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Writing Center

Writing Center

How to Get the Most Out of the Writing Center

Arrive at the Writing Center at least thirty minutes before closing time and at least three days before your paper is due.

  • Bring the writing assignment as well as any work you've done on the paper so far.
  • Plan to work on only one paper in a session.
  • Come with questions about your work and an idea of what you want to work on with a Consultant.
  • Turn off your cell phone before working with a Writing Consultant.
  • Come with an open mind and a willingness to work. We can't "fix" your paper for you, but we can give you suggestions, strategies, and tips on improving your work.

Tips and Techniques

The Composing Process

The process through which the writer passes to produce an effective piece of writing varies with the writer and the writing task, but this summary describes the process through which most effective writers pass most of the time.

Prewriting

1. Collect. Effective writing requires an abundant inventory of specific, accurate information. Information is collected through reading, interviewing, observing, and remembering.

2. Connect. Meaning emerges as pieces of information connect and evolve into patterns. The writer plays with the relationships between pieces of information to discover as many patterns of meaning as possible.

3. Rehearse. Mentally and on paper, the writer uses writing to explore and move toward meaning. The writer rehearses titles, leads, partial drafts, sections of a potential piece, or sketches of a piece of writing to discover the voice and the form that will lead to meaning and effective communication.

Writing

4. Draft. The writer completes a discovery draft, usually written as fast as possible, often without notes, to find out what he/she knows and does not know, what works and does not work. The writer is particularly interested in what works, since most effective writing is built from extending and reinforcing the positive elements in what has been written.

Rewriting

5. Develop. The writer explores the subject by developing each point through definition, description, and documentation which show as well as tell the writer, and then the reader, what the piece of writing means. The writer usually needs to add information to understand the potential meaning of what has been written and often must restructure the successive drafts.

6. Clarify. The writer anticipates and answers the readers' questions. At this stage the writer cuts what is unnecessary and adds those spontaneous touches we call "style." These changes produce the illusion of easy writing that makes for easy reading.

7. Edit. The writer goes over the piece line by line, often reading aloud, to make sure that each word, each mark of punctuation, contributes to the effectiveness of the piece of writing.

[Adapted from Reigstad and McAndrew, Training Tutors for Writing Conferences (1984)]

Gender Neutral Language

The best writers strive to use language that evokes precisely the ideas, images, and facts that they wish the reader to perceive. The best writers are aware that language has social and political impact, and they attend to the connotations of the words they use in order to affect readers appropriately.

When we want our readers to see that gender makes a difference, we should use specific gender references: he, she, it, masculine, feminine, neuter, etc. For example, a biologist might appropriately observe that the male seahorse nurtures the young. Conversely, when gender has nothing to do with our topic, we should keep our references neutral. For example, when the President of the University of Chicago gives a speech, we should note that the President spoke, not "Madame President," or some equally irrelevant reference.

Neutral language keeps the readers' minds on the actual subject, it keeps the author from offending people, and it improves the precision of pronoun reference. Most important, neutral language recognizes the potential of all individuals to contribute to our human commonwealth, without prejudice.

Proper use of neutral gender language is more a matter of the author's frame of mind and sensibility of ear than it is the adherence to a set of rules. Here are some examples:

GENDER SPECIFIC GENDER NEUTRAL
mankind, womankind humanity, people, human beings
man's achievements human achievements
the best woman for the job the best person for the job
man-made synthetic
chairman chair, head, officer, moderator, executive
businessman manager
fireman, firewoman fire-fighter
mailman, mailwoman mail carrier
policeman, policewoman police officer
steward, stewardess flight attendant
Give each student his paper. Give the students their papers.
If a student was satisfied with his performance, he could skip the final exam. Any student satisfied with his or her performance could skip the final exam.
The average student is worried about her grades. The average student is worried about grades.

Guidelines for equitable or neutral pronoun usage:

When referring indefinitely to groups of people or types of individuals, either alternate the gender, giving roughly equal time to males and females, or change to plurals throughout.

  • Alternates:
    Let all students participate. Has he had a chance to talk? Could she feel left out?

  • Plurals:
    Let all students participate. Have all had a chance to talk? Could someone feel left out?

