Category: Writing in the Disciplines (WID)

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.

Write Like You Mean It

Josh Christian, Consultant

            Advanced Composition appeared as an elective course in my student handbook at Campbellsville University, where I was an undergraduate. I enrolled my junior year, to try to get it out of the way for a freer, more calm senior year.Josh Christian (We all know about senioritis) But it was the only class on my schedule that semester I was concerned about, as I didn’t know what to expect. “Advanced Composition” read as if I was going to be plunged into the icy academic waters, left to sink or swim. So, sitting in the lecture hall on the first day of class, I was surprised when the syllabus listed a narrative as the class’s first formal assignment. First, I wondered about its elementary nature, how it seemed trivial for English majors. Then I began to panic. What was I going to write? How was I going to structure it? What ways could I approach such a broad topic? How would I know if I was writing it correctly?

If you are wondering, I didn’t die. I got through the assignment, and it was much easier than I thought it would be. But I do not believe I am alone in my panic, as in universities across the country, students are faced with such writing assignments in composition classes. And because of their lack of experience with writing narratives in an academic setting, they don’t know what to do.  The anxiety they are feeling is more than one writing assignment. No, it is evidence of something larger at play.

Throughout my high school and early academic experience, I was taught to write for the academy. I was to take myself out of the equation, permitted from using “I”. Instead I was told to be objective and to state my opinion but through an unbiased language. I was taught to not make a claim unless I could back it up. And if I did attempt to back up my claims, I needed to cite the material in-text and on a reference page of some sort. This was academic writing. The other kinds of writing, creative writing (stories, poems, plays, etc.) and journaling or messages sent to a friend, had their place but it just wasn’t in the academy.

You see, there had been a binary established, one in the making for generations before me. Academic writing sat on one side, while creative writing sat on the other. And like all binaries, there was a strict wall between them, especially early on, when all narrative or poetic elements were driven from a student’s paper until it became nothing more than thesis statements and transitional phrases. Don’t get me wrong, these elements of academic writing also have their place. But to drive the use of these elements out of any writing completely, is to take away a writer’s desire or ability to be creative, leaving stacks and stacks of student papers which otherwise could have been more thoughtful.

So, what do we do with such a binary? How do we, as students or faculty deal with it? How can we be excited about academic writing, if we can’t be creative? And how can we approach creative projects, like literacy narratives, if we haven’t historically been given permission to be creative before? Well, like any binary, we begin to defeat it when we question it. And when we begin to question the binary, it only helps if we are ready, as students and professors alike, to take back the mantle of “writer,” a title left for the literary authors who often mold the work we, as an academy, talk about.

            When we begin to identify as writers, we begin to take responsibility for our words. We begin to be more thoughtful about what we write because we have agency over our words, them becoming our own. So, make the choice that all writers have to make. When you read the assignment sheet, ask yourself where you can stand to be creative. How can you begin with an anecdote, using narrative elements? How can you push the limits of a rubric by thinking differently about a topic? How can you make what you are writing fun to write or read? Before you know it, your creativity will inform your academic work, and your academic writing will show you the necessity of research and argument. Dare to be a writer in your own right. And whatever you write, write like you mean it.Image result for bob dylan think different                                                                     (Apple, 1997)

“Camaraderie and Great Ideas”: Reflections on the 2018 Dissertation Writing Retreat

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Last week I attended the University of Louisville’s commencement ceremony for doctoral students. As I looked through the program I noted the names of eleven of the graduates who had previously attended one of our University Writing Center Dissertation Writing Retreats. Several of them came up to me afterward to tell me again how valuable they found the experience of the writing retreat and the significant difference it made to them in their progress toward their degrees. As we talked about the jobs they were moving on to and their plans for future scholarship, it was gratifying to think that we had played some useful role in their graduate education.

This past week we once again were host to 14 Ph.D. students who participated in our spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. This is the seventh year we have held a week-long writing retreat in May during which the participants spending their days writing and having daily individual writing consultations with members of the Writing Center staff. Writing at the 2018 Dissertation Writing RetreatEvery day we also have small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Revise Work for Other Purposes, and How to Approach Literature Reviews). We also keep everyone well-fed throughout the week with snacks and lunch.

