Advice from a First-Year Graduate Student

By Annette Cooper

Recently, I had the opportunity to help students in an English 101 class who were struggling with constructing an argument. The class was hit with a wave of shock after realizing their ideas mattered in this assignment. These students had felt limited by the writing assignments they received in high school, but now they recognized their authority to take a position on a topic and support it with proper evidence and reasoning. They were now the experts. It hit me then: this is exactly what being a new graduate student has felt like.

In graduate school, there’s no longer the top-down hierarchy that separates professor from student. The professors now see me as a colleague and someone to work alongside. I have expertise they find valuable, but at times, I’m still unsure where this expertise has come from. While not much has changed since graduating in May, I’m now expected to know concepts and apply them off the top of my head. Like the freshman in this English 101 class, I haven’t been sure of what to make of my expertise as a first-year graduate student.

The English 101 freshmen needed to fine-tune the skills they learned in high school, and similarly, I’ve needed to fine-tune the skills I developed in my undergraduate career. I remember looking at my course syllabus on the first day of graduate school, and after a slight panic attack, I was able to make sense of the words on the page. In fact, many of the concepts outlined in the syllabus were based on what I learned in my undergraduate program. I knew this stuff—now, in graduate school, it was a matter of further applying my knowledge.

Thankfully, I’m in a cohort program and have begun to make some new friends. It didn’t take long for us all to realize we share the same feelings and struggles of adjusting to graduate school. Yes, we’re now graduate students; however, the expertise we’ve struggled to find is a continual process, and it doesn’t magically appear when you’re handed your Bachelor’s degree.

To future graduate students, hang in there and remember what the first day of your freshman undergraduate year was like. Look at how far you’ve come—look at how far you can go.

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Four Things People Won’t Tell You About Writing a Personal Statement

By Emily K. Tudorache

Recently, I applied for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, a process which—although generally quite daunting—worsened when the time came to write my personal statement. Never in my three years of college has a writing assignment posed such a challenge or made me question my validity as a student and writer.

I spent hours reorganizing and revising, only to receive feedback telling me I still hadn’t quite hit the mark. My starting anecdote wasn’t catchy enough, or my theme and personality weren’t apparent. I cycled through drafts so many times that before long I’d exhausted my motivation and ideas.

Writing a personal statement doesn’t have to be so painful, though. In retrospect, I’m here to tell you the four things I wish I’d known while writing my personal statement.

Too Much Planning May Work to Your Detriment

I bet you never thought you’d hear writing advice beginning with, “Don’t plan too much,” but when writing a personal statement, sticking to a structured outline might actually stifle your personality. While writing my statement, I fixated on the same anecdotes and organizational patterns I started with—even when I knew they weren’t really working to present me as the best candidate I could be.

Talking to people about why I was applying for a Fulbright helped me get out of my structural funk. After a few (too many) lengthy conversations with coworkers, my advisors, and my mom, I realized what I actually wanted to say and conjured up stories from my life that were more representative of my motivation than my initial ideas.

Frustration Will Distract You

At times, it may feel impossible to keep your cool during the drafting and revising process. I’d become so frustrated while trying to address feedback from my advisors that I’d spend more time seething over my writing ability than working productively. Instead of forcing myself to sit at my computer and struggle over sentence-level details, I should’ve taken a few moments to step away and breathe.

When I was crunched for time before a revision was due and couldn’t fit in a break, I would work in the library. Working in a quiet environment alongside other students helped to keep me calm, focused, and productive—even when I was frustrated.

Too Many Opinions Can Get Confusing

The most popular piece of advice you’ll probably hear when writing a personal statement is to have anyone and everyone read it. While second opinions can be helpful for ensuring your point is coming across clearly and effectively, too many eyes on your writing can become distracting.

After showing my personal statement to nearly everyone in Reno, I often found myself torn between conflicting pieces of feedback, which only made revising more stressful. To avoid juggling others’ opinions, find someone whose feedback you can trust and prioritize their suggestions. You can even discuss others’ feedback with them to better adjust your revisions to your specific needs as a writer.

You Are Worthy

When writing a personal statement, it can be easy to surrender to impostor syndrome. You may have thoughts like, “I’m only here because I got lucky,” “I’m not qualified for this,” or “Everyone’s going to find out I don’t actually have what it takes to be here and to do this.” You start feeling like you shouldn’t even try because it’s too hard or you might not be accepted.

I spent far too much time and energy doubting myself. Thinking about giving up was an occurrence I often indulged in with my morning coffee while reviewing the work that had to be done that day. Remember that you decided to apply for the program, job, or grant for a reason—that reason is enough for you to continue trying.

Writing a personal statement can be difficult for a variety reasons. It’s supposed to be sophisticated and personal, yet it all has to fit on one page—a seemingly Herculean feat. Just keep that pen to paper, and it’ll be worth it in the end.

Good luck!

