Category: Writing in the Disciplines (WID)

Writing Tips and Advice: Our Online Resources Can Help You Started, Write a Draft, and Figure Out Citation Styles.

Staying safe this year means that we are all often working away from campus and the classroom. The University Writing Center is open for online appointments this semester, so you can get feedback on your writing wherever you are and you can find out more about that on our website. Even so, we know there are times that you want support for your writing or answers to writing questions, but it may not be convenient to make an appointment (say, it’s midnight and you’d really like some ideas about how to write a stronger introduction to your paper). We have a wide range of resources on our website to help you with writing questions and issues. Are you stuck getting started? Or needing to understand citation styles? Or trying to figure out how to incorporate sources effectively in your writing? Or wanting to sharpen your understanding of active and passive voice? On our website you can choose from more than 75 online resources from Writing FAQs,to Video Workshops to Handouts about writing issues. If you go to our website and explore, you’ll find ideas that will help you whether you’re a first-year student or working on your doctoral dissertation. Here are a few highlights:

Getting Started

Getting started on a writing assignment can be intimidating or frustrating and, consequently, we often put off work on writing because we not sure how or where to begin. Take a look at our Writing FAQs on how to figure our your assignment prompt and brainstorming strategies you can use to get your ideas flowing. It may also be helpful to use our handout on Writing About Reading for some strategies about how to take effective notes about what you’re reading that will help prepare you for starting your draft. We also have an infographic on the Library Research DIY page on Getting Started Drafting. If you’ve been given a digital assignment, such as a video or podcast, take a look at our handout on Getting Started with Digital Assignments.

Using Sources When You Write

Academic writing means being part of a scholarly conversation, which means drawing using sourcesfrom other research for evidence, ideas, as well as to establish your credibility. Our videos on how to use sources in your writing can help you with Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing, as well as making sure you’re Avoiding Plagiarism. We also having a handout on Using Sources which includes lots of examples. It’s important to connect your ideas to the research you are reading, and for some ideas about how to make those connections in your writing, see our video series on Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts.

Drafting and Revising

When it’s time to start your draft, we have advice that can help you. If you’re not quite sure what your instructor means when asking for more of an “argument” in your draft, fingerstake a look at our Writing FAQ on creating an argument in your paper. Maybe you’ve been working on a draft, but you’re not meeting the page requirement, here are some idea for how to get more details and ideas into both your research and personal writing. You’ll also find good writing tips in our handouts about how to write stronger, Introductions, Conclusions, and Transitions. Finally, when you’ve received feedback on your writing from either your instructor, friends, or the University Writing Center, we’d suggest our handout on Using Written Feedback When Revising or our Writing FAQ on strategies for doing more substantial revisions of your draft.

Citation Styles and Grammar and Style

If you’re new to using citation styles, or just want to make sure you’re getting things APA videoright, take look at our APA Video Workshops and MLA Video Workshops or our handouts on APA , Chicago, and MLA styles. If you’re unsure about how some of your individual sentences sound, we have a Writing FAQ on how to improve your grammar and punctuation use as well as many handouts on issues of usage and style, including Articles, Commas and Semicolons, Parallel Sentence Structures, and Active and Passive Voice.

Check out all these resources and more. You can also find lots of good writing advice on this blog from the University Writing Center staff. And, of course, we hope you make an appointment and let us help you make your writing as strong as it can be!

 

 

Building a Community of Writers – Wherever They May Be: Dissertation Writing Retreat 2020

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Every  May since 2012 the University Writing Center has held a Dissertation Writing Retreat  during which we have welcomed a group of doctoral scholars into the Writing Center for a week focused on writing and talking about writing. It is one of the highlights of our spring and one of the great pleasures every year is the way a group of individual scholars who have never met before coalesce into a community of writers. I had always thought that part of the recipe that helped that happen was the physical presence of the writers in the University Writing Center space. Talking with other writers, sharing lunch, and even just being in the same room writing together, created an environment in which a supportive community of writers developed, and often carried on well after the Retreat.

When we knew six weeks ago that in-person events would no longer be allowed on campus this spring and summer, we decided that we would go ahead with the Dissertation Writing Retreat as a virtual, online event. While there was much to work out

DWR Day 1 2020
Our morning check-in meeting with all the writers.

about logistics and planning to make this change, one of our concerns was also whether we would be able to foster a sense of connection and community in a virtual retreat.

Still, we planned the Retreat to have essentially the same elements as before. The Retreat offers writers working on their dissertations time to focus on their writing and the chance to get feedback on their writing and to talk about issues connected to dissertation writing. In this year’s Retreat, as before, we provided daily, individual writing consultations for each writer. In addition, each day had morning and afternoon check-in meetings to set goals for the day and talk about accomplishments. We also had daily small group discussions at lunchtime about writing issues such as structuring a dissertation, staying motivated, responding to committee feedback, and writing during a pandemic. While the elements were the same as in previous years, there is no doubt that the dynamic was not always the same. Even so, what did not change is that people were still engaged and excited about working and talking about their projects and had productive weeks, both in terms of what they wrote and in terms of refining their writing processes and strategies. By the week, everyone was tired, but part of a community of writers. This year’s Retreat illustrated that it is the commitment and openness of the people involved that determines how a community will grow, more than their physical proximity. It was heartening and exciting to see.

