Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In Conclusion, Finally, As we draw to a close, The End, Happy trails to you

There are many ways to say goodbye. Some people say, "Check ya, later." Others evoke the "Catch you on the flip side." While many are happy with the, "Love you, Bye." 

It seems that we are a people of greetings and salutations, and when there are no words, we often use gestures.

Goodbye can be said with a nod of the head, a wink of the eye, and the ever popular hand wave (that also smartly doubles for hello).

Yet, when it comes to writing, many of us greatly struggle with saying goodbye to our work. The conclusion can be one of the hardest sections of a paper to write.

I find this hard to believe because sometimes writers are exceptionally happy to have reached the end of a project. Also, typically when you have reached the end of that project ... you are in the home stretch! You're ready to ride off into the sunset! But there you sit. Stuck. Unable to hop on that horse and make that ride.

So, then you fall back on the old "In Conclusion." It's the most familiar writing goodbye you have.

I'm here to tell you to never, ever, ever, write that. Even if you are desperate to be done with your paper.

I believe that "In Conclusion" completely discounts all of the smart work you have already done in your paper, and it also kind of insults your reader. I'm pretty sure that they can tell that this last paragraph is indeed the end.

So, then what should you do?

I think that re-reading your introduction and mulling that over for a moment helps.  Say that thesis statement out loud. Then think to yourself, "Okay, this is my bottom line. This is it. This is what I want my reader to remember. I need to re-state this a smart way that reminds my audience of what I really really want them to take away from this paper."

Then sit down and write.

If you still feel like you have to write "In Conclusion" then do it, write the rest of that paragraph,  and then go back...and cross out that "In Conclusion." Usually, what follows those two words is what you wanted to accomplish anyway. It doesn't need that fancy signal phrase.

So, say you're writing a blog about goodbyes, and you find that you need to sum it up and get out? What do you do?

Here is an example:

Saying goodbye is never easy, in person or in writing. A conclusion is, obviously, the end of something. A definite finality. After a writer has created a piece of work, it can be difficult to wrap things up - to draw the curtains on the performance, but it has to be done. So, do not over step your boundaries. Re-iterate your important information about your topic. Don't use any fancy catch-phrases, just remind your reader of your really good point and get out of there.

It has been a great pleasure and a wonderful experience 
to write for EIU Writes for two semesters
 under the direction of Dr. Tim Taylor.  I'm afraid to say goodbye to him in person, for fear of tears, so this will have to suffice. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stage Fright in the Classroom

Recently I have been thinking about stage fright, or public speaking anxiety. Just this weekend alone I have witnessed several of my peers competing in a creative writing competition for scholarships valued over $3000.

As end of the semester presentations are upon us, I have also become aware of how normal it is for students to cringe and crumble at the idea of presenting in front of a class.

In Dibartolo and Molina's study on public speaking anxiety, the found that "[f]ear of public speaking is the most common social fear experienced by the general population and can have far-reaching academic effects, including lower course grades and even an increased likelihood to drop out of college" (Dibartolo, Molina 160). 

I am no exception when it comes to fear of public speaking. However, I have learned to cope with it.

Last year I performed at a poetry slam competition and crumbled on stage. Prior to the performance, I felt fine. Once I took a step on stage and turned around to face the audience, I noticed that several professors from my program were in the crowd. I freaked. My performance was embarrassing, and it took me several days to get over my failure. 

A fear of public speaking in or out of the classroom can be a sensitive and serious topic. As it is prevalent in our classrooms, I think it deserves some attention and consideration.

Last week, I presented at a professional conference. My placement for the panel was in between two professors. As the first professor began his portion of the presentation, I began to feel numbness in my cheeks, and my hands felt tingly. Both of these symptoms increased my anxiety as I knew my time was quickly coming.  However, I got up and made my presentation, and I was later complimented on my professionalism.

Just a few days ago, I performed at the same poetry slam competition. This time, I did what was previously unthinkable for me.  As I stood on stage, I told the audience that the title of my poem was "I Want You to Look at Me: For Five Minutes." I then stood still, and without moving or saying another word, the audience stared at me. I felt like the my time on stage would never end. I survived although I did not win the competition.

I got over my fear by practice. What helps me the most is understanding that the time I am actually demanding any attention is very temporary no matter how it feels. Acknowledging my fears as pointless and insignificant helps tremendously as well. However, the latter cognitive exercise did not occur to me until after I had my embarrassing moment at the first poetry slam. I could have done without that learning experience.

