Getting Feedback on Writing, or Why Writers Need Readers

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Photo by “Brooke Cagle” on Unsplash.

This post was written by Grace McCright, a second-year master’s student in the English Department.

One of the most important parts of my writing process is talking. This may sound odd, since we normally think about writing as a silent, solitary activity. But whether we recognize it or not, writing is always an act of communication; however silent and solitary we may be as we write, there is always someone at the other end of our writing who is receiving the message we are conveying. Since we often can’t see this person as we’re writing, one of the best ways to simulate their response is to talk to someone else about your writing.

My first semester in grad school I felt overwhelmed by the amount and quality of writing that was expected of me. I spent so long working on my first paper, poring over it for hours on my own, not knowing if it truly met the requirements for the assignment or if it clearly said what I intended it to say. Two of my friends, fellow first year grad students, had mentioned to me that they also felt similarly anxious about their papers; we decided to have a paper swap night, where we would all bring our essays and swap them, offering each other feedback and impressions as readers. We made it fun, too, going out for pizza together before starting to read. Though we were all a little nervous about sharing our work, the feedback we were able to give each other was so helpful! I remember one of them pointing out places in my paper where they got lost or where they felt I was being repetitive; likewise, I remember pointing out similar things in their papers. Leaving that dinner, we all had a clearer idea of what we needed to do to improve our papers; we also felt more confident knowing that someone else had read our work and understood our general idea!

Now, I actively seek feedback on pretty much everything I write. Instead of worrying about what the other person may think or whether or not they will like my writing, I try to cultivate an attitude of humility and a desire for growth; if I truly want my writing to be the best it can be, then I will take any and all feedback I can get. Here’s a few ways you can seek feedback on your writing:

1. Just talk to someone! It could be a roommate, a friend, or a parent. Just putting your idea into words can be so helpful in working through an idea!

2. Join a writing group! One of the best decisions I made this semester as I’m working on my master’s thesis has been joining a writing group. My writing group meets once a week for a few hours; when we meet, we spend a few minutes just talking about where we are at with our writing and then spend the rest of the time working on our individual projects. Every month or so, we read what each other has written. This format works for us, but you can make your group as formal or informal as you want! It could be as simple as inviting a friend from class over to your apartment to work on your papers together. You can keep each other accountable for working on the project, and you can pause and talk out your ideas with your friend when you get stuck.

3. Make an appointment at the UWC! At any point in the writing process, even the all-I-have-is-a-half-baked-idea stage, you can make an appointment to talk with a writing consultant. Writing consultants can help you create an outline, talk through your ideas, and work on revising existing writing.

Whatever option you choose, don’t believe the lie that writing is merely an individual process, for you and your professor’s red pen alone. Instead, take a risk and talk about your work with someone you trust; you won’t regret it!

Photo by “Christine” on Unsplash.

Five Tips to Make Your Essay “Flow”

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Photo by “Maksym Yymchyk” on Unsplash.

This post was written by Sydney Nicholson, a second-year master’s student in the English Department.

Dear writer,

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make an essay “flow”? In my time as a writing center tutor, I’ve noticed that this is one of the most common questions our clients ask. It is my hope that this blog post will not only provide some clarity on what writers mean when they talk about flow but also provide you with a few tips and tricks that you can use to address this concern.

When we talk about flow, what we are really asking is whether the individual ideas in our essay come together to create a coherent whole. In other words, we want to know if our ideas “hang together” in a way that makes logical sense to the reader. In order to address our concerns about flow, it can be helpful to break this question down further and ask:

  • Does my essay have one clear goal?
  • Does each sentence in my paragraph support the point I want to make in that paragraph?
  • Does the paragraph that expresses those ideas support the point I am making in my essay as a whole?

Since you are familiar with the subject you are writing about, it can be challenging to address the flow of your essay. When you read through your essay, your brain knows why you are making each of your points and why those points are connected. Unfortunately, because those connections are apparent to you, you can forget to explain those connections to your reader. Effective writers use a number of tools to see their paper with new eyes and put themselves in the reader’s shoes. Here are five of my favorites:

  1. Think of your thesis as a kind of itinerary for your paper

Tour guides give their clients an itinerary that tells them where the tour will end and what they will see along the way. An effective thesis is like an itinerary; it not only tells the reader what you are going to say but it also gives the reader a sense of how you are going to arrive at that conclusion. When you write a thesis that tells the writer how you will arrive at your end goal, you become a guide for your reader. You prepare them for each of your main topics so that they aren’t surprised or caught off guard when they come to a new section of your paper. Just as no one wants their tour guide to take them to The Haunted Mansion when they were expecting to visit Splash Mountain, no one wants to be caught off guard by a paper that took a turn they didn’t expect!

Here is an example of a thesis that only tells the reader where a paper will go: This paper argues that John Williams was inspired by Gustav Holst’s orchestral suit The Planets.

Here is an example of a thesis that tells the reader where the paper will go AND how the author will get there: This paper argues that John Williams was inspired by Gustav Holst’s orchestral suit The Planets by comparing the tonal patterns in “Mars: The Bringer of War” to the Imperial March.