The credit for the success of the Retreat, as always, goes to the hard work of the writers – 14 doctoral students from nine different disciplines – as well as the hard work Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and all of the University Writing Center staff who planned and took part in the week. In addition, our thanks go to The Graduate School for once again providing funding for the Retreat. My thanks to them all.

It’s always best, though, to hear from the people involved about how the Retreat went for them. Here are a few thoughts from writers and consultants about the week.

First, the writers:

Aubrey Mojesky, Biology: During the dissertation writing retreat, I learned to be more intentional with my writing by looking at the function of a piece of writing, not just the content. The retreat also connected me to a community of writers with similar goals and an understanding of this unique and challenging project. The retreat allowed me to feel more supported in writing my dissertation, particularly during a very difficult and isolating time.

Diane Zero, Public Health: Thank you very much for this experience. I learned so much from my consultant; on how to improve the technical   aspects of the writing process, and to see the big picture of my dissertation. Working with Liz helped me visualize the ‘so what’ part of the dissertation. It helped me articulate need for my proposed research and possible important changes in practice stemming from my work. Because of this, my dissertation is much improved. Since social distancing began, I have struggled as a student and as a member of the University of Louisville community. By the end of this week, both are back- I am excited to move forward!

Sunita Khanal, Biology: Dissertation Writing Retreat 2020 was very helpful to me. I participated in this retreat during my final semester. That’s why, I was a bit worried when I joined thinking if this will be supportive for me or will it just chew away my dissertation writing time. However, this retreat ultimately proved beneficial to me. So, I can say that you can participate in this retreat, irrespective of the phase of dissertation writing you are in. Even though the retreat was held virtually this time, writing center staff worked around the clock to make this a beneficial experience. Their dedication is not only seen in technical arrangements, but also through their eagerness to address any questions/concerns. Workshops held at noon as well as one-on-one consultation were very helpful and interactive. Overall, I had very productive week. Big thanks to writing center faculty, consultants, staff and all the team for the opportunity.

Greg Clark, Comparative Humanities: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was very helpful to me.  The overall structure for the week and daily tasks allowed me accomplish important work.  I will also be able to take skills I gained from the workshop and apply them to the remainder of my work on my dissertation.

From the consultants:

Megen Boyett, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: I came into the week a little nervous about a virtual set-up. I love working with writers face-to-face and seeing the community that forms during the week. I knew that this week wouldn’t be that, and even though I said to other people “this will just be different; it’ll have different strengths,” what I meant was “this will be better than nothing.”  In fact, a virtual retreat does have different strengths. Where the joy of an in-person retreat is the in-person community and solidarity, during the virtual retreat, I had a chance to connect deeply with writers as individuals. I saw their workspaces and discussed literature reviews as they fixed lunch for kids. Our talk about writing processes felt placed: rather than being in the writing center, which can feel like a “break” from the outside world, writers were in their homes, and so our discussions included the material things in their day-to-day lives, like mealtimes, toddler and spouse schedules, and nap breaks. Each person took the writing work of the week seriously, accomplishing astounding amounts of work in a five-day span. I wonder if, as they move out of “retreat” mode, it won’t actually be easier to implement the practices they started in this virtual space, having already done the work of integrating “real life” and intensive writing.

Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center: This year’s retreat, my third working as a consultant, was unique to say the least. In some ways, the retreat looked nothing like my previous ones, but in other ways, it felt like returning once more to a fitting conclusion to another academic year. Much of this year’s retreat was unprecedented, on both a global and a personal level. My writers were dealing with unexpected changes to their research plans and writing timelines because of COVID-19, and I never anticipated that as a consultant I’d one day help writers figure out how to discuss a global pandemic in the methods section of their dissertations. This year we were also working from home, which meant glimpses into the chaos of our quarantining lives. For me, this looked (and sounded, sometimes noisily) like the presence of small children, significant others, and even maintenance workers. Still, in the end, tutoring with a three month old baby in my arms to the staccato banging of construction workers re-roofing my writer’s apartment building resulted not in frustration or anger, but in patience, grace, and empathy. No matter the circumstances, these emotions always resonate in each dissertation writing retreat: writers learn the balance between endurance and self-care, and a community of emerging scholars both commiserates and lifts each other up. How wonderful that a retreat without a space or even the physical presence of others can still create that magic.