DiBartolo and Molina have a cognitive exercise that may help students avoid my experience.

They suggest giving students a written exercise. In this exercise "students are asked to identify their most feared prediction for the upcoming speech (e.g. the audience will laugh, I will run out of things to say)" (161).

The students are then encouraged to rate the amount of anxiety they believe they will experience as well as the likelihood that it will come true. They then make a "horribleness" rating of how bad things would actually be if it did come true (162).

The first-year college students involved with the study found significantly lower fear of public speaking. The idea is that if students are forced to consider their fears logically prior to the event, then they are less likely to "catastrophize," which leads to what feels like an anxiety spiral.

As someone who has experienced stage fright, I think the cognitive exercise DiBartolo and Molina propose is worth a try especially this time of year.

At the very least, having a thoughtful classroom conversation about the anxieties of public speaking may be class time well spent.

Below is a video of my latest attempt to win the poetry slam.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Grammar and Fallacies

As the semester winds down and we work on the various projects we're juggling, the mind feels a certain tug, doesn't it? 

In one direction, there is the relief and excitement of the fast-approaching summer vacation. No more snow.  And no more lessons describing the difference between APA and MLA--"What do you mean the title is lower case?" "The first initial? You don't spell the name out?" Ah, don't we all love these little moments that prove someone in the world has too much time on his hands.  One (presumably an English major) can imagine the APA board sitting around a table deviously figuring out ways to distinguish its citation system from MLA. One (presumably a social sciences major) can imagine the MLA powers that be engaging in similar acts of deviousness when they gather around their table. 

In the opposite direction, our minds experience something else: a frustration and fatigue that accompanies the increasing demands of our professors. While I sympathize with this psychological tension, I must add my contribution to it. 

Fallacious reasoning is no more acceptable in April or May than it was in January. We have to vigilant with the arguments we construct during these last few weeks. On that note, let's take a look at a fallacy that Gula describes under the heading Grammatical ambiguity.

While some grammatical rules could be enforced a little too scrupulously, it turns out that grammar can affect meaning. And meaning can affect the cogency or soundness of an argument. 

Thus, grammar can affect the cogency or soundness of an argument. Gula identifies [f0ur] kinds of grammatical ambiguity, but in this post I'll only look at three of the more glaring cases.  I'll also quote Gula more than I normally would because I think his examples are clear and concise as are his explanation[s].

1. "Ambiguity can occur over whether a phrase is restrictive or nonrestrictive" (96). Gula then provides the following sentence and subsequent explanation to illustrate his point. 

This proposal is favored only by the workers who are eager to get something for nothing

"If the statement is written, there should be no problem, provided that the writer honors [the principles of punctuation] and the reader understands [them]. But if the statement is spoken, it may be interpreted: 

"This proposal is favored only by the workers, who are eager to get something for nothing" (96).

That comma makes a big difference. Because nonrestrictive clauses require commas and restrictive clauses do not, the meaning of a sentence can change either because of improper comma usage or because when a sentence is spoken instead of written the speaker can convey an ambiguity with a pause or cadence.  

As Gula writes, "The listener might interpret the statement to mean that all the workers are eager to get something for nothing" (96). Such an interpretation, I think, would commit two additional fallacies: Ad hominem and hasty generalization. 

2. "Faulty or incomplete comparisons can contribute to ambiguity" (97). Gula then provides the following examples to illustrate: 
I like Leslie more than Louise.

Gula then provides the following explanation: "This statement can mean 'I like Leslie more than I like Louise' or 'I like Leslie more than Louise like Leslie'" (97).

3.  "There are ambiguous reference of pronouns" (97).

Here is the example Gula offers to clarify what he means:

The police and the fire department are threatening a strike, and the politicians are threatening reprisal. The newspapers claim that their statements are only causing further hostility (97). 

So we notice the pronoun "their" in the second sentence, but it would be nice to know what group of individuals the pronoun refers to. Presumably, police and fire department could both be represented by the pronoun "their," and so could the group of politicians. Thus,  as it stands, "their" could refer to three different nouns. Since the newspapers are claiming that something is true i.e,. "that their statements are only causing further hostility" the charge of fallacious reasoning is warranted. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Show and Tell...of Sorts

Sometimes it is just easier to show someone the very thing you are trying to teach them.