The writers who participated in this year’s retreat represented eight different disciplines at the University: Education, Engineering, Nursing, Rhetoric and Composition, Pan-African Studies, Pharmacology, Psychology, and Social Work. The best way to get a sense of the experience of the retreat and its impact on the writers who took part, however, is to hear from the participants and consultants themselves.

WRITERS

2018 Dissertation Writing Retreat: LunchTammi Alvey Thomas, Social Work. By far a fantastic experience! I would recommend this for anyone writing their dissertation. The staff at the Writing Center are extremely helpful and great to work with. Don’t miss out on this opportunity!  I left the retreat much more organized, focused and energized.

Imelda Wright, Nursing. I had the privilege of attending the Dissertation Writing Retreat in May 2018. It was well structured with plenty of space for the occupants to write at their own pace without interruption. There was adequate support and structure throughout the day to help with specific questions. In addition, a personal writing consultant was assigned to each participant daily to assist with content, technique, and overall structure of writing.

Overall, the retreat was terrific. It was enriching and productive to be in a space surrounded by like-minded people with similar goals to each other. There was a cohesive sense of camaraderie and great ideas were shared. In addition, I loved that lunch and snacks were provided; this allowed and encouraged participants to remain in the general vicinity during the day.

CONSULTANTS

Edward English, Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition and Incoming Assistant Director of the University Writing Center. This year’s dissertation writing retreat was energizing and helpful for me on a number of levels. I’ve just finished the first year of my PhD in English Composition and Rhetoric and when the Spring semester ended, my mind and body craved anything unrelated to school. I immediately took solace in long naps and hours of Netflix, in addition to enjoying trips like visiting the Red River Gorge and having one too many mint juleps at a very odd rainy Derby.

After a couple weeks of this leisure, however, I needed something manageable to get me back into the momentum of productivity. The dissertation writing retreat ended up being a wonderful balance of summer fun meets academic growth.

Interestingly, though I was the consultant, offering assistance to two awesome Experimental Psych. PhDs, I felt like I was the one who learned so much. Not having even started my own dissertation, reading through others’ work helped familiarize me with the types of challenges and rewards I can likely expect when I start running this academic marathon. What’s more, my two consultees were eager to absorb whatever questions or constructive criticism I had to offer—giving this Comp. 1 & 2 writing instructor a powerful (and much needed) inflation to his teacher ego and the satisfaction of feeling like he was truly helpful. I’m looking forward to being a consultant again next year, and am thankful that I’ll have this dissertation writing retreat available to me when I’ll need guidance and instruction on how to work through my own piece.

Dissertation Writing Retreat 2018 - Consultation 2018 Dissertation Writing Retreat - Consultation

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. Having helped facilitate the Dissertation Writing Retreat in 2016 and 2017, I came into this week knowing that I could look forward to the excitement and energy that’s created when a group of writers come together. Each year, it’s so motivating to see people enjoy the shared experience of using writing to work through their ideas and scholarly identities. What starts on Monday as a gathering of individuals, each immersed in their own projects and challenges, ends on Friday as an interdisciplinary community of writers. What I noticed this time around, though, was how productive this interdisciplinarity can be–and, selfishly, how helpful it was for me as someone who is also working on my dissertation. Both of the writers I worked with this week were genuinely interested in hearing about my dissertation progress and offered feedback and resources that were so helpful. I walked away from each consultation feeling supported and valued by the writers I was working with, even though we were in different disciplines with different methods, theories, and goals. I was really reminded this week of what reciprocity looks and feels like, and how much we (writers) all have in common when we are approaching challenging–and rewarding–writing projects.

Jessica Newman, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. I’ve had the pleasure of helping to facilitate the Dissertation Writing Retreat both this year and last year. This year, as before, I was impressed with the writers as individuals (their commitment to sit down at 8 am each morning and write, and then continue to write) and as a community (supporting and learning from each other). But now that I am further in my own dissertation, the Retreat took on an even deeper resonance, and I appreciated the opportunity to myself take part—during group discussions, lunch and consultations—in the exchange of suggestions, ideas, commiseration and support. This sharing ranged from reviews of data analysis2018 Dissertation Writing Retreat - Consultation software to tips on how to use the vocabulary of your field to the often strong emotions evoked by writing those pesky lit reviews. I look forward to seeing the support, accountability and productivity from the Dissertation Writing Retreat continue in the Writing Center weekly Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Groups this summer and this fall.

