Monday, February 8, 2016

Magic on my Mind

In a small lamp found in the catacombs of Coleman Hall resides a genie that has the power to grant any writing-related wishes--the dream for all writers...

While no one I know has ventured to search for this genie just yet, I asked three graduate students in the English program what writing-related wishes they would ask for if they ever met him, and here's what they said:

  1. To reach as many people as possible
  2. To write like Herman Melville
  3. To be immortalized through writing

  1. Never have any grammar mistakes
  2. Only write original, mind-blowing ideas
  3. Everything I write is beautiful stylistically

  1. My ideas are never unclear
  2. Able to magically skip the drafting part of the writing process
  3. A personal research assistant that finds all relevant sources
The possibilities are endless! What would your three wishes be?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What's the Difference? Editing v. Proofreading

So, it's time to edit your paper. After you've addressed higher-order concerns about your argument, organization, and explanations, you can shift focus to lower-order concerns, like editing and proofreading.

We've probably all heard these two terms before, but what are the real differences between those activities? Below is a brief explanation of how these tasks can be applied to revising your own writing:

Once you feel comfortable with what you've written, you can turn your attention to sentence-level editing, which focuses on grammar, punctuation, and mechanics. If you know you have issues with anything in particular (subject-verb agreement, commas, run-on sentences, etc.), try focusing on those first so you can become more familiar with where they come up in your writing and how to address them. If you don't feel as confident about this type of editing, try working with a Writing Center tutor. We can help you understand these issues and give you tips for how to deal with them in future writing.

Proofreading happens at the very end of the writing process when you feel that you're done with your essay and it's time for the final read-through. With proofreading, don't be afraid to go slowly. Look for misspelled, misplaced, or missing words. Since it's often hard to catch these mistakes in your own writing, try reading through your paper backward, sentence by sentence. This allows you to go more slowly and read more carefully. The point of proofreading is to find any last-minute things that need changed before you turn your writing into a teacher, publisher, or boss.

Don't be afraid to edit often and consistently, and save proofreading for last. While these two acts are a little different, both are crucial to the writing process. I promise: it's worth the time!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

An Emoji Was Just Named Word of the Year

Oxford Dictionaries just named its Word of the Year.

And they picked an emoji.

The "Face with Tears of Joy," as it is officially called, shouldn't look unfamiliar to you. It was the most used emoji of the year, and according to Oxford Dictionaries, it "best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015."

Now, that last claim raises its own questions and emoji eyebrows, but an easier question to tackle is this: What would it mean for the language we write if emojis counted as words?

Hint: It doesn't mean that you can insert a crying face in your next research paper.

But does it simply mean that Oxford was being too inclusive with their definition of "word?"

Maybe. Maybe not.

Part of why this Emoji was chosen is because it transcends languages. That ability makes emojis closer to art than words. Plus, how can you pronounce an emoji? By saying its official title?

I can already hear my ancestors saying this is another nail in the coffin of the English language.

But let's not be dramatic.

Languages can't objectively improve or degrade necessarily. They can only change. As long as effective communication remains possible, that change isn't good or bad.

Remember, this emoji is effective enough that it transcends languages, and it was also effective enough that it was used more than any other emoji. Like it or not, many writers are embracing emojis.

While this emoji is clearly useful, I doubt that many English speakers would call it a word. But no one person or dictionary gets to own the language. Only we, the speakers and writers, can do that.

So, what do you think?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Go Global

When I say "go global," I'm talking about your writing. Global revision is a vital part of the writing process. The point is to think about the bigger picture. I recommend doing this type of re-vision with your earlier drafts so you can keep revisiting and reshaping them along the way. 

Try to read your draft from an outsider's perspective, and ask yourself these questions: 

Does this draft accomplish its purpose? 
Whether you're arguing, evaluating, analyzing, or narrating, make sure you're you've addressed the goal you had for writing the piece in the first place.

Is it appropriate for my audience?
Figure out who your audience is, and target your writing to fit who will be reading it. What information is your audience looking for?

Is the main idea clear?
What is your main idea? Make sure that it is easy to find and understand, and include all relevant information to fully explain it. 

Is there a logical order to the draft?
Are like ideas grouped together? Investigate why your paragraphs are in the places that they are, and make sure they allow readers to follow your writing in an understandable way.

Is there any information I'm missing, or that need to explain more fully, or omit?
Read through your draft to find places that your readers might need more information, a definition, or stronger examples. Don't be afraid to cut information that doesn't support your main idea. 

Are transitions clear?
At the beginning and end of your paragraphs, make sure you have clear transitions from one point to the next so your readers can more clearly follow your ideas.

These revisions help you more clearly portray your ideas and can be performed anytime throughout the drafting and editing process. While it may seem a little more intimidating to revise whole paragraphs and important thoughts rather than just a few punctuation or word choice issues along the way, know that continuous global writing and revision will help you shape your ideas and come to a more complete, concise understanding of what you want to say and how you want to say it.

So, don't be afraid: go global!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This May Get Rough

If you're anything like me, the term "rough draft" is frustrating--I want it to be perfect the first time! Instead, try seeing your writing as a "discovery draft." As you write and rewrite, you'll be able to learn more about your topic, including what you want to say and how you want to say it.