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Overcoming Procrastination: “Due Tomorrow” Shouldn’t Mean “Do Tomorrow”

By Elizabeth Kelly

Every semester starts the same way: we buy new notebooks and colored pens with hopes of staying on top of class assignments and study groups. Unfortunately, this motivation only lasts a few weeks before disaster strikes, and we begin functioning on two hours of sleep, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and emailing professors begging for an assignment extension during midterms. As college students, procrastination is a phenomenon most of us can relate to.

Although procrastination can push us to complete weeks of work in a matter of hours, this work typically isn’t our best—especially when writing is involved. Writing is a process, not just a single task, which is why procrastination can actually hinder the quality of our writing.

As a senior, I still struggle to break the old habits of procrastination. However, I’ve found a few strategies over these last few years that’ve helped me face my procrastination.

Using a planner. If I’m frantically trying to write a six-page research paper in three hours, it’s because I didn’t plan ahead properly. Writing down due dates simply isn’t enough to keep myself on track; I also need to plan when to start assignments. When I plan ahead, I can prioritize items on my to-do list. If a paper is due on a Friday, I may write “start PSY 240 paper” that Monday so the assignment doesn’t sneak up on me.

Utilizing self-discipline. I constantly tell myself, “Okay, just watch one episode of Friends; then, it’s study time.” Five hours later, I’ve watched a whole season, decided it’s too late to study, and headed to bed. Starting a show before starting an assignment can be risky. Instead, I’ve learned to use Netflix as a reward for completing a task in my planner.

Staying motivated. When I’m in the groove of writing a CHS 211 paper and get stuck, it’s easy to just take the easy route and quit. In this situation, I have to remember my primary goal: to earn my degree. Don’t get me wrong—it’s okay to stop and take a break—but I have to make sure my break doesn’t turn into three or four days. I usually use breaks to consider my next steps or outline a gameplan to move forward with my writing.

Setting attainable, smaller goals. The goal of writing a literature review by Sunday night is daunting. Instead of setting one goal for an assignment, I set smaller goals within each stage of the writing process. If the assignment is due Sunday night, I may set a goal of writing an outline the Wednesday beforehand. Then, I may plan to have a full draft written by Friday so I can dedicate the weekend to revising.

These tips and tricks have helped me stay ahead of the game, and I hope you can also use them to prevent those last-minute panics before an assignment deadline. Happy writing!

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How to Crack Down on That Paper You’ve Been Avoiding

By Kudzai Chifamba

“Where do I even begin?” This seems to be the universal question we ask ourselves when faced with the challenge of starting that paper. You know which paper I’m talking about: the one you vaguely remember seeing on the syllabus, but is now due. We’ve all been there, but don’t worry; I have some tips and tricks to help you tackle that daunting assignment.

Make sure you understand the prompt. If you want to reduce that feeling of impending doom, you need to have a clear idea of the writing task. Always start with the assignment prompt. I personally break down an instructor’s expectations by highlighting the prompt’s verbs and key terms. As you review the prompt, also keep an eye out for any areas that are confusing. Your instructor is your greatest resource in clarifying an assignment’s expectations!

Plan and outline. Now that you’ve broken down the prompt, it’s time to get the gears cranking and brainstorm. What are you going to write about? Once I have my ideas laid out in front of me, I find it helpful to draw an outline with boxes for each major section of my paper. Think of this as the skeletal structure for your work; from there, you can add the meat—the supporting details—to the bones. Once this part is done, you can breathe again. Drafting is a walk in the park once you have thoroughly planned and outlined.

Just start writing already. You understand the prompt, and you’ve assembled the backbones of your paper. Now, it’s time to start your rough draft. I find that breaking up your writing makes the drafting process more manageable. You could dedicate one day to writing the introduction and another to writing a body paragraph or two. This allows you to give each part of the assignment enough time and attention.

Make it fun! So, you’re finally digging into that assignment, but you’re losing speed. How can you make writing a little more fun? Play some tunes! Music tends to make even the most boring of tasks more enjoyable. Personally, I like to jam to out to Zimbabwean tunes while I write: listening to foreign music while writing in English helps me find my flow. Choose music that helps you focus.

I hope these tips help you look at writing assignments with less fear. In my experience, the more you break down an assignment, the less daunting it becomes. When in doubt, the University Writing and Speaking Center is here to support you through this process!

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Putting Perfection Aside: Tips for Breaking Your Writer’s Block

By Conrad Chow

I’m staring at a blank word document. Thirty minutes have passed—only a title and two sentences have made it to the page. The document is now staring at me, waiting.

Have you ever found yourself struggling to come up with the words to write or the motivation to start a paper? You’re not alone. Writer’s block is the phenomenon wherein writers are faced with the fear of writing or the inability to productively write.

This especially challenges writers, like myself, who have a perfectionist personality. It’s fair to think of the first draft as incomplete or error-free, but that’s easier said than done. As we draft, we often try to back pedal before moving forward—we revise as we write.

