Personal Statement Workshop
Welcome to the Fall 2013 edition of the West Virginia University Writing Center newsletter: the Ethos Edition! This issue explores how ethos and personal style come into play in your work, whether you are a writer, a student of writing, or a tutor. If you are an undergraduate student, a graduate student, a faculty member, or simply a friend of WVU who is reading this newsletter, we thank you for being a supporter of the WVU Writing Center and hope you will visit us soon! ●
The WVU Writing Center held a Personal Statement Workshop with English Department guest speaker Professor Laura Brady on Friday, October 25th, 2013. Professor Brady shared her insights on writing an effective and unique personal statement with current and former WVU undergraduates who are applying to graduate schools. Writing Center tutors Maggie, Mollie, Michelle and Stephanie worked with attendees on their personal statements. A big thank you to Professor Brady for inspiring and enlightening our attendees and tutors! ●
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter ● 1
Our 10,000th Tutoring Appointment! by Nicole Sangid We are pleased to announce that this semester marks our 10,000th appointment! Since its opening in 2005, the Writing Center has helped students in their journeys to become better writers. The Writing Center has since attracted more students as its services became more widely known on campus. We have expanded to offer more than just tutoring; with informational pamphlets, writing blogs, and tutorled workshops, students can get more out of their Writing Center experiences. While our 10,000th appointment marks a great milestone, we are looking forward to even bigger growth in interest in the Writing Center. â—?
New: The Graduate Writing Center! Are you a graduate student at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences? You now have access to peer writing support at the WVU Writing Center. The service is sponsored by the Office of Graduate Education and Life, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and the English Department. Graduate peer tutoring is available on a byappointment or drop-in basis from now till the end of finals (Dec 18, 2013).
Location: G02 Colson Hall Hours: 8-10 a.m. Monday to Thursday 5-7 p.m. Wednesday Closed Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Due to the limited number of peer tutors, students can schedule no more than one 1-hour appointment per week. Our graduate peer tutors are available to work with you on your writing projects such as seminar papers, masters theses, dissertations, conference proposals and papers, and job search materials. During your appointment, you are welcome to talk with a tutor about general writing concerns and/or specific parts of your writing project (e.g. argument, organization, structure, coherence and cohesion, audience, formatting, grammar and syntax). Call 304-293-5788 or visit http://english.wvu.edu/centersprojects/writing-center/gradtutoring to sign up for a graduate tutoring appointment. â—?
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter â—? 2
De-stressing strategies by Maggie Kinder Mid-semester has come and gone. Now it’s crunch time for many people, which means added stress. In this section of the newsletter, I will be discussing tips and tricks to reduce stress and anxiety. One thing to keep in mind when feeling stressed is that you can only do your best. Do not worry about what you cannot control. The sooner you realize that, the easier it is to de-stress. The most common destressing exercise is a simple breathing exercise. This doesn’t work for everyone, but sometimes a deep breath, or maybe a couple, will help you feel better immediately. Many people have hopped on the yoga and meditation bandwagon lately, and it really is worth the hype. Doing yoga and meditation at least once a week keeps stress and anxiety at lower levels. I do yoga, and since I’ve started, I have noticed a difference. Yoga will give you something to look forward to each
Tutor Spotlight: Mollie and Kiersten! by Montana Goehring Tutors at the Writing Center provide help to students at any stage in their writing process. As all tutors essentially perform the same tasks, I thought it would be interesting to see how differently tutors perceived tutoring.
