Monday, October 31, 2011

Voice: Across the Curriculum

The writing process is different for everyone, but writing for a particular class can evoke a different voice or tone that’s present. Regardless of the writing itself, whether it’s creative, research, synthesis or any other style, your voice is present within the paper.

When writing a creative piece (fiction, play, poem, or essay based on personal experience), the voice of the writer can be examined insofar as the point of view of the characters or the type of creative piece overall. For example, the sentence, “I went home this past weekend for my brother’s birthday,” is a sentence in first person. Most of the time this is acceptable when writing creative pieces unless the assignment calls for something different. Also, when creating stories, having a steady narrator will allow for an avenue for readers to identify with the characters. While composing, the author has to make sure to maintain the voice in style and point of view in order to create cohesion of the piece itself.

In contrast to personal and creative writing, when writing research papers a lot of people don’t think their voices can be heard amongst the research. Sometimes this process causes difficulties for writers because they are struggling to make their voice heard since the use of “I,” “you,” and “we” are less common when composing a research paper. When writing a research-based paper, students should be composing mostly in third person, such as the use of “a lot of people” in the first sentence of this paragraph. Some commonly used phrases in research papers are “one,” “the results show…,” and “the conclusions are…” in contrast to pronouns such as “I” and “we.” For example, though this post doesn’t contain any pronoun indicators of being in first person, my voice shows by how my point is presented as well as by the tone of my post.

Being conscious of the assignment and what type of writing is required for a paper can help you use strategies to make sure your voice is present within a paper.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Goodbye October (Punctuation Month)

Although I haven't made any formal announcement, October was punctuation month. I blogged about punctuation every Friday during October. I secretly celebrated with all of the commas and the colons. Now it's over and Punctuation Month will go out with a bang (or will it).

Parentheticals! Life is filled with them. Snooty remarks would be nowhere without them (that's what you think). Who else gives a voice to the things that we say under our breath? Only parentheses can do that!

Parentheses have several uses. Here are a few:

-Use parentheses to enclose numbers or letters in a series.
ex: In order to make pumpkin pie, you need (1) pumpkin and (2) pie

-Use parentheses to enclose supplemental information
ex: For the last eighteen years (almost nineteen) he's slept with a teddy bear.

-Use parentheses to indicate the possibility of singular or plural nouns
ex: If anyone has information about the person(s) in charge, please call 1-800-WHOWORKSHERE

-Use parentheses to indicate an acronym
ex: We were so happy to become members of MEMBERS (Members Every Moment Because Everyone's Really Saving)

-Use parentheses to enclose dates
ex:My undergraduate career (1970- ) will last forever as long as Domino's still has large pizzas for $5.

-Use parentheses to enclose citation
ex: I heard someone say "If you die on the elevator, be sure to push the UP button" (Levenson).

Thank you for joining us during Punctuation Month. Be sure to stay tuned next month for more categorized fun!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thursday Workshop Series

"Does It Flow?  Strategies for Organizing and Presenting Ideas"

October 27 from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. in the Writing Center

Find out how you can create a smooth logical flow from idea to idea and paragraph to paragraph.

BrbAfkLolBbq - A Modest Proposal

For the majority of readers with cell phones and texting plans or voracious instant messaging habits, those letters look familiar to you. All too familiar. They're all shorthand--quick and to the point. Going to be away for a bit? "Be right back"--"brb." Away for longer? "Away from keyboard." Want to eat barbecue? "Bbq."

In the last few years, text messaging has risen from small trend to full-blown epidemic. The language has become such a central part to what we write that it's usurped our formal written language. In some papers, people type "2" instead of "to." The worst part is, even if they proofread carefully, they may not find the error for the simple fact that they don't see it an error. They use it in their everyday language, so what's the problem?

Unfortunately, instructors haven't gotten the memo that textspeak is okay, nor have some of us who were late to the texting game. Though I shudder to think of a world in which textspeak is like a macabre form of newspeak, we can fight the possibility of this. Now here's what I propose:

Stop using textspeak.

