Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beginning Brainstorming

Once students have a thesis, finding a direction and goals for a paper could be the most daunting task at hand. From a young age the words “brainstorming” and “developing” were used in the classroom when teachers describe how to start writing a paper. What differs from writing at a college level instead of high school is that papers can flow and change with the information that the author finds through research or that begins to redefine their overall focus for the paper.

The first thing that comes to mind after figuring out a topic or thesis statement is “how am I going to fill all of this blank space on the page?” That’s a question that writers of every level in the educational process face. As a master’s student, brainstorming is still a very important part of the writing process when I sit in front of the blank page.

In the essay from Tutoring Writing: A Practical Guide for Conferences called “Tutoring Is: Models and Strategies,” McAndrew and Reigstad present a multitude of strategies to help students move along the necessary steps of the writing process. One strategy that McAndrew and Reigstad mention is oral composing (46). This strategy is actually something that I used before starting to include anything within the text of this post. 

Talking a paper over with a friend or teacher can be very helpful in figuring out what a student wants to be the main idea or focus of the body of that particular paper. While talking through the possibilities, McAndrew and Reigstad also mention taking notes while talking through the process as a helpful way for students to see where their thoughts for a paper might lead them (46). 

Another helpful strategy that McAndrew and Reigstad suggest is mapping. Mapping is a more visual tool to help students figure out how to connect the main ideas that they want to make sure are present in a paper. Bubbling a pertinent word or phrase and using lines to connect each of them, can help a student get the feel for the flow of how they eventually want their paper to develop (47). 

McAndrew and Reigstad’s essay brings to the table many more strategies than just mapping and talking through a paper. These strategies I’ve found to be very helpful in the early stages of brainstorming. Hopefully the helpful hints I’ve included within this post with leave students and other writers a like better prepared to turn that blank page staring them in the face, into a wonderful work.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Question of Thesis

It's the beginning of the semester, which means a fresh batch of writing assignments threateningly leering over our shoulders and breathing down our necks like paper trolls. As unpleasant of an image as it might appear, this is the common view after sitting down and taking a second glance at the instructor's syllabus, regardless of whether a student is just beginning his or her college experience or eagerly inching towards graduation day.

The first thought the student may have is how am I going to finish all of this? The harder question comes when the student actually begins his or her essay: Where to begin? Often, just starting an essay becomes the most strenuous part, regardless of the writer's level of preparedness. The thesis is a writer's argument, the genesis of his entire paper. Without it, the paper lacks focus and even purpose.

In the essay "What Tutoring Is: Models and Strategies" from Donald A. McAndrew and Thomas J. Reigstad's book Tutoring Writing: A Practical Guide for Conferences, the authors identify a few strategies for responding to "high-order concerns," or HOCs (42). Thesis development is considered a high-order concern particularly because of how much of the paper depends on the thesis. Without a thesis, a paper buckles and collapses.

One suggestion that McAndrew and Reigstad makes for combating the no-thesis blues is to "create a headline or bumper sticker." The authors argue that "either of these requires that the writer find one thing that is central to the piece and say something about it." Suggestions include a subject like "Causes of the Civil War" or even a bumper sticker-like phrase like "_______ Is Not a Family Value" (44).

One of the reasons why the headline/bumper sticker tactic would work is that it's such an "out-of-the-box" idea that the uniqueness itself might spark the critical thinking necessary for building a clear and concise thesis. Another reason (and why I find it so appealing) is that its background in journalism and creativity might lead those of other disciplines to feel more comfortable in crafting an essay that depends so much on a thesis.

McAndrew and Reigstad list numerous other thesis-generating strategies, but the headline/bumper sticker one seems so out there that students could benefit from discovering less-orthodox methods of combating the paper trolls that await writers from the beginning of the semester until the end of finals week.

Monday, August 8, 2011

For Faculty: Writing Center Information and Orientations

The EIU Writing Center (3110 Coleman Hall) will open on Wednesday, August 24. The Center’s hours are M-Th, 9 am – 3 pm & 6 – 9 pm; F, 9 am – 1 pm.

If you would like one of our staff members to provide a Writing Center Orientation (5-10 minutes) for your students this semester, please contact me at or call the Writing Center at 581-5929 to schedule an orientation.

In addition, if you would like to provide information about the EIU Writing Center in your course policies/syllabi, feel free to copy and paste the following two paragraphs, which can be found on the “For Faculty” page of the Writing Center’s Web page, into your course documents:

     I encourage you to use EIU's Writing Center located at 3110 Coleman Hall. This free service provides one-to-one conferences with writing consultants who can help you with brainstorming, organizing, developing support, documenting, and revising your papers. The Writing Center is open to work with any student from any major at any stage of his or her writing process, and its system of one-to-one conferences demonstrates value and respect for individual writers, all of whom can benefit from feedback about their works in progress.

     To schedule an appointment, you can drop by the Writing Center (3110 Coleman Hall), or you can call 581-5929. The Center is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. On Friday hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

One resource that can assist students in your classes is the helpful “Resources for Writers” page located on the Writing Center’s Web page. This link offers numerous portals to writing-related resources and downloadable handouts.

If you’re interested in how to integrate writing more effectively into your courses, the “Resources for Faculty” page on the Writing Across the Curriculum webpage is a strong resource for faculty since it provides links to handouts and Web pages about “Response to and Evaluation of Student Writing,” “Integrating Writing & Designing Writing Assignments,” and “Strategies for Critical Thinking and Discussion.”

Have a great fall semester, and we look forward to your students visiting the Writing Center.