How to Prepare for a Visit to the Writing Center

By: Sydney Anderson

First and foremost, it is critically important to note that you can make a Writing Center appointment at any stage of the writing process. This includes but is not limited to: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, and revisiting. The Writing Center tutors are here to offer feedback and support at whatever point you feel would be most beneficial. 

That being said, a little bit of preparation for the appointment will help you maximize your time spent working with a tutor. How is it recommended that you prepare?  See below.

Schedule an appointment online

The UVA Writing Center does take walk-ins, but to ensure a tutor is available to help you when you come in, we recommend you schedule your appointment in advance online at virginia.mywconline.com. Just make an account and select an available window for your appointment! When scheduling an appointment, do your best to leave yourself time between the appointment and the assignment’s due date to continue working on your piece. You will benefit much more from your Writing Center appointment if you have time to actually implement your takeaways in your writing.

Have your prompt handy

It is very helpful for your Writing Center tutor to be able to read the prompt and potentially discuss it with you before digging into your paper. They will probably ask you for it at the beginning of the session.  Writing with your prompt nearby helps you ensure that you are answering all parts of the prompt in your paper. If you have any other relevant notes, handouts, texts, etc that you will use for your paper, be sure to bring those as well.

Bring a notebook and pencil or a laptop to take notes

You’ll get the most out of your session if you’re able to write down and remember any recommendations your tutor makes that you like or ideas that pop into your head during the session. Additionally, you may end up brainstorming ideas on paper, outlining, drafting a thesis, et cetera, in your session. Your tutor will email you a summary of what you worked on in your session and some next steps, but it is helpful if you keep your own notes as well.

Know what you want to work on

At the beginning of your session, your tutor will probably ask you what you want to work on. This is your opportunity to identify particular goals or concerns you have regarding your writing so that your tutor can help you address them. You don’t need to have any solutions or specifics. Essentially, you just want to be able to answer the question: why did you make a Writing Center appointment? 

This could be as simple as:

  • “I’ve been struggling with organization in my paper.  Can we work on that?” Or,
  • “This is my first time writing a narrative paper, and I don’t have any experience writing in this style.  Can we talk about how to go about that?”

A few recommendations:

  • If your piece of writing is long, identify either specific sections that you are concerned about or “global” concerns that are present throughout.
  • Your Writing Center tutor will not proofread your paper for grammar errors, but if you have overarching grammatical questions or concerns, they may be able to help with that.
  • If you’re feeling lost in your writing process, that’s okay! Just explain to your tutor what’s been working and what hasn’t, and they will be happy to help you navigate your way through the writing process.
  • If you are required to come to the Writing Center for a class, do still think about what you could work on in the session that would be most beneficial to you. Make the most out of your time you spend in your tutoring session, even if it’s required.

Participate actively in your session! 

The Writing Center model is centered around discourse between you and your tutor. Since it is your paper, the session will focus on your ideas, and the Writing Center tutor is there to support you in your process, discuss your thoughts with you, and potentially offer recommendations when appropriate.  Come in prepared to have a back-and-forth conversation about your paper with your tutor.


Works Consulted

Dickinson College. “Writing Center FAQs.” Dickinson, Dickinson College, https://www.dickinson.edu.

University of South Florida. “Writing Studio.” University of South Florida Academic Success Center: Undergraduate Studies, University of South Florida, 2021, https://www.usf.edu.

Brainstorming: How to Get Started

By: Isabel Barney

Once you’ve read and decoded your assignment, it’s time to begin brainstorming some ideas. While there is no step-by-step way to generate ideas, these are just a few examples of places to look for inspiration if you’re feeling stuck and ways to organize your initial thoughts. Oftentimes, one method of brainstorming can lead you into another, so you may end up combining some or all of these methods as you begin coming up with ideas.