  1. Write topic sentences that are “mini-theses”

Pay particular attention to the first sentence of each of your paragraphs. These sentences are key to guiding your reading through your ideas and they can make or break the flow of your essay. When you write a topic sentence, you want it to do three things:

  1. Tell the writer what they will know after reading that paragraph
  2. Explain how that paragraph is related to the one that came before it
  3. Use key words from the prompt to reassure your reader that this paragraph is responding to the central question of the paper

Here’s an example topic sentence: In addition to using religion as an active tool against nature, the four survivors also utilized religion to wield power over their inner conscience.

This topic sentence uses the key words “religion” and “power” to prove that this paragraph relates back to the essay prompt which asked the writer to explain how Vasco da Gama and his crew used religion as a tool of power in the New World. Its first phrase briefly sums up the main idea of the previous paragraph and explains that this paragraph provides an additional example of how the four survivors used religious as a tool of power. Finally, the topic sentence clearly tells the reader what this paragraph is about when it states that four survivors utilized religion to wield power over their inner conscience.

  1. Use a graphing activity to see how your sentences relate to one another

Photo by “Andre Taissin” on Unsplash.

In an essay that has a coherent flow, each paragraph will have one central point. Within that paragraph, the individual sentences will work together to develop that idea. To see whether your sentences are working together to develop one concept, use this graphing activity. Here’s how it works:

  1. Copy and paste your paragraph onto a blank page
  2. Put each sentence on its own line.
  3. Read through your paragraph sentence by sentence
  4. When you see a sentence that further explains the sentence that came before it, press tab and indent it. When you see a sentence that isn’t connected to the idea that came before it, do not indent that sentence at all.

In a paragraph where all of the sentences hang together to form a coherent whole, you should notice that each sentence is indented a bit further than the last one. Here’s an example of a graphed paragraph from an advertisement analysis essay:

The last sentence in your paragraph should “zoom out” and restate the main claim of the paragraph. Thus, it should be similar to your topic sentence. You can represent this similarity by keeping your concluding sentence flush to the left edge of the page.

  1. Never assume that your reader will understand why you are connecting two thoughts together without your help.

If you make your reader guess why you include a quote or a particular piece of information they might guess incorrectly. You are the expert on this topic and it is your job to show the reader why the quote that you include or that really interesting piece of information about the Trojan Horse is actually connected to your main topic about the way that technology can become a tool for deception.

  1. Read your paper aloud to a friend or schedule an appointment at the UWC:

Reading your paper out loud to a friend or writing consultant is a great way to make sure that the order of your essay makes sense to someone who isn’t familiar with your topic. If you would like to make an appointment at the Baylor University Writing Center to work on the flow of your essay, please come visit us on the second floor of the Moody Library or make an appointment online at www.baylor.mywconline.com

 

Journaling and the Discipline of Creativity

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Or, What Journaling Taught Me, and How You can Start

Photo by “lilartsy” on Unsplash.

This post was written by Justice Flint, a second-year master’s student in the English Department.

I am a semi-obsessive journaler. The habit began slowly, almost imperceptibly, in the nebulous fog of my early teen years, without a clear purpose or intent. At the time, I had no inkling that what I was doing would be of any academic benefit to me, and even the personal benefits seemed uncertain, beyond the fact that having thorough records enabled me to win family disagreements and solidify my own sense of memory. However, with the benefit of 11 years of hindsight, I can now see how journaling has profoundly impacted my ability to be a successful writer—in college, in grad school, and in life.

Looking at my written evidence, the practice seems to have grown out of my compulsion to make notes in a pocket calendar. By the time I was 15, I was in the habit of making daily entries in a leather-bound journal book (the classiest one I could find at Walmart). Once I began, I pressured myself not to stop. I knew writing “when I felt like it” would easily devolve into going weeks without writing and then despairing of starting an entry at all because I felt like too much preliminary contextual information would be necessary to explain any events. Slowly, I developed the discipline of forcing myself to write something—anything!—every. single. day. Even if that thing was just a sentence saying how I didn’t have anything to say, or that I was too tired to write. Driven by my innate perfectionism, I soon adopted the mental attitude of “chaining myself to my desk” (or my bed, where I preferred to write) every day until I had something on the page. A surprising number of times when I thought I had nothing to say, I’d look up from my journal an hour later and find I’d filled a whole page. These unexpected outpourings of thought weren’t necessarily worthwhile reading later, but they offered catharsis in the moment, and demonstrated the power of having a creative practice that functioned independently of my subjective feelings of inspiration. Below are just a few of the lessons journaling has taught me:

How to face the blank page:
By the time I began college, I quickly realized that I was not so intimidated by a blank Word document as I otherwise might have been, thanks to journaling. I knew how to sit down and begin writing, regardless of how inspired I was feeling or how large the task seemed. I knew through long practice that just beginning was half the battle, and that direction and purpose could be found later, once I had some material on the page to look over

How to experiment with vocabulary:
At some point, I began to consciously treat my journal as a space to stretch my vocabulary, writing with a thesaurus at hand to help me find new and creative ways to describe my experiences, observations, and ideas. I had an innate aversion to using the same terms more than once in an entry, or in two entries close together, and this led me to reach for innovation and nuance in my writing. I was aware at the time that I may not have always been using words correctly, especially if they were ones I had only seen in the thesaurus and not heard in context, but I did my best, and in retrospect, I can see that I largely succeeded. I have little doubt that my private experimentation with words helped my ability to be comfortable in assuming the level of formal diction required in college essays.

