Monday, December 13, 2010

Online Research: What do you want to know? Part 2: Keywords and Boolean Operators

The blinking cursor of the search bar may be as intimidating as deciding what topic to research. Typing a general search term, such as literacy, will return thousands upon thousands of results which must be narrowed down. How does one go about sifting through all those results?

In this case, the topic can be further clarified by thinking what about literacy the search is trying to determine — say the paper the writer is working on discusses whether literacy education helps people overcome issues of poverty. From this question the writer can use:

 Keywords: literacy, education, poverty

Or phrasing: literacy education overcoming issues of poverty

For either, Boolean operators (which are words algebraic logic operators) can be used to create sets of search results by joining or modifying keywords. Three common Boolean operators familiar to most students are “AND,” “OR,” “NOT.”

The usage of the term AND seems pretty obvious (i.e. this AND that). But its effective use is not quite as simple. If searching for this and that, one merely needs to type – this that – and a search engine will factor in the missing AND in the space between the two words. However, if the search is more complicated (i.e. literacy education overcoming issues of poverty in Chicago housing projects) the term AND can help design sets that might bring back better results.

For example: literacy education AND poverty AND Chicago housing projects

However, this query will still not be quite accurate enough. In fact, unless the person implementing the search uses “quotation marks” to group the words together in the phrased query, the search will return every result that contains at least one of the words in the phrase. In order to narrow the search even further it becomes necessary to group these words together.

For example: “literacy education” AND “poverty” AND “Chicago housing projects”

The search should now only show results that contain these words somewhere in the returned documents.

A quick breakdown of other Boolean operators:

OR: This operator affords for at least one term or phrase to be present in the search, e.g. “literacy education” or “reading education”

NOT: This operator tells the search engine to exclude a term in a search. Also, NOT is often used in conjunction with another operator such as AND, e.g. “Literacy education” AND “poverty” NOT “housing projects”

NEAR: This operator asks the search to find a term near another term (at least within 16 words of the other keyword), e.g. “Literacy education” NEAR “poverty” or if the goal is to find literacy education in Chicago — “Literacy education” NEAR Chicago.

( ) or Nesting: Parentheses are used to clarify conditions in complex searches. The operation requires a keyword or a group of keywords to be searched first before the entire search is completed. For example (“literacy education” NEAR “poverty”) AND (“Cabrini Green” OR “Housing projects”)

*: Asterisk signifies a string; for example if a word has multiple suffixes or the searcher only knows partial spelling of the entire then an asterisk can be used to pull up terms that contain part of that word, e.g. “project*” for projects or project.

-: Minus symbol indicates a similar operator to NOT. For example, the search “Literacy education” AND “poverty” -Chicago would result in searching for literacy education and poverty but exclude any documents that contain the word Chicago.

N.B. Special thanks to Joe Barker of the Teaching Library at The University of California, Berkley. He has created comprehensive PDF explaining Boolean terms with visual aids which readers can find here.

Bernard M. Cox

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Online Research: What do you want to know? Part 1: Search Engines and Online Resources

When embarking on writing a research paper, writers can be stymied by the vast online marketplace of information. Let’s say a writer at least has designed an argument, where is the writer going to find the appropriate information to support this argument? The following is a breakdown of websites that one may choose to start from.

The Roosevelt Library Search Engines: The Roosevelt Library Homepage should be a student writer’s first place to start researching a topic for three main reasons:
1.      The library has multiple search engines including for students to use which are often specialized for academic topics and current news sources (For example: Search RU Catalog for University book holdings; Academic Search Premier and LexisNexis Academic Universe for academic journals and news sources)
2.      The homepage offers “Research Guides by Subject” in a pull down menu right under “Search RU Catalog.” These research guides are compiled and organized by librarians and professors in an effort to help students more quickly find the information they’re looking for.
3.      Two vast interlibrary loan systems: ILLiad and I-Share. I-Share gives students access to over seventy university and college libraries across the state. ILLiad extends that reach to the World Catalog, so if a resource can’t be found locally, ILLiad will find it globally.

Above all, tuition dollars go towards securing these resources for students. Don’t let the money be wasted by avoiding use of these great sources of information.

Google: Google is a wonderful place to start but the main homepage often provides an overwhelming amount of search results. Try clicking on one of the hyperlinks at the top of the page such as “News” or “more.” The “more” hyperlink offers options such as Google Books and Google Scholar, both of which can lead to more academic/peer reviewed information on the subject searched.