I'm not saying don't text any more. Text to your heart's desire! But try it just once--a text message in which you eliminate the numbers for letters and grossly-used shorthand. While it is just a bit more time consuming, newer phones are designed with auto-correct and similar technologies that do not allow you to use shorthand unless it's programmed in. And honestly, it may be difficult to do at first. So try it little by little. Drop your shorthand. Try a full sentence just once! Maybe, just maybe, you'll find you like using full words.


Friday, October 21, 2011

The Almighty Apostrophe

The has apostrophe three uses:
1. to form possessive nouns
2. to show the omission of letters
3. to indicate certain plurals of lowercase letters

1. Here are some ways to form possessive nouns:

-Add 's to the singular form of the word, even if it ends in s.

ex: Hidalgo's hips weren't as strong as they used to be.
ex: James's sarsaparilla went stale on Saturday.

-Add s to plural forms that do not end in s
ex: The geese's knees were put on backwards.

-Add ' to the end plural form of nouns that end in s
ex: Three friends' scooters were all broken.

-Add 's to the end of compound words
ex: My step-mother's shoes mysteriously disappeared.

-Add 's to the last noun to show possession of an object
ex: Hank and Didley's Hamburger Helper tasted funky.

2. Showing omission of letters

-Contractions are common in giving birth and in informal writing.

Here are some ex's (examples):

don't = do not
I'm = I am
he'll = he will
who's = who is
shouldn't = should not
didn't = did not
could've= could have (NOT "could of"!)
'60 = 1960

3. To indicate plurals of lowercase letters

If your name is Philip, and somebody accidentally wrote it Phillip, you must say: "You wrote my name with two l's instead of one l."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Other Types of Research

Books, journal articles and online databases are the tools that we normally use when doing research. However, there are many other sources of information that can be useful to anyone writing a paper. Here are just a few other options that can be considered.

One lost art of research is using actual hard copies of newspapers as a source for a paper. When I was speaking with a history major, she reminisced on the days that she was stuck in the library sifting through old newspaper articles because they alone provided the information that was useful in her paper. Somehow this form of research has become somewhat of a history artifact in and of itself.

If you’re an education major observing can provide insight when reflecting on strategies that have been learned in the classroom setting. Sitting in on professional meeting can also benefit business majors, administration majors or anyone involved in professional major. When observing, make sure to always take notes, not only on the setting and reactions of those involved in your observation but also on your reactions to the experience.

Along these same lines, interviewing someone with experience within your discipline can provide inside information and expertise. Like observing in a professional setting, conducting an interview should be well planned and executed in a professional manner. When compiling questions to ask, make sure they are leading to the points that you are trying to gain from the encounter. Also be sure to include questions that are also open ended, which can lead to more explanation or deeper conversations. As always, make sure to take detailed notes while conducting the interview. Then when compiling all of your information, make sure to reflect on what you’ve learned and how using the interview is beneficial to your project.

Using questionnaires or surveys can also provide detailed information that will be useful to a paper or project. The focus and design of a survey will depend on what information you’re trying to gather, as well as the characteristics of the group you are surveying. This form of research can provide a wide range of information and could be very useful when drafting a paper based on a gap of information that you’re trying to address.

Though these aren’t the only other forms of research besides books and journal articles, they can provide information research avenues for many projects and your professional development.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Productive Procrastination

Seeing the words together--productive and procrastination--seems like a lie. Is it productive to procrastinate? You're not getting any work done by putting it off.

And now the proverbial "or are you?"

As I began this post, I wasn't practicing what I'm about to preach. I started this days ahead of time, getting cracking just a couple days after I wrote my last post. But then I stopped a sentence in.

"Why?" you ask befuddled.

