of the writer’s mistakes. Read more…
Do I Write, or Does One Write? First vs. Third Person Perspective in Modern Academic Writing
Deciding whether or not to use first person in a paper is never an easy choice. Our high school teachers taught us that it’s never okay, but we at the Writing Center (and as writers!) often run into papers that seem impossible to write without the occasional “I.” Read more…
Improving IEP Grammar Learning
It can be difficult to design enjoyable grammar lessons for students at any level. A typical response to “today we’re working on grammar” sounds something like, “UGHHHH, No!” However, understanding students who have not learned English as a first language have even more difficulty understanding the complexities of the language Read more…
Many writing centers, including ours, use peer writing consultants to help students improve their writing skills. Because of this, it seems somewhat ironic that many of our experiences with peer review in our classes are typically not the most helpful. Read more…
"Does This Sound Okay?": How to Check Your Email Tone
by Jes| Writing Center Program Specialist | April 24, 2019
Writing emails may seem like a quick, easy process, but there is much more to it than just typing up words. We live in a world where face-to-face communication isn’t always possible, which means a lot of our communication occurs via email. Regardless of who you are emailing, it is important to write emails carefully to ensure they convey the right message and tone. Read more…
"A Rose by Any Other Name...": On Pronouns in the Writing Center
by Constance | Writing Center Consultant | September 13, 2018
As autumn leaves start to fall and a new semester of classes and work begins, I have again been faced with a dilemma that has followed me since I first decided to start using pronouns to refer to myself that wre not “she,” “her,” or “hers”–the internal debate of whether or not I ought to announce to professors and work colleagues the pronouns I do use. Read more…
Breaking the Ice: How to Boost a Writer's Confidence and Motivation
What good is tutoring once a writer steps out the door? It’s a perennial question for writing centers. A writing consultant’s mission goes further than helping with papers; instead, the aim is improving wrtiers’ skills and confidence long-term. Read more…
Emotional Intelligence to Assist Overly Emotional Writers
Some appointments are derailed by writers who display excessive emotion, getting angry and hostile or sad and unsure about their writing. These outpourings of emotion often make it difficult to concentrate on the writing issues at hand, and getting the appointment back on track in a respectful manner is something I was not sure I knew how to do. Read more…
Choosing to visit the writing center is a personal decision that reflects the wishes and preferences of individual students. For the most part, students come because they want to. But much like all educational choices, the choice to visit the writing center is also much more than that. Read more…
by Sam | Writing Center Consultant | May 14, 2019
Writing consultants at the Writing Center have come across writers who have no idea where to begin in the writing process. Some writers are intimidated by an assignment, or they don’t know what topic to write about. These situations often cause writers to develop the dreaded writer’s block, which happens to us all. Starting the writing process can be difficult for writers of all level, so you should not worry! Here are some tips that I have learned throughout the years that have helped to eliminate my writer’s block:
- Throw away the outline. Yes, you read that correctly. Often times when you have an outline, you feel forced to stick to the ideas we wrote down. This can often shut down creativity to a new idea that may come along while you write
- Think of that “wow” moment in class. This is the time that you could not stop thinking about what one person or a professor said in class. This can be something that helped you to better understand the reading or helped you to connect plot points.
- While walking to class, walking your dog, or walking to dinner, think of what you talked about in class. Having the topic assignment on the brain throughout the day may help to think of something.
Pro tip: Keep a notebook by your bed; you never know when an idea may come up.
- Write something else. Whether it is a poem or a short story, this may help you to find a creative way to get started on your writing.
- Read something. Find something to read that you can relate back to your assignment (it can be a blog post, Facebook post, or a news article). This can help you to think of what to write or another way you can connect it to the assignment.
- Talk with a classmate. Ask them what they are writing about and how they came up with the idea. Learning about their thought process may help you to come up with an idea. While talking with a classmate you can also bounce ideas off of each other.
- Create a mind map. A mind map is when you have a main idea in the center and branch out with smaller points. This will help you to connect smaller ideas to the larger assignment idea.
- Write badly. Even if you have no idea what to write, start writing. You may not have the best idea now, but writing may help you to get ideas flowing.
- Think of a creative title. This may help you to come up with an idea for an assignment.