Wikipedia: Many professors decry the use of Wikipedia. Most of this criticism stems around the idea that the information on Wikipedia is unreliable. However, this feeling turns out to be often unfounded. A 2005 study published in the academic journal Nature found that Wikipedia was no more or less reliable than the Encyclopedia Britannica when it came to scientific information. Additionally, many of the academic subject areas (science, history, etc.) are reviewed by people who are experts in these particular subjects. This being said, many articles (including those managed by experts) are not peer reviewed in the strictest sense. Furthermore, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and as such is a popular source of information rather than the academic source that professors are often looking for. It can be a good place to start in order to understand the basics of a topic (and a writer can then use the hyperlinked articles in the “References” or “External Links” sections to read further on the topic), but in most cases it should not be a primary source of information. If you are still not sure about use or want to include the material found in a Wikipedia article, then clarify concerns of use with your professor before citing as a source.

Determining qualified websites can be tricky. Be advised that not all websites contain pertinent or accurate information that one may use in an academic paper. Use the below suffix list as a general rule of thumb.
            Often qualify as useable websites for sources:
      .edu (Universities, schools)
      .gov (Governmental agencies)
      Sometimes .net (Usually networks or networked organizations, but not always)
      Sometimes .org (Usually refers to not-for-profit organizations, but not always)
      Very infrequently .com (Companies, commercial websites)
Often do not qualify as useable websites for sources:
·         .biz
·         Usually .com
·         Sometimes .org
·         Sometimes .net 

Bernard M. Cox

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Journal Writing

As a semi-veteran of journal writing (I've only done it for about the last ten years and I'm 32, which is relatively not that long compared to some), I recommend people writing in a journal.  Well, I guess your bedroom wall would work too, but if you rent that could be a problem.

Anyways, the journal is a great storehouse for ideas made flesh in the form of words, instead of the electrical neural firings of one's brain.  At least, when we write things down we can look at them and judge whether they are accurate or not.  We also get in the practice of putting the brilliant statements we have in our minds, that often come out in conversation, into print.  So when we do write a paper, poem, story, or essay for class it is a little easier, because we have become well practiced at translating our thoughts into linguistic signs!

I find, too, that a journal can be a place where, when I am stressed, I can vent and get some perspective on whatever is bothering me.  It can also be a place to celebrate, express serenity or content, or to describe something funny or strange you witnessed.  All in all, it is a great invention that writers have used generation after generation, and I highly recommend picking one up.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Everybody learns

When I tell students I learn or relearn things during our sessions, they're always surprised. And that always surprises me!

I think that the standards of MLA, APA, CMS, etc. are very hard to memorize. When I write a paper, I'm constantly looking up specific guidelines to make sure I'm citing/formatting things correctly. I always appreciate the opportunity to talk to other students about these guidelines and how they apply to a paper because it also helps refresh my memory. I'll be honest--I don't really like citing things, because that means I have to do extra work ;). But on the flip side of that, if I ever publish a work that others use as a reference, I would like to be given credit for my work, so I am happy to give others credit for theirs.

I've learned so much this week alone from one student in particular. I always wonder if what I tell students is helpful. Usually a student comes in for a session and that's the first and last time I see him/her. This is either because the student only needed help with one paper, or because they come in during the days or hours that I'm not here. It makes it all the more special when a student actually tries to coordinate his/her schedule just to work with you.

I don't usually get to see what changes students have made to their papers after our sessions. When I work with one student continually, I always get to see those changes--it's so helpful to both of us. I get to see if what I say to the student makes sense, for one. We all learn in different ways--some of us are auditory learners, while others are kinesthetic or visual learners. We all process information differently.

A student came back to work with me this week and showed a pretty major change in his/her writing. I was so proud--I sound like a mother, but I really was so proud. We don't take the easy route in the Writing Center. We don't correct papers with red pen and reword things for students. That only helps the student for that day, for that assignment. We encourage writers that come in to use their own words, so we'll try to lead them somewhere, but trail off so they can finish the thought. This gives the writers a starting point, so that eventually they'll be able to arrive at the middle and the end of the thought...and in time, they'll even create their own starting points. I was never used to this approach when I was going through school...I was used to the red pen, so I've always wondered if what I say helps...and I've received proof that it does.

I started at the very beginning with this student, searching through a short story, figuring out how to identify the important material, how to craft a thesis from what we found, and how to use the examples that we found as information and support within the paper. We made lists, we wrote, we thought, we read....and it was amazing. The student brought his/her paper back in a couple days ago, applying everything we talked about in the previous session--I immediately saw a HUGE difference.