Perfection is a goal we need to reconsider as we draft. While revising is a necessary step of the writing process, premature revising interferes with our ability to just get words on the page. Below are tips to shift your motivation as you begin writing.

Write about a topic you’re interested in. You’re confronted with a daunting assignment—a task you have no interest in facing. Reading and writing will be inevitable, so accept the nature of the beast and find a topic worth exploring. I’m passionate about basketball, and in high school, I started my first blog to share my opinions on the sport. In my academic work, I found ways to tie basketball into some of my assignments, which made completing the task a lot more compelling.

Start early and take breaks. It’s 10 p.m., and now you’re struggling to crank out an essay in the wee hours before its deadline. One of the worst things we do as writers is procrastinate. By starting early, there are more opportunities for revising and editing. Taking breaks also allows you to come back to the table and consider your writing with a renewed outlook.

Discuss your writing assignment with a peer. Yes, your friends can be a helpful part of the writing process. Peer support can jumpstart brainstorming or open your writing up to multiple perspectives as you revise. Although we don’t think about it much, writing is also emotional. I’ve found it never hurts to hash out your writing anxieties with a friend.

Brainstorm ideas in bullet form and throw them onto the page. Sometimes less is more. If the strenuous part of the writing process is starting, it’s not a bad idea to begin with words and phrases. Breaking down your ideas into smaller fragments allows you to identify the backbones of your argument.

15 minutes of uninterrupted writing. You’re confident in your ideas, but you’re anxious to translate them into writing. Sometimes, you just need to let your thoughts run free on the page. As you write, there’s only one rule: you’re not allowed to backspace to correct grammatical errors, typos, or chains of thought. You can worry about organization and coherence later—just set your timer and go!

Start somewhere. Anywhere. A writing consultant at the University of Toronto once told me a conductive strategy to writing assignments (and procrastination in general) is to make sure you’re always making progress—even if it’s small. If my writing starts to slow down, I might turn to work on formatting the paper or organizing the reference list. Take a breath and work on a different task for the assignment until you feel ready to continue writing.

This definitely isn’t an exhaustive catalog of strategies to address writer’s block. However, these strategies have worked for me, and I hope you find them helpful as well. If you have writing strategies you’d like to share, feel free to comment below. Happy writing!

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Snow Write and the Seven Steps for Successful Writing Center Sessions: Part Three

By Logan Brown, Shyene Joubert, Kylie Lohmeyer, Christina Roberts, Lindsey Howell, Iris Saltus, and Izzy Comin

Step Five: Gearing Toward Your Writing Goals 

Just as Happy’s brother, Grumpy, exited the University Writing Center, Snow Write came to greet them in the waiting area. The excited dwarf stood up and introduced themself to Snow Write, “My name’s Happy, and I’m so excited you’re here. Doc recommended you!” Happy shook the consultant’s hand, trying to hide their nervousness. Sure, they tried to stay positive about school, and sure, Doc had recommended this place, but this was scary. Happy felt as though they weren’t a strong writer.

“How do you do? I’m Snow Write. Oh, I love your shirt!”

The pronouns, “They/Them,” were printed across the front of Happy’s shirt. “Thanks! We’re raising awareness about gender identity this week,” they replied.

The two strolled down the hall to Snow Write’s alcove, making small talk along the way. Well, at least she’s nice, Happy thought.

Once settled in the room, Snow Write asked, “What ever did you come in to work on today?”

“I have an English paper due in a week. I got the rough draft done, but my writing is terrible. My papers always come back with a bunch of red marks.” Happy shrugged. “I’m just not good at it!”

“Want to know a secret? Everyone can improve their writing! It’s simply just a matter of practice,” Snow Write answered. “Why, hasn’t your instructor given you feedback for this assignment?

Happy twiddled their thumbs. “Actually, I just had a meeting with him this morning. We read through my introduction and reviewed my thesis together,” they replied. “My instructor said my thesis is arguable, but my introduction could provide more context to my audience. He also said I should work on my sentence structure!”

Snow Write pulled out a quill and began to jot a few notes on her blue notepad. “We can definitely discuss either of those concerns if that’s what you’d like to work on during our session.”

“Really? Great!” The dwarf yanked a crumpled set of stapled papers from their knapsack. “Okay, here’s the essay. Let’s read through it together!” They’d heard it’s always good to read your own writing aloud.

Snow Write smiled. “Well first, we must to decide what your goal for the appointment is. We only have a half hour, which goes by as fast as a fox fleeing a forest fire, so what do you think is most important to cover between your introduction and sentence structure?”

“I think we could start by discussing my introduction. My teacher said that my introduction is really broad, but there are so many ideas in my essay. I don’t know how to introduce them all!”

“Oh, introductions can be as tricky sometimes,” Snow Write replied. “We can definitely focus on narrowing the scope of your introduction so that it provides more background to your argument. Why, have you ever heard of a reverse outline?”

“Nope.”

