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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Lines of red and green

By Abby Ponder

Have you ever left an appointment at the Writing Center feeling a little blue? You came in mostly confident in your paper–there might’ve been a few mistakes, sure, but you just know it’s solid–and then watched as lines began to fill the margins while your eyes widened in surprise.

It’s not always a great feeling, especially that first time you see it.

Even if you talk it over with your tutor as you go, discuss why those colorful and intricate markings now dot your paper, you might still be feeling a little upset. I thought it was good–that I was good. What happened? 

Well, I have news for you: you’re not alone.

My editing process, which is discussed more thoroughly in this post here, involves a lot of printing and, well, editing. I’ll often print out a copy of my paper, take a pen to it, make the corrections, and then repeat the process a time or two again. Hey, never let it be said that I am nothing if not persistent. (And, let’s be honest, a bit of an extreme perfectionist.)

Now, I’m not saying that you need to rush home and start editing your papers five or six times with a bright red pen. That’s actually not it at all! What works well for some people might not work as well for others. For instance, I know some people who simply read the document to themselves backwards, looking for typos or misplaced words as they go. Others turn on track changes in Microsoft Word and start flying through the paper.

There is no single right way to edit, just as there is also no wrong way.

The good news is that in the Writing Center, we do our best to avoid that ominous red pen. I mean, there’s a reason that all the “scary teachers” on television or in movies use it. Red packs a powerful punch and one glance at it can sometimes send the message of, “Well, darn, that doesn’t look good!” Markings on paper with red ink have developed into something with a negative connotation but, if we’re being honest, I actually prefer the red pen when I’m editing my own papers. Nothing snaps you into gear quite like the bright and shiny red ink that’s telling you, “Hey, kid, I need to be changed–don’t you dare ignore me!”

Like I said, though, what works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Red pens might not be for you yet, but green pens, on the other hand, are a nice place to start. After all, green is a comforting color–a cool color, in fact.

However, the ultimate thing to keep in mind is that marks on a paper are not a bad thing. They also do not lower your meaning as a writer or as a person. On the contrary, they signify that, sure, something might need improved, but you’re on the right track–you’re almost there. They’re a sign of progress and of growth, and there is something inherently valuable in that.

The markings also aren’t something that you should ever take personally. As evidenced by the picture below, I go to town with my own papers. Sometimes there is more red ink than black ink and white space and, again, that’s perfectly okay. It’s a way of thinking out loud in a quiet room and is something you should never be ashamed of.

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So, put that pen to paper and write. Or turn on track changes. Or read backwards. Or, better yet, come see us in the Writing Center.

I can’t promise anything, but I like to think that you’ll be glad you did.

Let’s talk about grammar (or not)

By Abby Ponder

It’s a gloomy Wednesday, you’re drenched from hiking up the hill in the pouring rain, and you can feel your stress levels beginning to rise with each step you take. You have a test tomorrow, a paper due the day after that, and you don’t know when you’re going to have time for a lunch break–next Tuesday, maybe? You’re on your way into the writing center, paper clutched tightly in hand, and you just want this day to be over with.

You round the corner and walk into the room, located on the main floor of Cherry Hall, for the first time in your academic career. Perhaps you are a freshman still finding your way in this great big world of academia or perhaps you are a graduating senior who doesn’t really want to be here in the first place. (You won’t tell your tutors that, though, will you?) You cross over the threshold, taking in the round tables with multiple students filling them. You don’t think you can even differentiate who is helping whom. They’re all student, each and every one of them–like you.

“Can I help you?”

You turn your head and smile at the person sitting behind the reception desk. You think you might recognize her from one of your classes.

“Yes, I was wondering if I could meet with someone about my paper? I’ve heard this is where you go,” you say.

The girl smiles at you.

“You’ve got it,” she says. “The sign-in sheet is right behind you. Someone will be with you in a moment, if you want to have a seat.”

You nod, reaching for the pen and paper. You fill out the necessities–name, student identification number, time of day, and course title–and then take a seat on the couch beneath the white board. As you wait, you spend your time checking your phone and trying not to guess at which student you’ll be sharing your work with.

Writing is an extremely personal thing for you. You both love and loathe the process, and you can’t help but feel your cheeks flush and your heart beat erratically any time someone dares to look too closely at the words you’ve carefully placed on paper. Sometimes you’re extremely grateful that you don’t have to be present as your professors read your assignments–the red pen is bad enough. Sometimes there’s a little and sometimes there’s a lot, but either way it breaks your heart.

Sometimes, more often than not, you think, you can’t even bring yourself to read the tightly scrawled notes.

“Are you ready to get started?” you hear. Your head snaps up, eyes falling on the speaker.

You nod at this person who must be your tutor and follow her to one of the round tables in the corner of the room. You can’t help but note that you have a rather nice view out the window from where you’re now seated. The cherry blossoms are dancing in the wind, the skies beginning to cloud with another April shower. It’s almost calming in a way–the calm before the storm. You wish you hadn’t forgotten your umbrella, though.