- Visit the Writing Center. We are here to help you get the writing process started.
By Jes | Writing Center Program Specialist | April 24th, 2019
Writing emails may seem like a quick, easy process, but there is much more to it than just typing up words. We live in a world where face-to-face communication isn’t always possible, which means a lot of our communication occurs via email. Regardless of who you are emailing, it is important to write emails carefully to ensure they convey the right message and tone.
One thing you should always consider before writing an email is whether the topic you need to discuss is appropriate for email communication. Certain topics require either an immediate response or a more in-depth discussion that should be discussed over the phone or in-person to allow for clear, quick back-and-forth communication. Other subjects may be sensitive in nature and are best saved for face-to-face meetings, such as grades, performance in a class, or questions you may have after missing a class. It’s also best to work on class projects with fellow students in person rather than via email. If you’re not sure which method of communication is best for your topic, ask yourself how you would most like to be communicated with about it and decide from there.
Once you’ve decided to write an email, it’s crucial to realize one of the biggest drawbacks of communicating via email: it takes out all of the non-verbal cues we typically rely on in face-to-face communication to tell us how someone feels about what we say. Because there are no non-verbal cues, we can’t always determine how someone might react to the way things are worded in an email. Sometimes, even something as simple as communicating a deadline or saying “yep” instead of “yes” can rub someone the wrong way. According to David Swink, Chief Creative Officer of Strategic Interactions, Inc., it’s much more difficult when communicating via email to tell if the person you’re communicating with is in the same psychological climate as you. This means that while you may be in a good mood and feeling positive as you write, the email recipient may be under a lot of stress or in a bad mood when they read and apply a negative tone to the email. Additionally, if your message is ambiguous, most people will apply a negative tone to it regardless of the mood they are in (Swink). If there’s any room for a reader to view an email as negative, you may want to revise to ensure this doesn’t happen.
There are many things to keep in mind when reviewing or revising an email to make sure your intended tone will be clear. One of the most important things when writing an email is to always keep in mind your relationship with the person you are writing to (Swink). An email to a professor should have a much different tone than an email to a friend or fellow student. In addition, it’s best to avoid using text speak such as “lol” or “thx” and emojis unless you know the person you’re communicating with really well, as this may make some people feel as though you aren’t taking the email conversation seriously. Professional language should always be used when emailing with professors, employers, or co-workers. The use of all caps should be avoided as much as possible as well, as this can be interpreted as yelling or screaming and can make a message feel negative.
Another thing to consider when sending an email is that there is more to email than just sending and receiving information; email is also a way to keep up or build a relationship with someone (Swink). It’s a good idea to treat an email like you would a face-to-face communication by saying things like “I hope you’re having a great day” or “I look forward to hearing from you soon.” This may help your reader feel more connected to you as they would when speaking in person. You can also make emails feel more personal by inquiring about something specific to your reader, like a recent vacation, or by mentioning a conversation you recently had with them, if appropriate. Conversational devices such as these can make your email feel warmer and more personal, which can in turn make the email feel more positive.
If you’ve read over an email using the above suggestions and you’re still not sure if it has a good or positive tone, you can ask a friend, co-worker, or family member to read it over for you. If nobody is available to read the email for you, saving the email as a draft and re-reading it a few hours later before sending works, too. No matter how you choose to review and revise your emails, it’s always a good idea to do everything you can to prevent your emails from leaving a bad taste in your readers’ mouths.
Swink, David F. “Don’t Type at Me Like That! Email and Emotions.” Psychology Today, 12 Nov. 2013, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/threat-management/201311/dont-type-me-email-and-emotions. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
By Khaila| Writing Center Consultant | April 17th, 2019
While working at the Writing Center, I have noticed that a lot of writers who have not been here before have misconceptions on the types of services we provide. For instance, a lot of writers assume Writing Center consultants are editors who take the notorious red pen and scribble out all of the writer’s mistakes. This is not a bad assumption. Editors are useful; they focus solely on the paper and even offer advice about what to change (Gillespie and Lerner 45). It seems like a fair deal and a good use of your resources, but the Writing Center offers a learning experience that is much more valuable in the long run.