Caitlin Ray, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing and Ph.D. Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. As a consultant for the Dissertation Writing Retreat, I found that, in addition to helping writers, I personally got a lot out of the week. I was reminded of the power of talking about writing, working as a community of writers, and the importance of sharing research in an interdisciplinary context. My favorite parts of the week were the moments at lunch, or during workshops, when we got to chat about our research. Even when we were tired (or hungry) I still saw our eyes light up when talking about our research, and how often we found commonalities between research interests or methodology questions even when our fields were quite different from one another. I think that sometimes the frustration and daily grind of dissertation writing makes us forget that our research projects are really cool, and have the potential to make real impact on the world.

Rachel Rodriguez, Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition and Incoming Assistant Director of the University Writing Center. This week I had the opportunity to work with two writers from my own program, and our shared base of disciplinary knowledge helped us fast-forward into conversations about how knowledge is made and who “counts” as knowledge producers in the contexts of their research. Since both writers were focusing on the organization of their data chapters, we spent time playing with various options, envisioning how each schema might impact their overall message. I found myself getting really absorbed in the work they are doing, and our collective excitement made for a fun atmosphere where ideas could build off of each other as the week progressed. Getting a glimpse into both of their writing processes as well as strategies for goal-setting was personally rewarding, reminding me how attuned we are to our own way of writing, but how much we can learn by talking about how we write with others.

THANKS FOR ALL WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE

It is important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat – Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and Robin Blackett, our Administrative Assistant, and Assistant Directors Layne Gordon, Jessica Newman, Caitlin Ray, and Christopher Stuck as well as the other fantastic consultants (themselves Ph.D. students) who worked with the writers: Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez, and Rick Wysocki. And thanks to Dean Beth Boehm, of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

Writing is Contagious: The Dissertation Writing Retreat and Building a Community of Writers

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

It’s hard to shake the mythology of writing as a solitary activity. Over and over again, people talk about writing as something that geniuses do in inspired isolation. Yet our annual Dissertation Writing Retreat demonstrates each year what much of the research in the Rhetoric and Writing Studies shows, that successful writing is also very much a social practice. Sure, at some point a writer types out the words that convey individual thoughts. Before and after that moment, however, the power of community and

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Writing at the Dissertation Writing Retreat

individual relationships can be essential to a writer’s success. The powerful presence and influence of others is at the core of our approach to our Dissertation Writing Retreats, and why we think they have been so successful for the past six years. There are two ways, in particular, that the social aspects of writing come into play during the week.

 

Writing is Contagious

Sitting in a room full of people writing inspires people to write – and to keep writing. There is an energy and accountability that comes from committing to writing, and to staying in your chair and working through the obstacles you might bump into as you write. Every year people tell us how the energy and focus of working in a group of writers propels them forward with their dissertations. Many writers also find the sense of mutual accountability helps them be productive with their writing. In addition to the Dissertation Writing Retreat, we will be continuing to provide the opportunity for accountability with our weekly Graduate Student Writing Groups this summer (for more information click here).

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Small -Group Discussion on Structuring Dissertation Chapters

Another way we support community during the Dissertation Writing Retreat is through conversation. Every day we break for small-group discussions about various issues of dissertation writing (How to Interpret and Respond to Committee Comments, Ways to Structure Chapters, Strategies for Self-Editing, How to Approach Literature Reviews). These conversations not only help with issues about writing, but the chance to hear from other writers with similar concerns – and different suggestions – reminds all the writers that they are not alone and that all writers need support. Then we break for lunch and have time to relax and socialize – also a valuable part of the writing process.