Olalekan Adepoju, incoming Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was a satisfying experience for me (and my assigned writers) as it practically connected me to the varieties of struggles encountered during the dissertation writing phase of doctoral program. One of the many concerns that came up during consultations was the need to establish authorial identity in writing, which most graduate students struggles with because of the student-scholar identity crisis. Discussions between me and my assigned writers highlight that one of the possible strategies to resolving this is to consciously produce drafts that are written in active voice (even if such draft has to go through multiple revisions). We concluded that it is imperative to approach dissertation writing from this perspective as it will help to cultivate writerly confidence and establish authorial stance.

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center: For the virtual version of the dissertation writing retreat, writers were asked to write and post their daily goals and a recap each day. Any other year, this would be a verbal sharing, which created a sense of immediacy; however, as the week went on, it was powerful to scroll through and see the accumulation of everyone’s goals and accomplishments. They had created an archive and record of their work and experience throughout the week. Having worked with writers in-person during last year’s dissertation writing retreat, I saw the way lunch hour and breaks helped people to form bonds and connect. It was something I had worried would be lost this year–it’s hard to form fast bonds in virtual spaces–but every writer I interacted this week with commented on the sense of community and working together helped them to focus. I think it speaks to an innate part of what the dissertation writing retreat is–it creates a sense of solidarity, both among their UofL peers and in the writing dissertation process.

 

 

 

 

 

99% Invisible: APA 7th Edition & the Work of Academic Citation Styles

99% Invisible: APA 7th Edition & the Work of Academic Citation Styles

By: Cassie Book, Associate Director

Over the past few months, we’ve been educating ourselves and updating our resources for the latest edition of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (7th Edition).

two photos, stacked horizontally. Top photo is of a portable screen with a Power Point slide that says "Out with the Old, In with the New." Bottom photo is taken from the back of the room with the screen. A woman stands in front of horse shoe arranged tables with six people watching her
In February, Cassie educated our staff on the major changes from APA 6th to 7th edition. Because we serve the entire University community, switching from one edition of a style guide to another isn’t as simple as throwing away the old and embracing the new. Our consultants are now able to assist writers with both 6th and 7th editions.

This update from APA seemed like a good time to reflect upon the role of citation and academic style in writing. This blog post overviews the major changes introduced by APA 7th edition, while at the same time explaining a bit about the role and purpose of these components. For more details and visuals, watch our video on the changes, which is a great companion to this post.

Title page(s)

A title page is the first part of your paper that your reader will see. Even though the saying goes you “should not judge a book by its cover,” everyone knows that readers will draw conclusions about writing based on a book cover, or a paper’s title page. In essence, formatting is a type of visual rhetoric. Correctly adhering to an academic formatting style demonstrates that your writing is part of a community. You speak the language of the insiders. Not following the formatting guidelines can, unfortunately, flag you as an outsider.

APA 6th edition’s title page included the anger-inducing “Running head” in the page header. The frustrating aspect was that the title page header was different than the rest of the pages. 7th edition actually has two options for a title page, student and professional. In both versions, the running head is the same on every page, including the title page. For students, the only element in the header is the page number!

Level Headings

Level headings are another aspect of APA that often gives writers a headache. However, level headings are super useful for transitioning from one part of a paper to another and giving a paper a logical order. And again, they contribute to the visual rhetoric of an APA formatted paper, keeping it looking orderly and standardized. If you want to divide up your paper into sections (e.g. methods, results, discussion), you must follow APA’s formatting guidelines to label the sections. Here is an example of a circumstance in which a writer would employ level one and two headings:  A writer divides the methodology section, a level one heading, into subsections, such as participant recruitment, sample size, and instruments. The subsections would be level two headings. APA has changed the formatting for level headings for levels 3-5. This is the new chart with the changes highlighted:

Level Headings
The formatting for levels 3-5 has changed from APA 6th to 7th edition. Click here to access a screen-reader accessible chart.

However, perhaps the biggest change is that the level one heading format, which looks like this,

Centered, Bold, Title Case 

is now the format for the title on your title page, label for “Abstract” on the abstract page (if you need one), title of your paper on the first body page, and the label for “References” on the References Page.

In-Text Citation

In-text citation is so important because it uniformly gives others’ credit for their words, ideas, and research and allows you, as a writer, to engage actively and ethically with others’ ideas. APA 7th edition has made an important change to in-text citation guidelines. When citing a source that has three or more authors, write use the first author’s name plus “et al.” In 6th edition, APA instructed writers to include all authors, up to five, the first time the source was used. Some journals, like Technical Communication Quarterly, have pushed back against this change because, they argue, it erases important contributions of important authors.

This is probably a good time to remind you to always follow any instructions from your professor or journal that differ from the official style guide. It is quite common for professors and journals to want you to do something different than the style guide.

Reference Entries

Your references page is where you list all the sources you cited in the body of your paper. The purpose is to give your readers the complete information about a source, so they can learn about what kinds of sources you’re using and potentially locate those sources themselves. And, again, it credits those sources for their work.