Our job is to teach our writers skills that will help them learn how to revise their work on their own. A writing session is about the writer, not necessarily their paper. The paper is useful because it offers consultants a sample of the writer’s writing to work with. During a session with a writer, the writer or consultant points out repeated errors the writer makes.
For example, a writer may tell me that their paper does not flow, but they do not know how to fix it. Lack of flow could be a result of missing transitions or scrambled organization. If the writer struggles with transitions, we take time to go through the structure and the purpose of them. The writer then takes this knowledge and applies it to future repeated errors. An editor likely would simply correct the lack of transitions, doing the work for the them, which takes away the writer’s authority and responsibility. An editor’s feedback points out errors to the writer but does not explain why they are errors. An editor also does not take time to explain how to fix the error, which means the writer will likely continue to make this mistake in future writing.
Consultants also ask the writers to read their papers out loud. Although this may be an intimidating request, it actually allows writers to hear errors that they could not catch while reading in their head. This process essentially gives the writer power during their session and takes them out of a passive position.
Many first timers come to the Writing Center for editing but leave feeling grateful for the learning experience. Are classes on campus feeding the “red pen” misconception? How can Writing Center staff do a better job of reaching students and educating professors about how the Writing Center works?
Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. “The Tutoring Process.” The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring. 2nd ed., Pearson, 2008, pp. 25-45.
By Constance | Writing Center Consultant | September 13th, 2018
As autumn leaves start to fall and a new semester of classes and work begins, I have again been faced with a dilemma that has followed me since I first decided to start using pronouns to refer to myself that were not “she,” “her,” or “hers”–the internal debate of whether or not I ought to announce to professors and work colleagues the pronouns I do use. I have several professors who ask, on first days of classes, for their students to share this small factoid of identity; one of them insists upon offering her own pronouns whenever she meets someone. But most people do not ask, not thinking to refrain from assuming others’ pronouns, and I am considerably nervous about the whole scenario–if I could, I would keep my mind far from the topic of gender identity and all the rampant complications it has for me–but when I stay silent, I am referred to as a woman. And my pronouns, on the contrary, are “he,” “him,” and “his,” or “they,” “them,” and “theirs.”
In the couple semesters I’ve been working at UW Oshkosh’s writing center, I have never announced my pronouns to those students with whom I meet. I wear a pin, sometimes, indicating my preference, slipping the needle through the shirt fabric over my heart–this morning, though, I couldn’t find the pin. And I don’t always feel like wearing the damned thing.
A writing administator at the University of Kansas, doctoral student Jacob Herrmann offers one solution: “The KU Writing Center,” he notes, “uses the WCONLINE appointment system. When students first create a profile on the system, we have them select their preferred pronoun usage. During the Fall 2016 semester, we had 13 clients that identified with they/them/theirs, 2 clients who preferred ze/zir/zirs, and 11 clients who marked ‘other’ and provided us with their own pronoun usage.” In addition to this, “all consultants have a placard on their table during their shift which lists both the consultants name and major, as well as the consultants’ preferred pronoun usage” (Herrmann).
Given that the UWO Writing Center also uses WCONLINE, a similar action to that of the KU Writing Center, perhaps, could be done. It’d be nice, maybe, to not be alone in sharing (or not sharing) my pronouns with others within the space of our writing center. And yet that answer isn’t a perfect one to the problem at hand–not every individual visiting or working in this space might be comfortable disclosing their pronouns. And people will assume things, likely, regardless of the presence of placards.
A graduate student and writing center employee at UW-Madison, Neil Simpkins notes another potential symptom of such an action: “Occasionally,” he writes, “students ask me questions about transgender identity in the session that are not relevant to the task we are working on; in one session recently, a student asked me if Neil was a gender neutral name and what my ‘real gender’ was at the end of our time together.” Rather than advocate for the use of placards, he offers three suggestions for building “spaces of acceptance for LGBTQ students and tutors”: “Anticipate that student records will not represent many student’s preferred names and genders… [c]onnect with campus resources that meet the needs of LGBTQ students… [and] [a]ddress LGBTQ issues directly in tutor training” (Simpkins).