Relationships and Motivation

The other social aspects of writing that are invaluable during the Dissertation Writing Retreat are the relationships that develop between the writers and the University Writing Center consultants with whom they work during the week. Each writer is paired with the same consultant and they meet each day to talk about drafts, writing processes, organization, or just be a sounding board for ideas and brainstorming. The research on

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Vasiliki working with Rachel

writing and on motivation (including my own) shows that supportive relationships that offer constructive criticism, but also respectful listening, provide writers with the strategies and motivation to move forward once the retreat is over. What’s more, the consultants also learn from the writers, and that reciprocity is one of our key values in the University Writing Center.

The Dissertation Writing Retreat, while a lot of work for us at the University Writing Center, is one of my favorite weeks of the week. I always leave inspired. But, rather than tell you more of my thoughts about it, here are some reflections from the writers and consultants who made the day possible.

Writers

Katie Adamchik, Sociology. This week was what I needed to boost my productivity. The retreat designated time and psychological accountability for me to focus on my dissertation. The workshops and consultations helped me organize my work and gave me strategies for moving through issues that come up along the way. I appreciated being surrounded by a community of people working toward a similar goal – we commiserated, supported, brainstormed, and celebrated together. I highly recommend this to all students!

Cortney Armstrong, Microbiology and Immunology. The Dissertation Writing Retreat has been an invaluable week for me. Coming from the health sciences campus, I thought I would feel like a fish out of water, however, I was pleasantly surprised with how comfortable I felt and how productive I was. No matter what field or discipline you are coming from, this retreat will be of great benefit for you! Not only was I productive on my dissertation (I completed a chapter this week!), but I was also productive in using the tips and skills I needed to plan for writing the remainder of the chapters for my dissertation. It was a wonderful week spent with a community of brilliant peers, all who are focused and pushing towards the same goal, finishing! I highly encourage all graduate students to apply for this retreat and come prepared to be astonished with how valuable it is and how much you will accomplish. I can’t thank the Writing Center enough for giving me this opportunity!

Lily Assgari, Psychological and Brain Sciences. My experience in the dissertation writing retreat was nothing short of amazing. It was incredibly helpful to sit in a room with the intention to write for hours a day with little to no distractions. Our community of writers supported and encouraged each other. We would discuss our issues and share

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Lily working with Jessie

our experiences daily. The accountability of having to talk about what I was had accomplished kept me motivated. The tool and tips that consultants suggest helped make a daunting process more manageable. While the week was definitely exhausting, the experience is well worth it. For the first time, I can honestly say that I am looking forward continuing to write. I would definitely recommend the dissertation writing retreat to any student that needs to write a dissertation.

Corey Boes, Social Work. My time spent at the Dissertation Writing Retreat was invaluable. I am in the very early stages of organizing and writing my dissertation and being able to learn different writing processes and strategies from my daily consultations and even from the other retreat goers was extremely helpful. The daily break out discussions were informative and helpful. They covered topics that were relevant both immediately and as I make progress through my project. I hope to be able to carry forward with the great writing momentum that I was able to gather through my time spent here this week.

Vasiliki Kosmidou, Entrepreneurship. I highly recommend the Dissertation Writing Retreat to everyone. It is very hard to summarize in a few sentences how valuable it has been for my dissertation progress. I came to the Retreat while still collecting my data, so I was able to use my time efficiently to write up my methods section and organize the overall structure of my chapters. Beyond the sense of accountability and community, I found extremely useful the small group discussions which gave me strategies for restructuring my dissertation for other purposes, such as conference presentations and journal submissions. I have also learned a lot from my writing consultant, who provided very useful feedback on my writing and resources that I could use beyond the writing of my dissertation. Lastly, as a graduate student, I always struggle during the academic year shifting my focus between research, teaching, writing my dissertation along with my other responsibilities. As a result, I certainly appreciated that the Retreat offered me not only an encouraging working environment, but also the luxury of writing for 8 hours every single day. By doing so, it has helped me build momentum and exceed my writing goals. Thank you for this wonderful experience!

Xiaohong Li, Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. Thank you so much for providing me and other students with such a great opportunity for writing our dissertation in the workshop. During the workshop, I can devote my time and concentrate on writing my dissertation. Working with the consultant in the workshop is also very helpful. I also enjoy chatting with or listening to other graduate students talking about their writing experiences in graduate school. Taken together, it is a wonderful experience and really speeds up the process for achieving my Ph.D. degree. I would like to recommend it to other Ph.D. students.