The reason why the requirements for reference entries seems to be constantly changing is because digital sources and the internet constantly challenge existing templates, which were often based on qualities of print sources. I recommend using our APA 7th edition handout on in-text citation and references to learn exactly how 7th edition affects websites, Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), publisher location, and multiple authors.

Pronouns

The 2019 Word of the Year from Merriam-Webster was “they!” Why? Although “they” has been used as a singular pronoun for centuries, many individuals and organizations have recently advocated for broader acceptance of “they” as a singular pronoun. APA is officially joining the chorus, which is a big deal. APA points out that using “they” as singular is a question of bias-free language. And, I would add, using it maintains a respectful stance toward any humans referenced in your writing. Here’s exactly how APA puts it:

When referring to individuals whose identified pronouns are not known or when the gender of a generic or hypothetical person is irrelevant within the context, use the singular ‘they’ to avoid making assumptions about an individual’s gender. (APA, 2020, p. 140)

Conclusion

Citation styles, especially APA, can certainly be frustrating because of what seem like endless tedious details. (And then they change on you!) However, knowing the reasons that such guidelines exist, and why they change, may help ease the citation and formatting burden a bit. Plus, you always have friendly writing center consultants and administrators here to guide you.

References

American Psychological Association (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th Ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000

American Psychological Association (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th Ed.).

How a Writing Center Consultant Prepares for the Next Appointment

Writing centers are one of the few places in a university setting where every single Michelle Buntainstudent can be assisted. Every student has to write, and every kind of writing is welcome at the University Writing Center. But, given all the variables that come with working at a university of over 21,000 students, how does a writing center consultant prepare for their appointments?

At the University of Louisville Writing Center, we pride ourselves on our accessibility to every writer we encounter. We have trained, studied, and practiced our skills to make sure that your experience in the writing center is the best it can be. This includes:

  1. Taking a class on Writing Center studies: Consultants take a class that teaches us about writing center theory, ethics, and strategies for the teaching of writing.
  2. Reflecting on appointments with our colleagues and our supervisors: We have formal and informal reflections on appointments with our fellow consultants as well as our supervisors, including the Director of the Writing Center.
  3. Discussing new ways to approach the teaching of writing: We are always sharing new ideas about how to approach our sessions with writers. Our best tips and strategies are often the result of what we have learned from each other.
  4. Staying up-to-date on citation methods: Citation methods can be confusing, especially since they are updated every few years. We study the new versions and update our handouts on different citation styles. Just last week our Associate Director gave a lecture on the 7th edition of APA!
  5. Mentally preparing ourselves before each appointment: Before the day begins, we open WC Online and look over the scheduled appointments. Each appointment form tells us what the writer wants to work on, so we make sure that we are comfortable with addressing the writer’s particular concerns before the appointment. If the writer is working on a kind of assignment or genre of writing that is less familiar, we will do research and ask our colleagues for advice. This preparation helps us begin a session with a good sense of what the end product should look like.

When a session is over and we return to the consultants’ office, we like to share our successful strategies and ask each other for advice. No session goes perfectly, but we take our work seriously and we constantly strive to do better. When you come to the University Writing Center, know that we are prepared and excited to help every writer achieve their goals!

What’s Left for History?

Kendyl Harmeling, Writing Consultant 

In reflecting on this past semester, my first as an English student and as a graduate student, all I’ve learned, all I’ve taken in and digested, I find myself sorely missing the field of my Bachelor’s degree: I miss History; I miss reading ancient works; I miss talking about Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; I miss it all, the whole lot of it. I changed disciplines between undergrad and grad because of my passion for Writing Center studies, so I left my history studies…in history (cheesy, I know).

My academic voice as a historian was pronounced, articulate, and confident. Being able to synthesize ethics and past events was my favorite part of writing theory for that discipline. But, I often felt out of touch with modernity in writing History. As such, Historical theory is debated around the idea of the present age—do we study history to learn or do we study it to better off ourselves today. I loved this question. It’s one of the unanswerables. I had a professor once tell me that the purpose of research is finding the question you can spend you life trying to answer. At this time last year, I thought I’d be at Yale studying for my PhD in Early American Feminist Rhetoric, and reading Captivity Narratives from 1660 and trying to understand the mechanisms of society which both bolstered and limited female agency in the church. Instead, I’m in a Master’s program in Kentucky, attempting still to learn the mechanisms of English Studies and trying to make myself as a scholar fit into that mold.

I started this reflection in my childhood home. Sitting on my couch, next to my wood burning stove, and thinking about the decisions I’ve made in the past year which have put me in this spot today. I’m writing it now in my studio apartment, sitting in bed, under 14 foot high ceilings and heavy wooden doors hanging off-kilter in their frames. I so miss History, but English is a new language to learn – or to learn better, and confidently.

