Where to write at WKU

By Abby Ponder

We all know that starting a paper is often the most difficult part of writing the paper. In fact, we’ve covered it in great detail on this very blog. At the end of the day, though, we all have our own spaces and places to tell our stories; however, if you’re wanting to stay on campus for your writing days, we’ve got a couple suggestions for you.

Your Dorm (or home)

It seems pretty self-explanatory, but some people write their best work from the comfort of their own room.

There are obvious pros to writing in this location: (1) you’re comfortable, (2) you don’t have to deal with people distracting you from writing, and (3) you’re familiar with the space and everything in it. Let’s be honest, it’s also really convenient–especially when you’ve procrastinated until the night before the paper’s due. Not that you’d ever do such a thing, though, right?

But, at the same time, these pros can sometimes be cons. Being comfortable might mean you’re more easily distracted or tempted to take a nap. Plus, if your roommate or friends from down the hall are hanging out, you’re more liable to be distracted by them than hearing a stranger order a cup of coffee or rant about the latest Scandal episode. Who knows, in your own room you might even watch that Scandal episode yourself.

Really, whether or not your dorm (or home) works well for your writing depends on your personality and your ability to concentrate. Test it out and use your best judgment.

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Helm/Cravens Library 

This seems like the most obvious place, of course. It’s quiet. Or, at least, it’s supposed to be quiet. (Cough.) There are seemingly endless floors–nine, nine floors–and endless rows of books and shelves. Some of the shelves even move! The cubbies of desks sprinkled throughout the perimeter of each floor are also especially appealing if you like to be alone with your thoughts. Or you can use the computer lab on the fourth floor in Cravens. There are usually plenty of computers available, and it’s one of the best places to go if you need to concentrate and thrive off people’s judgment to keep you off Facebook.

Plus, if you’re working on your paper between 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., then stop by and see us at our Cravens’ location. We’ll be hanging out at the reference desk.

Ultimately, the library is a wonderful place to write. Generally it’s even my first choice! Unless, of course, it’s final weeks. And then you might have to fight for that spot, buddy.

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Starbucks/Einstein’s/Java City

Nothing breeds productive thoughts like the smell of brewing caffeine in the air. For some people (myself wholeheartedly included), a coffee shop is the undisputed best place to write. There’s enough hustle and bustle to stifle the silence, but you can also do your own thing with a nice cup of joe by your side. It’s a great environment! Plus, you can also feel really mature as you sip that latte and type away.

Just keep in mind that if you’re camping out in your fave coffee shop for a few hours at a time, you should actually buy something while you’re there. (This is also especially true for coffee shops off campus.)

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The Colonnade (or anywhere outside, really) 

Now that we’re nearing spring and the weather is warming up, writing a paper outside is an ideal idea-churning location. What better place is there to feel an idea sprout from your pen and see words blossom on your screen? Whether you’ve got a hammock, a blanket, or a spot on the Colonnade steps, you’re guaranteed to be writing in comfort and style.

Fair warning, though, that comfort and style might be a little too distracting.

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Mass Media and Technology Hall 

If you enjoy writing on desktop computers, then MMTH is the place for you.

It’s also the place for you if you need people’s judgment to keep you on task but find the quiet of the library stifling.

Conversely, if noise bothers you, then you might want to reconsider. Either way, though, it’s an excellent place to print that paper off before class. And if you’re not already using WebPrint from your laptop, now is the perfect time to start…

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So, where are your favorite places to write? Share in the comments below! And good luck as you move forward with those papers, my friends. Don’t forget that the WKU Writing Center is here to help you with the paper writing process. Give us a call at (270) 745-5719 to set up an appointment today.

 

Your Paper’s Roadmap

by Abby Ponder

If you’ve ever taken any English class ever–or if you’ve written a paper in general, really–then you’ve probably heard of thesis statements. In fact, you’ve probably used them. Several times. And perhaps you’ve felt a sense of dread building in your stomach upon seeing those words in crisp, clean ink at the top of an assignment. The butterflies are a-fluttering and the tummy is a-rumbling.

Trepidation when it comes to thesis statements is not an unusual phenomenon.

