Thursday, January 26, 2017

Weird Writing Habits from the Writing Center

What if I told you there was a proven method to make any writing assignment a cinch?  What if, from now on, all you had to do was follow a list of steps and your research paper would be done? 

Don’t get too excited. There is no tried-and-true workflow. After interviewing tutors at the writing center, I discovered that most writers develop their own idiosyncratic writing habits.  These habits were sometimes funny, sometimes ingenious, and most often rooted in superstitious beliefs.

The following is a list of the most interesting writing habits in the writing center:

Chocolate Motivation
One student I interviewed uses periodic chocolate treats to motivate himself. This technique was picked up in elementary school from a teacher who used the method to encourage her students to read. One drawback with this strategy is that it requires the writer to maintain self-control. This method would not work for me!

Clear the To-Do List
Another writer said that he enjoyed large essay assignments because they motivate him to get all his other chores finished. The rationale behind this habit is that it clears the mind of distractions, allowing for a higher degree of focus. This is an idea my roommates could definitely get behind.
Music = Creative Energy
In the brainstorming phase of the writing process, it’s a good idea to test out as many directions possible for your paper to go. One student uses the creative energy produced by music in order to keep his mind flexible.  Music helps him generate a variety of topic ideas before committing to a paper.

Café Vibes
According to one tutor, a café is the optimal place to sit down and concentrate on a paper.  With unlimited access to caffeine, this is one writing habit that will keep you supercharged all the way through to your last sentence.  One drawback with this strategy is that it requires the writer to have the ability to ignore distractions.  The tutor I talked to recalls one café visit in which a customer unknowingly played the Star Wars theme song on repeat. Apparently, they didn’t realize that their headphones were unplugged from the computer.

Tricking the Brain into Positivity
The final writer I talked to likes to trick her brain into positivity. Her method involves changing the file names to her writing projects to names that are less intimidating. After working on a paper for a prolonged period of time, the file name becomes loaded with anxiety. To address this, this student changes the file name to something new.  I think I just might give this strategy of self-hypnosis a try!

Some baseball players have unique routines they must go through before stepping up to bat.  I’ve heard of poker players, too, that fall into superstitious beliefs when they are on a winning streak. Writers are no different.  We all have our own habits and beliefs that for one reason or another help us through the writing process. Whether there is a scientific basis for these habits is debatable, but they do make us feel better.  And I think that’s the whole point.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

5 Steps to Composing the Academic E-mail

Crafting the perfect e-mail to send along to an instructor can be daunting, but following these five tips can change your e-mail game for the better.

Step One: Think of a direct, informative, and clear subject line.

The subject line is widely regarded among instructors to be one of the most important parts to an e-mail. Vague, nonexistent, or particularly lengthy subject lines result in e-mails that may be discarded by instructors. If the student cannot spend the time to properly format an e-mail that takes effort for the instructor to sort through, why should the instructor respond? Though this article is mainly for business e-mails, WikiHow suggests “summariz[ing] the email in a 68 word subject.”

Clear subject lines can ensure that recipients 
are more likely to respond to the e-mail. 

Step Two:
Consider an appropriate salutation and title.

Salutations are a sign of convention, regularity, and respect. Something as simple as “Dr. Nelson—” or “Dear Dr. Fields,” are common and expected upon sending the first message. And, in departing, “Sincerely,” followed by a name or anything else appropriate, is perfect in closing out an e-mail. (Oftentimes instructors will respond once or twice in the ensuing string of e-mails and drop salutations in response to the student, which then leaves it up to the student to continue using salutations or drop them accordingly.)

Step Three: Don’t be wordy.

The length of body paragraphs is quite crucial in breaking up important information so as not to come across as overbearing or cluttered in the e-mail. Recipients would much rather sift through an e-mail with multiple questions or concerns that is split up accordingly rather than one that contains a few blocks of text. 

Keeping it segmented and readable makes for an e-mail less intimidating to the recipient. says that “[a] popular rule that you could . . . use [is] the KISS Test – Keep It Short and Simple.”

Step Four: Thank them for their time.

Though salutations (both introductory and parting) are formalities that serve the purpose of respect and acknowledgement of another’s time, you can never be too forward in your thanks to an instructor. By signing off an e-mail with “Thanks so much for your time!” or “I appreciate any light you can shed on this situation” just before your closing salutation, you can ensure that your recipient reads your e-mail as having a serious and friendly tone because you wrote it as such.

Appropriate thanks & closing salutations show respect to the recipient. 

Step Five:
Be. Patient.

Since students are almost always the party needing a favor, whether that is guidance on a project/essay or clarity on something hazy, they serve the role of being patient in waiting for a response. (Recipients are not expected to drop everything that is ongoing in their lives simply to respond to a student’s e-mail right away.)

Normally, recipients may respond within a few days; however, a week is sometimes warranted in that instructors are typically professors with full workloads who have many other students e-mailing them simultaneously. A follow-up e-mail is never a bad idea so long as sufficient time (typically a week) has passed.

By checking off these five steps each time you send an e-mail to an instructor, you can be sure to expect a timely (and often appreciative!) response.