One question we were repeatedly asked this semester was, “what is English studies?” and I’m not sure I can answer this question yet. Easily, it could be defined as the study of literature. But, History does this too. English could then be the attempting to understand a society through the written texts of a time, including video, art, etc., but… History does this too. I don’t dare suggest these two fields as the same, because that would be an affront to unique scholarship in both, yet both claim Foucault as a founding theorist, both use Frye, Derrida, textual analyses, and conversation.

Perhaps, then, the difference is that History deals in fact and objectivity. English deals in emotion and subjectivity. But even this delineation is too contrite. I once read a work called, The Myth of Religious Violence: The Roots of Modern Secularism by William Cavanaugh. Of course, the work itself doesn’t apply to this consideration, but in the work, Cavanaugh suggests that it’s impossible to define religion. He writes that drawing lines too tightly leaves out non-theistic religions such as Buddhism, but drawing lines too broadly lets in social structures like Capitalism into “religion.” I suggest English studies as the same: un-pin-point-able. Maybe this is because most of my training as a scholar was done by historical method, but c’est la vie.

Where does this leave me? Again, I’m not sure. For a reflective entry, I find myself knowing what I am not more than knowing what I am. In History, we call this an “ethnically differentiated classification,” where knowing your own identify comes through the “I am not’s” and not through the “I am’s.” In regard to my future in the field, I don’t even know what I’m “not.” Outside of the academic, I joke with my friends that if I was ever to leave the academy, I’d proofread restaurant menus. While certainly not a money-producing vocation, it would be fun. But I have a while between now and doing that proofreading job. So for now, I’m in the academic. Where I love being. It took me a long time when I was a bartender to learn how to make certain drinks, and learning this new field will be the same. And luckily, I know how to make a Manhattan to help get me through that process.

Spelling in the Digital Age

Lauren Cline-Plumlee, Writing Consultant

I don’t know about you, but whenever the topic of spelling comes up, I’m immediately taken back to the days of taking weekly spelling and vocabulary tests in elementary school.  My mind always goes to one particular day of fifth grade when my teacher had a mock spelling bee in our class to see which students would actually go on to the real school-wide competition.

I was one of three left standing—one competitor and one alternate would advance—and my word was “ocean.” To this day, I vividly remember the embarrassment I felt when, even though I knew good and well how that word was spelled, the letters “o-s-h-u-n” came out of my mouth. While the two remaining students continued spelling to determine who would be in the spelling bee and who would be the alternate, I sat back down at my desk, stared at my clasped hands, and tried to keep the blood from rushing to my cheeks by sheer force of will.

As I sat there halfway listening to the goings-on around me, I rationalized my mistake by saying to myself, “the way I spelled that word makes logical sense, even more than the correct spelling.” However, traumatized young Lauren became determined to never feel ashamed of incorrect spelling again. Even now, whenever I realize that there is a typo in a tweet or Facebook post, I feel compelled go back and fix it, or I even sometimes delete the comment altogether.

I find myself saying “i before e except after c” to myself multiple times a day, and I’m always THAT person who will correct social media acquaintances on the uses of your/you’re, two/to/too, or their/their/they’re even though I probably shouldn’t. I’ve taken enough grammar and language classes to know that standardized spelling is a relatively recent development in recorded history, but I still can’t seem to get past my so-called spelling anxiety.

I promise I don’t think about this topic obsessively, but I may or may not have been scrolling through Twitter one day in the not-so-distant past to avoid doing my schoolwork when I got lost in a maze of consecutive pages and found Scottish Twitter. Seeing the use of technically incorrect spelling to reflect regional dialects in this forum was extremely thought-provoking, and it ultimately prompted me to reflect on the evolving conventions of the English language.

It is, perhaps, common knowledge that the spelling reform of Noah Webster’s dictionary effectively differentiated American English from its British counterpart in the years following the Revolutionary War. In his attempt to simplify English spelling by removing double or silent letters, words like colour, honour, flavour, and mould became color, honor, flavor and mold; publick and musick became public and music; travelled and cancelled became traveled and canceled; programme became program; defence, offence, and pretence became defense, offense, and pretense; organise became organize; theatre and centre became theater and center; and cheque became check, to name a few.

However, not all of the suggested new spellings ended up sticking. Webster also proposed “masheen” for “machine” and “ake” for “ache.” Benjamin Franklin wanted to change “alphabet” to “alfabet.” Theodore Roosevelt suggested that “kissed” should be spelled “kist.” George Bernard Shaw even advocated for removing apostrophes from contractions—for example, “don’t” would be “dont.”

Although there is technically nothing wrong with any of these spellings, as most people would still be able to understand their meanings, standardized spelling has been argued to make reading comprehension easier. It has even been said that the spelling reform of Noah Webster has made American English easier to read for dyslexic individuals and to learn for those of whom are not native English-speakers. So, if spelling reform makes English easier, then why did it seemingly stop decades ago?