How to imagine an audience:
Journaling showed me the importance of writing with a reader in mind, even if such a practice felt especially vain or silly in the context of a journal. Over time, I developed the habit of generally approaching journaling like I was writing a novel, imagining a reader who was unfamiliar with the settings and characters in my life and using the opportunity to weave in descriptive language to paint the best picture I could. This tied in well with my low-key mission to gain more vocabulary dexterity; I often spent an embarrassing amount of time flipping through the thesaurus to find the perfect words to describe events or people that were meaningful to me.

How to play around with genre and tone:
Unconstrained by the strictures of writing a cohesive work for publication, I knew I could change genre and tone as the mood took me. At times I consciously devoted a day’s entry to being a “reflective essay” on my thoughts about some abstract idea, rather than describe anything that happened that day. Other times, I slipped into movie review mode; even now, I find it interesting to look back on my initial thoughts concerning films that have since become favorites. I was able to do these things without fear of a poor grade or of incorrect structure; after all, no one would read it but me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this self-aware shifting of genre would serve me well in college, as I found it fairly intuitive to adjust my work for different assignments. Journaling, I found, was an excellent playground to imitate the writing styles I saw elsewhere. Even if my own content was lacking in polish or popular interest, the mental motions of working in these different frameworks built a solid cognitive muscle that I was later able to employ to better use as my understanding of good writing improved.

Though I began journaling independent of any idea that it would improve my academic life or even my personal prowess with words, I would now recommend the practice for both of those reasons, as well as for its psychological benefits (about which an entirely separate blog post could be written). For those who may want to start journaling but feel too busy or don’t know how, I offer the following advice:

Start small:
My own descent into the madness of becoming a compulsive journaler began innocently enough, with daily notes in a pocket calendar. If the idea of having to write a mini essay every day intimidates you, forget about your mental image of writing eloquent sentences in a large blank book. If you already have a day planner, try shifting from only marking down plans to noting intriguing or significant incidents after the fact. Filling out short notes like “Hung out with [friend]” or “Watched [insert movie name]” only takes 5 minutes before bed, and you may find it leads to the desire to elaborate more (in which case, you’ll eventually need a bigger book to write in). Even if you never become a prolific writer, the mere habit of recording a few reflective daily sentences primes your mind to more readily express ideas via writing, a skill which will assist you in any school or professional assignment.

Don’t worry about being good, but always strive to be better:
Most of your journal entries will be, quite frankly, inane and ill-constructed. Let’s face it, those words also describe many of our experiences of daily life, and it’s only natural that our attempts to write about our lives will also lack intrigue and structure. Embrace this, but also work towards improvement. One mark of a good writer is someone who can make the mundane remarkable through their descriptions. As a low-pressure exercise, occasionally think about ways to describe ordinary events in your life with the detail and dimension of a novelist. Not only will this challenge you to find angles of interest on things that may seem unremarkable, a skill which will serve you well when faced with a boring essay assignment, but it will also give you opportunity to expand your repertoire of descriptive words not necessarily used in common conversation, which will develop your skill in expression generally.

Another useful occasional exercise is creating a sense of “completeness” in your individual entries. One way to do this is to pick a subject that is already on your mind and adopt a “reflection essay” approach to exploring it—opening with an explanation of what the concept is and why it matters to you, moving through supporting points of experience or knowledge you have pertaining to the subject, and finishing with a concluding opinion (or set of opinions) informed by the exploration you have just done. Think of your entry as a blog post or op-ed, if that helps. The point is to practice taking fragmentary thoughts or experiences and creating a piece that connects them, showing the thorough development of a single theme. This type of writing is extremely helpful for improving your personal reflection habits, but it also trains you for brainstorming for assignments and for thinking in terms of polished, self-contained work.

Write about what interests you:
While it is good practice to treat journaling as a “writing gym” on occasion, don’t feel guilty about also treating it as a “writing playground.” Both approaches involve exercise; the important thing is to write regularly. Doing so will be easier if you don’t feel beholden to some invisible directive to write only about “what is important” in your life or to always consciously “have a goal” in mind when writing. Use things you enjoy or find meaningful as the raw material to facilitate your writing experiments; if you do so, you will have more fun in the process than if you feel duty-bound to write an autobiography or to explain life realities that drain you.

Journaling is an excellent way to develop your own ability to generate, shape, and convey ideas, and it simultaneously provides a record of where you’ve been and how you’ve developed. Regardless of topic or approach, you will look back at your writing later and likely find much of it embarrassing or pointless. This is normal. Much of the point lies in the practice, not the outcome.

On the other hand, you may surprise yourself. The ramblings you write today may reflect an interest that becomes a professional pursuit a decade later. Even if they do not, time spent writing privately is essential preparation for fluency in writing “publicly,” for professors, bosses, and colleagues. It can even help you generate a blog post. 😉

Old Advice in New Circumstances

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Photo by “Thought Catolog” via Unsplash.

This post was written by Jonathan Diaz, a first-year PhD student in the English Department.

Friends, writing is difficult under the best circumstances, and these are not the best circumstances. Covid-19 has changed the way we go about so many of our daily activities, and writing is definitely one of them, even if it’s easier to do while observing safety precautions than grabbing a meal with friends or gathering in class.

It’s occurred to me that one of the challenges of writing in less-than-ideal circumstances is that the advice that has worked for us in the past doesn’t seem to work anymore. You may have developed a strong set of writing skills during your academic career, only to find that they are no longer effective when you’re writing under greater stress or with less time in your day.

