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?)
Photo Credit 
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.

STEPS: Changing the way you write literary analysis

The WKU Writing Center would like to announce an up-and-coming resource for students to utilize when writing literary analysis papers.

STEPS (Students Teaching English Paper Strategies) is a web site designed to help students write good papers about literature. This site is constructed for students, by students, and provides a doable process for analyzing literature and writing about it. STEPS helps students identify literary devices, determine the themes of literary texts, develop thesis statements, and produce successful essays. The site is filled with sample essays, peer reviews, and processing notes for each step. Students will also find a helpful glossary of literary terms, with examples from various works, and links to additional writing resources. Please visit www.writingaboutliterature.com for more information.
For students taking English classes (both in or out of the major), STEPS provides relevant information for the various stages of the writing process. Sometimes, as a writer, you just get stuck and there’s no real conceivable way to get out of the writing funk. However, just searching through some of the tabs on the site, I’ve found them to be very helpful at finding ways to propel the process along. Sometimes just reading about writing can get you ready to start writing. It’s funny how that works sometimes…
There are two tabs that I found particularly helpful, as well. The “Process and Methods” and the “Resources” (the “Archives” section especially) tabs are both excellent tools to utilize. The latter section, the Archives, even has example papers and the writing process therein. Every person has their own writing (and editing) style(s), and it can be beneficial to see what works for someone else, and then try to apply similar techniques.
The STEPS homepage.
So, whether you’re stuck finding a starting point, or if you’re just looking to improve your writing, we definitely encourage you to check out STEPS. The site is still in its beta-form, too, so be sure to leave any feedback you think might be helpful.
Happy Writing!
This post was originally published on November 10, 2014.

The Writing Center’s Halloween Party and Open House

by Abby Ponder

Happy (belated) Halloween and Happy (almost) Thanksgiving, folks!

It is officially November now, and that means we’re beginning to enter the season of final research papers and looming projects. But it’s still early November, so don’t sweat just yet. (Though maybe start looking at those assignments now instead of later…)

However, before we move full-force into November, let’s first take a look back on our final days of October. Or, more aptly put, Halloween!

As you all might’ve known, the WKU Writing Center hosted its first Costume Contest and Open House on Halloween this year. The festivities were open to all who were interested in attending, and we had an excellent turnout!

This photo and all the ones following it are courtesy of Jacky Killian.
Our costume contest included a variety of fantastic costumes that ranged from the elusive Carmen San Diego to a dead priest. The sky was the limit for these party-goers!
Callie Compton as Carmen San Diego, here to bring your childhood front and center.
Zach Puckett as Roxas from Kingdom Hearts.
Lauren Witty as the Ram Zodiac from Fairy Tail.
Sol Govin as the devil herself!
Sasha Hardin as Misa from Death Note.
Travis Lewis as a dead priest.
Chris Nealis as a stop sign, with his trusty dog… who pees on the stop sign.
Our photographer, Jacky Killian, as Link from Legend of Zelda.
Brittany Moster, one of our very own tutors, as the fabulous Hermione Granger.
Marissa Tompkins as our second, but equally fabulous, Hermione Granger.
Dori Norman as the face of the rebellion, Miss Katniss Everdeen.
Brianna Stewart and Andi Nealis (your wonderful coordinator of the day’s festivities) as the in-conquerable Dynamic Duo.

The judging panel was composed of Dr. Jane Fife, Megan Siers, and myself. We definitely had our work cut out for us when it was time to pick our winners! Though we had winners in various categories, first place overall went to Jacky Killian (Link), second place to Callie Compton (Carmen San Diego), and third place to Dori Norman (Katniss Everdeen).

In addition to the costume contest, we also had a Two-Sentence Horror Story contest. First and second place went to Andi Nealis and Brittany Moster respectively!

Overall, the Writing Center’s Costume Contest was an overwhelming success. For more pictures of the festivities, be sure to check out our album on Facebook (and maybe give us a “like” while you’re there)!