"Because," I begin wildly, "I can!" But then I realize that that is not the answer you want, nor the answer that you need. But truthfully, deep down, you know the answer: I just didn't feel like continuing. I could give a multitude of excuses like how I began to doubt how much I wanted to talk about procrastination or how I had to combat a zombie that wandered into the writing center without a paper to pick brains about, only an insatiable hunger to pick my brains out. While I would rejoice at the opportunity to survive the zombie apocalypse, I must shamefully admit that that is not the case. The reason why I did not finish the post right then and there was because I lost interest and felt just a little bit lazy.

You're looking at me scornfully, and I can understand why, but let me defend myself. As you can see, I did not simply neglect this piece. I'm typing away at it this very moment. I didn't forget about it. I just wanted some time away from it, away from a keyboard and a blinking cursor, away from the pressure of writing a spectacular post that will make you forget everything you knew about procrastination.

I did it just to prove a point.

Procrastination can be a valuable tool. I see that quizzical cocking of the head to the side--my pug does that when I say, "treat." But Pavlovian behavior aside, I'll repeat myself: procrastination can be a valuable tool. We all do it but I don't think we realize the power we wield by doing so, er, or not doing so.

Time away from a paper doesn't necessarily mean we should block it out of our consciousness altogether. In fact, I argue that it's downright impossible to forget about a paper we're working on unless of course we have several other papers weighing down on our shoulders like Atlas holding a big paper mache globe but instead of countries there's words or huge expanses of white space and...

But I digress. We think about our assignments even when we're away from them, and that's a beautiful thing. We think of all the different ways of wording a sentence or other avenues of research we can take in our particular piece. We think of these things while walking from class to class, taking a shower, or playing a gentlemanly game of croquet. We're away from the piece so some of the pressures are relieved. By mentally reworking the paper, we're not obligated to set any of this in stone, or ink for that matter. Then when we return to the piece we can come back with fresh ideas and a fresh pair of eyes like we're coming back to an old friend who could or could not use an overhaul makeover. Then we can give it highlights or snip the hair here and there--make it more readable and coherent.

Word of warning: when one procrastinates, do so in moderation. Do not wait until the last minute to return to the piece or you won't have enough time to perform said makeover and the pressure will be on to make it all pretty. Then you'll screw up the makeover haircut and nobody will want to look at it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thursday Workshop Series

"Writing with Sources: APA Style"

October 20th from 3:30 to 4:00pm in the Writing Center (3110 Coleman Hall)

The focus of this workshop will be using the APA documentation style.  We will examine different sources within that context in a fun and informative way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Colon Cleansing

The truth about the colon is hard to grasp. In order to get acquainted with the colon, you first have to know the basics. Sometimes a person can invite a colon over and the situation gets awkward. You really didn't know what you were getting in to. You just thought that the colon looked nice today, and now you're stuck with this thing in the middle of your sentence that you're not sure what to do with. Is it the right time? Maybe the colon isn't what you thought it was. Here is some basic information about the colon so that next time you see those sideways headlights you will be prepared:

1. Use the colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items when introductory words such as for example, such as, or namely do not appear. Think of the colon as a gate.

example: I want the following items: peas, a puppy, and knowledge of colons.

2. Use the colon after an independent clause when introducing a quotation.

example: My grocer's remark about me was complimentary: "She's here all the time. She always buys lots of q-tips and doughnuts....every time... q-tips and doughnuts."

3. Use a colon between two independent clauses when you want to emphasize the second clause.

example: I don't understand why anyone shops at that store: the grocers always stare awkwardly at people.

NOTE: There are some similar situations where a colon wouldn't fit. You would not put a colon after the verb in the sentence, since the phrase that precedes the colon must be an independent clause. You would not include a colon in sentences such as the following:

Her favorite food was chocolate ice cream.
His recipe included fish, peanut butter, and ham-flakes.

Since these sentences include words like included and was, and "Her favorite food was" is not an independent clause, there is no colon necessary.

Now that you know a couple of uses of the colon, you can use it with style and confidence!

You can also use it to make that gate.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Successful Research: Note Taking

Brainstorming ideas and outlining are strategies that can help in organizing a paper. But how do you even get there in the first place? When reviewing multiple sources for a paper of any kind, taking careful, detailed notes will not only help you find the support that you’ll need in your paper, but also help with the organization of a draft. Here are a few helpful ideas on note taking when dealing with source material.