Snow Write explained how a reverse outline is a strategy used to check the development of ideas throughout an essay. “For each paragraph, you write one sentence that summarizes the main idea and how it supports your thesis. Once you’ve finished writing a summary sentence for each paragraph, you can see how each of your main ideas support your thesis! We could begin a reverse outline to figure out what main ideas need to be introduced in order to focus your argument for your audience. Doesn’t that sound like an idea?”

Happy was ecstatic. “Wow! That sounds like an amazing idea! It sounds like I could even use the reverse outline after our consultation ends!”

“Oh! Absolutely. As we generate the reverse outline, we can even adjust the summary sentences to fit into your introduction as snug as a bug. If we read through your essay together, could you create each summary sentence?” Snow Write prompted.

Happy nodded. “Let’s do this!”

Step Six: Feeling Unabashed While Reviewing Your Writing

Bashful sat quietly with her head down, feeling uneasy about the thought of sharing her personal essay, as she waited for Snow Write to wrap up her appointment with Happy. Like Happy, she lacked confidence in her skills as a writer—which is what she wrote about. All she ever saw were slashes of ink as red as blood across her paper, which only worsened her self-doubt.

The fretful dwarf tried to reassure herself as she mentally prepared to review her draft with Snow Write. Doc said Snow Write is wonderful. I’ve had face-to-face consultations with other consultants here, but never with the princess. What if she rips my paper to shreds?

Bashful was lost in a flood of “what-if” scenarios until she heard her name sung out in a melody that immediately took a slight edge off her nerves. That must be Snow Write, she thought. I didn’t even notice Happy leave! 

In what seemed like no time at all, the princess and the dwarf exchanged pleasantries in the waiting area, resituated themselves in a room, and geared right into setting an agenda. Because Bashful wanted to review how her essay meets the genre expectations of narrative writing, they decided to read through her draft together and highlight phrases and sentences that showcase narrative conventions.

Bashful was already feeling more at ease now that she and Snow Write had negotiated a plan for reviewing her work. However, she knew the inevitable was near. The time was coming for Bashful to share her personal narrative. I hope she doesn’t judge my story, she thought.

As Bashful began to read through her paper, she suddenly stopped, finding it hard to continue. Snow Write noticed the sudden roadblock and offered encouraging feedback on what had been read so far.

“Oh, it’s so tough to reflect on hard times,” Snow Write prompted. “I worry awfully about your self-doubt and defeat. But don’t you know that’s how I should feel while reading about this experience of yours? I feel like I’m right in your shoes! Why, you should highlight this.”

With this positive reinforcement, Bashful felt that reading through the rest of her paper would be more bearable. She was no longer so focused on receiving criticism. As Bashful and Snow Write continued to read, they highlighted areas of the draft that showcased narrative conventions like foreshadowing, imagery, and pathos.

The princess and the dwarf also noticed a few areas where Bashful could further use rhetorical devices to enhance her narration. They chose one of these areas to focus on, and after discussing potential devices that would develop the plot structure, Snow Write encouraged Bashful to take a stab at integrating one of those devices into her writing.

“I think I could rewrite this section using dialogue since it’s basically a summarized interaction between my instructor and I,” Bashful contemplated, to which Snow Write reassured would make perfect sense.

With a newfound confidence, Bashful spent the remainder of the session drafting a dialogue to integrate into her draft.

By the end of the consultation, Bashful flipped through her draft, pleasantly surprised at the lack of red ink on the document. Instead, her draft contained yellow highlights that identified effective use of conventions and green highlights that identified areas where she could further develop her language and conventions. Bashful realized that there were more yellow highlights than there were green.

For the first time, Bashful felt like she had agency as a writer.

Step Seven: Summarizing Your Session 

Dopey sat on the lawn, confused. Naturally, he was staring off into space, thinking about two ducks he’d seen on campus that afternoon. It was so easy to get distracted by all of the things the University had to offer.

Earlier, Dopey had scheduled an online appointment with Snow Write, who was recommended by his brother’s friend, Doc. Since Dopey wasn’t much of a talker, Doc reassured him that he didn’t have to physically be at the Writing Center for his online consultation. The dwarf was thrilled that he could get feedback without having to speak to anyone, even though he’d heard the princess was as sweet as pie.

Once the consultation began, Dopey decided he’d get some fresh air at the Quadrangle. The dwarf eventually nodded off near a tree stump; however, a loud quacking noise rang through the evening air, waking him up from his catnap.

Dopey panicked. Oh no. What time is it?

The face of Dopey’s watch read, “7:28p.m.” Oh, he thought, only two more minutes until Snow Write finishes my online consultation! Unsure of what to expect, the dwarf pulled out his MacBook Pro and stared at the screen before him.

Dopey’s eyes grew wide as a new email appeared on the monitor. It was a summary report from the princess herself! Dopey opened the report and skimmed through Snow Write’s feedback. He was so excited that he even mustered up the courage to read it out loud to himself.