week and you will leave feeling relaxed and renewed. Yoga is a great long-term tool to help you control your stress. Another way to control stress in the long term is to eat healthily and to take care of yourself. Eating healthy foods makes you feel physically and emotionally better. It takes more work and dedication than just grabbing a quick burger, but with time it becomes second nature. Also, lay off the coffee. I know this will devastate the most dedicated coffee drinkers, but trust me, with time it’s worth it. Too much coffee can make you feel jittery and can actually increase stress and anxiety levels if too much is consumed per day. Maybe try decreasing the amount you drink per day and substitute the rest with tea. If you commit to at least one of these de-stressing techniques you will feel better about yourself, and that is the first step in trying to control stress levels. ●
I asked two tutors the following questions: what their favorite thing about being a tutor is, and what they find most challenging in a tutoring session. Mollie Simonton, a third-year tutor at the Center, replied that her favorite aspect of tutoring is “when the tutee is really invested in his/her paper topic.” She went on to explain that
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter ● 3
sessions where a tutee is interested in their work are more productive. Kiersten Woods, another experienced tutor at the Center, explained that her favorite part of being a tutor is “when a session becomes more like a collaboration. So it’s not just two people working to improve a paper but two people interested in the writing and the topic.” While Mollie’s and Kiersten’s answers were similar for what they enjoyed most about tutoring, their answers differed greatly when asked about their challenges. Mollie answered that she found it difficult to explain articles to a student. Kiersten, however, said that she has the most difficulty recognizing when to change her tutoring style to fit a
student’s needs: “I usually let the student lead,” she explained, “but if for some reason that doesn’t work, I need to shift to a different style.”
Despite sharing the same duties and responsibilities, no two tutors perform their jobs the same way. Understanding our tutors, their tutoring style, their successes, and their challenges enables us to better understand the Writing Center.
Tutoring Roles by Eddie Hamrick There are many diverse roles that a tutor fulfills while working with a student (e.g. teacher, coach, cheerleader). I believe effective peer tutors take on two specific roles: the interpreter and the advocate.
several of those found in English 101 and 102, focus heavily on interpretive skills. Students must analyze advertisements and rhetorical arguments, but many of them have not been exposed to techniques for analysis.
College assignments are so incredibly different from those found in high As peer tutors at the Writing Center, school. Many typical high school one of our most important jobs is to help students acclimate to the writing assignments do not expand any further than summary, and they language and expectations of college writing assignments. I have had many usually do not involve much, if any, analysis on the student’s part. Most students come into the Writing Center college writing assignments, especially with perfectly good essays, but they WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter ● 4
don’t speak to their writing assignment. I spend much of my time as a tutor trying to teach the student how to interpret their assignments. This activity can range from explaining their professors’ expectations to helping students identify and write for the correct audience. Half the battle for many students is figuring out exactly what they should be writing, so an interpretive tutor is a great asset for them. From my personal tutoring experience, one of the phrases I hear most often from students is, “I’m not a good writer.” They did not do well in high school English, or they have recieved negative feedback on their first few college writing assignments, so they believe they have no writing skills. The mission of the WVU Writing Center is to help students become better writers. This mission, however, cannot be achieved if the student does not have the faith in their ability that will, in turn, fuel their motivation to improve their skills. As a peer tutor, I always strive to point out at least one strength in the students’ writings. It could be their mastery of the subject matter or even their sentence structure. Building up the students’ confidence, especially at the beginning of the appointment, seems to make them more receptive to feedback. They recognize that there is a foundation to build upon, and they are more apt to respond to suggestions. Tutors who act as advocates for the
student’s writing strengths build a positive relationship with students.
Peer tutors who act as interpreters and advocates help the student recognize that they have the tools to improve their writing. Once the student recognizes how to analyze prompts, he or she can effectively address assignments. Also, students with faith in their writing abilities are often willing to put forth the effort to become better writers. Peer tutoring is an extremely effective tool, and a huge part of its success is giving students the initial push that they need to progress on their own. ●
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter ● 5
Interview with Ben Liff and Kia Groom, Writing Center tutors from George Mason University & the University of New Orleans by Xin Tian Koh Ever wondered what writing center tutors at other universities do? How are their writing centers and their jobs similar to and different from ours? I spoke to Ben and Kia, writing center tutors from George Mason University and the University of New Orleans, who kindly shared their tips and insights for effective tutoring.