How Do You Take Notes From a Text You Can’t Write On?

- Sticky notes: Sticky notes can help mark useful passages that you want to later reference in your paper. Along with marking a particular point within the book, writing a word or phrase on sticky notes can help you connect and summarize the points that are important. I don’t want to spend actual money on sticky notes so I use small pieces of paper to mark the spot in a book. See, you don’t have to buy them if you don’t want to!

- Taking notes on paper: It’s helpful to take detailed notes of main points that you might later use when drafting your paper. If you’re not a detailed note taker, then just writing a page number on paper or a particular quote will help jog your memory.

- Note cards: Jotting down quotes and main ideas along with the reference information on notecards can make ideas easier to locate when drafting a paper. This way, the information is all in one place, and can even be useful when deciding how to organize the ideas for a draft. Note cards allow you to visually shuffle information.

Taking Notes On Printed Sources

- Highlighting and underlining: Highlighting and underlining can help you reference particular words or phrases that you plan to expand upon in a draft. Making notes in the margins will make it easier for you to pick out points that you want to use in your paper. These notes can later become points that you want to make in your paper.

Starting the search for sources early can only benefit your paper in the end because you’ll have time to effectively take notes. Though the process can take more time, making sure that you pick out points within research to support your ideas will only help when beginning to draft your paper.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Citation Spotlight: CBE Style

In my experience, the two major players in the world of citation styles have always been those of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA). With my background as an English major, MLA is what you could call "my jam"; it's the style I'm most comfortable with and it makes a far more sense than that rage-inducer APA. But APA is far more widely used than MLA, as MLA is used solely in the field of English and literary studies, unlike APA which is used in basically everything else.

There are other styles, of course. You have Chicago and Turabian, two styles that if you showed me examples of the two I would have no clue which was which. And then there's the Council of Biology Editors (CBE) citation style, which up until the last couple months I had no idea existed.

Ten points to the person who guesses what disciplines it's used for.

Being the inquisitive type, I looked into this mysterious citation style. I began my search on the Purdue OWL website, but I found my search fruitless; the OWL focuses primarily on MLA and APA, the two most commonly used citation styles in the United States.

A Google search, however, yielded far more results. Google compiled 1.6 million results (in an astonishing .17 seconds!) for "cbe citation style," the first ten of which all were websites containing the ".edu" domain suffix. What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means it's legit--".edu" screams credibility.

Further research into CBE showed similarities between CBE and APA, not terribly surprising considering the pervasiveness of APA among science writers. An example provided by the Frederick Douglass Library at University of Maryland Eastern Shore gives the example for citing a book by a single author:

Li TSC. 2000. Medicinal plants: culture, utilization and

phytopharmacology. Lancaster (PA): Technomic. 517p.

Those familiar with APA will notice that certain APA conventions are followed. For example, the title of the book is listed in a similar manner as APA as only the first word of the title has its first letter capitalized. Additionally, first names are initialed as opposed to MLA, which requires the full name of the author. Structurally, the two styles follow the same order of author-to-year-to-title, sharing an emphasis on dates in which the works are published.

Curiously, however, CBE diverges from APA in that it abandons the punctuation following the author's last name, as well as after each initial of her first name. Also, CBE places an importance on where the book was published.

Citation styles continue to evolve and separate like single-cell organisms. Though you may have memorized a particular style a couple of years ago, the moment a new edition comes out all you knew may be torn asunder. Keeping updated with stylebooks can get to be expensive, however, so the most ideal way to keep in touch with the latest changes in your favorite citation style is to pay attention to Purdue's OWL or do a simple Google search.

Further reading and citations:

"How to Cite Using CBE" from the University of Maryland - Eastern Shore

"CBE Citation Style" from the University of Maine at Farmington

"Council of Biology Editors Citation Style" from the University of Wisconsin - Madison

Friday, October 7, 2011

Slippery Punctuation and an Ostrich

(Take a deep breath........Read!)