The summary report read, “Why, Dopey scheduled an online consultation to glance at his thesis and in-text citations. As I read through his draft, I left comments and questions and suggestions to refine his thesis and citations. I also left highlights as gold as honey on key terms that were used throughout his body paragraphs, which he could use to focus his thesis. Oh, and I suggested that he should work on his transitions as he continues to revise!”

Dopey also noticed a new file was attached to the report form. Upon opening the file, he saw that Snow Write had written him a letter that explained her feedback. Along the margin of his document, she had also left comments that focused on his thesis and citations.

With this feedback fresh on his mind, the dwarf ran home to finish his essay. For the first time ever, Dopey was excited to write.

 

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Snow Write and the Seven Tips for Successful Writing Center Sessions: Part Two

By Logan Brown, Shyene Joubert, Kylie Lohmeyer, Christina Roberts, Lindsey Howell, Iris Saltus, and Izzy Comin

Step Three: Sleeping In and Saving Face in the Wake of Late Appointments

A blaring whistle startled Sleepy, who was in the midst of an afternoon nap. Sounds like Sneezy is steaming water for his neti pot again, he thought.

The dwarf rubbed his eyes, sat up, and dragged his legs over the bedside. It was progress: he was nearly ready to roll out of bed. Sleepy’s gaze met the face of his alarm clock, which read “4:31p.m.” He could feel that he was forgetting something.

Oh no, Sleepy thought. My writing consultation with Snow Write was supposed to start a minute ago! I can’t miss this session or my grade will be toast!

Through the grapevine, Sleepy had heard whisperings of rejection, suspension, and, in some cases, termination, due to missed Writing Center appointments. My academic standing can’t perish this early in the semester, the dwarf thought between fits of panic. Sleepy couldn’t bear the idea of having to face the Writing Center staff when he checked in late for his appointment. With no time to waste, he hurtled out of bed and hurried to the heart of campus, where the Writing Center was located.

The only problem with Sleepy’s version of “hurrying” was that he only had one speed: slow as molasses. Despite his lethargic state, he had to think of something quick to make up for the lost time. A light bulb began to flicker within the depths of his gray matter.

“I should call the Writing Center to let them know I’m on my way,” Sleepy recited to himself. “They’ll understand, right?”

The dwarf began to fumble through his pockets until he found his phone. After dialing the Writing Center’s number, he paused. Is it even worth it to call? Lost in distraction, Sleepy hadn’t realized he accidentally pressed the call key. Oh no, he gasped.

“University Writing Center, this is Prince, how may we help you?”

On the other end of the line, Prince’s question was met with a yawn. After a few seconds, Sleepy responded, “Hi Prince. I’m so sorry, but I’m running late to my consultation. It started at 4:30p.m., but I’m heading to the Writing Center now. Is it too late for me to come?”

“Not at all. As long as you get here within the first 15 minutes of the start of your consultation, you’re good. It looks like you have six minutes left until the end of that 15-minute mark. Is that enough time for you to get here?”

“That’s plenty of time! Thank you so much. I’ll see you guys in a few minutes!” After hanging up the phone, Sleepy paused—again. He knew that six minutes would be cutting it close. The dwarf sprinted across campus.

Sleepy’s appointment was just about to be marked missed as he approached the front desk of the Writing Center. He knew he needed to be there within 15 minutes of the start of his hour-long appointment, or his profile would be disconnected from the scheduling system—he arrived at the 14-minute mark.

A flood of anxieties began to infiltrate Sleepy’s mind. Oh heck. I hope I made an hour appointment. I made an hour appointment, right? I was half asleep when I scheduled this writing consultation. Maybe I…a yawn interrupted his thoughts…shouldn’t have stayed up watching The Hobbit. I can’t even find the confirmation email!

In the midst of his panic, Sleepy noticed that a student was approaching the Writing Center ahead of him. He knew there was no time to waste. With surprising force, he shoved passed the student and skidded to a halt right at the front desk.

“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

The voice of the disgruntled student sounded vaguely familiar. Sleepy asked, “Grumpy, is that you?”

“Of course it is. Clearly, you’re in a rush. Don’t mind me.”

“I’m sorry,” the fatigued dwarf responded. “It’s been one heck of an afternoon.” Sleepy redirected his attention to the Prince, who had already notified Snow White that he had arrived.

The princess met Sleepy in the Writing Lab, and without letting any more time escape from their consultation, the two headed off to an office to get started.

Step Four: Getting Over the Grumpiness of Required Appointments

Even though Doc had a lot of decent things to say about Snow Write and the University Writing Center, Grumpy wasn’t interested in going. He knew he was an okay writer, mostly receiving Bs (and the occasional C) on his papers, but he had no intention of seeking help for his writing.

That was until Grumpy landed in a Core Humanities class that required an in-person consultation at the Writing Center. This is such a waste of my time, he thought. I don’t want help. Grumpy was perfectly content with his grades, and he would have rather spent his time digging into the earth in search of rare gems.