Above all else, we hope you all had a wonderful (and safe) Halloween! Feel free to share your own costume designs in the comments section, or tell us what you hope to do next Halloween. (Stopping by the 2015 Costume Contest better be on your agenda, too!)

And, as always, don’t forget that as we move into this admittedly stressful season, the Writing Center is here to help! You can start by scheduling an appointment by clicking here and selecting a time that works well for you. We are also available for drop-in appointments, but those function under a first come, first serve basis.

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on November 4, 2014.

“Red, the blood of angry pens; black, the marks of mistakes past…”

by Abby Ponder 

For almost all writers, editing is a fundamental aspect of the writing process. Without it, mistakes can be glossed over and points can remain unrefined. And while in a lot of cases editing is no one’s idea of a good time, it certainly doesn’t have to be the nightmare most people make it out to be.

Whenever I’m writing, my first draft is, to put it rather bluntly, a bit rough. Actually, it’s more than a bit; it’s generally so rough that I almost always refuse to let anyone else even glance at it. My first draft is usually a compilation of various outlines (a step outlined in a recent post) that have been tossed together into an assortment of paragraphs that are usually long and rambling with very little cohesion. It’s something resembling a paper, but it’s not there yet. Like I said, these initial drafts are rough–but that’s okay.

Anne Lamott, most known for her novel Bird by Bird which highlights tips for successful writers of all genres, has a chapter in the aforementioned novel called “Shitty First Drafts.” In the chapter, Lamott explains that a first draft is just that: a first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is a starting point. The whole point of the first draft is to get words and ideas on paper, after all, and that is almost always the hardest part of writing: you have all these fantastic ideas, but you might not have a specific place to start or a way to tie them all together. However, between the help of your outline and your “shitty first draft,” you’ll begin to have an idea come together and slowly but surely that idea will begin to blossom.

So, after you’ve written that first draft, some people write another one… and then maybe another one after that. I know that I usually go through several drafts before I am finally satisfied.

My British Fantasy Literature paper rocking some Les Miserables lyrics, as one naturally does.
For example, I took a class last fall where I had to write a paper breaking down the concept of love in works of British Fantasy Literature. (Harry Potter was, unsurprisingly, incorporated into this assignment.) However, even though I intimately knew the subject matter, there were still a number of changes that needed to be made. A friend of mine helped me to put the editing process in perspective, made me take a step back and laugh at it, and the break from the seriousness was a tremendous help.
Editing, in my experience, is mostly about taking that step back and examining what the words staring back at you are trying to say. It’s akin to reading another person: they’re trying to say something, but it is up to you to decipher the meaning.
There are two things that I have found incredibly helpful in the editing process: (1) printing off the paper, and (2) reading it out loud.
While it is easy enough to edit a paper on the computer (and, admittedly, it does save some on printing costs), there is something about editing a paper on, well, paper that makes a huge difference. People tend to be more inclined to skim when reading online, and consequently it can be very easy to skip over the small mistakes–especially when you’re not on the hunt for a misplaced pronoun or a comma splice. When you print the paper out and literally put pen to paper, you’ll be surprised at how many things you see. And, like with my paper above, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing a marked up paper. Sure, it means you still have a ways to go, but it also symbolizes progress, and progress is never a bad thing.
Next, reading the text to yourself (or another person) can alter your perception of the words. Reading aloud forces you to interact with the paper and actively think about both the content and the style. Additionally, most people have a tendency to catch any misplaced words or confusing phrases when they’re hearing or speaking them. What sounds good in your head may not always work out loud, and this step can do a lot in terms of drawing attention to that.
Just make sure that whenever it seems like too much, and you feel as though you can’t make sense of the words anymore, take a break. Sometimes you need to give your brain some room to breath, and then you can come back ready to get back to work.
Comic by Debbie Ohi.
When you feel like you’re finished, though, or even if you’re stumped along the way, don’t forget to utilize the WKU Writing Center. While we are not an editing service, we will help walk you through any bumps in the road you may be having. Sometimes it’s nice to have a second opinion on things, too.
As always, you can schedule an appointment by clicking here and selecting a time that works well for you. We are also available for drop-in appointments, but those function under a first come, first serve basis.