[Adapted by G. Meese from the National Council of Teachers of English Guidelines, 1981]

Writing Portfolio Tips

Paper One: Making Sense of Experience

  • This paper can be a narrative, a descriptive essay, a lab report, an autobiography, an excerpt from a journal, a short story - any paper that represents an attempt to make sense of one's own observations.
  • This paper will often be written in first person, but it does not have to be.
  • This paper should not be a book report or a summary of someone else's ideas; the writer should write from his or her own experience.
  • If the writer is using a lab report, there must be a substantial results, discussion, or conclusion section showcasing the writer trying to "make sense" of the experiment.

Paper Two: An Academic Argument

The Parts of an Argument (What follows in many ways describes a "typical academic argument." Yours may vary from this prototype. As with any essay, use your judgment.)

  • Introduction. Catch your reader's attention and introduce your topic. Include a clear, emphatic claim that the rest of your essay will support.
  • Support. Present all the points that support your thesis, using ample reasoning, examples, illustrations, definitions, and evidence to develop your points persuasively.
  • Concession/Refutation. Respond to the opposing viewpoints, either in a separate section or as they would occur to the intended audience.
    Concession - agree with whatever you can without hurting your position. Qualify your assertions thoughtfully to avoid triggering doubt or disagreement in your readers.
    Refutation - diplomatically show what's flawed with opposing arguments.
  • Conclusion. Tie your argument together and leave the reader something to think about and remember.

Rhetorical Appeals: The Art of Persuading a Reader. Rhetorical appeals are ways for you, as a writer, to connect with your audience. Using the appeals in combination can help you create a stronger, more persuasive argument. You already use appeals in your writing, though perhaps unconsciously. Being more conscious of them – and of how you use them – can make your writing more persuasive.

Logos: The appeal to reason and logic.

Proof by Example:
Comparing - illustration, analogy
Contrasting - definition, classification

Proof by Authority:
Accepted truths
Citing respected experts or authorities (includes statistics)

Proof by Reasoning:
Deduction - reasoning from general to particular
Induction - reasoning from particular to general
Causal - reasoning by means of cause & effect

Ethos: An appeal based on the author's character. As an author, you want to sound:

  • Reasonable - don't rant and rave too much or sound rabid. Look fairly at all sides of the issue.
  • Knowledgeable - you must sound as though you know what you're talking about or have consulted others who are experts.
  • Disinterested - you must sound as though you are arguing for more than personal gain.

Beyond those three characteristics, you should think about what characteristics, values, experiences you have that could help you reach and persuade your readers.

Pathos: An appeal to the reader's emotions. Although our culture tends (ostensibly) to value logos appeals over pathos appeals, an appeal to the reader's emotions, especially in combination with ethos and logos appeals, can be very persuasive. As with all appeals, don't manipulate the reader; all appeals, as all arguments, should be ethically grounded.

Paper Three: Analysis, Evaluation, Criticism, and/or Interpretation that Focuses on the Ideas of Others

This paper will usually be a college-level research paper, as the instructions indicate. But a good research paper is not just a compilation or summary of other people's words and ideas about a topic. The student-writer should analyze, evaluate, interpret, and/or synthesize the information found through research. Source material should be used to support and develop an original, insightful thesis about the topic that the writer has formulated after analyzing the subject.

  • The thesis of this paper will often make a claim of some sort, but it won't necessarily be as emphatic a claim as in the argument. In this type of essay, the author should have done enough research, interpretation, evaluation, and/or analysis on the topic to be able to express a personal, well considered view. This type of essay could offer the writer's interpretation of a Shakespearean play, an analysis of an environmental problem, an evaluation of a particular therapeutic approach in counseling, or a critical examination of a theater performance. In other words, the paper must do more than simply present information: It needs to use information.
  • The ideas in this paper must be fully developed and clearly presented. Source material should be used to aid development and support. Any quotation or paraphrase should be integrated into the student's prose and connected clearly to the thesis. The writer should fastidiously attribute all source material. See Hacker for integration and documentation.
  • The documentation of source material should be meticulous - otherwise, the portfolio will not pass.

 Documenting Sources

Documentation, attribution, and signal phrases are important components of academic writing, and you need to learn how to use both properly to clarify whose ideas are whose and to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

One of the primary functions of documentation is to provide your readers with the information necessary to lead them to the source and the passage you're citing. And, of course, documentation gives credit to the original author. Documentation includes in-text citations (or footnotes) as well as a bibliography/works cited page.