Regardless, Grumpy had a scholarship to maintain, and this Writing Center appointment was a whopping 20% of his overall Core Humanities grade. He knew he couldn’t afford to get below a B in the class, so he begrudgingly showed up for his appointment with Snow Write.

Irritated by his unfortunate encounter with Sleepy, Grumpy took a deep, angry sigh and checked in at the front desk. He worked himself into a mood and certainly wasn’t jumping for joy when he heard his name sung in a melody that cut through the bustle of the Writing Lab.

Snow Write waltzed over to greet Grumpy with a smile. Grumpy wasn’t having any of it.

“Hi! What brings you to the Writing Center today?” Snow Write took a seat next to the dwarf.

“I have to be here,” Grumpy replied shortly.

“Oh. What class is forcing you to be here?”

“Core Humanities.”

“Well,” responded Snow Write, “I’ll try to make this as painless as possible for you. How’s that sound?”

Grumpy was incredulous. A Writing Center appointment…painless? Bah!

“Do you have a paper to look at?” Snow Write prodded.

“Nope.”

“What about a prompt?”

“I’m sure it’s somewhere,” Grumpy retorted, his gaze secured to the floor beneath them.

“Could we pull it up on the Magic Mirror of Courses?”

“I guess.” Grumpy fiddled with the Magic Computer Monitor, pulling up the script that contained his assignment description. “I’m supposed to write about mortality in Gilgamesh.”

“Great! What can you tell me about Gilgamesh?” Snow Write was a little too excited for Grumpy’s comfort.

“I dunno. I didn’t read it.” Grumpy’s gaze remained directed at the floor.

“Do you have the book?”

“No.”

“That’s okay. We can still talk about the idea of morality and stuff. How’s that sound?”

“Sure, whatever.”

Grumpy wanted to stay in his mood, huffing and puffing about how terrible the class was and how he didn’t want to be at the Writing Center. However—to his surprise—Grumpy realized he actually had plenty to say about morality and what kinds of actions would be moral versus immoral within particular contexts. He saw that the Writing Center wasn’t just for people who needed to edit papers, it was also for people who needed to brainstorm or talk through ideas.

Snow Write was able to help Grumpy sketch a decent outline for his paper before they wrapped up their consultation. As the princess walked the dwarf to the front desk to schedule a follow-up consultation, he noticed his twin brother, Happy, fidgeting in his seat in the waiting area.

The two dwarves locked eyes, but without missing a beat, Grumpy redirected his gaze and continued to walk right passed his brother toward the exit.

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Snow Write and the Seven Steps for Successful Writing Center Sessions

By Logan Brown, Shyene Joubert, Kylie Lohmeyer, Christina Roberts, Lindsey Howell, Iris Saltus, and Izzy Comin

Step One: Choosing the Fairest Consultant of Them All

Once upon a time, a writing consultant named Snow Write was waiting for her brew at the Overlook when she overheard a doctoral student who was dissatisfied with his progress on his dissertation. With sympathy, Snow Write decided to introduce herself to the bespectacled dwarf and inform him of the merits of the University Writing Center.

“Call me Doc,” he replied. “I’m researching the effects of fire suppression on forest structures. If you can help me at the Writing Center, then I assume you have some familiarity with my research topic?”

“Not particularly,” she answered. “I’m not an ecology major.”

Doc pondered. “Hm. I’m unsure of how the Writing Center can help me then.”

Snow Write sat down at one of the coffee tables and motioned Doc to take the seat across from her. “Actually, the Writing Center supports writing across all fields of study: we recruit undergraduate and graduate consultants from any disciplinary program offered by our university. In fact, we even have an undergraduate consultant—the Huntsman—who’s studying forest management and ecology.”

Doc paused. “An undergraduate? Do you think they’ve advanced far enough within their studies to understand my research focus?”

“While your research seems advanced, the Huntsman is really interested in this field of study,” responded Snow Write. “He’s also performing undergraduate research this semester, so he’s familiar with research writing. You can read more about him and our other consultants on the Writing Center’s website, where each consultant’s biography is listed. The consultants’ biographies describe their major, writing strengths, and personal interests. You can read through them to see whose skillset and experiences best support your writing goals.”

Doc persisted. “I’ll have to review the Huntsman’s biography—it seems rational to work with a consultant who has a similar academic focus. However, I’m still concerned about his lack of experience in the scholarly arena. You said the Writing Center also has graduate consultants?”

“We do,” said Snow Write, whose coffee order had just been called at the bar. “We have a schedule specifically for graduate students, where they can schedule face-to-face or online appointments. Choosing whom you’d like to work with really depends on what you want to get out of the consultation. If you’re looking for feedback geared towards the technical elements of graduate-level writing, then I’d suggest you work with a graduate student; otherwise, the Huntsman would be a great person to discuss the concepts that you’re researching.”

“Thank you for your help, Snow Write. I’ll definitely look into scheduling a consulta…,” Doc was interrupted by an earsplitting sneeze. Whoever could that be, he thought.