This doesn’t mean the advice was bad, but rather, that we need to learn to apply that advice more thoroughly. In order to help you navigate writing in the time of Corona, I’m going to discuss two pieces of writing advice you’ve probably heard before: read your prompt and make an outline. However, I’m going to look at ways that advice can be more useful to you than ever before.

  1. DON’T JUST READ YOUR PROMPT: DECIPHER IT

While it can be easy to think of a prompt as just a starting point, it’s more accurate to think of it as a roadmap to a successful piece of writing. Many times, an instructor will give you much more than a single question to answer or a topic to explore. They might give you necessary context for the subject, remind you of core concepts, suggest resources, or point out errors you should avoid. They are describing everything you should know in order to craft an excellent assignment.

  • Look for Imperative Verbs

Helpfully, they will also frequently give you direct instructions. It’s worth taking note of any time your prompt begins a sentence with an imperative verb: a word that tells you to do something. Instructors often use words like “explain,” “demonstrate,” “establish,” and “explore” to signal tasks they would like you to accomplish in your piece of writing.

  • Notice Your Instructor’s Priorities

It may help to remember that the assignment prompt is itself a piece of writing, something that your instructor thought about, planned, and then committed to paper—or, more likely, pdf. In any event, they set out to communicate something to you, emphasizing their main ideas in many of the same ways you do. Maybe they used formal elements like underlining, bullet points, or text boxes. They might have devoted an entire paragraph to talk about formatting, or maybe they just referred you to a style guide. If you attend carefully to these decisions, you can see what is most important to your instructor; and, as a result, what should be important to you as you write.

2. DON’T JUST MAKE AN OUTLINE: USE IT TO SHAPE YOUR IDEAS

Outlines are possibly the most widely used planning tool students use when approaching an assignment. It’s not hard to see why: outlines help you start thinking about your ideas and how they will fit together within a structure. Crucially, they can give you sense of how much information you will be able to fit within the set length of the assignment. They’re a great example of what’s often called prewriting: any work you do on a writing project before creating a draft.

  • Move Past Simple Descriptions

One weakness of some student outlines, however, is that they sometimes fail to give sufficient information about the future paper. Most outlines I’ve read use a single word or a short phrase to describe a section of the final piece. Now, this is often a great place to start. For example, you might be early in your planning process for a paper on the Second World War, and it might seem obvious to you that you’re going to want to talk about the attack on Pearl Harbor. In this situation, it makes perfect sense to simply title this section “Pearl Harbor.” However, your outline will be of greater use to you if you move past this stage. Think about what it is you want to say about this idea, and express that in a complete sentence.

  • Use Complete Sentences to Develop Your Claims

One way to figure this out will be to write a full sentence that describes the purpose of this paragraph, such as: “The attack on Pearl Harbor was the key event that brought the U.S. to join World War II.” This sentence not only clarifies the future paragraph’s purpose, but makes it easier to use the outline to actually start drafting your paragraph. When you write out a full sentence, you’re forcing yourself to work through your ideas, transforming the outline from a rough sketch of your structure into a tool you can use to move from planning your paper to drafting it.

We know writing, like most other things in your life, has probably become more difficult this year. It can easily feel like the old rules don’t apply anymore; but while that may be the case for the number of people that can safely fit in a room, it’s not always the case for writing. The skills you’ve developed as a writer over the years will still serve you well, though you may have to learn to apply them to more challenging tasks and unexpected circumstances. As you do so, the University Writing Center consultants are here to help, so please don’t hesitate to make an appointment!

 

Jonathan Diaz is a first-year Ph.D student studying religion, race, and class in American literature. Jonathan holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Notre Dame: his poems have appeared in publications such as American Literary Review, Latino Book Review, and The Cresset. Previously, he has taught writing courses at Biola University and the University of Southern California. Jonathan, his wife Abigail, and their dog Chavo are from Los Angeles.

Which type of UWC Appointment is Best for You?

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This post was written by Maddie Wayland, a second year Master’s student in the English program.

With Zoom calls, hybrid classes, and masks, things are looking a little different this semester, and we understand there is a lot to keep track of! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or a little bit like this…

…don’t despair! Although we’re not in our usual location in Moody Library and are instead fully online, the University Writing Center is still here to offer you an extra pair of eyes at any stage in your writing process.

Did you know that we offer two types of appointments? Both appointment types, e-tutoring and video conference, have their own perks, but they are also very different! Depending on your project type or stage in the writing process, one type of appointment might be more effective than the other. Keep reading to learn about each type and how to choose the one that is best for you!

Here’s the lowdown on each:

  1. E-TUTORING (Written Feedback) APPOINTMENTS:

A bit different from a face-to-face conference, an e-tutoring appointment involves the writer submitting their paper draft and prompt ahead of the appointment time using the UWC website. On the appointment intake form, the writer can also indicate certain questions or concerns they’d like the consultant to address in their feedback. The consultant will then read over the materials the writer has submitted and provide feedback in the following ways: one, in-text comments on the student’s draft and, two, a feedback form which summarizes all feedback and suggestions for revision. All of these materials are shared electronically, then, with the writer within 48 hours of the appointment time.

So, when should you choose an e-tutoring appointment?

E-tutoring feedback is generally reader focused, as there is minimal interaction between the reader (consultant) and the writer (client). This means that the consultant will focus on their expectations as a reader, and explore how the writing either met these expectations, or could meet them more effectively. In feedback from an e-tutoring session, the consultant will provide a reader reaction to the writing, as well as specific suggestions for revision. The consultant will still keep in mind the writer’s specific questions and concerns, too, and will address those as fully as possible!