I am this someone.

I admit it. I really need to see lessons put into practice - and then... CLICK! BOOM! I get it!

So, I was very excited to see that the Purdue Owl has an enormous array of online tutorials that provide people like me with mini training sessions, which allow for that "CLICK! BOOM! I get it!" moment.

For example:

Let's pretend that you are having a hard time formatting MLA citations. You feel like you need to see it done in order to really understand how to do it. Well, then you are in luck! The Purdue OWL has just the Vidcast for you found here.

Excited! I know I was.

The OWL offers a good amount of YouTube vidcasts. Listed below is just a small list of the clips that are available for anyone to access in order to gain assistance with their writing.

APA Formatting and Style
MLA Formatting and Style
Job Search and Application Writing
Professional and Technical Writing
Writing in Engineering
Grammar and Mechanics
General Writing
Cover Letter Writing
Memo Writing
The Semicolon
Visual Rhetoric

The information found in these clips can also be found on the OWL's website (located in the appropriate sections). Information such as this usually explains why a citation is formatted the way it is and then gives an example of a citation. The beauty of the YouTube clips is that they are visual tutorials. They show you how to properly format a page (by clicking on the correct options in Word), and in several of the tutorials it is possible to watch someone in the process formatting a Works Cited page, using semicolons, and writing a memo.

Perhaps you are the type of learner that does not need to see a new concept in action before you apply it (and boy do I envy you), but you still like the idea of a visual (because who doesn't?). Then you can access these helpful YouTube vidcasts by clicking here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Awkward Peer Review

Peer review is a common practice many teachers support because it is a useful way to reinforce the writing process in their classes.

But what do students think about peer review?

In Linda Nilson's "Improving Student Peer Feedback,"she finds that "apparently most students are loath to find fault with one another's products," and that the largest problem in the peer review process is "the intrusion of student's emotion into the evaluative process."

Nilson also uncovers the "if I do it to them, they will do it to me" phenomenon during the peer review settings, which I believe is the biggest motivation behind student resistance to peer review.

As a student who has experienced the peer review process many times, I find that Nilson is pulling on the heart strings of this issue. Fear and vulnerability.

Some students fear peer review will actually work as it is intended, and the last thing many students want are negative remarks from a friend.

Every student who has insecurities about their writing will most likely find themselves faced with the idea that even their peers will discover that they are faking it. In fact, I would go so far to say that most students believe it is harder to fool their fellow students through writing than it is the instructor.

When students are assigned peer review, they have that awkward moment when anxiety begins to rise as they think about who their peer/s might be. If they get to choose, they grab the hand of most familiar student/s in the classroom. Safety first.

If they are paired with an unfamiliar student, or a group of students, the students will routinely make an unspoken contract of "fake it until we get out of here." It is at this moment that peer reviews begin to fail to produce anything worthwhile.

After the students are grouped together, murmurs of insecurities might fill the classroom too. For example, in an effort to mask my writing flaws during peer reviews, I have said, "this is a really rough draft," and "I'm sure yours much better than mine," or, "I don't even know what I'm writing about here." Even the most apathetic student writers can be pushed outside of their comfort zones.

Students will often empathize with their peers during the odd predicament of the peer review and follow the unspoken rule religiously in order to produce a peer evaluations that has little merit and no sincere criticisms, all for the sake of protecting their own feelings. I make this claim because almost every undergraduate peer evaluation I have experienced has produced similar results, and I argue (as does Nilson) that it mostly has to do with fear and vulnerability.
As a graduate student who works in a student staffed writing center, I see daily how peer reviews can be extremely helpful. But even in this setting, when students volunteer to have their work reviewed in the writing center, they sometimes tremble, often drop their shoulders and sigh heavily, and on some occasions even cry.

Still, I  believe that a classroom peer review setting has many benefits. However, student fear, vulnerability, and anxiety are deeply rooted variables that must be considered and discussed in the classroom in order to initiate a worthwhile peer review.

Friday, April 12, 2013

More on Quotation

Last week, I posted about the fallacy that results when someone quotes another person out of context. This week I'm going to write about the Fallacy of Selective Quotation. 

One of the things that I've learned as my ability to assess arguments has improved is that the relationship between fallacies and immorality is not always so clear cut. Because some fallacies are hidden in a long chain of abstruse reasoning, they are not always intended to mislead a reader. 