A sickly dwarf approached the pair just as Snow Write informed Doc that she was running late for work. Doc greeted the dwarf, “Hey Sneezy. We missed you at the study session this week. We’ll see you there next week, right?”

“That’s the plan,” he replied. The two dwarves parted ways as Doc headed to his seminar.

Step Two: Slating an Appointment for Writing Support 

Sneezy was on the edge of academic probation. He’d missed more than two weeks of class last semester because of different conditions: a cold, a sinus infection, severe social anxiety—you name it. Because he’d heard through the grapevine that his buddy, Doc, had a successful experience at the University Writing Center, Sneezy sought his advice during their study session in an effort to boost his academic standing.

Doc peeped up at Sneezy as he worked on his dissertation. “Try scheduling a consultation at the Writing Center. I can take a minute to show you their online scheduling system.”

Sneezy set a teakettle on the stove before joining Doc, who had pulled up the Writing Center schedule on the web. Scanning through the time blocks that were as white as snow, Sneezy selected a slot that fit within the narrow window of time before his assignment deadline. An appointment form appeared across the Magic Computer Monitor.

“You should make an online appointment, since you seem to mysteriously miss major deadlines,” Doc chuckled. Nodding in agreement, Sneezy selected “Yes – Schedule Asynchronous Appointment” at the top of the form.

The appointment form requested information like what class the assignment was for, when it was due, and what it was about. Sneezy pulled up his writing prompt to describe the purpose of his assignment, and then he considered what his goal for the session was.

For both the Higher Order Concern (HOC) and the Lower Order Concern (LOC) slots, Sneezy scanned the drop-down menus. He was unsure of what to choose, but Doc mentioned that the Writing Center offers online resources, so he pulled up their website. After reviewing the HOC and LOC Topic Descriptions resource, Sneezy decided on the HOC of Overall Argument and LOC of In-Text Citations and References.

Sneezy’s arms went heavy: he wasn’t sure if it was a symptom of one of his conditions or if he was simply anxious about submitting his essay to Snow Write, who Doc had suggested he should work with. Regardless, Sneezy knew he needed the writing support. The cursor hovered above the “Save Appointment” button. He clicked.

“Success! Your appointment was successfully added on the following date: May 3, 2018. If you would like to attach a file to this appointment form, click here.”

Sneezy still had to generate a few references, so he opted to attach a file later on—Doc had explained that you could do so by clicking the yellow folder icon at the top left-hand corner of the schedule.

“I’m sure glad I don’t have to worry about showing up late for this appointment,” Sneezy mused as the teakettle began to shriek behind him, signaling that the solution to his neti pot was ready.

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The Oxford Comma Serial Killer: Part Three

By Trent Unruh, Edwin Tran, Kaitie Christensen, Ana Santana, and Melissa Waters

The Finale: Crime Scenes, Criminals and Cops

The detectives and police squad gathered around the office pin board. Photos of crime scenes and copies of notes were connected with red thread, creating a picturesque map of the serial comma killer’s history.

“It looks like a riddle,” remarked Phillips.

“That’s absurd,” said Charles.

“Why? Look at the evidence…it almost looks like a shape I should recognize. Maybe each of the locations of the murders gives us a clue to the killer’s name. Plenty of serial killers use code to taunt authorities. We can’t let this guy become another Zodiac.”

“That’s it!” Charles exclaimed. “It’s a comma. Look at the first letter of each of the cross streets from the murders. They were telling us their name the whole time!”

Charles and Phillips approached the suspect’s house. A back-up team stood behind them holding shields and batons. Phillips clenched his teeth as he gave three loud knocks on the door and shouted, “Police Department! Open up!”

When there was no response, Charles motioned for two SWAT members to ram the door. The team filed through the doors half expecting to find the remains of another gruesome murder. Instead, it was just a tidy living room, so tidy that it looked out of place compared with the door splints scattered on the floor. As they looked around the room, they noticed a note on the coffee table, the familiar handwriting scrawled across the page.

Charles picked up the note. “Working downstairs with the tools, the books and the crimes.” He looked at Phillips who nodded. The team quietly headed downstairs.

Sitting in a large armchair sandwiched between ceiling-high stacks of books was an older woman. She seemed unfazed by the interruption, only moving to push her square glasses back up her nose and turn the page of the magazine in her lap.

“Put the magazine down,” said Charles. “And put your hands up.”

The woman tucked her pen into the magazine as a place marker, folded the cover, and raised her hands. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Are you the Oxford Comma Serial Killer?”

“I am.”

“Is that a confession?”

“It is.”

“You are under arrest for the murder of four people. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” Charles rambled the list of Miranda rights as Phillips and the team handcuffed the woman. “Do you have any last words?”

The woman began to explain. “I have put up with unclear writing and poor comma usage for far too long. I can’t understand what these people are saying! Do they want to eat their dog? Do they want to cook their family? I just wanted to make a point.”