E-tutoring appointments are great if you have specific concerns and questions that can guide the consultant’s feedback. They are also helpful for completed drafts that you would like an extra reader’s response on to guide you in revision.

What should you do to make an e-tutoring appointment? Here are the steps:

    1. Create appointment by visiting the Baylor UWC website and clicking on “Make an Appointment.”
    2. Select the “e-tutoring (written feedback)” option under the question “Meet online?”
    3. Fill out the rest of the intake form with your assignment details and questions/concerns.4. Attach your assignment prompt and a draft of your work.
      5. Wait to receive electronic feedback from your consultant!

  1. VIDEO CONFERENCE APPOINTMENTS

This option offers you as similar an experience as possible to the usual face-to-face appointments offered in the Writing Center. If you’ve ever visited us before, you know how it goes! Video conferences are an opportunity to meet with a consultant via video chat and discuss your writing, at any stage from brainstorming to a final draft. Writers may upload their work ahead of time, and the writer and consultant will look at the work together during the appointment. The consultant and writer will often have a conversation about the writing and the assignment, discuss the concerns or questions the writer has specifically about their writing, and read the draft out loud together. By the end of the session, the pair will come up with some tangible next steps that the writer can work on after the session ends.

Here’s when a video conference would be a great choice:

Video conferences are generally writer focused, and will center around the writer’s needs and concerns. The consultant and writer will work together to tailor the session to meet those needs. And, here’s the key to a video conference session—it’s a conversation! Although video calls can be nerve-wracking, video conferences at the UWC are designed to offer a low-stakes environment. This is your opportunity to just have a conversation about writing ideas, challenges, and questions with another writer.

Although video conferences can be beneficial at all stages of writing, from brainstorming and topic choice to revisions and final drafts, there are certain situations where you might benefit more from choosing a video conference over an e-tutoring session. The conversation you can have during a video conference session would be especially helpful if you are writing in a new or unfamiliar genre, or if you have larger questions about organization, crafting a thesis and argument, or sorting through your thoughts!

Decided on a video conference session? Follow these steps to make your appointment:

    1. Create appointment by visiting the Baylor UWC website.
    2. Select the “video conference” option under the question “Meet online?”
    3. Fill out the rest of the intake form with your assignment details and questions/concerns.
    4. Attach your assignment prompt and a draft of your work. (If you’ll be working on your draft up until the appointment, you can always attach it later).
    5. Your consultant will likely contact you with information on how you will be meeting—either via the Baylor UWC website, or via Zoom. If you’re meeting some way besides the UWC website, your consultant will provide you with a link to the video conference.
    6. At your appointment time, either visit your appointment link provided by your consultant or visit the UWC website, click on your appointment, and click the big red button that says “Start or join online consultation.”
    7. Meet via video chat with your consultant!

After every session, both e-tutoring and video conference, your consultant will send you session notes that summarize what the goals of the session were, what you did during the session, and a plan for next steps to take in writing or revision.

If you receive feedback, revise, and still have questions or concerns, it’s a great idea to make another appointment (especially a video conference appointment), so you can talk through your remaining questions! No matter what writing project you’re working on, or what stage in the project you’re at, there’s a UWC session to help.

 

Author’s bio: Maddie Wayland is a second year Master’s student in the English program. She specializes in creative writing, specifically creative non-fiction, and is interested in literature incorporating topics of illness, medicine, and health studies. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology as well as English. Originally from Upstate New York, in her free time you can find Maddie reading Jane Austen, playing with her miniature schnauzer puppy Lucy, and dreaming of NY autumn.

5 Tips to Help You Vanquish Writer’s Block

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash.

This post was written by Kendell Bergeron, a senior Undergraduate Consultant with majors in Economics and Accounting and a minor in English.

We’ve all been there. You might be sitting at your desk or in a coffee shop with a paper due in a matter of hours, Word document open at the ready… and all you can do is stare at your blinking cursor. The diagnosis is in: you seem to have a nice case of writer’s block.

Maybe you feel like you’ve been working on your draft for hours and you’re stuck on revisions. Maybe you’ve taken lots of notes on your source texts and outlined your paper but you can’t figure out how to start. Maybe you haven’t even thought about this assignment yet and you found this blog post at 9pm with an 11.59pm deadline impending so you want me to stop beating around the bush and get to these lifesaving tips! I hear you. Take a deep breath. Let’s do this.

  1. Start where you’re confident.

Most of us write papers from the beginning. Often, that’s a good place to start. But sometimes the best way to get a draft rolling is not the introduction or even the first point of your argument. If those sections are feeling stale and uninspiring, try writing the part of your paper that interests you the most!

Just by getting those fingers typing and your brain juices flowing, you might finish your favorite section of the paper and realize that you’re more motivated to complete another section that you were stuck on before.

  1. Find the strategy that’s right for you.

Reality check: writing is a process! And even more importantly, figuring out the best writing process for you takes time and practice. If you’re feeling like a deer in the headlights when confronted by a blank Word document, try jotting down some thoughts that you want to write about in bullet points or in a more formal outline. Follow the process that works for you and be patient.