Sometimes it’s hard to tell where to place a period because it seems as though all of the thoughts sort of run together due to the fact that I am writing one thought after the other and these thoughts just seem to be trickling out of my head without pause so where should I put this period at, I don’t know? Oops, it didn’t even turn out to be a period, it was a question mark, but I thought that the beginning of the sentence should have had a period and then it took a turn in another direction and all of the sudden: BAM: there’s a question mark and what am I supposed to do about it? Oh, no! Another one! And exclamation points! I can find where to put this period maybe I could put it in my sock drawer so that when it’ll never get out and I’ll know just where it is at all times but then what if it sneaks away? It did it again! I want all of my sentences to mold together into one giant sentence that lasts three pages long so that the reader can never take a breath and their face will turn blue and they might even fall over because I couldn’t find my period it wasn’t where I left it oh, there it is.

NOTE: This run-on sentence was not picked up by Microsoft Word.

NOTE: Run-on sentences are also called fused-sentences

What is a run-on sentence?

A fused sentence, or a run-on sentence occurs when two main clauses are connected without punctuation. Comma splices fall under the same category because they are sentences that aren't punctuated correctly. If you see that your sentence runs on for three or more lines, or if you have a hard time reading it without turning blue in the face, then consider revising it. If your sentence seems like a question and a statement, consider separating it into both with the proper punctuation. Remember, the most important thing in all of this is that what you are trying to say comes across as clearly as possible. Other times you will find that you have an incomplete sentence. The best place to find the rest of it is on either side of the period or punctuation. This is where it usually hides, like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

"Hey, Larry, is it safe yet?"

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday Workshop Series Continues

"Writing on the Spot: Essay Exams"
Thursday, October 6, 3:30-4:00PM
The Writing Center is offering this workshop to provide strategies and examples to help prepare you for future essay exams.  The workshop will be held on Thursday, October 6, from 3:30-4:00PM.  We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Essay Exams, The Basic Skills Test, & "Writing on the Spot: Essay Exams" Workshop

The EIU Writing Center doesn’t only provide feedback about academic papers or scholarship essays. Writing consultants there can help you with any document you've drafted, or they can help you get the writing process started by having a conversation about the assignment and brainstorming ideas.

As the DEN has informed readers about recently, to be accepted into any teacher education programs at Eastern, students must first take and pass all parts of the Basic Skills Test. Because most programs have become more rigid with class scheduling during the sophomore and junior years of college, people recommend that students take the test in their first year or sophomore year of college.

What does this have to do with writing, you might ask?

A lot since there are writing assignments on the exam.

The Basic Skills test is required for all Education majors because it is used to asses that prospective teachers have the analytical and communication skills that they can implement in the classroom. This test consists mainly of essay tests. So being prepared and knowing the process of writing a timed essay is crucial for success on the Basic Skills Test. Getting ample practice before the big day of the test is very important, especially since students can take the test no more than five times.
On Thursday, October 6, 2011, the Writing Center will provide a workshop titled "Writing on the Spot: Essay Exams" at 3:30 p.m. in the Writing Center (3110 Coleman Hall). This interactive session will focus on strategies that will help students on the typical essay exams they write in college, and it also could help Education majors who are concerned about the Basic Skills Test.

In addition, last spring this blog provided some advice about the challenge of in-class/timed essays in the post "Essay Exam Writing Tips."

Mid-term exams are approaching and the Basic Skills Test is important if you're an Ed major, so checking out the link above and attending the workshop tomorrow will better prepare you for what's ahead.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Recommended WAC Resource: Engaging Ideas

Last month the second edition of what some people refer to as the "WAC Bible" was published. Engaging Ideas now has a new edition.

If someone were to ask me what I think is the single best WAC resource out there, my recommendation would be Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John C. Bean. It's an outstanding resource.