Ben Liff George Mason University Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Hi Ben! How long have you been working at the Writing Center at George Mason University? I worked at the writing center during the 2012-2013 academic year. Being a tutor is part of my TAship in the George Mason University MFA (Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing) program. What did you do, day-to-day, as a tutor? I generally had three to four to five in-person tutoring sessions per day with students and other members of the George Mason University community. It depended on how many in-person sessions I had vs. OWL sessions. WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter â—? 6
I also filled out client report forms, so that if a student returned to the Writing Center after having a session with another tutor, subsequent tutors would have an idea of what the student had last worked on in the Writing Center. Whatâ€™s an OWL session? The OWL is the Online Writing Lab. George Mason University students or other clients could, instead of coming to the writing center itself, email their documents to us, and we would spend 45 minutes reading and commenting on it based on the feedback students or clients requested. Sounds interesting! What is the George Mason University writing center like? Our tutors are generally part of the MFA program, though some of them have other concentrations. There's a pretty nice lounge in the back and a sweet coffee machine and a tiny fridge that often has some decent half-and-half. Tutors are extremely welcoming and love what they do. What is rewarding about being a tutor at George Mason University? When the students gain recognition and understanding of what they're trying to do with their writing and how to accomplish it successfully. Many students would come to the Writing Center without any idea how to complete their assignments. Much more satisfying for me than the minor suggestions and such was the chance to help explain how to make an argument, or summarize, or even just explaining to them that they needed to learn more about a topic before they started writing about it. The students might not have been as pleased as I was, but the ones who actually followed through would sometimes come back and explain how helpful some of our suggestions were. Also, the coffee. What qualities do you think a tutor needs to have? Patience. And an ability to attempt to understand where people with many different backgrounds are coming from, both culturally and educationally. And their philosophies, age, class, race, gender, major, specific class section, their professor, etc. What have you learned from tutoring at George Mason University? I learned that the trouble people have with writing academically is usually more related to their lack of experience with thinking beyond a prompt than to their writing skills (be they good or not). I think it's not a problem with students, necessarily, and definitely not their fault. Both US and many foreign school systems and philosophies don't foster WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter â—? 7
independent thinking or argument, so when students get to college and are expected to both think independently and make an argument, they become befuddled. Short of overhauling the way children are taught worldwide, I think universities need to ensure that instructors and any related tutoring (or other) staff are aware of the issues students face, and are trained how to help them overcome such issues. What would you like to say to students who are interested in becoming writing center tutors? Working in the writing center is a rewarding experience, both personally and professionally, and I think it can help you with your writing just as much, if not more, than the students you tutor.
Kia Groom University of New Orleans Hometown: Perth, WA, Australia
Hi Kia! How long have you been working at the Writing Center at the University of New Orleans? I worked at the Writing Center at UNO for 12 months during my first year as a Graduate Student (Fall-Spring 20122013), and also was fortunate enough to get a part-time position at the Center over the summer! At UNO, you're often placed in the Writing Center if you're a first-year graduate student who gets a funding offer (a Graduate Assistantship), because they like for you to have had some experience with students before
you go into the classroom. The WC is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with the introductory composition syllabus, and work with students one-on-one. So, that's what happened to me! What do you do, day-to-day, as a tutor? I work with students face-to-face on their papers, teach grammar workshops to small groups, and work on on-line papers that students submit to us via email. Although most of the students who come to us are first year students taking the required English courses, we do have some students
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter â—? 8
who submit papers from other courses. Some students also come in with requests for how to write cover letters, resumes, and application essays for other colleges or graduate programs. What is the UNO writing center like? Fairly small - we have a dedicated team of about 5-7 tutors at any one time, and although the semester often starts off slowly, by mid-terms we're all really, really busy! We have access to a computer lab on-site, which makes it much easier to teach students workshops on online research, how to use academic databases and the like. We have a great, diverse student body at UNO and that shows in the students who come to the WC. In the year I worked there, most of my students were ESL (English as a Second Language) students, and I had a great time working with them, getting to know them, and learning about other cultures and languages! What is rewarding about being a tutor at the University of New Orleans? On a personal level, I found meeting and interacting with so many different people from so many different walks of life to be extremely rewarding. My students were not homogenous in the slightest. I taught mature aged students, freshmen straight out of high school, people from New Orleans, and people from as far away as the Ukraine! Having these students share their writing with me was such an honor: their stories were amazing!