Keri Mathis, Rhetoric and Composition. The Dissertation Writing Retreat gave me the designated thinking and writing time that I needed to make significant progress on my dissertation. I especially appreciated the structure of the morning writing time, discussion groups, and afternoon consultations. I left each day knowing exactly what I needed to do for the next day’s writing and left the retreat with tips for how to sustain my productivity

Jeanelle Sears, Social Work. Participating in the Dissertation Writing Retreat provided me a cognitive and physical space of accountability that was so needed after months of stagnation. It also came at the perfect time, as my committee was expecting a draft of my early chapters in only a few weeks following this retreat. I came in on Monday morning with a ten-page conceptual paper and am leaving with more than 30 pages of drafted material and a solid outline for how the rest of the chapters will evolve. I appreciated not only the quiet time for independent writing, but also the camaraderie of fellow students and the writing center consultants. Both equally advanced my thinking about this project overall, and offered smaller strategies I can engage in for editing and organization, including leaving some things alone in the short-term. After all, the best dissertation is a done dissertation, and I have new energy to get mine over that finish line.

Jaime Thompson, Social Work. The Dissertation Writing Retreat at the U of L Writing Center has been refreshing and motivating. It is indeed a “retreat” as it allows you to purposefully withdraw from the hustle and bustle of your daily life to devote an entire week to writing and learning.  I highly recommend it to any Ph.D. student wanting to join a community and feel supported in the process of preparing your dissertation project, no matter what stage of the process you are in.

Consultants

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition. This week I was once again reminded of the power of talking through our ideas even as we’re struggling to form them. I think we still imagine the academic as someone who works in isolation–sitting in a room, at a computer, generating ideas that spring from her head alone. But this image ignores the fact that we need other people to talk to about our ideas and to encourage us when we’ve struck something good. This week, I learned every day from the writers I was working with because we shared so much as we were talking through their dissertation projects. For example, one of the writers I worked with this week came up with an excellent metaphor for her dissertation–nesting dolls. While talking about the scope of her work, she said it felt like she was starting with the baby: she had a very clear problem and research site in mind, but she had to find all the other contexts and conversations that surrounded that smaller, situated, local issue and describe those other contexts in her introductory chapter. I have found myself thinking about this metaphor all week, particularly as I have been working on my own dissertation prospectus. It has been so valuable to think about the conversations I am contributing to as nested. This metaphor encompasses so much about both the struggle and the excitement of creating a dissertation project, and it exemplifies just one of the many ways that my conversations with other writers this week have shaped how I’m thinking about my own work.

Rachel Gramer, (just completed) Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. The Dissertation Writing Retreat has helped me think about how easy it is to internalize academic and dissertation writing practices (and rather quickly). So much of what I could offer as a tutor came from my recent dissertation writing experiences, which include but also transcend the immediate acts of writing words on screen or page. I was glad to share my experiences about the diss writing process, working with committee members, and the larger purpose of the dissertation in academia, in specific fields, and in graduate education. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this week has been the privilege to create conditions for dissertation writers to feel heard and affirmed in their struggles and triumphs. It was such a pleasure to confirm for graduate student writers that yes, all writers make these mistakes; yes, all of us struggle with these issues; and yes, your writing is good, is clear, and is progressing. And yes, your ideas and contributions to your field are salient and needed–and writing your dissertation is the beginning of sharing your thoughts and findings with others, not The End.

Jamila Kareem, (just completed) Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. This summer marks my second year at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. As a consultant this year, I found that working with Ph.D. students in Sociology and Social Work exposed me to ways to examine my own work through new theories and methodologies. When I completed the retreat as a participant, I learned the importance of conversing about my own work to understand how it appeared to others. This year, I relied on the importance of understanding others’ work so that our experiences—personal, professional, and scholarly—may help each other through the research and writing process as we all continue in this field of academia.