Sometimes a person might commit a fallacy and not even know it. This is part of the reason that rational people come together to debate or argue, either through conversation or epistle: aside from persuasion, they want to test the cogency of their own reasoning chains. 

Some fallacies, on the other hand, seem obviously immoral. Ad hominem attacks, for example, certainly seem immoral to me. Attacking a person with insults instead of criticizing his argument just seems wrong, doesn't it?

In a similar vein, I think that most people immediately recognize that selectively quoting a person's words in a fashion that is disingenuous or deceptive is immoral. Part of this recognition, I imagine, is the indignation we all have presumably felt when our own words have been bowdlerized and abridged to convey false meanings to another party. In other words, we know how frustrating it is to have our language and our beliefs misrepresented. This frustration makes us sympathetic to other victims of misrepresentation, especially misrepresentation of an egregious variety. 

To take an example, let's look at the following hypothetical:

"Although I grant that hydraulic fracking can be lucrative, in many cases to families that are basically impoverished, and that it can also make plausible the possibility of an energy independent America, which would have hugely beneficial consequences, both geopolitical and economic, I still can't support its widespread implementation. There are simply too many environmental risks, in particular the risk of groundwater pollution."

Suppose this paragraph comes from a highly respected geologist. Now suppose, an advocate of hydraulic fracking reasons in the following way to support an argument in favor of hydraulic fracking.

"Even  world famous geology scholars support the increased use of hydraulic fracking in America. In fact, one of the most respected geology scholars in the world published an article recently that confirmed the 'lucrative' benefits of it. This same geologist went on to claim that widespread increase in  '[hydraulic fracking] can make plausible the possibility of an energy independent America' and that '[an energy independent] America would have hugely beneficial consequences, both geopolitical and economic.' These are not my words but the words of a world famous geologist. I think I can rest my case here. Increasing hydraulic fracking is a policy that Americans should support." 

Notice how the statement "I still can't support its widespread implementation" got omitted from the advocate's argument?

Since he quoted from other sections of the geologist's statement, the advocate would have known that the geologist ultimately stands against the policy of increasing the amount of hydraulic fracking. Why does he selectively use the geologist's words? 

Obviously, he wants to make his argument stronger by using the geologist's authority. 

However, his selective use of quotation is certainly fallacious and probably immoral.  

When you quote another person, part of what you are doing is representing their beliefs. In the example above, the geologist believes that the environmental risks of increasing hydraulic fracking outweigh the economic and geopolitical benefits of it. 

Yet the advocate quoting the geologist gives readers the opposite impression. 

It is a form of contemptible deception.  

We must avoid such tactics. 

Indeed, logic, to say nothing of morality, demands that we do so.    

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Writing Fellow Interview Series Part II

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed a colleague of mine, Greg Peterson, about his experiences working as a Writing Fellow in a Communication Disorders class. This interview made me even more curious, and I decided that I just had to know more about the Writing Fellow program.

Luckily my Writing Center Director, Dr. Tim Taylor, had a wonderful suggestion for me: "Why don't you interview Professor Fahy (the professor who Greg works for as a Writing Fellow) and see what she has to say about the program?" 

Sometimes I wonder where I would be without my wonderful faculty mentors...

So, I contacted Professor Fahy, and she agreed to be interviewed for the blog. This is the very first Writing Fellow program that has been offered at EIU, which I think makes these interviews extremely exciting (nerd alert, I know). Let me introduce you to Ms. Fahy a little more:

Jill Fahy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences at Eastern Illinois University, where she teaches courses in Acquired Language Disorders, Executive Functions, Right Hemisphere Disorders, and Neurology.  Ms. Fahy lectures nationally on the assessment and treatment of executive function disorders and associated communication impairments. She recently delivered the keynote address for an international conference of speech-language pathologists from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.  Ms. Fahy also supervises clinical practicum at the EIU Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, focusing disorders of aphasia, executive dysfunction, social communication disorders, and cognitive-communication disorders.  Ms. Fahy has co-authored an article on the clinical implications of neuroscience research in Broca’s area, published in Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation, and is co-author of The Source for Development of Executive Functions.  Prior to teaching at EIU, Ms. Fahy provided services to populations with acquired neurological deficits in medical settings.  She also happens to be an alumnus of EIU, with an undergraduate degree in French.