It was also extremely rewarding to watch their progress over the course of a semester. There's nothing better than watching a student pull a paper up from a D to an A! I gave so many highfives! It was great! On a professional level, I learned a whole lot about teaching composition, as well as refreshing my own memory on the finer points of grammar and syntax! What qualities do you think a tutor needs to have? Patience, first and foremost - and then, I think, an approachable, friendly attitude. Generally speaking, I found if you respect your students, they'll respect you (and your time)! The main thing I found helpful was to be humble, polite and friendly - some of the students who came to me were so disheartened about their writing, so down on themselves that it was kind of hard to get through. They felt like coming to the WC made them 'stupid', or 'bad at English'. I think one of the most important qualities a tutor can have is the ability to instill confidence and happiness in their students. What have you learned from tutoring at the University of New Orleans? I've learned how to be a better listener, a better teacher, a better communicator. I've learned so much about other people and lives that are different from mine. It's been a truly wonderful experience. What would you like to say to students who are interested in becoming writing center tutors?
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter â—? 9
Go for it! It's an invaluable opportunity, and, I think, a lot of fun too! ●
Fashionable Writing by Allison Eckman
message effectively. In creative writing, a writer’s personality or way of looking at the world influences his or her individual writing style. Style distinguishes writers. One familiar with Flannery O’ Connor or Ernest Hemingway could pick up unlabeled short stories written by each, and, after reading one paragraph, distinguish the two writers.
Parallels can be drawn between fashion and writing style. Fashion is often makes an impression. Meaning can be conveyed behind that impression, and in turn, can help (or hinder) one from attaining a desired end. Certain fashions are appropriate to an occasion; what is deemed appropriate for a job interview contrasts with what one might wear to a friend’s birthday party. Yet, we hear of celebrities making fashion statements and wonder about the meaning conveyed in going against the grain. Do writers make fashion statements, and can fashion and its ensuing impressions find its way into written language? Writing style is language’s fashion, and although style focuses inward, it carries the ability to resonate externally. Like fashion, some styles of writing are more or less appropriate in varying environments. Speaking technically, the styles in scientific writing contrast with those used commonly in an English class. Understanding the differences between these styles allows a writer to relate his or her
Despite this distinction, writing style is malleable. An author’s writing style can be imitated in a way similar to trying on clothes in a dressing room. Asking about the effects of a shirt you are looking to buy is similar to asking about the effects produced by a given setting or point of view. We should remember, though, that what is seen as favorable in terms of writing is not impervious to time; like trends in fashion, popular styles of writing evolve. Style remains a distinguishing factor when discussing pieces of writing.
Like finding a pair of shoes that fits perfectly, you can discover your individual writing style. However, writer Katherine Anne Porter reminds us in “Conversations”, a book of interviews that she gave: “You do not create a style. You work, and develop yourself; your style is an emanation
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter ● 10
from your own being." Her words remind us that, as writers, our style— or voice—must be challenged, cared for, and developed. Like fashion, writing style evolves and carries the ability to influence a reader’s opinion. Both reflect the individual and what that individual is seeking to present to his or her world. P.S. For a look at ten of the most fashionable writers in literature, check out this link! ●
Style Guide by Carrie Jamieson With due dates, research, and a minimum page-length all bucking for your time and attention during the writing process, the style of your writing might be one of the last things you consider. Style, however, is important. It’s one of the foundations built into a written piece whether you realize it’s there or not. Paying it just a smidge of due notice can be the difference between a successful writing piece and a bust. Style has a few meanings in writing. Often it refers to the personal choices an author makes in writing that display his or her personality or voice. In this article, we refer to style as a combination of many factors that set a general tone for a piece. Is its style formal or informal, technical or
narrative, emotive or analytic, serious or humorous, or even some combination of several of these? These are all examples of writing styles that will help inform factors like word choice, formatting, and choice of pronouns and tenses, which will in turn inform broader concepts like tone and appropriateness. A style is generally determined by the kind of assignment you are charged with and the audience you are addressing. Many styles overlap in their aims and execution, and so will the concepts that follow. Informal writing is a great space for humor, satire, and even breaking some standard grammatical formulas. Incomplete sentences, surplus punctuation, tense shifts, and referring