Jessica Newman, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing and Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric and Composition. As the assistant director for graduate student writing, I have spent much of the fall and spring semesters speaking with graduate students about their prospectuses and dissertations, but it was not until working at the dissertation writing retreat that I had the opportunity to truly see the writing process in action. Over the course of each day, the sounds shifted from the silence of 14 writers hard at work to the hum of the discussion groups to the noise of the writers at lunch, talking about dissertations and anything but, and then back to quiet as the day ended with writing and reflection. As a Ph.D. student in the early stages of her dissertation, I found it motivating and heartening to see this community form in just a few short days, to see writers sharing strategies and emotional support. I myself learned a lot that will help me as I move forward in the dissertation process.

Reading, Thinking, and Writing Outside Your Discipline

Kelly Carty, Consultantkelly-c

It’s midterm season. Hurrah! The past couple of weeks and many weeks to come seem like an endless stream of dense readings, papers, problem sets, oral examinations, and/or death by multiple choice tests.

Take a moment. Step inside my blog post. Let me transport you back to a long lost time when you could read what you wanted and write incomplete sentences dotted with emojis. Let me tell you about reading, thinking, and writing outside your field of study.

Surprise! This time isn’t so long lost. If you are like me, you probably do quite a bit of reading and writing unrelated or tangentially related to your discipline even when you are busy.

What am I talking about? Well, regardless of how busy I am or how stressed I feel, I spend quite a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing on Facebook as I browse my newsfeed and write statues or comments in response. Also, as I am guessing is the case with many of you (and by you, I mean faculty, staff and students), I rarely read or write about my current fields of study (English literature and Writing Center pedagogy) on Facebook. Instead, I read and write about current events, music, my home life, and other seemingly random things. For example, the last things I read or wrote about on social media concerned:

The location of free food on UofL’s campus

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature

The most recent presidential debate

Urban foraging

My cat

Beck’s Debra (this is actually related to one of my classes, but it has a convoluted explanation)

Moreover, in addition to reading and writing on Facebook, I spend time reading and writing on topics tangentially related to my fields of study in the non-social media cyber world. Actually, I often do more of this type of reading and writing when I am busy with school or work because it seems like a useful break. For example, when I was reading the Canterbury Tales as an undergraduate, I found this gem of a revision to the Wife of Bath’s Prologue. Recently, when my younger brother was tasked with reading the Canterbury Tales, I sent him a link to this revision along with a little review. Over the past three weeks, as I wrote papers and read new plays for my Shakespeare class, I read Wikipedia pages on patriarchy, Aufheben, Gaius Marius, Husserl, Writing and Difference, Cleopatra, and the largest monoliths that have been found on Earth. I also wrote many exasperated notes to my boyfriend about how I didn’t (and still don’t) understand Hegel.

How are these adventures in reading and writing different than the reading and writing I do for my field of study?

I can choose what I want to read

Until I am fortunate enough to design my own courses, most of my academic readings will be carefully outlined on my professors’ syllabi. In my own world of social media and Internet wanderings, I can read whatever strikes my fancy. I can read about radical leftist organizations after watching a documentary on the Weathermen, 1,000 tweets classified under #debates when I want to know how the Twittersphere feels about Trump’s comments, or news articles about cutting edge science when I feel like I’m losing my knowledge of biology.

I can use unconventional punctuation and grammar

When I write for the world of academia, I am hyperaware of grammar and usage conventions. When I write on social media, I often intentionally break these conventions. For example, during the last presidential debate, I posted:

WHY IS LOCKER ROOM TALK AN EXCUSE

I realize this question should end with question mark and that only the first letter needs to be capitalized, but I wanted to convey an emotion and an opinion that a single capital letter and a question mark would dampen.

Moreover, I had the following conversation on Facebook chat with my brother:

Me:       Im gonna write about hegel

Eek

Bro:      “Dialectic, but now exactly in the Marxian sense

Just keep repeating that

Should be fine

Me:       Hahahahahah

Bro:      Works for trumps

There are many grammatical and usage errors in these messages. However, both my brother and I were able to convey our thoughts effectively and humorously to one another. Although it is likely that I would be able to convey the same ideas within the bounds of academic conventions, it is unlikely that I (or my brother) would be able to do it as quickly.