“So, what can I help you with?” the tutor asks.

“Grammar,” you say immediately. Grammar has always been your weakness, the biggest drain on your confidence. If you could only make it go away, eschew all the rules, then you would be more than happy to. Unfortunately, your professors, it seems, disagree with that philosophy.

The girl sitting beside you nods, picking up a purple pen and uncapping it.

“Mhm,” she says. “What is your assignment about? What class is it for?”

You launch into your explanation of the assignment: what it is, whom it’s for, and all the problems you’ve been having with it. You don’t like your thesis at all, and you’re not feeling confident about the third paragraph, but you really like the way you bring out this one point in paragraph five.

You tell her all of this, watching a smile spread across her face.

“Okay,” she says. “Let’s start with that thesis statement then.”

The next half an hour passes by rather quickly. Together you read through your paper, catching errors and inaccuracies on occasion, but also finding strong textual analysis and well-written content. It’s not a perfect draft, but it doesn’t have to be: it is a first draft, after all.

When the minute hand eventually signals the conclusion of the session, you’re feeling good about your paper. There were some hiccups along the way–that’s life–but you leave feeling more confident about your paper than you did before you walked through the door a half hour ago.

Two weeks later finds you in the writing center again. This time, you work with a different tutor–one who is just as nice and helpful as your tutor before. For this paper, you don’t even have a draft written yet, just an idea that’s beginning to blossom in your head. You tell your tutor as much, and he nods encouragingly.

“We can work with that,” he says with a laugh.

Together your chart the trajectory of your paper, filling in a blank outline with your words and ideas. It’s more than just going through the motions, you think: it’s progress.

When you leave this appointment, you have another scheduled a few days down the line.

“Come back whenever you’re ready,” your tutor tells you. “We’re happy to look at another draft with you.”

And you do.

The Writing Center at WKU offers support for all students who are enrolled at the university. We offer services in two respective locations, Cherry Hall 123 and the Commons at Cravens Library, as well as online appointments for students attending WKU’s regional campuses or exclusively taking online courses.

Contrary to some misconceptions, the Writing Center isn’t simply an editing service. Instead, we work with students to help them improve their overall writing abilities, not just a singular paper. We’re there for you at any stage in the writing process, whether you’re brainstorming or looking at a final draft.

This post was originally published on June 9, 2015.

Communicating in group projects

by Abby Ponder

There are two words on a syllabus that have the potential to strike fear into the hearts of students everywhere: “group project.”

People are wary of group projects for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding time in an overwhelmingly busy schedule that accommodates several people; sometimes it’s a matter of having communication difficulties with your fellow group members; and sometimes it’s simply that you’re a strong, independent student who doesn’t need a group support system.

Whatever your reason, sometimes group projects can be stressful experiences–even with wonderful group members.

However, they’re an important aspect of both college life and life in the real world. People have to collaborate on projects all the time to turn out a successful product. Learning those skills can only help you in the long run.

Still, though, sometimes even when you know something is good for you, it might not be something you’re looking forward to. So, how do you make the best of your situation?

First and foremost, communication is essential. Depending on the scale of your project, there are various ways to communicate effectively with your group members. Technology of the 21st Century really is your best friend in this instance. Some viable options (and their pros and cons) include:

  1. Email: This is the standard form of communication amongst students, but is it the most effective? It depends. Emails allow you to be very verbose in your content and share files. If you have a lot to say in one burst of content, emails will definitely work in your favor. However, if your group is on the larger side, emails can sometimes make it difficult to  communicate with everyone. If one person forgets to click “reply all” or to “CC” everyone, then a communication gap can appear and information has the potential to be lost in translation.
  2. Group Texts: When you’re trying to decide when and where to meet, group texts can be a swell way to handle the communication side of things. They’re also nice for sharing quick bits of information or asking questions on a smaller scale: “When is the paper due? Are we meeting at six?” When it gets more complex than that, though? Maybe not. Another thing to keep in mind regarding group texts is that some people may have phones that are incompatible with the rest of the group. Make sure to clarify such things before establishing it as your go-to method.
  3. Facebook Groups: This is my personal favorite way to communicate because it combines all the aforementioned methods into one. You can post files, share status updates, and keep everything organized in one place.
  4. Google Drive: Want to work together but can’t meet in the same place? Google Drive is the tool for you! You can write and edit one collective document at the same time and save it automatically. This can be super helpful in the collaborative process, but do keep in mind that meeting up at least once is a very good idea in order to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The most important thing during a group project is to collaborate. If you work together and communicate, your chances for success will be much greater.
If there are several individuals working together, it might also be a good idea to assign specific roles to members–an editor, a designer, an organizer, etc. Make sure everyone is involved throughout the entire process.
So, what are your strategies for communicating in group projects? Let us know!
Stay tuned for next week’s post about the actual writing process for group projects.
This post was originally published on March 30, 2015.

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.