Since the book's first edition in 1996, colleges worldwide have used this text as the basis for professional development workshops because it offers different ideas, approaches, and methods for using writing as a tool for critical thinking and reflective engagement in diverse disciplines.

Bean is a Consulting Professor of Writing and Assessment at Seattle University, and he's the author and co-author of a number of writing textbooks. As part of the second edition's "About the Author" section relates, Bean "has done extensive consulting across the United States and Canada on writing across the curriculum, critical thinking, and university outcomes assessment," and "In 2010 his article "Messy Problems and Lay Audiences: Teaching Critical Thinking within the Finance Curriculum" (coauthored with colleagues from finance and economics) won the 2008 McGraw Hill-Magna Publications Award for the year's best scholarly work on teaching and learning" (xxi).

Like the first version of Engaging Ideas, the second edition provides a progression from why to how. The book has four parts with sixteen chapters. Below are the chapter titles to show what the text covers:
  1. Using Writing to Promote Thinking: A Busy Professor's Guide to the Whole Book
  2. How Writing is Related to Critical Thinking
  3. Helping Writers Think Rhetorically
  4. Using a Range of Genres to Extend Critical Thinking and Deepen Learning
  5. Dealing with Issues of Grammar and Correctness
  6. Formal Writing Assignments
  7. Informal, Exploratory Writing Activities
  8. Designing Tasks to Promote Active Thinking and Learning
  9. Helping Students Read Difficult Texts
  10. Using Small Groups to Coach Thinking and Teach Disciplinary Argument
  11. Bringing More Critical Thinking into Lectures and Discussions
  12. Enhancing Learning and Critical Thinking in Essay Exams
  13. Designing and Sequencing Assignments to Teach Undergraduate Research
  14. Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria
  15. Coaching the Writing Process and Handling the Paper Load
  16. Writing Comments on Students' Papers
While the book is geared more toward those of us who teach at the college level, the text would also benefit Education majors who could implement a writing across the curriculum/writing in the disciplines approach in their classrooms.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Be Kind, Rewind

Some of us may be too young to remember the VHS tapes of old. Now with the DVD going the way of the dodo and Blu-ray marching in on high definition chariots, this long-time practice of rewinding a video is fizzling out faster than a copy of The Sixth Sense left out in a hot summer car. You could say that we're just a forward-moving society with no desire to go backwards.

Therein lies a problem.

With as quickly as we move forward in our daily lives, it's easy to miss things. You might miss the lost puppy whimpering as it looks for a companion, the old man sitting patiently for change to fall into his cup, or three commas you arbitrarily stuck in a sentence.

"What's that?" you ask.

"Commas," I tell you. "Three of them."

You say you read through the paper two or three times. I believe you, I do, but I think you're leaving out key details. How fast did you read through your paper? Sure, I could read through this blogpost in about thirty seconds flat. I could could read it three times in just as much time. Would I catch every error? I'll take a resounding NO for an answer.

You could take it slow, sure, but I still don't think you'll catch every error. Our brains work too fast to just slowly read something forward. If you're twenty-two years old and barrel-rolling down a hill, you'll find you can't just slow down--you're going to roll into whatever's waiting at the bottom of the hill like a lake or lake monster.

Think of your paper as a hill or, better yet, a mountain. You roll down the mountain, you're just going to fall and die. Metaphorically. So start from the bottom. Climbing the mountain, however, is a slightly different story. You'll go slowly, inching your way to the top, and, because you're going so slow, you'll be more careful to look for your footing. Such is the case if you read your draft from the bottom up. I don't mean backwards word by word--that would be like climbing the mountain with just your hands. But if you read it sentence by sentence you'll take it slowly; you'll be more aware of your surroundings and catch where you added the superfluous comma(s).

Going backwards sentence-by-sentence is an invaluable resource for sentence-level concerns as it forces your brain to slow the heck down and think more analytically. You're not influenced by the momentum of your piece and you can slowly move upwards to scour your piece for any flaws. The best thing about it is that, unlike mountain climbing, it's impossible to fall and die.