What follows are the fantastic responses Professor Fahy provided to my questions.

1.  What interested you in participating in the Writing Fellow program? 

I have always been interested in how students develop into educated, articulate, thoughtful professionals.  I am interested in how students learn, think, process information, draw conclusions, explain information, and defend their suggestions or conclusions.  One of my favorite things to ask students, in class, is Why? … or, How do you know that? And, although it may sound strange, one of my favorite things to do is grade writing assignments because it lets me see how students craft their thoughts and choose their words.  Students’ written work is almost like a picture—a snapshot into their evolving ability to think, organize, and articulate big ideas.

The opportunity to participate in the Writing Fellow program just evolved, really, following some ongoing discussions about student writing with Dr. Tim Taylor, Director of the EIU Writing Center.  Tim and I both happen to serve on the CAA Learning Goals Writing Sub-Committee, and one day he asked if I might be interested in participating in the first round of a new program he and his colleagues were crafting.  A few conversations later, and we were situated to have the first embedded Writing Fellow on campus integrated into a junior level CDS class that I am teaching this spring.    

2.  I recently wrote a blog about the importance of writing in plain language. My son was born with a hearing disorder, and I had a lot of problems understanding the literature that our doctors gave us. I found myself longing for literature written in plain language. Do you think that students in the CDS field should learn to write for multiple audiences (colleagues and the layperson)?
Absolutely. And yet this can be a challenge, for many reasons.  Students working towards the required graduate degree in Communication Disorders & Sciences must not only master a vast array of disorder-related knowledge, but must also develop critical thinking skills sufficient to support the ability to, eventually, make accurate diagnoses, and generate defensible recommendations. And, clearly, we also must foster students’ ability to communicate those conclusions and recommendations in the language of the consumer—whomever that may be.  In any given day, a speech-language pathologist or audiologist may need to communicate information to a neurologist, then the spouse of a patient with a traumatic brain injury, followed by the radiologist, and then the patient himself.  If we are working in an educational environment, our audience might range from the classroom teacher to the one-on-one aide for a student with disabilities, followed immediately by a conversation with parents, and then a group of six four-year old children.  We must learn to convey information clearly, accurately, tactfully, and honestly.  In plain language.  For the consumer. 

3.   What type of writing assignments do you usually craft?

I try to give students the opportunity to practice communicating complicated information to a particular audience for a specific reason.  For example, two of the assignments I have given in class this semester have required students to explain various aspects of traumatic brain injury and protection of the brain to parents of children or adolescents.  The assignments required students to write this text as though they were hired to write educational brochures—the kind of reading material you pick up when you sit for an hour at the doctor’s office.  Learning to think more deliberately about the audience, and the tone, of my writing assignments has definitely been one of the advantages of my collaboration with Greg (Peterson), the Writing Fellow dedicated this semester to my neurology class (CDS 3500).  

4.  Have you noticed a difference in the quality of writing that your students are producing since having a Writing Fellow in the classroom?

YES.  Students meet with Greg at least once, and sometimes twice, as they are working on each of the writing assignments.  One specific change I have noticed is the tremendous growth in students’ ability to craft clear, specific, meaningful sentences. In past years, there were times when I truly could not discern the meaning of a simple sentence.  I could talk with the student about this, and ask them to try, verbally, to explain to me their intent, and there, buried amongst the confusion would be a nugget of clarity, but it rarely came out in the writing.  I have also noticed improvement in students’ ability to organize information into a purposeful, cohesive structure.  Papers turned in to me have a clear opening purpose.  The body of the paper transitions from one relevant point to the next.  Conclusions have become more useful.  As Greg says, students final paragraphs actually answer the “so what” question that anchors the entire purpose of the paper.  As I grade my students’ writing this semester, I feel relieved, not frustrated.  I feel as though I am reading the product of an actual investment in time, energy, and thought—not something written blindly the night before. I feel hopeful that our students are leaving this class with the tools to become skillful communicators. 

5.  What do you think the difference is between scientific style writing and the type of writing often seen in an English composition classroom?