Attribution or signal phrases give more specific credit to the authors by naming them in the text of your essay. Phrases such as "according to Dr. Fred Stanley, director of cancer research at Harvard Medical School" and "Barbara Ladd, noted Faulkner scholar, argues" indicate not only whose idea you are using, but also why that idea merits attention. In other words, signal phrases can be useful persuasive devices in your writing.

Regardless of the style you're using, there are several basic guidelines you need to follow:

  • All words and/or ideas (including the results of someone's scientific research, statistics, diagrams or graphs) in your paper that are not your own and are not common knowledge should be given attribution in the text and followed by a citation referring your reader to a bibliography or works cited page.
  • When you quote a source directly, reproduce the quotation exactly as it appears in the text, and enclose it in quotation marks. Do not include the citation inside the quotation marks.
  • Often, writers introduce a quotation with a signal phrase and follow it with a citation. When you do this, make sure you write a few sentences or even a paragraph explaining how this quotation applies to your topic. Don't just expect your reader to draw the connection between source material and your thesis; explain the connection.
  • If you paraphrase someone's ideas, you need a signal phrase and a citation, just as you do with a direct quotation. Moreover, you must substantially change the style, structure, and language of the original. As with a quotation, don't leave it up to your reader to make connections; explain how the paraphrased material relates to your thesis.

Paper Four: The Timed Writing

Timed writings measure your raw writing ability and your skill at thinking under pressure. They also reflect your ability to recall, synthesize, and analyze detailed material.

  • You may turn in any timed essay from any class. If your handwriting is unclear, you may type a copy of the exam, but you must turn it in with the original. Your timed essay submission must have the class number, date, and professor's name.
  • You may take a timed writing at the Writing Center. The Writing Center can also help prepare you for timed essays. We offer a handout on how to take a timed writing exam.
  • Because clarity of mind is vital, one of the best things you can do to prepare for a timed essay is to get plenty of sleep the night before.

The Annotations

Faculty readers regard the annotations more seriously than you may realize. The reasons that readers weigh the annotations heavily are:

  • Annotations showcase your most recent writing.
  • Annotations reflect your ability to communicate with a particular audience – in this case, faculty members evaluating your Writing Portfolio for graduation.
  • Annotations reveal your intellectual maturity as a critical thinker and literate citizen.
  • Annotations highlight your metacognitive skills, that is, your ability to think about your thinking and write about your writing.
  • Annotations give your readers enough information to make sense of the papers that follow.

Tips for Writing your Annotations

If you're at a loss as to what to write in an annotation:

  • Imagine the professors reading your annotations and your work.
  • Ask yourself, "If I were a professor, what would I need or want to know about the creative of this essay or this portfolio?"
  • Remember that professors at Eckerd care about more than just mechanics. When surveyed, they have indicated that they care about the following:
    - genuine interest in the subject matter.
    - honest consideration of alternative theories (healthy skepticism).
    - thorough support, evidence, and development.
    - intellectual passion; the pleasure of discovery.
    - awareness of an audience's needs and perspectives.
    - awareness of the conventions of the field.
    - clarity, logic, and comprehensibility.

Timed Essays

Some Advice about Success Under Pressure

In a perfect world, no one would have to write about important ideas while under time pressure. We would allow ourselves leisure to meditate, try several drafts, consult with others, and finally determine our positions, our logic, and our examples.

In real life, we have to show our best despite stressful conditions. Here are some tips for success when you are faced with writing tasks such as essay examinations, where time is of the essence.

  1. Imagine the person who will be reading your response--can you see your professor smiling as she or he reads your first paragraph? Think about WHY the professor wrote the question and directions in the form you see. Are you expected to produce a set of tight logical connections? an evaluation of a position? a synthesis of course materials? an "information dump" of all the things you can remember, without much concern for order? a demonstration of your own thinking, or a confirmation that you have memorized some facts or relationships? Will the structure, usage, and mechanics count?

  2. Remember this principle: before writing anything else, spend between 10 and 20 percent of the allotted time thinking of examples and planning your response. For example, if you have one hour for an essay, use the first 6 to 12 minutes making a list of the key points you might make, imagining two examples for each point, and beginning to take stock of all you might say--listing is better than full sentences. Almost all college professors expect an essay to show structured relationships among ideas, plus enough examples to give your general claims credibility. If you take time to plan, you will include the best examples and you will structure your essay more impressively.