This uneasiness stems from somewhere, certainly, but sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why thesis statements cause all the organized thoughts in your head to fly out the window.

For some people, thesis statements are simply overwhelming. Ideally, according to the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, “every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message […] A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also a comment about your position in relation to the topic.”

In laymen’s terms, a thesis statement is the paper’s roadmap. It highlights what the paper is going to be about and informs the reader on how they’re going to get there.

With that in mind, writing the statement seems like a lot of pressure. It’s got to contain a whole lot of information that you, as the writer, might not know yet. And that’s okay!

So, you know what you should do?

You should save it for last.

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When you’re writing an essay, it can be really tempting to write in chronological order. It makes sense, after all: it’s a natural progression of thoughts, exposition, and explanation. However, just because you write the bulk of your paper in chronological order, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the introduction last.

See, sometimes as you write your ideas change. Though you may have started in a structured, “I’m going to talk about this, this, and this,” mind frame, your ideas can evolve the more you put words on paper. Wait until the paper’s finished, examine the main ideas you address, and then construct your thesis.

It helps tremendously–I promise.

However, if you like a little bit more structure before you start writing, the value of an outline in indisputable. If you use an outline, the chances are pretty good that it’ll come into play again when you’re writing your actual thesis statement, too.

And, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to break away from the traditional “3-point thesis.” The content of the statement is arguably more important than the structure. So, as you write your statement, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it answer the assignment’s primary question? (If there is one.)
  • Do you reference specific points? 
  • Does it answer the “so what?” question? (i.e., if I’m reading your paper with absolutely no context, am I going to understand why this paper is important?)
  • Does it, ultimately, say something? Sometimes writers get caught in a trap of wandering in circles, using words without really ever saying something. Your thesis doesn’t exist to expand on a word count. Instead, it is there to expand on an idea. Use it to your advantage.

You can even find more questions to ask yourself, along with examples, by visiting the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s webpage devoted to the topic.

So, take a deep breath. Writing thesis statements takes practice and, ultimately, confidence. The more faith you have in your statement, the more likely you’ll say something worth saying. Write with your shoulders back and your thinking cap in place.

Good luck.

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Getting back into the writing grove

by Abby Ponder

The other night, I sat down at my computer to start writing. I write everyday–it’s one of the hazards of studying English and journalism–but I rarely take into consideration the routine behind the word count.

People write in different ways; it is a fact of life. Sometimes the routines are consistent–“every night at 5:30 I must write three pages of whatever research paper is due first”–and sometimes they’re more adaptable to meet deadlines and other commitments.

Additionally, sometimes people procrastinate one assignment while working ahead on another.

Life is full of variables and writing is no different.

For me, I tend to write at odd hours. Sometimes it depends on when I get the chance or have the motivation. If I’ve learned anything, though, it’s that writing something every day makes all the difference in the world–even if you only are able to write for ten minutes.

Eventually I’ll sit down and force myself to write. I’ll typically draw up an outline on paper first, and then start writing with my first body paragraph. (I almost always skip the introduction and save it for last. If, for some reason, I go on ahead with it, nine times out of 10 I’ll end up deleting it at the end.)

From there, I just write. I split the screen between my outline and the actual assignment, and just go until I have to stop. (With occasional five minute breaks every now and then.)

I also like writing in a familiar place. I can write at home when I need to. In fact, I do so on several occasions. It’s easy and convenient; it is also extremely comfortable. But while I can work at home, it doesn’t necessarily mean I always do. Over my time at WKU, I’ve found that I do some of my most productive writing in a library or a coffee shop. Home means comfort, more often than not, and so I can rationalize procrastination; however, when I’m in an official setting my productivity goggles immediately fall into place and those fifteen minute Facebook breaks (because, let’s be honest, five minutes doesn’t always cut) are immediately downsized.

The moral of the story is, write where you think you can write. If you’re more productive at home, then go for it. But if you’re struggling with churning out a couple pages from the sofa or dining room table, I would suggest trying out a new environment. There are tons of great coffee shops on and around campus that allow for a comfortable, but professional setting. Or, if the noise bothers you, the library is an excellent place to get work done. (We also, as it so happens, have a Writing Center location in the Commons at Cravens that you can stop by at any stage in your writing.)

