Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Online Tutoring!

It seems that for every student who makes it into The Writing Center, there are more that simply do not. Perhaps our hours are not conducive to their schedules, or maybe they go to a different campus. Still, there is an increasing population of students who are taking their classes online—so they could be in the suburbs, or even in another state! The only way to make certain that every student has access to the assistance that The Writing Center gives is to bring online tutoring into the equation.

online tutoring

Here are the logistics of online tutoring: It’s a real time conversation between a student writer and a tutor, quite similar to an instant message session. The tutor and the student agree on a day/time to meet and they go over the paper together, just like in a face-to-face session that occurs in The Writing Center. It can happen anytime and any place—just as long as the two parties are able to meet.

So why do I do it?

I love talking with family and friends online—sometimes I feel like I can articulate my thoughts more coherently when I’m typing them, rather than when I’m speaking. When I converse in this manner, I feel I have more control over my language—especially since I have a “delete” key. ☺

Another reason I enjoy online tutoring is because it goes along with Roosevelt University’s Mission Statement:
Roosevelt University will be a vibrant living and learning community both during the day and in the evening, and will link the academic and service resources of its multiple locations through the effective use of personnel, facilities and state-of-the-art technology.

Because online tutoring is available to every student and alumni, there is no reason why you should ever have to feel alone when writing papers, personal statements, and even resumes! And this is not something that you have to pay for! When a writer does not have access to tutoring (be it online or face-to-face), she or he must pay for an editor to look it over--sometimes that can cost a minimum for $100 for the editor to simply sit down to review the document. Can you put a price on that kind of value? I suppose you can, especially when it comes to what your writing can do for you: grades, jobs, etc. We never promise grades here at The Writing Center--how can we? We're students ourselves. But more times than not, a student who is continually tutored through The Writing Center will improve their writing, as well as be more confident in their papers!

If you are interested in learning more about online tutoring, email us at

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stop! Now Tell Me What You're Trying to Say.

Many times, when a classmate and I are looking through a paper, we will encounter a sentence that befuddles the mind and warps the senses. The reader (usually one of us reads out loud) will begin to slosh through the words, having lost sight of the meaning of the sentence. At this point, I slap my hand onto the sentence and yell:

"Stop! Now tell me what you're trying to say with this sentence."

Years of experience have taught me the writer's eyes will instinctively shoot down to the paper, looking to reread the sentence that had been read aloud only moments prior. But alas! They cannot see it through my muscley hand and must confront their great trouble: trying to say too much too quick.

Yes, dear readers, this is a struggle for each of us. Whether it is an impending deadline or a lack of interest that has warped our fragile minds, we must nonetheless battle this desire to cram information. Instead we must let it breathe.

How do we do this? Simply: say what we mean. If we encounter a section where the words just don't make sense and the paragraphs cause compasses to spin wildly, then we must rephrase it -- we must say it like we would to a friend. We must stop and talk -- out loud if necessary -- to our invisible friends and explain to them -- in simple and concise terms -- what we are saying.

If it helps, imagine a furry woodland creature. Great. Now explain everything in detail to this creature. Here's a visual aid for the imagination impaired:

I have named the preceding bunny "Bunce." In explaining Japanese-Sino government-business relations to Bunce, I understand that he may not know of the complex and violent history Japan and China share. So I use simple sentences and easy, logical connections when going from subject to subject. I do this for the sake of Bunce, but in truth, I'm also helping myself a great deal because I'm slowing down and deliberately picking words and sentences.

Even if it turns out that Bunce has a degree in International Business from Hong Kong University, he'll still likely appreciate a clear and simple explanation of the context. It helps him to understand the writer's intention and overall argument (that is, our intentions and overall arguments)!

So next time we cross a sentence that blinds us with boring confusion, that floors us with choppy and frightening syntax, let's: Stop! And tell Bunce what we're saying.

Bradley Woodrum also writes for Homebody and Woman and Cubs Stats and enjoys inventing words like "muscley."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Perfect Punctuation: Our Comrade the Comma (pt. 2)

I Googled "Comma Kitty" and got this image. Courtesy of Flickr.

In our previous romp through the oft-trodden Comma Land, we examined OWL's first three quick and easy comma rules:
1. Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

2. Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause.

3. Use a pair of commas in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses, phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Use one comma before to indicate the beginning of the pause and one at the end to indicate the end of the pause.
Now, let us continue this essential examination of practical punctuation with the next three rules:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Suspicious Citations

We feel like pioneers -- don't we? -- when we reach the end a paper. We stand from our computer chairs, kick over the stacks of books around us, and brazenly give the syllabus the bird. But what's that sound? It sounds like an electronic-type laughter! We spin around to see our computer mocking us with a cold, binary grin. The Works Cited page stares nakedly at us!

"I know!" we yell, our faces turning a sly-writer's grin. "I shall have the Inter-lines tend to my biddings!" And so our fingers rattle along the keyboard for a minute or two, we Google "citation machine," tap our temples in momentary thought, and then -- Ka-Bam! -- all finished!

"And my professor," we say, cradling the paper near our heart, "will never be the wiser! MUAHAHAHA!"

Instead: the paper returns, bruised with red ink and little professor-notes that translate: "WTF?" What has happened to our devious plan? Where did we go wrong? The answer:


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Applications for Writers

If you are a frequenter of the Writing Center Blog, you should know that one of the more prevalent techniques for writing that we stress is simply writing often. It doesn't matter how much you write, or even how good you write; writing everyday will do more than improve your writing, it will also cause you to be more confident about writing, and when you do finally get a good idea you will spend less time staring at a blank screen.