It has been a long time since I had an English composition class, so I may be off-base, but I would say that scientific writing primarily requires the use of objective language and statements of fact.  There is little room for subjectivity or personal opinion. Depending on the audience, scientific documents may expect certain procedures for formatting and inclusion of data.  Expectations must also be met for how well diagnostic conclusions and recommendations are supported and defended.  Students learning to write in our particular discipline have plenty of opportunities to master the brief progress note for therapy, or the lengthy diagnostic report, or the scientific article review.  But they may benefit from more specific opportunities to learn the art of explaining complicated information about the brain, or the trachea, or developmental linguistics, in plain language.  Parents, teachers, family members, or even policy makers and advocates—these are the people with whom our students also need to write and speak. 

6.  Do you think that each discipline would benefit from teaching their own writing course, one that is solely suited to the discipline being studied? Or do you believe that learning to write in a multitude of methods (interdisciplinary) is the best?

That’s a good question.  I suppose my initial reaction is to suggest that we need to develop students’ higher-level writing skills within the discipline.  We worry a lot about whether or not students in our upper division classes master the content required to meet certain requirements.  It may be that we could spend a little more time deliberately teaching discipline-specific writing to help our students assimilate, synthesize, analyze, and apply their content-knowledge in new ways.  Communicating information to various audiences is perhaps the most critical skill we can foster in our students.  It really doesn’t matter if our students leave here as experts in the content of their work, if our students cannot convey that knowledge or expertise to the people with whom they work.

7. Will you do the Writing Fellow program again? If so, would you change anything about it?

YES.  I would love to work with the Writing Fellow program again. The collaboration and benefits are such that I would gladly have a Writing Fellow in this class every year.  But I also anticipate a surge in faculty applying for this opportunity, and now that I’ve had my chance, it is someone else’s turn.  And no, I wouldn’t change any aspect of this program.  I do intend to compare our assessment data from last year’s class, to this year, in terms of the quality of writing. I’m curious to see what objective changes appear, in addition to my own subjective perceptions about the quality of writing.  It would also be helpful to track the long-term benefits of the Writing Fellow program across the campus, and to support the Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum programs, as they continue to develop ways to support both faculty and students.  

Special thanks to Jill Fahy for taking the time to respond so wonderfully to my questions.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Back to Gula

Using Robert J. Gula's Nonsense Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language as my guide, I've spent much of this semester blogging about fallacies. Occasionally, I've deviated from this topic, but for my final posts of the semester, I've decided to return to it. 

Of all the fallacies that you will encounter in college, none of them seems as obviously immoral as the ones associated with quotation. Gula identifies two such fallacies. For the sake of simplicity, I'll refer to these as the Fallacy of Quoting out of Context and the Fallacy of Selective Quoting.

In this post, I will address the Fallacy of Quoting out of Context. In my next post, I will focus on the latter. 

When you take a first-year composition course, you learn about the importance of proper citation. You learn the difference between a quotation and a paraphrase. You learn about the severe academic consequences of plagiarism. 

But aside from the academic consequences associated with using another person's words or ideas without including an adequate citation, are the moral consequences of using another person's words in a deceptive fashion, all the while still following the protocols of an acceptable citation system.  

I'm sure most of us would readily agree with Gula when he writes, "Quoting out of context can turn a person's words against him" (92). 

The indignation you feel is particularly intense when something you said or wrote is taken out of context in order to convey an attitude or behavior that you neither expressed or performed, is it not? Sometimes, if what you said or wrote is quoted out of context, it can be misrepresented to such an extent that it conveys a meaning which is opposite the meaning you actually articulated. To illustrate this fallacious tactic, let's look at the following example. 

Suppose you overhear a roommate whom you don't particular care for say the following sentences. 
"Let's steal the final exam. All we have to do is get the flash drive she keeps it on. She'll never know."

Sounds fairly incriminating, does it not? 

If his words are quoted verbatim, then it seems like the roommate is conspiring to commit academic fraud.  If a professor or an administrator were to ask you whether your roommate ever planned on committing academic fraud, you could think back to these sentences and say: "Yeah, I heard him discussing it with my own ears. One morning I heard him say, 'Let's steal the final exam. All we have to do is get the flash drive she keeps it on. She'll never know.'"  

But suppose you also know that your roommate is an aspiring dramatist who writes and rehearses his plays in your living room. Suppose further that you also know the plot synopsis of his most recent play: a group of students plan to steal a final exam and tragedy ensues. 

You've heard of the colloquialism that distinguishes between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law? 