Although the reformation of standardized spelling has apparently been put on the back burner, shortened forms of common words are increasingly being used in a variety of settings. Think about it, have you ever seen a “drive through” sign? No, because “drive thru” is just as effective and even more efficient. Similarly, it’s “Dunkin’ Donuts” not “Dunking Doughnuts.” Even more notably than in advertising, the misspelling of words for brevity’s sake can be seen just about every time you open up your phone. Although I’m a stickler for correct spelling and grammar in media-based communications, I can’t deny ever using “u” for “you,” “ur” for “your” or “you’re,” “k” or “ok” for “okay,” and “2” for “to,” “too,” or “two.”

Maybe this is simply one of those “everyone else is doing it” things, or it could possibly just be to save time, but this new-age strain of spelling reform seems to have been brought on by the necessity of fitting within a character limit. When texting was first introduced, there was a 160-word character limit and phones only had numerical keypads with T9. Once cell phones began to be made with full keyboards, abbreviated phrases like lol, ily, brb, btw, fyi, and tbh were already in popular use.
The character-limit mentality is continually reinforced by popular social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, as well as online-dating applications, which give users just enough space on their profiles to include short blurbs about themselves. Additionally, Twitter still sets a character limit on users’ tweets, although it was raised from 140 to 280 a few years ago.

A quick Google search revealed that the average tweet only takes up 33 of those 280 characters. Since our use of language is progressively becoming shorter and more straightforward, there aren’t as many complex sentences that need to be littered with commas and such so that they aren’t misunderstood. So, when trying to comply with a set character limit, punctuation is almost always the first to go. Because the question being asked is always inherent in the grammatical structure of an interrogative sentence, question marks are not necessary in limited-character communication.

The use of apostrophes in contractions is also becoming increasingly obsolete in social media settings—it seems as if the aforementioned Mr. Shaw was onto something after all? Furthermore, it’s become so uncommon for a period to appear in a text or tweet that they’ve actually developed a negative connotation. I’ve talked to many people about this development, and it would seem that when we get angry or upset, we tend to revert back to the traditional conventions of spelling and grammar we were taught in school.

Therefore, complex sentences with proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling are almost solely reserved for academic essays and emotional situations.
Growing up in America during this boom of technological advancement, I’m obviously very familiar with the customs that have come to define media platforms. However, we are so transfixed with our own little cultural bubbles that it’s unfortunately all too easy to hit “sensory overload” before we even think to look beyond our own perceptions of normalcy. As I mentioned earlier, I was actively trying to be unproductive when I happened to stumble upon a network of Twitter-users from a culture not entirely like my own.

Although Scotland is still a Western civilization and I definitely could have looked further into the Twitter-sphere, I was very much intrigued by the idea of spelling according one’s own dialect. Being from the Southeast United States, seeing “em” and “ol” rather than “them” and “old” is totally commonplace, and sometimes people will leave the “g” off of a word ending in “ing” to add character, but that’s about the extent of the average Southern American’s use of eye dialect—as far as I know, that is. Also, in my studies of English literature, I’ve seen eye dialects be appropriated to patronize certain cultures, ethnicities, or races all too often.

However, the use of eye dialect by Scottish Twitter-users seemed to be a celebration of their linguistic heritage. This could very well be the next frontier in regard to spelling reform, as people are seemingly becoming more comfortable with spelling variation. Furthermore, the use of eye dialect is possible in this digital age precisely because of the enhanced possibility of communication between different cultures. I knew that “oot” meant “out,” “a” could mean “I” or “of,” “av” meant “I’ve,” “ma” meant “my,” “dinny” could mean “do not” or “don’t,” “tae” meant “to,” and “wi” meant “with” because I know what a Scottish accent generally sounds like.

It could be problematic if everyone just began spelling words how they pronounced them, as the phonetic representation of a word in one dialect may not be phonetic for another, but what I’m proposing here is simply that we try to be more inclusive of speech patterns different than our own.

The Rhetoric of Your Dating Profile

Cat Sar, Writing Consultant

Bumble. Tinder. Hinge. Clover. Match. Coffee Meets Bagel

Dating profiles might not come to mind when you think of writing, but even a short blurb about yourself is a type of text. In fact, all parts of a profile on a dating app—basic information about your name, age and location, photos, optional questions, and even the decision to link other social media profiles to your account—are all part of a “text” that can be read and analyzed.

Think of your profile as an argumentative piece. The goal of the argument is to convince someone to engage with you. The type of engagement may depend on the specific platform that you are using. In this case, the evidence that supports your argument consists of all the components of a profile that were previously mentioned. In order to craft a successful dating profile, you’ll need to take into consideration the rhetorical elements involved in writing an argument. Hmm…sounds a lot like your first-year English course?

Let’s break down your “argument” by each part of the profile, starting with basic information: name, age and location. Don’t think that these pull as much weight as your photos? Think of it this way: if you are tempted to fictionalize this portion of your profile—if you are lying about the very base facts about yourself, why should anyone believe that any of your profile is real? The basic information of your profile is the start to building credibility (cough cough ethos). Although online dating and app usage has become extremely popular, we live in the age of catfishing and stranger danger.