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter ● 11
to your audience can be appropriate when trying to build a casual mood, use emotive storytelling, or crack jokes. Informal writing, such as letters/emails, journal entries, or humorous pieces are spaces where certain rules can be bent in favor of writing as you might speak, rather than focusing on proper written form. In writing where you want to portray a professional quality, word choice is paramount. The phrase “such as” should replace the word “like,” and vague terms like “things” need to be replaced with more specific, or at least more quality-sounding words. A thesaurus will really come in handy! If you’re writing an analysis, you’ll want to take all biases out of your writing. Even little phrases like the “just” in “just because” and the “really” in “really problematic” display emotion, and these biasing words need to be avoided. A sentence written as “They are treated badly just because of their gender expression, and this is really problematic for the community” can be re-written without biases as “The group is discriminated against due to their gender expression; such discrimination can be problematic for communities.” Technical writing often requires you to be concise, meaning to use as few
words as possible with no frills and maximum clarity. Technical writing is an example of a style that requires the use of specific tenses; technical writing is often done in past and active tense. Past tense would be “the first step was” rather than “the first step is.” Active tense gives the action to the author through words like “we” or “I,” while passive tense does not implicitly state that the author performed the action. Active tense would be “we took the files to the lab,” while passive tense would be “the files were taken to the lab.” These are just a few examples of how to tweak your writing to fit the stylistic needs of any assignment. Style guidelines are often available in conjunction with the formatting you’ll be using (MLA, APA, etc.) or through quick searches on the web, with which you’ll find useful guides like the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab). Ask yourself if there is a tense (past, present, etc.) or a person (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) you should be writing in for your piece. Ask yourself if there are better word choices you could be making, and keep a dictionary and thesaurus open on your web browser! And as always, we’re ready and happy to help in the WVU Writing Center for all your person-to-person queries and concerns. Stay stylin’! ●
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter ● 12
Developing My Style as a Writer by Michelle Treadwell
Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved reading and being read to. To me, books allowed me to have an adventure while lying still in my room. As cliched as it sounds, I loved – and still love – getting lost in a good book. It's a way of escape. My love of reading led me to do it quite often. I read everything from historical fiction to sci-fi and everything in between. Soon, I fostered a desire to write as well. I once read a book called "Robert's Rules of Writing." One of his rules, put to a more humorous tone than I can match, stated never to read before you begin to write. The other author's style will be so fresh and vivid in your mind that you will proceed to write in that style, consciously or not. His solution was to wait a few days after reading before beginning a writing session. Personally, I've done what he wrote about soon after reading a good book, but I think that what you read influences your writing style much longer than just a few days. I love descriptive books. When a writer uses description in a way that accesses all of my senses, it makes the imaginative experience all the more real and fantastic. To really enjoy or understand a world, you must be immersed in it in all senses. If a writer can describe an emotion's physical effects well enough that I begin to feel the emotion - or even start displaying it - I consider him or her accomplished. It was these types of books that I would surround myself by, and eventually I began to style my own writing after them. Another rule of Robert's is to write what you know. Write about topics that you are familiar with to make the writing more natural and realistic, because you will feel more confident and relaxed when creating worlds and plotlines. I think that you can take this in another way: write the style that you know. If you write with mostly dialogue, you shouldn't try to write something where your characters barely speak and you have to describe their interactions entirely in the third person. You shouldn't write with GRE vocabulary words if your style is more
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter ● 13
along the lines of a children's story. In this way, I now write what I know, and what I know is what I've always read. I try to appeal to all senses of a person when writing, describing important scenes or locations the same way that you would subconsciously experience them in real life smell, touch, taste, sound, sight, and even the way a place makes you feel emotionally. My readers know my characters through their experiences and feelings and not often through them exclusively speaking. In fact, I can't write dialogue well at all, and to be honest, I find dialogue the least interesting part of a book. My writing style comes from what I'm interested in reading. Where is yours from?
Writing Center Comic Strip by Stephanie Anderson
WVU Writing Center Fall 2013 Newsletter â—? 14