When starting your rough draft, know it's okay for it to be just that: rough. Be sure to start the writing process early to leave yourself enough time to create several drafts.

Talking to a friend, professor, or Writing Center consultant about your drafts is great way to keep focused and find insight from an outside perspective. An "outsider" can point out phrases or terms that may need more explanation for your readers. (If you decide to make an appointment in the Writing Center to work on your drafts, bringing your assignment sheet or prompt is a real help.)

If you find yourself becoming frustrated or hitting dreaded writer's block, walk away from your words. Take a break! A few hours away from your draft can clear your head and allow you to bring a fresh attitude to the next time you decide to tackle the writing.

Remember: if there's one thing to know about drafting, it's that multiple drafts are your greatest tool. Each draft allows you more time to think and revise, creating a clearer and more effective piece of writing. Now go--draft on!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Filigreed Fallacies

What error drives our eyes and ears amiss?
Until I know this sure uncertainty
I'll entertain the offered fallacyThe Comedy of Errors (2.2.195-97). 

It is sometimes tempting to accept things we intuitively perceive to be untrue (sure uncertainties) simply because it is easier to sacrifice critical thinking for comfortable ignorance.  It is easy for many of us to believe that wearing a designer outfit, driving a flashy car, or drinking only the finest champagne can transform us into classier people. 

We are so bombarded by suggestive images that many people fail to recognize them.  If you’re like me, you may be dying to refute faulty claims, but what if you are not particularly knowledgeable about the topic under discussion?

Recognizing logical fallacies is an essential skill to help deconstruct political jargon and marketing ploys that hinder objective thought (Also see Purdue Owl for a list of common fallacies).

In the U.S., women were denied the right to vote until 1920, partially because of the large amount of negative propaganda that portrayed voting women as anti-domestic.  It goes without saying that argument is invaluable to humanity.

Images like the above suffragist mob worked as an emotional appeal (pathos) that implied if women were granted the right to vote, they would mercilessly subjugate men and abandon their household duties!

Contrary to popular opinion, argument does not have to be confrontational. We all see the world through biased lenses, and alternative perspectives have helped to loosen the stranglehold of stale notions that stifle progressive change.

Learning how to identify the most common logical fallacies will help you in every facet of life, from deconstructing emotional rhetoric to acknowledging the subtle power of effective marketing.  Obtain your freedom from sure uncertainties by both resisting and reasoning with alluring fallacies.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Making an Organized Plan

Making a plan is possibly one of the most important steps in the writing process, because it can help you focus, group, and organize your ideas as you begin to write. Plans can be thoughtfully reworked throughout the writing process to more efficiently focus your ideas. No matter what you're writing, planning and organization will come into play; explore and become aware of what kind of plan works best for you. Below are a few examples of how to get started:

Informal Outlines
Informal outlines usually take the shape of a semi-organized list of ideas that you want to mention in the work. These make it easier to reorganize information later while you revise; however, brainstorming lists are a great way to start this type of plan. To help keep this organization focused, try crossing out ideas that you know you don't need to mention and ideas that you add as you create your draft. You'll be better able to see where the rest of your ideas can fit into what you're writing as you go along.

Begin by writing your main idea in the middle of the paper and circling it. Draw lines branching out from the center that connect to ideas related to the main topic and circle them. Continue to branch out from these circles with supporting information. Clustering works a lot like a formal outline, only taking a much different shape. This type of planning can work well for more visual learners. If you use the clustering technique, while you're drafting, think about your readers and what order of information they would best respond to in your later, more structured paper.
Formal Outlines
Formal outlines follow a more structured path. You've probably seen these or used them before. They generally begin with the main point or thesis statement. The rest of the outline consists of headings that explain major ideas plus subheadings that identify supporting material for each of them. This method shows relationships between ideas and groups related points for a more solid organizational plan.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Being Heard Through "The Word"

In My Religion Helen Keller famously said, "For nearly six years I had no concepts whatever of nature or mind or death or God. I literally thought with my body...Then, suddenly, I knew not how or where or when, my brain felt the impact of another mind, and I awoke to language, to knowledge, to love...I was actually lifted from nothingness to human life..."   

Some of you may be rolling your eyes, thinking how incredibly cliché it is to use Helen Keller as an example of "finding herself" through language, but bear with me!

 The important thing, typically left out of Keller's story, is what she did with her realization--she made sure her voice was heard, even if that meant angering  powerful people, including President Woodrow Wilson, who persecuted the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union, of which she was a member.  

 Helen Keller was a radical socialist, a revolutionary voice for the voiceless, who boldly championed the rights of the disenfranchised, from those who are disabled, to the rights of ethnic minorities, women, and industrial workers.

The fact that many people don't know this is no accident. Keller's legacy has been tamed into a heroic tale of overcoming overwhelming odds with the help of a dedicated teacher (See Lies My Teacher Told Me for more). But Keller undoubtedly wished people would take advantage of that which no one can take--their voice. It is ironic that after struggling so hard to essentially create herself with language, Keller has been silenced by history.

The point? Take advantage of the power of written and spoken word by building arguments. Combine what you know through experience with what our amazing library has to offer. Using the power of language, Keller discovered a world filled with people needlessly suffering and said something about it. Will we do the same, or will we remain silent?