Find what works best for you and go from there. You might not find that magical writing zone on the first try, but keep looking–it’s there somewhere.

In the meantime, enjoy your snow day(s), Hilltoppers! And be sure to let us know about your writing process. Inquiring minds want to know!

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on February 16, 2015.

The final(s) countdown: Getting your paper started

by Abby Ponder 

We’ve reached that time of year, folks: finals week. Or, better yet, crunch time.

It’s been a grande ole’ semester filled with football games and friends, festivities and fun times. But, like all good things, this semester has to come to a close, and with that conclusion, final projects and papers must come to an end, too.

So how are you coping with the stress of finals week?

Well, step one: don’t panic. I know that is much easier said than done (trust me, I definitely know that), but it’s doable. Compartmentalizing is key. I have four or five papers due in the upcoming weeks, and compartmentalizing them is the only way I’m going to be able to remain a fully functioning human being by the end of this.

So, let’s walk through the process. Bear in mind that, as we go, what works for me may or may not work for you. Everyone has a different approach to paper writing, but it is my hope that even if this isn’t the exact path you wind up taking, that this post might help you figure out for yourself what works and doesn’t work, and then provide you the support to build your own foundation from there.

First, look at the assignment and deconstruct what it is asking you. Are there multiple questions being asked in the prompt? In that case, I’ve found that it can be helpful to separate them into different questions. Suppose that the prompt it asking you the following question: “How does The Scarlet Letter reflect the mentalities of Puritan New England? How is this mindset still reflected in a contemporary setting? How do the symbols from the novel reflect the way symbols are used today in regards to shame?” When planning to write this paper, you might break it down like this:

Admittedly, the questions your professors assign will be more eloquent than my attempts, and your answers will certainly be more elaborate, but you get the general idea. Breaking down these long questions can help you figure out what direction you want to take your paper in. I’m a very visual learner, and so having this clearly laid out in front of me helps tremendously.

However, while some assignments may be long and elaborate, there are others that are completely open-ended. In some cases, these assignments can be even more overwhelming. You know you’re supposed to write about something, but with no specific guidelines or instructions, where on Earth are you supposed to begin? In that case, find a topic that is both interesting to you and is relevant to the class. Making a list can be helpful, and taking a look back at the syllabus can also give you an idea of everything you might’ve forgotten from earlier in the semester. (But you wouldn’t forget any of the material, right?)
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Once you have a general idea as to what you’re going to be writing about, I’ve found that writing up an outline can be particularly helpful. Outlines, in my experience, can go in a couple of different directions.
One option is the bare-bones skeleton. This is the idea of just putting words on paper to have some sense of direction as to where the project should go. I typically write this outline on paper, because drawing arrows and crossing things out can sometimes be especially satisfying, and it definitely lends itself towards making you feel as if you’re making progress–because you are!
The above picture is from the beginning of an outline I was working on for a class earlier this semester. It’s nothing terribly elaborate, but more of an idea as to where the paper will eventually go. Even if the paper deviates from this path, it’s a nice way of gathering your thoughts and saving them for later. You never know what epiphanies will happen!
Once I have finished my bare-bones outline, then I start a quote-based outline. In most of your academic research papers, secondary sources are crucial. Instead of flipping back and forth while writing the paper, I like to have a good idea of what quotes I’ll be using and where I will be using them before I even get started.
Following the bare-bones outline, I created this one to plug in resources that, if the paper presented an opportunity for them, I could cite.
While you may still need to pull out some other quotes as you go along (because, hey, papers develop in different ways sometimes), this way you already have the central ones at your disposal. If you follow this outline (ha!), though, make sure you continue to mark where you’re pulling the quotes from. Citations are critical, and you’re not saving time in the long run if you have to go back and find the author and page number after the fact. Do it all upfront and you’ll be golden!
From there, the next thing to do is just start writing. And remember, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect–that’s why it’s called a first draft. If you have the time, check out one of our recent post about the editing process for some extra assurance and advice.
Also, don’t forget that the Writing Center is here to assist you with any stage of the writing process. We are not an editing service, but we will gladly help walk you through any bumps in the road you may stumble across, whether you’re on the preliminary outline or looking at a final draft. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a second opinion on things, too.
Like always, you can schedule an appointment by clicking here and selecting a time that works well for you. If you’re struggling with the system, we also offer a step-by-step tutorial for how to make an appointment. We are also available for drop-in appointments, but please remember that those function under a first come, first serve basis. Because of that, we strongly encourage students to go ahead and schedule an appointment in advance to secure their spot.
Good luck in the upcoming couple of weeks, my friends, and have awonderful break!
Happy Writing!
This post was originally published on November 24, 2014.