I can use slang and images to describe my thoughts

Furthermore, writing outside of my discipline allows me to use slang and images to convey my thoughts. When conveying my frustration over writing papers, I sent a message to my colleagues that read “Papers fj&2#8,@)@;/8 ugh.” When I was on a short road trip with lots of traffic and my dad asked me how the ride was going, I sent him this image of my cat:

kelly-carty-blog-pic-1

(I realize this isn’t writing, but it might as well be.)

How are these activities similar to the reading and writing I do for my field of study?

I process information through text and images

This point is both obvious and important. Whether I’m reading Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, a theoretical paper on semiotic squares, my mom’s Facebook posts, or text messages from a friend, I am asked to make meaning of text and images.

I emphasize main ideas

When I read articles for class or for my own academic research, my foremost concerns are the main ideas. I ask constantly ask myself, what is this author trying to say? How does the main idea of this article relate to what I am doing in class or what I am researching?

When I read tweets, Facebook posts, and news articles, I have the same concerns. What is this article’s main point about the most recent WikiLeaks update? How does #WomenWhoVoteTrump relate to electoral politics?

I am ultimately concerned about conveying meaning

When I write for the academic world, I want my readers to understand the ideas I am presenting. It would be useless if I turned in a paper that was utterly meaningless. In fact, when I write papers, I often read them to other people to make sure they correctly convey the thoughts I intend to convey.

When I write Facebook posts, tweets, and text messages, I focus on conveying meaning as well. As I have alluded to above, I often eschew conventional grammar and usage in non-academic writing to enhance my meaning.

My challenge to you is to think about the writing and reading you do outside of your field of study. How do those activities compare to the reading and writing you do within your field of study?

The ePortfolio: Shaping Your Online Presence Through a Professional Medium

Haley Petcher, Consultant 

The weather is still pretty warm, but somehow it’s already October. October means that graduate school applications are beginning to be due, and for those of you graduating in December, the “real world” of jobs is right around the corner. You want to get into grad school and to get a job, but how will the committees and employers know the real you? How will the people writing your rec letters know details about what you did during your undergraduate career? The answer is what you would expect from a University Writing Center employee: by writing.

These days, though, everything is digital. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., we have a large digital footprint with details about ourselves, but none of those footprints are professional. At my undergraduate institution, Auburn University, I learned about ePortfolios, which are basically personal websites that showcase your experiences and skills by contextualizing pictures, papers, and projects. I created one for an English class, but I have a confession: I didn’t finish one in time for applications. Guys, I regret that. However, I recently completed one that represents my experiences in undergrad, and I hope to complete another ePortfolio by the end of my MA program.

Before you say, “I don’t have papers to share,” I promise that ePortfolios aren’t just for English majors. I’ve seen examples of ePortfolios by by engineers, pharmacy studentsbusiness students, artists, nurses, and vet students. They pick some of their best projects and presentations to showcase and contextualize.

Creating an ePortfolio is like writing a paper with pictures. Here are a few quick tips to get you started:

  • First, think about your audience. Often it’s professionals, like a professor who is writing your rec letter or a graduate or hiring committee.
  • Next, write a “thesis” for your ePortfolio. That is, what do you want to prove to your audience? One of my friends, for example, majored in English and minored in business. He wanted to prove that his experiences in English, tutoring, hiring committees, and leadership meshed with his love for books. After getting his MBA, he hopes to find a job at a publishing company.
  • Consider how you want to organize your ePortfolio. Should each page have to do with a verb, like “research” or “teach,” or should each page relate to words like “teamwork” or “service”?
  • Pick the most important things you did that are connected to your “thesis” and organize them according to your pages. When you write about them, try to explain the project and to explain what you learned from it.
  • Pick an online venue, like wix.com or weebly.com. (They’re free!)
  • Start creating your ePortfolio! (Remember to use appropriate pictures. Pictures of you outside – by yourself – are often good.)

When you complete your ePortfolio, you can put the link on your resume or email signature. (If there’s something to click, people will probably click it. Take advantage of other people’s curiosity!)