“You certainly have made a point. You will have plenty of time reflect on your guilt, proper comma usage and murders while you’re in prison.”

 

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The Oxford Comma Serial Killer: Part Two

By Trent Unruh, Edwin Tran, Kaitie Christensen, Rendle Williams, Ana Santana, and Melissa Waters

Chapter 2: The Cliché of Crime Investigation 

HQ made mention of a murder. It was related to some ongoing case about this “Oxford Comma Serial Killer.” However, the gruff and rather stereotypically jaded veteran detective’s mind was never in the right place.

Instead, Howard Phillips was one thousand nine hundred and twenty one kilometers away, metaphorically of course, from the conversation at hand.

“Jesus Christ Phillips, you’ve been sitting there for a good thirteen minutes just staring off into God only knows what. It’s almost like your thoughts were jumbled and disorganized, lacking any way to separate them in a more cohesive way that elicits clarity and understanding. Are you listening or are we gonna be sending ya’ off to the mental sanitations by the end of the day?”

Phillips nodded automatically. It was the usual go-to and often worked when he dealt with his neighbors, his banker, and more often these days, his lawyer and/or psychiatrist. He regarded the presence of the young recruit rather sardonically. He tried not being too caustic with the man, though child seemed to be more of an apt description of the badly bearded ideologue standing before him.

“Charles, I am rather aware of what you’ve been saying. You needn’t say it in so many words though.

“There’s been another murder. A. Murder. Do. You. Hear. Me?”

“It is the old weaver’s place.”

With those few words, they hurried off together towards a narrow network of small corridors and alleyways that seemed to be rather haphazard and without any semblance of planning.

They arrived at the scene of the crime and began the cliche mystery crime investigation. Of the most “obvious” signs of murder was a note hidden in the far recesses of a tiny cabinet. It read simply as follows:

“A man, a typewriter, and a grammatical mistake walk into a room. Only a man leaves alive. Always remember your rules, kiddos. The Oxford Comma Serial Killer has struck again.”

Chapter 3: The Vital Nuance of Grammar

Back in their office at HQ, the two detectives went over the evidence, having made notes of the gruesome scene; the overturned typewriter, the frantically fluttering pages, the man on the floor, and the note in the cupboard.

“What do you make of this, Charles? ” Phillips asked. “We’re looking for a motive…” He trailed off, staring into the middle distance, as was his habit.

“Well,” began the novice detective, “clearly the man was stabbed. He must have been working at the typewriter when the struggle began. The typewriter was overturned, there was paper everywhere, and the calluses on the man’s fingers indicate-”

“Cut to the point,” interrupted Phillips, emerging from his stupor. “The evidence that really matters is…” he grabbed a notepad and began to write, “the stab wound, the page and the note in the cupboard. We can see from the way that man was dispatched that the killer is experienced, skilled and attentive to detail-”

“Wait, there wasn’t another page in the cupboard, was there?”

“No, you idiot, I never said that. Anyway, the killer may strike again-”

“Yes, you did, just here; you wrote, ‘the page and the note in the cupboard.’ The page in question was on the man’s chest, not in the cupboard with the note.”

“You know what I mean,” Phillips retorted.

“I might be able to understand, but this is evidence of a MURDER, Phillips, we have to be precise. You would need to use a comma between ‘page’ and ‘and’ in order to accurately present the evidence as it was at the crime scene. We can’t afford confusion,” Charles said, as he corrected the note with a flick of his pen.

“Eureka! That’s it! Look here, at the page we found on the dead writer’s chest,” Charles began to read the final sentence aloud. “The famed chef found true solace and serenity from the mad race of London in cooking his family and his friends.

“I see nothing wrong with it,” grumbled Phillips; although he saw clearly the same issue Charles had corrected in his note moments before.

Charles began to explain, “Here it says that he would cook his loved ones (now, wouldn’t that be quite the murder case), but it can be assumed that he didn’t mean that. The author must have meant…” cooking, his family, and his friends, Charles scratched into his notepad.

“So you’re saying that the lack of this simple, trivial punctuation mark could have been the motive for a serial killer?” asked Phillips incredulously.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying!” Giddy at his own brilliance, Charles tripped on his way over to the bookcase and fetched back the Oxford English Dictionary. “Not only is it his motive for this murder, it’s his whole motive for being a serial killer. Look at this: the Serial Comma, also known as the Oxford Comma, is a comma immediately preceding the conjunction in a list of items.”

“Makes sense. He couldn’t very well call himself the Serial Comma Serial Killer, could he,” laughed Phillips. “And if he styles himself a serial killer, he must have done this before. You’re too young to remember, but we had a number of cases, if I recall, that went unsolved– something like this with papers, in private homes and offices…” He trailed off again and mindlessly followed Charles downstairs to the basement where the archives were kept.

The two detectives worked late into the night, pouring over the evidence of the London’s unsolved murders of years past, while somewhere in the heart of the city, the Oxford Comma Serial Killer tossed and turned in his sleep.

 

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