Monday, January 31, 2011

Standards and Expectations from Engaged Writers, Dynamic Disciplines

In a book that was published in 2006 titled Engaged Writers, Dynamic Disciplines: Research on the Academic Writing Life, Chris Thaiss and Terry Myers Zawacki present, as the back cover relates, the conclusions of a "four-year, crossdisciplinary study of faculty and students from a wide range of majors" that "demonstrate[s] that academic disciplines are dynamic spaces that accommodate a variety of alternative styles and visions."

While Thaiss and Myers Zawacki offer a detailed portrait of the ways writing takes place in diverse majors, they begin their book with three core principles that might help students understand where professors are coming from. In this post I thought I'd present the three principles for reflection and discussion.

Thaiss and Myers Zawacki claim that "regardless of differences among disciplines and individual teachers" (5) professors expect:
  1. "Clear evidence in writing that the writer(s) have been persistent, open-minded, and disciplined in study" (5).
  2. "The dominance of reason over emotions or sensual perception" (5).
  3. "An imagined reader who is coolly rational, reading for information, and intending to formulate a reasoned response" (7).
The first principle relates to how college classes depend on strong reading and careful thinking. As the authors relate, "academics are invariably harsh toward any student or scholar who hasn't done the background reading, who isn't prepared to talk formally or off the cuff about the subject of the writing, and whose writing doesn't show careful attention to the objects of study and reflective thought about them" (5).

In other words, students or scholars need to show that they know the conversations going on in that discipline or subject, and they need take time to distill what it means to them through discussion, writing papers, WebCT posts, etc.

What the second principle connects to, for me at least, is that while students may have strong opinions, they also must support those ideas with evidence, reasoning, examples, and details that make sense to a wider audience. While the authors' own study details a Professor of Nursing who promotes the use of emotions and experiences as a means to understand the challenges of the profession, even then a writer is expected to be "a careful, fair student and analyst of competing positions" (6), which also connects to how the authors detail principle 3 in terms that "all academic writing is 'argumentative' in its perception of a reader who may object or disagree" since "the writer's effort to anticipate and allay these potential objections is also part of a broadly 'argumentative' ethos" (7).

So with all that information related above, what do you think based on your own careful reading and critical thinking? [see principle 1]

Do these principles seem true to you based on your experience as a student and/or a professor?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Strategies for Getting Started Workshop on Th Jan. 27

Are you having trouble getting your thoughts on the page?

If so, tomorrow from 5:00 to 5:30 in the Writing Center (3110 Coleman Hall), we'll host the first workshop of the spring semester. The workshop, "Hit the Ground Running: Strategies for Getting Started," will offer tactics for producing effective brainstorming and other pre-writing activities that will help you get started on your writing assignments in a productive manner.

If a student is interested in attending, he or she just needs to give us a call at 581-5929, reply to this blog post, or reply to our latest status update on the EIU Writing Center's Facebook page.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hello. My name is Bryan and…

For my first post here on EIU writes, I thought it would be good to address the “writing process.” It’s early in the spring semester, and all of us have much writing to do before it concludes. Each of us likely has their own way of negotiating the myriad writing tasks we are faced with. Since we are focusing on Writing Across the Curriculum, it occurs to me that writing, in a very general sense, is a behavior. And behaviors, to the extent that they are goal-directed, can be beneficial or harmful, relative to desired outcomes. Though it may seem a downer to open with a meditation upon harmful behaviors, I find it helpful to own up to an element of my writing process that is causing me problems.

I am a procrastinator. Like anyone in denial, I have developed a full range of euphemisms to describe this behavioral trait. “I’m still doing the research.” “This is the pre-writing phase of my process.” “It’s all up here” [pointing to my head]. These interpretations are easy enough to support in the early part of the semester. It’s the inevitable aftermath that calls for a conceptual revision.

This is a difficult, embarrassing, and perhaps somewhat ironic declaration from someone whose job description at EIU includes the designation “Writing Consultant.” But I offer my confession as a means to invite discussion from other members of the EIU writing community. Are there any other procrastinators out there? Recovered procrastinators with certain durations of non-procrastinating under their belts? Any suggestions from anyone in any department for how to combat this writing behavior?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

For Instructors: Resources for Responding to Student Writing

Since it's still early in the semester, probably many of you haven't graded a lot of papers so far, but I thought I'd pass along a couple of resources concerned with responding to and evaluating student writing.

Both of these resources can be found on "Resources for Faculty" page on the EIU WAC webpage.

The first link titled "Responding to Student Writing" comes from the Teach2Write page from UCLA's Office of Instructional Development. The presentation offers strong guidelines about "respond[ing] to your students' work without pain and suffering (and really help[ing] them with their writing)." The "Responding to Student Writing" presentation is also followed by "Grading Student Writing." In all, the Teach2Write page has six different presentations you can peruse although the first one is focused mainly on understanding UCLA students.

The second link titled "How Can I Handle Papers?" is available via the WAC Clearinghouse site at Colorado State. The authors cover topics such as "Focus Your Commenting Strategies," "Use a Grading Sheet," and "Do I Have to Be an Expert in Grammar?"

I hope you find the resources helpful and interesting, and we'd enjoy hearing any feedback you'd like to provide whether you're a faculty member or someone who wants to become a teacher.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Welcome to EIU Writes, the blog associated with the Writing Center and the Writing Across the Curriculum program at Eastern Illinois University.

Here at EIU Writes, we'll offer a diversity of posts to ponder and resources to investigate whether you're a first-year student taking ENG 1002, a junior getting ready to write cover letters for summer internships, a sophomore business major wanting to write stronger memos, or a faculty member looking for helpful links and ideas for the classes you teach.

As a general rule, if posts are meant for a wide audience (students and faculty), they will just have titles such as the one above.

However, if posts are meant for faculty members or students who aim for a career in teaching at any level, they will have "For Instructors:" preceding the titles.

We hope you find the information and discussion on this blog helpful, and we look forward to your comments and the conversation.