Some writers like to create a detailed outline to follow. Some writers like to start drafting right away and see where they end up. Personally, I like to write an overview outline and then employ a strategy that I call “the crap draft.” When I remind myself to expect imperfections and that I’ll have time to revise my writing before I submit it, I put so much less pressure on each word that I type! I can write a first draft without slowing myself down by obsessively editing along the way. It’s just one step in the writing process.

  1. Give your brain a breath of fresh air.

If perfectionism isn’t your problem but your brain still feels like a brick that can’t tell the difference between symbolism and a semicolon, this might be a good time to take a break.

You could go for a quick walk, literally letting fresh air wake up your brain and enjoying some soothing silence. You could take a power nap or make a cup of tea. If you want to stay in a productive zone, try using a different part of your brain than you use when you’re writing. If you have any classes that focus on quantitative reasoning like math, science, or business, do some homework from those subjects. Or answer emails! By taking time to step away from your paper, your mind will feel a lot fresher when it’s time to start again.

  1. Make some space.

With so many brilliant thoughts swimming around before we can get them down on paper, our heads can feel overwhelmingly jumbled when we’re trying to start writing. Take a moment to think about creating the workspace that helps you think through your ideas most clearly.

Do you focus best when you’re alone or with the accountability of a study partner? Does it help you to be comfortable on the couch or do you work better at a desk or table? Does your best thinking happen in the morning, before dinner, or late at night?

If you don’t have options apart from working in your dorm room right now, even taking a moment to calm the chaos by making your bed and clearing your desk can make a huge difference! Being in a physical space that’s tidy and focused can make our mental space feel more organized and approachable too.

  1. Talk it out.

It’s usually easier to explain all that you want to write in your essay out loud than it is to write everything down for the first time. The best tip we can give you: make an appointment with the Writing Center! Our tutors love to ask questions about your ideas and help you process any points you’re feeling stuck on. Whether you’re paralyzed by writer’s block just looking at the prompt or feeling like you can’t possibly stare at your draft for another minute, we can help you brainstorm or talk your way through it.

We’re even offering extended hours this semester, so you could make a 9pm appointment and talk to a tutor online from your dorm room! But if you don’t have a chance to visit the UWC before your deadline, try talking it out with a friend or even recording yourself on a voice memo and writing down what you hear yourself say.

And with all these tips, remember to have some grace for yourself. Writing isn’t easy for anyone and starting is the hardest part! You’re equipped now with some surefire strategies to vanquish the nefarious nemesis that is writer’s block forever. Good luck!

 

 

Author’s bio: Kendall is a senior from the Pacific Northwest with majors in Economics and Accounting and a minor in English. She loves a rainy day with a very large mug of tea and a book—her most recent favorite is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. You’re likely to find Kendall making another cup of coffee, doing yoga, creating content for her cat’s Instagram, or trying new recipes for her food blog.

5 Tips for Your Personal Statement If You Aren’t Sure Where to Start

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Summer is here, bringing with it endless hours to spend on exciting (socially-distanced) activities like lazing away on the couch, binging Netflix, learning new hobbies and reading that stack of books you never got around to. But for some students, it brings approaching deadlines for medical school and other graduate programs. If that’s you, you may be facing what is many students’ most dreaded genre (yes, even more than ENG 1304’s Toulmin Analysis Essay)—the personal statement. 

Even though the task of putting your entire heart and soul into a few pages seems pretty hard, the personal statement doesn’t have to be something you dread—it can actually be the key to making you stand out as a candidate, helping give your application the last push that it needs! If you’re currently staring at a blank page, wondering how this thing is ever going to come together, here are a few tips to help you get started.

  1. Start by brainstorming the qualities about yourself you want to show off. Are you passionate about volunteer work? A straight-A student? Into extracurriculars? Have a 5-digit number of followers on your Instagram meme page? You’ll want to show off things that are well-suited to the program you’re applying for, but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. If you just aren’t sure what to write about, ask friends and family members to list three words that would describe you, and see if there are common trends. After you come up with this list, you can then reflect on your experiences both inside and outside of your academic career that show off these qualities.

  1. Aim for quality over quantity. Getting started on the personal statement can be pretty daunting if you aren’t sure how to squeeze your whole life story in 5300 characters or so. Use your list of qualities from before to come up with just a handful of stories that show off who you are as a person. Although there is probably a lot you could cover, a few detailed examples are easier for your reader to digest and will give you the room you need to fully communicate how an experience impacted you. Getting specific will help you make a lasting impression on your reader!

Sometimes, you have to start writing first before you know what it is you really want to talk about. After trying out a few different examples, if you are unsure which experiences are best communicating who you are, ask someone to see what interests them most!

  1. Show, don’t tell. You’ve already listed your many impressive accomplishments everywhere else in your application–use the personal statement as a chance to share your story with your readers. Instead of saying, “I like to help others,” try proving this with an anecdote that shows how you have already helped others. Use sensory details and emotions to make your story more specific and relatable. The personal statement is your chance to show off your own voice, so let it shine through! Don’t be afraid to use humor when appropriate.

  1. Write, write, and rewrite! Personal statements can be tricky to get just right, but it’s the one place in your application where you can really make yourself stand out as an individual, so it’ s important to get it as polished as possible. It might take a few drafts before it’s ready! If you’re feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to start over entirely, and see what you approach differently when you have a blank page. Then, you can synthesize the parts of each draft that you like most to get to a final product. This might seem a little disheartening at first, but all of the hard work will be worth it!