Finding that elusive starting point

by Abby Ponder  

You sit down with your pen and pencil (or with your fingers hovering over their respective keys on your keyboard), and you brace yourself: it’s time to write. Whether you’ve waited until the last minute and are working against a clock, or are starting a month in advance, there’s no easy place to start. The words don’t always flow automatically and sometimes you’re just stuck.

First, take a deep breath.

It can be overwhelming when you’re staring at a blank screen, cursor blinking ominously at you. You feel like you have to put something on the page, and the longer that screen stays blank, the worse you begin to feel.

Sometimes writing a paper is the easiest thing in the world to do. The words are coming, the ideas are flowing, and just like that you’re finished and awaiting your well-deserved A. When it works out like that? It’s great! But it doesn’t always. So what do you do when you don’t know where to start and you’ve already wasted enough time on Facebook or Netflix, procrastinating the inevitable?

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve found that outlining is my actual best friend. Yeah, I know, all your professors tell you to make an outline. You’ll sigh, sometimes, because who really wants to take the time to write something that won’t even become the final product? I understand your way of thinking, my friend–I do. But try it.

To start your outline, read your assignment carefully and make sure you fully understand the question. I know that I’m prone to skimming things, especially when I’m in a hurry, but experience has taught me that it’s a surefire way to miss something important. Sometimes it helps to make a list of the tasks the professor is looking for in the assignment: Write them down in a nice bulleted list, and then take notes on those objectives. The professor wants you to talk about the differences between Nathaniel Hawthorne’sYoung Goodman Brown” and “The Celestial Railroad?” You can do that. It doesn’t have to look perfect at this stage; you’re just putting ideas on paper.

If your assignment requires outside sources, once you finish your list start looking for those resources. Pull out the information you think will be valuable, and begin placing the quotes in the areas you think they will be most applicable.

When you feel like you have a clear direction, then get started! Remember, your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect–that’s why it’s called a first draft. And don’t forget to pay us a visit in the Writing Center! We’re here to help talk you through your outline or answer any questions you may have along the way.

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on September 22, 2014.

Overcoming writer’s block

Have you ever been working on a paper and get stuck halfway?  Do you have a paper that you need to write and you have no idea where to begin?  Here are some tips for dealing with writer’s block so you can write that paper:

1. Brainstorming – Brainstorming is a great way to start out.  Brainstorming does not have to be organized or even neat.  Just write whatever comes to mind.  Free association helps ideas to flow.  This can be a list of important points or just things that stand out to you.  Whenever you have something to write, brainstorming is a great way to start.

2. Outline -Along the lines of brainstorming is making an outline.  If you have an idea of what to do but just don’t know how to get there, make an outline.  This gives you a guide to follow, but don’t worry if you end up deviating from the outline.

3. Talk – Not sure what to write about?  Talk about it.  It is helpful to have someone listen to you, but talking to yourself works just as well.  Sometimes it is easier to say what you need to say by saying it.  Talking about your topic also helps you to find correlations you may not have considered before.

4. Try a different approach – If the way you have been writing is not longer working, try something different.  Look at thinks from a different angle.  Explore ideas that you didn’t before.  If you have been writing a literature paper about one character, look at another character.

5. Listen to music –  Studies have shown that classical music improves brain function.  Put on some Beethoven and get your brain going!

Last but not least…
6. Take a break from your paper – If you have been staring at a screen or paper too long, your brain stops working.  Take a breather, walk around.  Stop stressing and relax.

– Kayla

This post was originally published on December 14, 2011.