So, to tutors and writers,

There is no shame in starting with the basics (of finding information to use for example). Knowing the basics as best as you can gives you a stronger and stronger foundation.

We all learn from each other, no matter what type of position we're in.

Always make the person that you are working with feel good about themselves. The better they feel, the more they will want to work. When somebody tells me something like "great job on this, keep going!" It makes me want to go home and write and write and write and.....write! Writers, if you think your tutor is doing a good job and you really understand what they're trying to say, let them know! It really makes our day :)...or week...or month!

Something you'll always hear us say in the writing center is that writing is a constant learning process. No matter if you are a student, a teacher or a published's always a learning process. So keep on going, no matter what....we all have good days and bad days, we all start at different places, but we all learn.

-Jillian Smith

TALK about it!

I’ll be honest when I first heard about the Writing Center I was apprehensive about how useful it may be. I tend to write, as most people, in a silent area with all of my tools spread out on a desk, alone. More often than appropriate I’d type into the wee hours of the night, and then simply press print and go on my way. The key word of all of that is ALONE and maybe procrastination much?... At points I would have others read over my paper and correct some grammar issues and sentence structure but typically I did all of the correcting, or lack of correcting, on my own.

Until I scored this fantastic job as a tutor, I didn’t truly understand the benefits of being a social writer. So what does that even mean, a social writer, it seems to contradict itself. To be a social writer is to be able to talk about your writing. It’s a lot easier than you would think; I mean it’s YOUR writing. And let’s not be modest, we all love to talk about ourselves. It is a lot of fun to hear someone elaborate on their ideas and suggest ways to make their point more clear.

When I re-read my own papers it is easy to think that my point has been clearly addressed. This is because in my mind I have all the extra information that I have used to write the paper and I of course know what I am trying to say. When a fresh mind comes across my paper I may be surprised to find out that they are unable to see my point clearly. Communicating about my paper with someone who does not hold the information I have in their head allows them to be able to address where I may be able to make a point more clear. The beauty of this communication is that the point I was trying to make seems to rise from between the sentences on the page and I am better able to incorporate that point into those sentences.

Although a paper is never truly complete, without these conversations the point of my writing in the first place may never be adequately made. Because I have become open to communicating about my writing I am now unable to turn in a paper without this communication. Even though I still sometimes find myself under the wrath of procrastination, I always find time to read over my paper aloud with someone. Even just ten minutes of this allows me a confidence I have previously lacked in my writing.

I guess the point of this entire thing is to TALK; talk to friends, talk to family members, talk to a woman on the street! Talk to anyone! Just as long as you are not exclusively talking to yourself about your writing, you’re good and the improvement in the quality of your writing will be hard to ignore. Take turns TALKING; chat, communicate, vocalize, speak, argue (kindly of course), verbalize, voice, articulate, put into words… Be redundant, do it and then do it again! It’s fun! So one more time in case I didn’t make it clear enough TALK. I will now ask one of my fellow tutors to TALK about this writing with me to make sure I made my point to TALK clearly. Happy writing! :)

If you have to be agressive do it! Just so long as you talk about it afterwards!
  By: Amanda Warren
  I borrowed this comic from Hal Mayforth, more of his artwork is available here 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing as Voice

Writing has the ability to give voice to thoughts that might not otherwise be heard.  Words and language should be seen as powerful tools, tools that have the power to influence people’s actions.  Words have a great affect on my thinking and emotions.  Sometimes other people’s words have the ability to affect me even more than their actions.

Writing helps us better understand our own thoughts.  By attempting at putting our thoughts on paper, we are able to get a window into the mess of our own brains and thought processes.  Through conversation with others, through the exchange of ideas and words, we are better able to understand ourselves and our ideas.  Half of our identities consist of how others perceive us, thus, conversation and relationships with others are vital to understanding ourselves.  Talking about writing can often give birth to new ideas as well as new ways of expressing these ideas.

I often hate sharing my writing with other people, especially with people who are closest to me.  Maybe it’s because my writing, is a window into how I think and perceive the world.  But sharing my writing with others is something I know I need to do because writing is something that should be shared and talked about.  Without conversation, I will not become a better writer.  It’s not fair that I should enjoy other people’s words and language everyday without giving back. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Five Tips for Writing a Great College Paper

Tip #1 Understand the purpose of the paper
Make sure that you understand the particular type of paper that you are writng (i.e. persuasive, opinion, research) before attempting your first draft.