I know, we are only human, and many times even when you have a plan to write at a given time every day something will come up, or you simply won't feel inspired. That's why I am writing this blog to inform you of the many useful applications I have found that help me greatly in keeping up a schedule.

The first is a small downloadable program that was given to me as a gift last Christmas. Write or Die is a program that allows you to set a specific word and time goal, then lets you write until either you meet your goal or your time runs out. There are other settings one can choose as well, including how much of a grace period the program gives, and the difficulty level. For those new to the program, I suggest beginning on gentle. For more experienced players, the normal mode will force you to write while playing an annoying sound, and kamikaze mode will actually eat your words if you stop writing for more than a few seconds. On the desktop edition, you can also set it to keep the Write or Die window at the front of your screen and disable saving until the word goal is met. Warning: This program has the potential to give your inner editor a heart attack. When I first played Write or Die, my inner editor's comments changed from "You call that syntax?" to "You missed a - wait, no, you don't have time to go back! Write something, anything, oh my god you're almost out of time! Write!" One last perk: if you are the type of person that enjoys competition, the desktop edition allows you to compete in word wars with other players; the person with the most words after a set amount of time wins. Ultimately, Write or Die can be a very useful resource - while being slightly sadistic - to get one out of the habit of overanalyzing each individual sentence, and into the habit of simply writing.

The second application I would like to mention is a small website I recently discovered called 750words. This website is almost like a blog, except that it is completely private. It was created to encourage people to write at least 750 words every day. Not only will this site keep track of your daily writings, it will also analyze them using two text analysis programs: Regressive Imagery Dictionary (for emotions) and the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count. The site organizes the results of that analysis into easy-to-read graphs and charts, and gives comparison charts of what the average writer scores. The site offers monthly contests to see who can actually keep up their word count (750 words a day) for an entire month. I should mention that the idea behind this site is not to write brilliant prose; it encourages you to vomit thoughts onto the screen and clear your subconscious of what may be hiding inside, so that for the rest of the day you are more clear-headed and have already gotten the creative juices flowing. Finally, to add more of a fun, game-feel to the site and encourage continued use, you will be awarded a specific number of points per day depending on how much you write. These points are used to collect achievement buttons - sort of like the achievements one can unlock in Xbox360 games.

Of course, these are only programs that have helped me get into the habit of writing. If they don't work for you, that is fine, I have also found a list of 100 Free and Useful Web Apps for Writers that you may want to dig through. Unfortunately, none of these programs can force you to write, that motivation needs to come from you. They can, however, make writing every day more enjoyable. So check them out, you may find you enjoy the intensity and high-stress of Write or Die, or perhaps you prefer a simple online blog that you can keep completely private - either way, it never hurts to try.

- Michelle

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Writers on the Web

My sources inform me that "teh internet" is an excellent source for writing advice and suggestions. However, it's important to know what sources are credible and good. WAIT! Don't go to Google just yet! I've already done the footwork for you. Some notable notes from around the web:

Writer's Digest blogger, Brian Klems, defends the M-dash, in turn becoming our hero. Fans of the RU Writing Center Blog will recall my previous examination of the M-dash which simply sums the potent punctuation line as follows:
When in doubt, use a dash!
Our collegues at Michigan State University took some time to examine what prevents student from coming to the Writing Center. Allow me to stress to our readers:


Anyone, and I mean anyone, can benefit from our Writing Center. We aren't intimidating -- okay, well moustache is intimidating, but my demeanor is pleasant -- and we really love seeing writers improve. Even I, the world's premier writer in cat-related false histories of economics, have benefited from the tutors here. Whenever I feel uncomfortable with something I've written, I turn to the writers here.

Come to the Writing Center. We will help you.

Meanwhile, Amanda, of the WVU Writing Blog, offered us a top ten rules for writing. I enjoyed the rules so much, I'm republishing them after the jump!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Perfect Punctuation: The Simple Semicolon

I Googled "punctuation kitten," and this came up.

We don't see a whole lot of semicolons these days, and there's a reason for that. Frankly, it doesn't have too many uses. On the much touted OWL site, we cannot even find a section for the semicolon! We do see some clues in the section entitled "Sentence Punctuation Patterns":
Independent clause [ ; ] independent clause [ . ]
And here:
Independent clause [ ; ] independent marker [ , ] independent clause [ . ]
This is the first basic use of the semicolon: a fast period. I call it fast because readers typically read semicolons as quickly as commas, but know that they have the same power as a period (they can separate two complete sentences). For instance:
James likes to write poetry. His work tends to really annoy me.
Would be read more quickly and rapid-fire with a semicolon:
James likes to write poetry; his work tends to really annoy me.
If we're feeling frisky, we can throw that independent marker in there:
James likes to write poetry; however, his work tends to really annoy me.
The second significant use for the semicolon is as a super comma! Sometimes our sentences get gummed up with all sorts of clauses and commas, so a semicolon can help us separate items in a big list, or keep separate complex independent clauses. Here's the big list use:
I have seen the Cubs, Rays, Braves, and Angels play baseball; the Colts, Jaguars, and Bears play football; and the Bulls, Rockets, and Nets play basketball.
...and here's an example of two super clauses:
I used to live, before moving here, in Florida, where it was either raining hard or not at all; but then I moved to Chicago, where rain seems to sneak in and out of town over the course of 48 hours.
Few people misuse the semicolon; it's kind of beautiful like that. Still, I think more writers could use more semicolons (or mystical em-dashes) to help break up their writing and make it more readable. So, next time we write something, let's ask ourselves: "Does this need our friend, the simple semicolon?"

Bradley Woodrum also writes for Homebody and Woman and Cubs Stats.