5. And, of course, make an appointment at the UWC! We’ll be open all summer and we’re ready to help you all summer for synchronous and asynchronous online consultations. We can’t wait to hear all about your experiences and help you get into the school of your dreams!

Wait, the UWC can’t close; I still have papers to write!

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We have reached the last day of courses for the spring semester, which also means we have reached the last day that the Baylor University Writing Center will be open. We’ll pause here to give you a minute to ugly cry.

Thank you for your deep emotional investment. Now dash away those tears, because we can still help you even if we aren’t open for appointments! Below you will find a list of 5 resources and tips to help you navigate your final papers with such ease, you’ll think one of our consultants was sitting on your shoulder whispering sweet suggestions in your ear. You’ve got this; you possess all the tools needed to write those papers and submit them with confidence!

 

  1. Citations and formatting: One of the most stressful elements of writing a paper can be figuring out how to comply with the formatting and citation guidelines prescribed by your professor, especially if it’s a new style guide to you. STEM majors are always perplexed by ENG 1310’s MLA guidelines, just like Humanities majors want to cry when their PSYC 101 professor requires APA formatting. Style guides remind us that we’re all human, y’all. But don’t worry! Here is a link to Purdue Online Writing Lab’s (affectionately known as Purdue OWL) guides to the three most common styles. They have really helpful resources. We recommend looking at sample papers of each style, as just reading instructions doesn’t always make visualization easy.
    1. MLA: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html
    2. APA: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html
    3. Chicago/Turabian: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/cmos_formatting_and_style_guide/chicago_manual_of_style_17th_edition.html
  2. Grammar and spelling: While the UWC’s main purpose is to help you develop higher order skills when it comes to your writing (such as awareness of audience, thesis statements, logical structure, etc), we recognize that concerns about grammar and spelling remain close to students’ hearts when it comes to feeling confident in their writing. To this end, many students find tools like Grammarly helpful, but even Microsoft Word’s spell and grammar check is a great start! See those red and blue squiggle lines on your essay? Right click on one to figure out if it’s an error you need to address, or just that Microsoft Word refuses to recognize that “fantabulous” is a real word in your dictionary.
  3. Read your paper aloud: If you have ever been to the UWC, you know that we always ask you to read your work aloud. And if you’ve ever been to the UWC, you know that this may be the most valuable editing tool. Our eyes are trained to skim and skip (think how quickly you scroll through your Insta feed…); in fact, you’re probably skimming this article right now! Skimming is a great tool, but not when you’re editing a paper. Slow down, read aloud, and force yourself to pay attention to each word. Odds are you’ll catch both spelling and grammar errors, identify repetition (when you realize you’ve said the same thing aloud 5 times, maybe it’s time to cut or consult a thesaurus), pick up on awkward wording, and realize abrupt paragraph transition. Do yourself a favor: read that paper aloud!
  4. Underline topic sentences: You know how everyone online has been posting thirst traps about their new knitting habit or their exhorbitant scrapbooking endeavors? Now it’s your turn! Pull out those highlighters and sticky tabs and start marking your topic sentences! Why do this? Well, you may find that some paragraphs have no topic sentences at all, some have multiple topic sentences, and others have a topic sentence but one that comes at the end of the paragraph instead of the beginning. Get crafty with those papers! Hilarious Memes for Crafters - Craftfoxes
  5. Reverse outlining: This is one of our most popular strategies at the UWC. Reverse outlining is where you read through each paragraph and try to condense it down to one condensed sentence. If you can’t, you clearly need to split the paragraph up so that each point can have it’s own real estate. Once you’ve done this with each paragraph, read each condensed sentence in order. Is there a logic to the progression? Should your points be rearranged? Is there a gap in your reasoning? These are all things that add up to big points on an essay grade, so go ahead and take the time to get cozy with your content.

 

We could go on and on, but we know you’d stop reading. Do you have any tried and true editing techniques? Share them below, we’d love to hear about them! Regardless, know that we are thinking of you all as you wrap up this weird semester and all that that entails. Good luck on your final projects, best wishes on your summer, and to our wonderful graduating seniors, our prayers and hopes go with you!

 

From everyone at Baylor UWC, we bid you a fond farewell and look forward to serving you again in the fall! (PSA: we will have limited summer hours for online appointments, so if you are taking summer classes, we will still be around to help J)

 

Quarantine Routine: How to Create a Sense of Normalcy When Everything is NOT Normal

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Well, let’s just begin by stating the obvious: this semester doesn’t look like how you planned. In all likelihood, you are reading this sitting in your childhood bedroom, wondering, “Gosh, why do I still have Star Wars sheets on my bed, and why does my mom still display all of my little league trophies in our living room?” Or perhaps you are still stuck on campus, looking at your painted cinderblock dorm room walls wondering if you could pad them, because deep down you’re asking yourself, “How many more to-go boxes from Penland before I go insane?”

 

We’re right there with you, friends. COVID-19 has certainly disrupted the carefully laid plans of both mice and men. For those of you who were preparing to graduate this spring, we mourn with you over the loss of a formal graduation ceremony. For those of you who are over the moon about the new pass/fail policy, we rejoice with you! But this isn’t a time to give up and lose hope, no matter what situation you are in.10 Coronavirus memes to cheer you up – DutchReview

 We want to share with you today how to create a sense of normalcy in the midst of this chaos. It might feel futile to create a schedule right now. As the great comedian Jim Gaffigan has joked: “Why won’t I make my bed? For the same reason I don’t tie my shoes after taking them off.” We understand the inclination to just weather this storm and hibernate with Netflix, but we encourage you to think big picture: finish the race you have begun. Finish well.