You’re probably wondering what happens if your future employer or grad school doesn’t review your ePortfolio. The great thing is about creating an ePortfolio is that by analyzing and writing about your work, you will begin to better understand what you enjoy about your studies and experiences and how your time in undergrad will help you reach your goals. The ePortfolio shows that you can think critically about your interests and allows you to explain how volunteering at the animal shelter or starting a club for students who enjoy tap dancing makes you an attractive and unique candidate for the job.

If you want some more examples, try checking these out! Also, since an ePortfolio involves writing and is like a paper, you can always bring it to the University Writing Center for a writing consultation.

Note: I received most of this information from presentations I attended while working with Auburn University’s Office of University Writing (OUW). You can learn more about ePortfolios by reviewing the OUW’s website.

How I Write: Jennie E. Burnet – Professor of Anthropology

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Our featured writer this week is Professor Jennie E. Burnet. Dr. Burnet teaches in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Louisville, and her scholarship includes articles on war, gender, identity, and genocide in Rwanda. 

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Current project: Book about rescuers during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, peer-reviewed journal articles, book reviews, and the email never stops.

Currently reading: I’ve been reading my kids’ summer readings list so I’m most of the way through The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Next up on my Kindle are The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer and A Tale for the Time Being: A Novel by Ruth Ozeki.

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

Virtually all of my writing is non-fiction, scholarly writing in socio-cultural anthropology, African studies, and women and gender studies. Over the past week, I’ve been working on a grant proposal and a public policy research report. I am currently working on several articles for peer-reviewed journals.

Jargon laden prose is still in fashion in my field, but I think that most useful ideas can be expressed in everyday language. My first book, Genocide Lives in Us: Women, Memory and Silence in Rwanda was published by a university press, but I tried to make it as accessible as possible. I did my best to write it so that an educated adult reader interested in Rwanda, genocide, or women could pick it up, read it, and hear these courageous women’s stories of survival. My next book, about people who risked their lives to save Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, is percolating in the back of my mind. I finished the interviews for the project in May 2014. Soon I will begin outlining it and laying out the stories I will use to illustrate the key points. Truth be told, however, most of my day-to-day writing is email—professional correspondence, feedback to students, etc.

2. When/where/how do you write?

When, where, and how I write constantly changes. I’m a chronic procrastinator so I’m always finding new ways to trick myself into getting down to business. Lately, I’ve been doing most of my writing at my dining room table (I’m here right now!). Our dining room has large windows that let in a lot of indirect sunlight. Because the family eats dinner here every night, I’m forced to clear away my stuff daily so the space doesn’t become cluttered.

On days when I’m really stuck and not making progress, I’ll take a Gregg-lined steno pad and a pen to a coffeeshop, a public library, or other busy but quiet place. For some reason, writing with pen and paper seems less official so I can get a bunch of ideas on paper and worry about wrestling them into a logical progression or cohesive argument later. Paper and pen are my antidote for writer’s block.

In an ideal world, I write best first thing in the morning with my second cup of coffee. When I get started early, I don’t fall into my procrastination cycles. Unfortunately, life almost always gets in the way of this practice. At the moment, I’m trying to get into the habit of writing on my most pressing project when I first sit down to work. Beyond getting my behind in the seat, the key to success seems to be: Don’t open my email, Facebook, the newspaper, or any other electronic distraction.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces*?

Most often my writing necessities are my computer, good coffee, a chair I can sit up straight in, a clear work surface at the ergonomically correct height, and lots of indirect, natural light. Music distracts me too much, but background noise is OK. Occasionally, I need a change of scenery, a pen with fast flowing ink, and a steno pad.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

Breaking the writing project down into very small tasks (outlining and making a list of every piece that needs to be done). With this strategy you can make progress everyday even if it’s only 10 minutes at a time. It also lowers the threshold to start and helps minimize procrastination. These strategies have resurrected my writing since I almost never have several, uninterrupted hours before me to write.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

I’ve gotten lots of amazing advice on writing over the years from mentors, colleagues, writing group members, and friends. It’s such great advice that I’ve integrated into my practice so thoroughly that I don’t remember who gave me which pieces.

Just keep writing—even when you’re certain it’s awful or makes no sense. I often give myself this advice in the voice of Ellen DeGeneres as Dory from Finding Nemo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hkn-LSh7es.