Trust is a major factor in dating apps, and in relationships. You should be honest about these facts (and to be honest myself, I shouldn’t have to tell you that). When a house is being built, the foundation is laid first. Everything else is built upon this base. When it comes to dating apps, trust (that the person looks like their pictures, that they are the age that they claim, etc.) is the foundation that you are asking someone to build any interaction upon.

Next, there are the photos. Again, these should be photos of you, and they should be recent photos. Seems obvious. The majority of your photos should be solo shots, or pictures in which it is obvious which person you are. When people are swiping through profiles, they don’t want to have to stop to search for you in every picture. Similar to the importance of clarity in writing, a straightforward visual directs your audience to the point quickly and concisely.

The content of the photos is where the major decisions lie. The photos section of your profile is where emotions arise most readily. For example, when you use a travel picture, you are making the claim that you are adventurous, or at the very least have been on a vacation. A photo of you playing a sport suggests that you are active. A picture of you and a dog? Cue the heart-melt! In this case, a picture is worth a thousand immediate affective responses that will sway your audience to see you in a certain light, depending on what kind of photos you include. Choose wisely.

You’ll be tempted to post your highlight reel—the most interesting photos where you look the best. And you should prioritize the pictures in which you are ~ feeling yourself. But your pictures should also be an accurate representation of who you are. Pathos—emotional appeals (think the involuntary aww that puppies elicit)—are weak without a person’s truth to back it up.

Remember, everything that you include in your app is telling those who view your profile what you think is important in a partner. The (sometimes optional) short answer section is the most direct place in which this occurs. By choosing certain things to include above others, like: are you physically active? what’s your horoscope? ideal first date?, you are showcasing what you consider to be characteristics that will attract a partner, and telling that potential partner what they should find desirable about you.

On one hand, you are saying: these are my most important qualities—the qualities that I believe will draw other’s interests. On the other, you are saying: this is what I find important to advertise on this platform—I am likely to be interested in others who prioritize the same characteristics. The type of language in these responses should reflect your personality and your intention.

Lots of slang, emojis, or typical “text talk” will invoke a different assumption about you than one-word responses, which in turn will have different implications than longer, more poetic answers. (What these assumptions are, as well as their accuracy, will reflect certain biases of your audience. This blog post does not aim to address the consequences of such assumptions, but it would be remiss not to mention that dating apps and profiles are as susceptible to bias and assumption as any in-person interaction.) Basically, your choice of words matters.

Has this blog post ruined the casual ease of swiping through strangers in hopes of finding true love? Maybe. Hopefully it has also helped you to think more deeply about how we go about connecting with others, and offered some clarity about the kinds of arguments we make for ourselves. When we claim that we are able to help with any kind of writing at the University Writing Center, we really mean it.

Converting Anxiety to Enthusiasm in Community Writing

Haley Salo, Writing Consultant

Sharing writing can be challenging, especially when you’re joining an established community like a writing center or creative writing group.

It can be difficult to navigate the established norms and find just the right niche for your writing. Yet, every writer in the community has gone through those same experiences. It’s also okay to shop around a bit. Each writing community is unique, and some may be more or less accessible than others.

When I was a teenager, I started looking for an online, forum based, play-by-post fantasy role playing game (we’ll just call it an RPG). I wanted a place to create my own characters and explore their lives with the characters of other writers. Much to my dismay, some of the communities had hundreds of members, book-length lore files, and thousand-word posts. You could even be kicked from the community for being inactive for a week or two. Nope! Too scary. I ended up joining a very low-key forum, specifically picked for its small community and short posts.

I didn’t say very much at first. I would sign in, post, and leave for the day. That was about all of the social writing interaction I could handle; I did not, in any way, want to be around when the other members read my post. But guess what: no one complained. The stories continued on their merry way. I did not, in fact, derail the writing community.

Encouraged by this turn of events, I started talking to the other members through the forum’s chat box. The chat box took the stress out of socializing because it was so informal. There was no sense of finality when hitting the submit button like there was with a regular post. It also humanized the other members; they stopped being their characters and became themselves, and gradually they became friends, too.

At this point, the RPG really became fun. The social relationships improved the stories we were writing. We got to discuss where we wanted the stories to go and how we were going to get them there. Or, we complained when our characters refused to cooperate. We also started to recognize each other’s writing styles and got to watch as everyone’s writing naturally improved. We never set out to become better writers, though. It happened naturally, through time, practice, and experimentation.

I’d like to say that this experience made it easy to join new communities later on, but it didn’t. However, that didn’t stop me from going through the process again. I continue to make friends and learn through all of the writing communities I’m part of. There will always be some degree of anxiety when entering a new group, and that’s okay. Just try to keep in mind that writing communities tend to be very open and welcoming; we all have the same anxieties and reservations.