 

The best way to finish well is to create some routines. We’re not talking about totally scaffolding your days but implementing a few daily practices will help you find a rhythm. Routines will help you sleep better, feel better, and maybe, just maybe, find some joy in the midst of all this uncertainty. Here are Baylor UWC’s tips for creating daily practices. Don’t necessarily do all of them! Pick one or two to start with, and go from there.

  1. Wake up and go to bed at a regular time each day. This is a very simple practice and will help prevent sluggishness. Your body thrives on regularity, and regular bedtimes/wakeups help set your Circadian rhythm, which influences a lot of your body’s other systems, like metabolism, energy levels, and sleep cycles. So dust off that alarm clock!
  2. Limit screen time. We know this is a difficult one with classes all online, the constant barrage of email, and the tendency to fill time with all the social meedz. But if you can create a few technology blackouts throughout your day, this can actually help lower anxiety and improve sleep. Many people have reported chronic headaches and increased anxiety due to the rise in screen time. One of the best things to do is to have a device cut-off time. Start small: one or two nights a week try to power down your laptop and phone well before bedtime and stop checking email and social media. This lets your brain know it’s okay to turn off for a while. Consider reading before bed or listening to calming music or an audiobook instead of binge-watching Love is Blind until you fall asleep.
  3. Move your body. Right now, a lot of us have necessarily become more sedentary than usual. We’re on the couch, in our beds, or seated at desks all day long. Pry yourself off the sofa and go for a walk! Or, if you feel especially stir-crazy, go for a jog, find some yoga flow videos on YouTube, or kick it up a notch in your living room with some dance cardio or CrossFit circuits. Anything you can do to stay active during this time will clear your head, keep you healthier, improve sleep, and feel more yourself. This is a great time to head to a local park or walk around your neighborhood.
  4. Do Your Best for This Season! We know that with the pass/fail announcement, it’s tempting to just coast for the rest of the semester. We would urge you to choose the path of integrity, which will look different for each student depending on the circumstances. Do yourself and your professors a favor: honor their time and yours by working hard, resting hard, and sticking to the commitments you made before the world turned upside down. This might mean writing the most incredible prose in the time you now have, or it may mean committing to simply completing assignments if your home life is a bit hectic. Whatever “best” means for you right now, do that! You’ll thank yourself in the long run for choosing the path of integrity, rather than the path of least resistance.
  5. Schedule an appointment with the University Writing Center! We know you all still have papers to write, job applications to fill out, and personal statements to craft, so schedule an appointment with one of our tutors! The UWC has gone fully online, but we are just as eager to help you write to the best of your ability. Head on over to mywconline.com/ to set up an appointment today. We can’t wait to work with you.

Do you have ways that you’ve built some normalcy back into your life? Have you found rhythms or schedules to help you through your days? Have you picked up any fun new hobbies or skills to pass the time? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Comment below with your thoughts on the suggestions above, as well as any fun tips or tricks you’ve found to make life feel a little more familiar.

About Us

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Our Story

The Baylor University Writing Center is a relaxed and welcoming place where any Baylor student, faculty, or staff member seeking individualized help with writing can come. We work with students at all academic years, at all skill levels, on a variety of topics, and in a range of genres to become confident, critical readers of their own writing. We also work with faculty seeking feedback on their writing or who would like us to give presentations to their classes.

At the Writing Center, we offer free personal consulting in all areas of writing. Whether you want a reader for a final draft, to brainstorm ideas, or to discuss an entire assignment, the Writing Center can help. We take the time to talk about your writing so that you can become a better writer, reviewer, and editor of your own work. We are qualified readers of print-based, digital, and multimodal compositions, including academic, technical, professional, creative, and business writing.

Some of the print-based documents we review include essays, research papers, lab reports, job applications, and proposals. We also consult over digital, visual, and multimodal compositions, including audio and video essays, brochures, flyers, websites, digital stories, and posters. We also help with issues particular to ESL writers.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Baylor University Writing Center is to assist undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines to become more effective, more confident writers; to make writing a more meaningful, productive, and enjoyable process; and to increase the visibility and value of writing, across our entire campus community. We believe that writing is a powerful tool not only for communicating existing ideas but also for discovering new ones; that learning to write is a life-long process; and that all writers benefit from sharing work in progress with knowledgeable, attentive readers. The Writing Center tutors consult with writers in supportive and nonjudgmental ways to facilitate self-discovery and inspire confidence as writers learn, grow, and take ownership of their words and ideas. Our methods reflect our respect for the individual writer, whose talents, voice, and goals are central to all our endeavors.
The staff of the Writing Center seek to achieve this mission through face-to-face tutorial sessions—in-person or online—which are designed to help students, both native and non-native speakers of English, with writing projects at all stages of the composition process—from generating ideas and drafting to organizing, revising, editing, and formatting—whether working on academic papers, technical writing, multimodal or digital writing, job application materials, or theses and dissertations. The Writing Center also endeavors to support and augment the instruction of writing and to encourage the practice and appreciation of good writing and thinking on the BU campus. As such, we design class presentations and conduct workshops over a variety of topics related to writing to meet specific needs of BU student writers, faculty, and individual courses.