Tip #2 Don't underestimate the power of research
Completing all of your research before starting your paper will save you time by ensuring that you will do less revisions and it will rid your paper of weak or false claims.
Tip #3 Create an outline
An outline is the road map to your paper. Not only will having an outline make it easier for you to begin your assignment, but you will also have a better grasp on how to organze your ideas and what you want your paper to say.

Tip #4 Don't be afraid to ask for help
 Professors have office hours set aside particularly for students-utilize them! Your professor knows the assignment best and will be able to answer all of your questions beautifully.

Tip #5 When in doubt, check us out!
(at the Writing Center, that is.)
Got a question about your paper? Want feedback? Well, the Writing Center can provide that and more; we are a great tool for RU students! We are open Monday thru Thursday from 9am to 6pm. The best part? Our services are free (well, after your tuition pays for it) and awesome!

By. Jerica Hayes

Writing is FUN!

I think writing is fun because IT IS FUN.  That's my one thought to you.  Every time I get a paper I have to write, I ask myself: HOW CAN I MAKE THIS PAPER FUN?  And then I make it fun and it's fun. 

Let me explain: I was told that I should write a blog.  I asked myself: what should I write to make this blog fun?  I'LL WRITE ABOUT FUN.  And now I am and it's fun. 

You can make your paper fun too.  You will get a prompt from a teacher and be like: man, this is lame!  But even the strictest prompts can leave room for fun. And fun doesn't have to even mean, haha funny, but usually it does, 'cause fun is in FUNny, but NO.  Fun means writing what you like.  Tying things together that you like. 

We had a paper that compared education systems.  WOW - how can we make THAT fun?  Um...EASY.  What's the funnest part of fun?  Writing about what you like!  And what do you like?  YOURSELF.  Students should tie papers to their own life experinces, because it's fun to talk about yourself, it's fun to tie in knowledge to your personal life - and guess what - it's more fun to read too!  Isn't learning about yourself fun?  Isn't learning about others fun?  Answer: YES. 

So, the next time you have a paper you don't want to write, think about how you can make it...well, you know.  Be creative.  Be specific.  Be you. 


-Tim Moore-

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Never Give Up.

People have often told me that starting a paper is the hardest part of writing. Maybe they are right, but I think actually continuing the paper is difficult as well. Once I put that first sentence down, my thoughts get all confused and I have no idea how anything ties together. Writing a thesis is not an option at this point, and usually I just type “enter thesis here” at the end of my first paragraph during this first draft. However, as I progress, the writing becomes easier and honestly, the best advice anyone can give about writing is that you just have to do it.

For some reason, writers think that their first draft needs to be perfect. When writing a draft for the first time, people sometimes focus on their word choice and sounding “smart” instead of just getting their ideas onto paper. In reality, all you can hope to accomplish with a first draft is to form a coherent thought and hopefully find your thesis. Once that first sentence is complete, you have to make yourself keep typing if you ever hope to find an answer.

Using an outline first can help you put your thoughts together. If you outline or brainstorm before, go through your paper and write a paragraph or so for each idea and later you can worry about the transitions and if the points are even relevant. The whole point of a first draft is to draft out your ideas so you can fix them later.

Basically what I’m trying to say is don’t lose hope. All of us have stared at that blank Word document in horror as the deadline for our paper quickly approached. Instead of freaking out and procrastinating in hopes of a miracle, just start your paper the best way that you can. Once you have something written, you will be more relaxed and more able to revise your original draft to a focused paper. Eventually, a presentable paper will emerge and you will wonder where all of that fear had come from. Just don’t give up. :)

Good Luck!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Group Work: It's Just How Things Go!

    I am no expert on tutoring and/or the theory behind it, but I will try my best to explain my understanding of it. I ,also, aim to propose some tips to help tutors and tutees. A tutor reading this can gain an understanding of this abstract concept and a student reading can understand the concept of group work from a tutor's perspective.
    The purpose of group work  is to develop discussion amongst students between one another and the tutor, regarding developing/writing their work. However, group work does not have to always be about developing or revising the students' works. Instead, group work can be a mere brainstorming session where students come in with nothing and leave with an idea of how to approach the assignment at hand.
      I offer two very different types of group work activities a tutor can employ,"Getting Started," and "Developmental Writing."
      Typically, in the "Getting Started" activities the instructor prompts the tutors on what the class has been working on and what the assignment is. The tutor joins the group to discuss the assignment with the students and what their ideas already are for executing it. An introduction is always needed where a tutor should say their name and go around to each student and let them do the same. Tutors remember to take notes of the students name because it is helpful to address students by their name and not just pronouns. This group work activity revolves around asking open- ended questions about the prompted assignment.
      Tutors should keep in mind that the students participating  in group work may need to warmed up to the idea of open-ended discussion. To get rid of silence within group work a tutor can ask questions that require a show of hands instead of a verbal response.
     Finally, the activity I call, "Developing Writing's" goal of the session is to discuss the work that has already been done. In the case of this activity, you will not get to go over the whole paper.  There is not enough time and energy. A remedy to the limited time is a tutor going over the key points: thesis, support, and intentions behind writing.