How to Support a Writer (When You Don’t Work in the Writing Center)

Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center

On this blog, we talk a lot about writing from the perspective of the writer–preparations for writing, how to navigate writing, research for and revision of writing, etc.Aubrie Cox  But as writers, we have to remember that sometimes we’re also asked to be readers, and sooner or later, someone we know will ask us to read their writing. Within the University Writing Center, we have certain practices and pedagogies we follow, but even if you’re not a writing center tutor, or in a peer review setting, there are things you can do to support the writers around you

Read Closely and Attentively

If a writer asks you to read their writing, it’s because they trust you. The best way you can honor that trust is by reading what they’ve written. Read closely. Be attentive. You might be the first person the writer is willing to share with, and sharing one’s writing can be unnerving. Even if you feel you can do nothing else, you can commit to what the writer has asked and be present for their words. Let them know when you finish.

Consider What Kind of Feedback the Writer Wants (and You’re Willing to Give)

While some writers will want honest, critical feedback, others may just want to share, or a few kind words. Before you start reading, ask what the writer is looking for. Not only will this help you to prepare, but it will show the writer that you are taking their writing, and their feelings, seriously.

A writer has the right to ask for a specific kind of feedback, but you’re also not obligated to give it. If what the writer is asking for may be hard for you–either because of the amount of work, or you have a hard time not commenting–be honest about it. The writer will decide whether or not they still want you to read their work.

Be Honest in Your Feedback

Even if someone is looking only for encouragement and positive feedback, don’t praise anything that doesn’t deserve to be praised, or be hyperbolic in your reaction. You may want to be nice, but undue praise isn’t going to help anyone. A self-aware writer will know their writing isn’t perfect, and your comments may seem as though you’re not taking it seriously; a less aware writer may be slower to work if they don’t know there’s room for improvement. You can be honest and still be kind. Find at least one thing you like about the work. If the writer does want constructive feedback, read knowing the work is in progress. Don’t forget, constructive criticism means reading with the question: What does this writing have the potential to become? How can the writer build upon what they’ve started?

 Go to Events the Writer Participates In

 If a writer you know participates in an open mic or reading, show up. Your presence as a friendly face will mean the world. Sharing writing with an individual can be intimidating; sharing with a full room can be potentially overwhelming. Or worse: sharing with an empty room can be disheartening. This goes beyond reading the writer’s work, but it’s the kind of support that will help any writer feel acknowledged.

 If the Writer Gets Published, Share Their Work

 Like attending a reading, this can encourage and support a writer beyond giving them feedback on their work. If the writing is available for purchase and you can afford it, that’s great, but if you’re on a budget or the work is free, the next best thing is to share their work on social media. You can combine this with some of the other tips. For example, consider pulling your favorite quote to post with a link to the work. This can help encourage others to read as well.

Supporting a writer isn’t just about celebrating the work they’ve done, but encouraging the work they’ll continue to do.

Research in Creative Writing

Katie Frankel, Writing Consultant

Paradoxical to the title of this, many people seem to enjoy creative writing because it often does not confine to the sometimes strict, regimented boundaries of an academic essay.Katie Frankel Writing affords an allowance of freedom and imagination that sometimes feel prohibitive in the standard research paper. However, conducting some research for your creative writing can make your piece more vivid, interesting, and overall stronger than before.

In a creative writing class at my undergraduate university, my favorite professor ever required us to undergo and document research for our various pieces. Because, at the time, I was working on my now-finished historical fiction novel, I felt certain that research would bring my characters and story to life even more.

Starting at Half Priced Books, I gathered up some informative and very interesting texts that directly related to my fictional world, such as Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, Children of the Wild West, and multiple others. Many of the specific details of my writing come directly from information I have learned from these books. After beginning my collection of texts that related to my novel, I began to hunt through antique stores, looking for artifacts of the time period I was writing in to try and put myself in the scenes more. One day, I even found and purchased a McGuffey’s Primer published in the time period my characters exist.

Lastly, I began taking trips to a local museum called Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth. I nerded out every time I walked in with my pen and notebook, writing down facts I found interesting from posted information and asking the museum curators various questions, such as how a lower-class family of the time might get by (people who couldn’t afford beeswax to make candles could instead use the fat of sheep, by the way). I walked through the various set-ups and took pictures, envisioning my characters dwelling in the buildings.

Even if your creative writing work isn’t historical in nature, it can still benefit from research. If you’re writing a mystery, researching the tactics of real criminals can be insightful and also very interesting. A novel about life working in a circus can be made more believable and interesting if you read (both fiction and non-fiction) books and watch movies about circus performers. For one particular scene in my novel, my professor suggested that I go to a fire station to ask a firefighter about specific details pertaining to a house catching on fire.

When writing any type of creative piece featuring characters or events that you’re not personally familiar with, research can only serve to enhance your fictional world. Not only will you learn a tremendous amount through various forms of primary and secondary research, but you will more than likely have a great time doing it and be inspired to keep writing.