Our writing center here at UWO does require such training, and allows writing mentors and mentees both to choose the names by which WCONLINE refers to them. Perhaps, though, we ought to connect more often with those campus resources that assist LGBTQ+ students, and to a greater extent. Or, perhaps, we simply all need nametags.
Would such nametags or placards work well? If not, what else might be done to achieve a similar effect?
Herrmann, Jacob. “Brave/r Spaces Vs. Safe Spaces for LGBTQ+ in the Writing Center: Theory and Practice at the University of Kansas.” The Peer Review, vol. 1, no. 2, 2017. http://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/braver-spaces/braver-spaces-vs-safe-spaces-for-lgbtq-in-the-writing-center-theory-and-practice-at-the-university-of-kansas/.
Simpkins, Neil. “Meeting the Needs of LGBTQ Students in the Writing Center.” another word: from the writing center at the university of wisconsin–madison, 18 Nov. 2013, https://writing.wisc.edu/blog/meeting-the-needs-of-lgbtq-students-in-the-writing-center/.
by Elena | Writing Center Consultant | February 7th, 2018
Deciding whether or not to use first person in a paper is never an easy choice. Our high school teachers taught us that it’s never okay, but we at the Writing Center (and as writers!) often run into papers that seem impossible to write without the occasional “I.”
Fortunately, attitudes towards first person academic writing are softening, and may never have been as rigid as we thought. Stone (2018) suggests that whether or not first person is acceptable depends not only on the professor, but also on the discipline. Areas that ask for more objective papers where the research should speak for itself, like math or sciences, try to avoid first person, whereas other disciplines that allow more for the subjective influence of the researcher are more inclined towards first person.
However, even the “harder” fields of study are relaxing about first person and coming to accept more of the subjective influences of the researcher. Is this good news for science? Does this allow for more researcher bias, or does it simply recognize the slight bias that has always existed? And as student writers, do and should we have any influence over this?
Stone, B. (2018). A synthesis of professor perspectives on using first- and third-person perspectives. Retrieved from https://writingcommons.org/
By Caleb | Writing Center Consultant | September 15th, 2017
What good is tutoring once a writer steps out the door? It’s a perennial question for writing centers. A writing consultant’s mission goes further than helping with papers; instead, the aim is improving writers’ skills and confidence long-term. Some writers might visit with the intrinsic motivation to return again and again with an eye to self-betterment, but many will also choose to drop by only when a deadline looms and a paper could bear last-minute fixing. It would seem writers with such short-term concerns might need a little bit of extra motivation in order to retain what they glean from a session once the fifty minutes are up.
So what’s a writing consultant to do—double down on structured lessons and activities and hope for the best? In fact, it seems the most sensible approach is to focus not on drilling skills or extorting promises, but instead on providing something simpler: breaking the ice.
The research of Jo Mackiewicz and Isabelle Thompson has shown that, when it comes to providing lessons that will last in a writer’s mind, a consultant’s first goal ought to be building rapport with a writer. Accomplishing this simple task has been shown to outstrip typical non-directive techniques, or teaching without giving away answers, for prompting engagement (a tutor’s bread-and-butter), and there’s a pretty simple reason for this: people learn best when they feel comfortable.
Clearly then, it’s on consultants to capture a writer’s attention and establish a cozy, accommodating environment. This means being a peer first… and being friendly! The upshot is that a consultant who makes sure to keep a positive attitude—and perhaps deploy the occasional joke—is more likely than not to engage a writer throughout a session. Mackiewicz and Thompson say other helpful tutoring practices include avoiding outright disagreement with a writer’s motives as well as employing “negative politeness,” which can entail softening suggestions by using a passive voice or hedging language in order to avoid taking too much control over a writer’s work. According to Mackiewicz and Thompson, the effects of all these strategies appear the most likely to result in lasting motivation, which means a higher chance of retaining ideas and applying them in future writing (not to mention coming back to the Writing Center for more!).
Any student will ultimately succeed on their own terms and by their own determination, but writing consultants who take some time to connect and encourage can help to bring out the best in writers. An interesting question that remains (and is alluded to by Mackiewicz and Thompson) is to what extent this approach will apply to various groups of writers; for example, will some ELL students prefer a more straightforward or less casual approach? And further, how might a writing center’s intentions in establishing rapport be communicated to such a writer?