Saint Mary's University Writing Centre

Halifax, NS


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“Bad” Writers? Worse Consultations: Confidence and Writing Center Pedagogy

Originally posted in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal

James Garner

“So what brings you into the writing center today?”

“Well, I’m not a very good writer…”

Of the first exchanges I have with students visiting the writing center, some version of the above is what I hear perhaps most frequently. Often, before we’ve ever discussed an assignment prompt or looked at a single line of prose, the student tells me what might be a personal confession about their self-perception as a writer, and in my experience, I’ve found that if that statement goes unaddressed, the session as a whole just doesn’t go well. Helping students who express this concern build their confidence, I think, is one of the most important unspoken jobs that we have as writing consultants not only for the students but, also, for our pedagogy and for the productivity of the consultation.

Aside from the obvious compassionate angle to instilling confidence, this trepidation and negative self-perception has some crucial implications for our pedagogy as consultants. It’s frustrating to think of yourself as a poor writer, to feel that no matter how hard you try to articulate yourself, what you want to say comes out all wrong—and then you’re given a grade on top of that. Continue reading


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Professor Complaints in the Tutoring Center

Kaplan University

Molly Wright Starkweather, Kaplan University Tutor

As a writing center tutor, I sometimes see students come in for help with a chip on their shoulder. They feel wronged, whether in the wording of an assignment or with an accusation of plagiarism. They might identify their tutoring need as “help me with my APA,” but what they are really in search of is a sounding board to air their grievances. They might not even realize this unconscious ulterior motive, which reveals itself early on in the tutoring session, giving tutors the opportunity to choose one (or more) of several tutor-tried-and-true ways to get the session back on track:

  1. Draw a firm line. Some tutors will hear a student stray into professor-bashing and will allow only two “characters” in setting the agenda for the tutoring session, and those are the student and the writing task at hand. If a student has…

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Children’s science author L.E. Carmichael on her writing process

 Here’s our own Dr. Lindsey Carmichael, writing tutor and published author of science-focused children’s books, talking about her writing process!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There are a lot of brilliant science books out there for kids, but I think one thing that makes my work different is my background as a scientist. I think it gives me a slightly different perspective than that of authors who love science, but never studied it at the level I have. Because I work part time at a university, I also have access to a lot of research materials that other writers might not be able to find or afford (most professional journals charge pricey subscription and licensing fees). My own research experiences, and those of my scientist friends, also help me identify little-known, but utterly awesome, stories to share with kids.

Why do I write what I do?

I started out writing fiction, but fiction is highly competitive and I wasn’t making much headway with publishers.

Sources I used while writing Gene Therapy

Then, in 2010, it occurred to me that by switching to nonfiction, I could leverage my academic credentials and break into the biz. That sounds mercenary of me, but I quickly realized that nonfiction is a lot more fun to write than most people think it is, and I absolutely love the research process (so much so that I often have to remind myself to stop chasing facts and start writing already!)

In terms of subject matter, I choose projects that I’m fascinated by or subjects I want to learn more about. And I dream about the day someone will come up to me and tell me that my books are the reason they love science.

How does my writing process work?

I love the word “process” – it sounds so organized!

I usually start with exploratory research. I get my hands on some good books about my topic and troll through them with a wide net, looking for anything that sparks my “oh wow” response. This continues until the book starts to take shape in my head – until I’ve figured out roughly what I want to cover and what order it goes in. Then I write a draft of the whole book. This reveals every hole in my research, from the tiny and specific to the huge and the gaping.

My second round of research is designed to plug those gaps – now I’m looking for answers to specific questions. I start using journal articles and reputable websites and contacting experts until I’m satisfied (or my deadline starts to loom). I go back to my draft, add the new material, and polish the whole thing until it shines. This takes anywhere from three to six rounds of revision.

At last I submit, reward myself with chocolate, and wait for the inevitable request for revision, at which point the cycle starts again!

[See original @ http://www.lecarmichael.ca/tag-youre-it-my-writing-process-blog-tour/ ]


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Setting “Optimistic Accountability Markers”

UofL Writing Center

It’s a week from spring break, and I know—one of my feet is already out the door, too. But even though we would rather focus our to-do lists around packing up our suitcases to go home or buying a new swimsuit to rush off to some actual sunny weather (what is this weather we’ve been having?!), let’s take a step back into this figurative door-frame and do ourselves a favor.

DSCN2233

After spring break, it always seems like a sprint to the finish with all the assignments and papers and projects, yadda yadda yadda…but this semester, glorious spring 2015, let’s try to make it a little less stressful on ourselves. Let’s set some optimistic accountability markers (some may mistake these as self-deadlines, but that term is all too scary. These are much nicer). What do you say? This’ll take less than 10 minutes of time, and I promise, our future selves…

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A Case for Revision

Marshall University's Writing Center Blog

As has been mentioned on our blog, writing is a process. It is not a clinical process where a writer sits down, writes everything out perfectly the first time, and is done. Novel finished with a movie deal on the way, and it is not even time for second breakfast. This is probably the strangest fiction about writing that I grew up with. While I spent years hearing about the writing process or that writing is a process, I spend quite a long time not understanding what that meant and just how important and useful a skill revision is.

How often have you written something for a class or a deadline and never looked at it again? This piece that you spent anywhere from an hour to a week working on disappears into your folder or bag or maybe in the trash or recycle bin. How will it ever get…

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The “Top-down” Approach to Writing Thesis Statements and Starting Papers

Marshall University's Writing Center Blog

Gregory Fraser and Chad Davidson’s book Analyze Anything: A Guide to Critical Reading and Writing has some specific examples of how to be more specific when writing essays. Often times, it’s easy to forget that writing a paper is more difficult than it looks. Going off of Fraser and Davidson’s “Ladder of Specificity,” I will give you my own example and “take” on how to narrow your thesis statement and topic to fit the parameters of the assignment you’ve been given to achieve what you’ve been asked to write. First, you must pick a subject within the parameters of the assignment you’ve been given. Next, you have to narrow that to achieve the parameters of the assignment. Lastly, you must write the essay in a cohesive, articulate, and persuasive tone. It’s tough. It’s tough for most everyone.

When beginning to write an essay it’s imperative to remember that we need…

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