Well, here we have a situation where a conflict arises between the letter of meaning and the spirit of meaning. According to the letter of meaning, your roommate intends to commit academic fraud. According to spirit of meaning, your roommate intends to develop an interesting dramatic plot. To interpret correctly the meaning of his words requires the appropriate context. To ignore or suppress this context would distort your roommate's meaning in a rhetorically significant situation--the situation being the hearing on whether your roommate ever plotted to commit academic fraud. 

To quote someone out of context is not an act of plagiarism; it is, however, a fallacy, thus it should be avoided.     

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Case of Narcissism

I've done a a number of interviews for the blog this semester (some are forthcoming, so be excited!) about writers and their writing processes.

These interviews have proven most enlightening to me. They have shown me that everyone has a different writing process and that there does not seem to be a right or wrong in regard to how a writer works. Some writers make outlines, others use a plethora of sticky notes, and a number of writers start by freewriting.

Naturally, this has caused me to look inwardly and study my own writing process, which is of course different than the people I interviewed -- simply because of who I am.

So, I decided to ask myself some of the same questions that I have used to interview others this semester.



However, it felt to me that I had opened Pandora's Box. I wasn't too happy with some of my answers, and other questions that I responded to provided me with moments where I felt that I should pat myself on the back.

What this self-quiz ultimately did for me though is to take note that my own writing process is still in process. I see things that I need to change about the way I write, and I don't know if I would have taken note of these characteristics had I not interviewed myself.

So, without further are the questions I posed to myself.

1. Writing Process. What do those two words mean to you?

Process always makes me think of science, so I naturally cringe and recoil in horror. Combining the word writing with process does lessen the gross sciencey feel...but still makes me feel uncomfortable. Maybe that is the point though because I don't know if we should ever be really comfortable with our writing process. I think that maybe our process always needs to be changed/updated/revised in order to keep ourselves on our toes. Of course, that could be a silly thought because I'm sure there are people out there who have iron clad methods of writing, and maybe I haven't found that yet.

2.   How do you start writing?

Well, this is silly, but I start by thinking of a title. I usually have a strong idea about what I want to write, but until I have that snappy title, I can't do anything. I will sit forever thinking of a title. I don't know why that stops me and holds me up, but it's true. Maybe it's my jumping off point.

3.  Do you use an outline?

I actually don't. I just sit down and start writing. I usually surround myself with my reference articles and books, so that they are reachable....and I will stack them in order of appearance in my paper, so I guess that could be thought of as an outline. Actually, before I start writing I do a lot of pre-writing in my head....I almost draft my paper completely in my mind. So, maybe I do have an outline of sorts.
I do admit to using an outline while writing chapters of my thesis, and I think that is because of the amount of information I had to give as well as the large number of secondary information that I provided. My mind couldn't handle all of that.

4.  Do you consider yourself a one drafter?

I used to. Actually, most of my work is only revised once...maybe twice (if I've totally missed the boat). This could be because I do all of that mental pre-writing before I actually start. I have become more of a multi-drafter while writing my thesis, but I think that could be the nature of the beast.

5.  What type of writing is your favorite?

I enjoy writing creative non-fiction. I've always wanted to write fiction, but I get bored with my characters and end up killing them off. I prefer to write humor and will often write about the crazy stuff my kids do. My creative writing is my outlet. It's very different than the scholarly writing I have to do. I have a blog that I try to post in at least twice a month, and this blog affords me the opportunity to use plain language (as opposed to scholarly) and write in a style that is less formal and more fun. Doing this helps me separate my academic writing from my fun personal writing.

6.  What projects are you currently working on?

Right now I'm revising my thesis, which is about Identity Performance in Young Adult Literature. I haven't really discussed writing in my thesis, but I do think that performance and writing go hand in hand. Maybe that's what I will work on next. After all, writing is a performance as well. We generally do not write in the way that we speak (well...I do) and we often write in methods that do not fit into our own discourse communities. Therefore, the writer we are becomes a performance. We write in different ways for different disciplines, audiences, etc. I guess maybe we are playing a different character each time we sit down to write, which could be why I enjoy writing creative non-fiction. It's my chance to play myself. Hmmmmm....Maybe this should become the topic of my next blog. Or dissertation?

7.  If you could give anyone advice about writing, what would it be?

Know your audience. If you know you're audience you can write for them. Don't write above them and don't write below them. Write to them.

Maybe I should interview myself more often because this process was cathartic.

And maybe you should interview yourself too...