  3. From your planning, select the ONE most important point you want to make, and the one or two examples that best make your point. Write first about this point, then add subordinate ideas as time allows.

  4. If you professor has expressed a desire for your careful proofreading of your essay, make sure you leave about ten percent of your time to do this job (six minutes in an hour exam).

Remember the six P's: "proper prior preparation prevents poor performance" - so before you ever walk into the exam room, plan your own leisure to meditate, try several drafts, consult with others, and finally determine your positions, your logic, and your examples.

Documenting Electronic Sources

The following links lead to information explaining how to document scholarly sources found on the Internet. If you still aren't sure how to document a particular source after consulting these pages, come see us in the Writing Center. If you aren't sure which style to use, consult your instructor.

  • APA: Writing bibliographic entries for electronic sources.

  • MLA: Writing Works Cited entries for electronic sources.

  • Chicago: Writing Chicago-style notes and bibliographic entries for electronic sources.

  • Columbia Online Style: Using the Columbia Online Style to document electronic sources.

Documenting Source Material

Documentation (the parenthetical citations and works cited page or footnotes and bibliography) and attribution or signal phrases (the introduction of the author/source in the text of your paper) are both important components of academic writing, and you need to learn how to use both properly to clarify whose ideas are whose and to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Documentation. One of the primary functions of documentation is to tell your reader where he/she might go to read for him/herself the sources you quote or paraphrase in your paper. That means your documentation should provide the information necessary to lead a reader to the source and the passage you're citing. And, of course, documentation gives credit to the original author.

Attribution or signal phrases gives more specific credit to the author by naming him/her in the text of your essay. Phrases such as "according to Dr. Fred Stanley, director of cancer research at Harvard Medical School" and "Barbara Ladd, noted Faulkner scholar, argues" indicate not only whose idea you are using, but also why that idea merits attention. In other words, signal phrases can be useful persuasive devices in your writing. In addition, this sort of attribution is necessary to clearly establish the boundary between your ideas and a paraphrase or summary of someone else's ideas. Your professors want to see your mind at work on the topic. If you don't use attribution/signal phrases properly, you may inadvertently give up credit for your own ideas. If your citations and attributions are clear, your own thinking will stand out as distinctively your own so that it can be recognized and rewarded.

Different academic fields use different styles of documentation. In many of your courses, you will be asked to use MLA documentation, a style typical of humanities disciplines. Social scientists often use APA. To discover which style to use in documenting your paper, ask the professor in the class. If he/she requires a documentation style that you've never used, ask him/her where to find the guidelines.

Regardless of the style you're using, there are several basic guidelines you need to follow.

  1. All words and/or ideas (including the results of someone's scientific research, statistics, diagrams or graphs) in your paper that are not your own and are not common knowledge should be given attribution in the text and followed by a citation referring your reader to a bibliography or works cited page.

    Common knowledge does not mean that you have to know the information first; this term refers to information that is not the idea of any one person. For instance, Abraham Lincoln's birthday is common knowledge, even if you don't know it off hand.

  2. When you quote a source directly, reproduce the quotation exactly as it appears in the text, and enclose it in quotation marks. Do not include the citation inside the quotation marks.

    If you want to leave out parts of a long statement, indicate with ellipsis (. . .) the parts you've left out. If you need to change a verb tense or pronoun for syntax or clarity, leave out the original word and enclose the changed word in brackets [ ].

    Always introduce your quotation with a signal phrase and follow it with a citation. Then, write a few sentences or even a paragraph explaining how this quotation applies to your topic. Don't just expect your reader to draw the connection between source material and your thesis; explain the connection.

  3. If you paraphrase someone's ideas, you need a signal phrase and a citation, just as you do with a direct quotation. Moreover, you must substantially change the style, structure, and language of the original. Simply changing a work here and there is not sufficient. You must use your own style, your own words, your own sentence structure, and your own organization.

    If you find words or phrases you can't reword satisfactorily, or if you especially like a phrase in the original, you may quote the word(s) directly in the midst of your paraphrase. Just enclose the exactly reproduced word(s) in quotation marks. The citation should go at the end of the entire paraphrase.

    As with a quotation, don't leave it up to your reader to make connections; explain how the paraphrased material relates to your thesis.

2014 Writing Excellence Award Winners

Kyle Hall
Brieanna Johnson
Rose Kraemer-Dahlin
Diane McNamara
Sarah Evalyn Richardson
Cleo Warner