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on October 20, 2014.

Understanding your WKU Libraries and that looming research project

by Abby Ponder 

Well, we’re all back from Fall Break now (or, at least, most of us are) and that can only mean one thing: those mid-term and final deadlines that initially seemed so far away? They’re approaching–fast. And for a lot of students, that final project will be coming in the form of a research paper. (But have no fear, the Writing Center is here!)

So, you’re staring at this blank slate of an assignment with no clue what to do next. You have a topic, maybe, but all that supporting research? Where are you supposed to get it? Well, my friend, the library is your new best friend when it comes to getting started on your research. There are floors upon floors of shelves upon shelves, and lots of friendly people there to assist you along the way. Books are unfortunately becoming an underutilized resource so make sure you take the time to utilize them; you can find a lot of great information in between the lines.

Remember these guys? They knew to search between the lions.
Photo courtesy of Mississippi Kids Count (http://goo.gl/BDnxAm)

If you haven’t paid a visit to WKU’s very own library yet (Helms-Cravens), it is located in the center of WKU’s campus between Grise and Garrett. If you’ve ever visited Java City for a quick caffeine fix, you’re in the right place! Just travel through the Confucius Institute and you’re in library territory. (Or enter through the Commons at Cravens, located between FAC and Grice.) If you’re not on main campus, though, the regional campuses each have their own libraries, too.

However, we know that getting into the library isn’t always an option. In that case, the WKU library has extensive online databases at your disposal. On the library homepage there is an option to explore Electronic Resources. In most cases, students will use the Databases option, though there are a variety of others to explore, too. Once you’re in the Databases, you can opt to use EBSCOHost, Jstore, Newstand, etc. (If you are not using a university computer you may be prompted to enter your NetID and password, but from then on you’ll have complete access.) From that point, you’ll be able to search to your heart’s content.
The search engine for EBSCOHost, which can be found here.
After you have found your treasured resources, whether they be books from the library or journals collected via some of the databases, there are a variety of citation formats to be aware of that depend on the style guide in question (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc) and the source that you’re using (online journals, novels, newspapers, etc). For a quick look at the more common style guides, the Purdue Owl has some great guides to MLAAPA , and AP, while the Chicago Manuel of Style has its very own guide available on its website.
Throughout the whole process, though, don’t forget that the WKU Writing Center is here to assist you along the way! We encourage you to schedule an appointment with us at your convenience, but we are also available for drop-in appointments on a first come, first serve basis.

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on October 6, 2014.

The WKU Writing Center and the Commons at Cravens

by Abby Ponder 
 
You’ve already scheduled your appointment, and so you begin making your way towards Cherry Hall 123 with your paper in hand. You’re ready to go! When you get to the top of the hill, though, you realize that the door is shut and no one is home. So, what do you do now? You thought you were supposed to have an appointment?
Well, you’re right–you do have an appointment. But if that appointment is scheduled at a time after 4pm, there’s a very good chance that you are in the wrong location.
A few semesters ago, the WKU Writing Center introduced an additional location that is found at the reference desk in the Commons at Cravens. While the Writing Center in Cherry Hall 123 does close for the day at 4pm, the Cravens location opens its metaphorical doors right at 4:00 and remains in business until 9pm. Cravens allows students to continue to seek guidance on their papers at later hours, and at a location that is central to campus for students who may not be able to get up to Cherry Hall during the day.
Consequently, students scheduling appointments should always be mindful to double check where the appointment will be meeting to avoid confusion and missed appointments. (When in doubt, check your confirmation email!)
So, here you are, ready for your appointment. You’re in Cherry Hall and it’s already 4:10; there’s no way you can make it down to Cravens, you may think. If you’re worried about missing an appointment, send us an email at writingcenter@wku.edu and we’ll work to address the problem. And remember, scheduling an appointment is easy to do. Just go to wku.edu/writingcenter and click “appointment scheduler.” From there you’ll be prompted to log in (using your WKU NetID and password) and then schedule an appointment at your convenience.We hope to see you soon!

This post was originally published on September 29, 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.