-Kara Taylor-

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Second Annual Flash Fiction Contest

Second Annual Halloween
Flash Fiction Contest
is now accepting submissions!

The Rules:
Tell us a story about fear.

Each entry must not exceed 750 words.  Only current Roosevelt students and RU Community members may submit their work.

How to Submit:

Bring in a copy of your story to AUD 650 or email it as a “.doc” file to The subject line should read: Flash-Fiction Submission.


The winning story will receive a grand prize and be published, along with the second and third place winners, on the Writing Center official website and Blog. The final three winners will also present their stories at a Reading Event sponsored by the Writing Center.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Winner Announced:
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Myths of the Writing Center

Myth 1: "I don't need help with my writing."

Truth 1: No one is the perfect writer. It takes a lot of work to create good writing habits that lead to good writing. Regardless of how good of a writer you perceive yourself to be, there is always room for improvement.

Myth 2: "Writing Center tutors are faculty/professionals/English majors."

Truth 2: Tutors at the Writing Center are students, just like the writers who come in. The emphasis of our work at the Writing Center is to create dialogue between students. This dialogue is what we believe leads to better writing.

Also, not all of the tutors are English majors. There are a variety of majors showcased in the Writing Center staff. Each person is, however, trained to be a tutor and trained to help to the best of their ability by providing resources, advice and insight.

Myth 3: "The Writing Center is there to edit my grammar and punctuation line-by-line."

Truth 3: Tutors are happy to point out reoccurring mistakes in grammar or punctuation. The point, however, is to provide the writer with a stronger understanding of the rules so that, in the future, they can catch these mistakes on their own. Tutors are trained to focus on content, organization, the thesis, clarity and focus.

Myth 4: "I can't go in because I need an appointment."
Truth 4: False. We are happy to accept walk-in sessions. Making an appointment, however, will guarantee you time with a tutor. When you walk in, just keep in mind that there may be no tutors available right away.

Myth 5: "I don't have time to go in to the Writing Center, so I can't possibly use their services."

Truth 5: The Roosevelt University Writing Center has resources online that writers can use to answer questions they may have about writing.

Writers who may not have time to visit the Writing Center can also schedule an online appointment. These take place in a chat space provided by Black Board. The tutor and writer meet in the chat space to discuss, in real-time, the issues the writer is facing with the assignment. These are the same discussions that would take place within the Writing Center, just imagine more emoticons being involved. It is awfully hard to convey tone within text. :P

Myth 6: "The people in the Writing Center are boring and I wouldn't go there other than to get help with a paper."

Truth 6: This is so false! We have a lot of personalities running around this place. There is always someone fun and interesting to talk to, so please feel free to stop by! :D I mean, do you see these friendly, inviting, emoticons AND the Pirate Puppy?!

Sam Becker & Natalie Hughes

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Baby Tutor

I, Patrick Garrett, am tutoring for the first time ever. I must say that after only working in the Writing Center for two weeks, I have learned a great deal. So far, I have had the great honor of getting to help more than a few people with their various writing tasks. I was nervous at first, but I was able to use some of the suggestions that were given in the new tutor orientation readings. The readings were quite helpful, I must say. Jerica, another of our brilliant tutors, coached me through a mock tutoring session before I was assigned my first tutee. This practice session allowed me to get a feel for the back and forth that the conversational art of tutoring requires.

Recently, I had a ESL student. This session was quite an eye-opening experience. Reading the student's paper, I realized that I could understand what she was trying to communicate, but that there were just some of the common errors which occur when someone is trying to learn a foreign language. Many of these error related, understandably, to grammar. However, I noticed right away that the essay was organized well and was very engaging and interesting in terms of content. I told the student that her writing reminded me of when I was taking French and had to try to write essays in that language(my writing in French had more errors than this student's writing did, I might add). Then, I directed her to a writer's reference manual, pointing out the different areas of grammar that she was encountering problems with. What an interesting session!

Patrick Garrett