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Writing Well, Thinking Well

Writing Well, Thinking Well

April 17, 2015

Writing wellToday's post was contributed by Julie Moore, Associate Professor of Literature and Director of the Cedarville University Writing Center.

No matter the academic major, students quickly discover they have to write papers (many of them!) throughout their experience at Cedarville University. Fortunately, Cedarville's Writing Center is available to assist with all their writing needs.

The Writing Center enjoys a large and relaxing space equipped with comfortable sofas and swivel chairs as well as work tables and tutor carrels. Here is the place where students can access free tutoring on all their writing. If they are working on an outline for speech, they can come see us. If they're working on essays for scholarship or graduate school applications, they can seek our guidance. And of course, if they're working on one of the dozens of papers they'll be composing as part of their academic experience — whether two pages or 50 pages long — they can make appointments to work with writing consultants who are their peers.

The tutors are excellent writers and communicators from a wide variety of majors, including business, engineering, English, history, music, nursing, psychology, Spanish, and professional writing and information design. I train these students to become effective writing consultants in the required 3000-level course Writing Center Theory and Training. Thus, they are knowledgeable about effective tutoring techniques and are as adept at working with freshmen in composition as with seniors in capstone courses. In fact, because they recognize the value of discourse and a fresh perspective on their work, they even tutor each other!

They also effectively assist students with special needs and writers who are English Language Learners. The writing consultants truly care about every student who meets with them, and they come alongside each writer, helping develop ideas thoroughly, clearly, and accurately. For that reason, the students who often visit the Writing Center are the same ones who improve the most over time.

We especially work closely with first-year students, many of whom struggle to adjust to university-level expectations for their writing. Both students who earned A's on essays in high school and students inexperienced with paper-writing find Cedarville's writing assignments challenging. How relieved and excited they are to discover the Writing Center! Their peers are here — the same students they sit with in chapel, eat lunch with in the dining hall, and live beside in the residence halls. So the Writing Center is a welcoming place where students can explore ideas, take risks in their writing, and learn successful strategies for composing complex and effective essays.

Students can visit us as soon as they get an assignment to start brainstorming ideas, and they can come as often as they want for help on the same paper. We start where the writers are — at the moment an assignment is given, in the midst of writing a draft, or when it is time for revisions. In addition, if students really enjoy their consultant, they can check the schedule online to see when that tutor works again and make the next appointment(s) with that same person.

During the consultation, the writing tutor will read your student's paper and help set up an agenda for the session to follow. In the next 30 minutes, the tutor will work through that agenda, offering guidance on how to build upon strengths and improve weaknesses. But even at this stage, your student will be actively involved in the conference. Students may "free write" for five or 10 minutes, do some outlining or revising, and even consult a manual.

The Writing Center's place isn't limited to the building in which it's housed, however. Its website also provides many helpful resources. For example, information about the center's mission and objectives, a description of what students can expect from our services, and even directions about how to make an appointment are all on our website.

Because the Writing Center also conducts workshops weekly, the PowerPoint presentations and, in some cases, the videos of those workshops are posted online. In addition, we house many links to discipline-specific writing guides and documentation styles as well as grammar resources and style tips. Please encourage your student to access these useful resources.

By discussing ideas and goals with a trained tutor who both enjoys writing and understands how to reach an audience, every writer, no matter the level of proficiency, discovers paths toward successful revisions and credible, persuasive writing. For that reason, even I sought the assistance of one of my tutors on this very piece! And the guidance she provided helped me reorganize this blog and polish my sentences. Your student can also greatly benefit from such valuable services and resources, and we truly hope we get the chance to work with him in the fall.

Now for some very practical advice ...

For those students who still have some time in high school, here are 10 tips for university-level writing. Begin implementing these tips into your high school writing and get a head start on college writings skills.

10. Keep your chin up. “Writing is hard work,” writing expert William Zinsser says. “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

9. Take risks. Don't play it safe with your writing. Explore new ideas. Raise the unasked questions. Go where no man, or woman, has gone before. Be original. Own what you write.

8. Abandon high school style. Learn how to vary your sentence patterns, use strong, active verbs, and develop fluency in your writing. 

7. Research well. Nothing drives a professor more crazy than a student who cites from Wikipedia or Sparks Notes. Research and cite scholarly sources. Enough said. 

6. Be original. Avoid clichés, trite phrases, and evangelical jargon. Sorry, but the first thing that comes to your mind usually is not brilliant. Begin again.

5. Be precise. Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Listen to the man.

4. Know your audience. Keep your readers’ perspectives in mind as you write. Work to establish common ground and to demonstrate an awareness of and sensitivity to opposing views.

3. Pay attention to the process. Writing a paper isn’t a one-draft deal. Brainstorm ideas. Read about your topic. Sketch outlines. Write (hear us now!) multiple rough drafts.

2. Start early. Seriously, don’t procrastinate. Certain Death=Waiting till the week of the paper’s due date to begin your paper.

1. (Drum roll, please) Seek feedback! Seek someone who can help you brainstorm and develop outlines. The Writing Center will never tire of helping your student!

This entry was posted by Julie Moore, Associate Professor of Literature and Director of the Cedarville University Writing Center. Julie is the author of  two books of poetry, Particular Scandals and Slipping Out of Bloom, which may be ordered through Amazon or other retailers.

Posted in Academics