Research

  • While some types of writing do not explicitly require you to do additional research, it can be helpful when generating ideas to look at some past work related to your topic. Briefly researching your topic and ideas related to it can help you figure out where to start with your own writing.
  • For this initial research, class notes and readings are often great places to look first. Flip through what your professor has said about your topic and jot down any thoughts that come to mind. Do you see any overarching arguments forming based on what was discussed in class? Could you use points from lectures and readings as evidence to support your argument? 
  • Next, even if additional research is not required, it can be helpful to look outside of your class when trying to learn more about a topic. Again, briefly searching through some additional work related to your paper topic can help you learn more about it and refine your own argument. However, some professors specifically ask you not to do any outside research, so, if this is the case, skip this step.
  • By the time you finish this background research, you should have some useful notes that shed light on your topic. Take a few minutes to look through the notes you’ve collected and try to notice any overarching themes. Do these notes point towards any major changes and/or continuities over time? Do you see any individuals, places, or ideas showing up repeatedly? Try to pick out these themes and connect them back to the questions asked in your prompt, if the assignment has one.

Freewriting

  • Freewriting can be a useful activity if you’re feeling particularly stuck and aren’t sure how to organize your initial thoughts. The whole point of this activity is to get your thoughts down on paper and not to worry about using proper grammar and spelling or writing elegantly.
  • To start, set a timer for a short period of time (5-10 minutes) and write down your ideas as they come to mind. Try to keep writing for the entire time, even if you feel like you’re running out things to say — you can even write down, “I can’t think of anything else,” as long as it keeps your pen moving across the page for the entire time. You can also choose to write in a “train of thought” style (again, not worrying about sentence structure or grammar) or in lists or bullet points if it’s easier for you to communicate your thoughts that way.
  • After your time is up, take a look at the ideas you came up with. Try to think about which ones were easiest to write about, which ones you find the most interesting, or which ones you feel like you could write even more about. These points will often end up making the strongest starting points for your larger argument. Using a highlighter or pen, highlight/underline these ideas to separate them from the rest of your freewriting.
  • Once you have narrowed down your initial ideas, it’s time to explore them further. At this point, you can start looking through class readings and notes, begin outside research, or jump into constructing an initial outline for your paper.

Mindmapping

  • While mindmapping is not always the first thing people think of when trying to plan an essay, it is an amazing way to get your initial ideas down on paper in a way that creates a clear visual structure. Mindmapping essentially combines the processes behind freewriting and outlining because it requires you to quickly write your thoughts down, then take a second look at them and begin making connections between them. Plus, it can also be a more fun and engaging way to get started on a paper than sifting through readings or typing up notes on your laptop.
  • Start with a blank (preferably large) sheet of paper. Write your main topic in the center using as few words as possible.
  • Then, moving away from the center, write down any related ideas you can think of, and place them wherever on the paper feels right to you. If you run out of clearly related ideas, think of opposites, tangentially related topics, or any other words that come to mind whenever you think about our main topic. The point of this step is to get all of your ideas down on paper, so try to jot down anything and everything that comes to mind.
  • Once you’ve put all your thoughts on paper, begin circling ideas that relate to each other and connect these circled ideas with a line. For this step it can be helpful to use different colors and patterns (zig-zag lines, dotted lines, squiggly lines, etc.). Continue doing this until you have connected all the ideas that you feel strongly relate to each other. You may end up with a couple outliers that don’t have any connecting lines, but these can be helpful in narrowing down what you should focus on in your paper.
  • Then, take a step back and look at your completed map. By looking at the different clusters you have made, you can try to come to some conclusions about your topic. These clusters may point you towards ideas for body paragraphs, where to look for evidence to support your argument, or how to formulate an initial thesis statement. You can take some of these ideas from your mindmap and move them into an outline, or you can continue the mindmapping process to get some more thoughts on paper.

Speeches

By Alex Capria

Speeches aren’t so different from other forms of writing. Speeches require a clear and logical line of thinking that acknowledges and connects with the audience. This document will give you the tools to write an effective and engaging speech while hopefully reducing the pre-speech jitters.

Planning Your Speech

Before you begin writing your speech, think about the audience that you are engaging with.

  • Who are they?
  • What do you think they will find interesting?
  • Why should they listen to you?
  • And how will you keep them immersed?
  • What are you trying to accomplish with your speech?
  • What do you want them to do?

Once you answer these questions, you can begin organizing your speech in a way that will appeal to your specific audience.

Consider the organization of a speech in similar ways to the organization of any piece of writing. Using your central purpose as guidance, you can begin to construct the outline of your speech.

Rhetorical Appeals

Sometimes, it helps to consider what rhetorical appeals might fit your audience and purpose. These appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) can help you convince, motivate, and/or captivate your audience.

  • Ethos establishes the character of the speaker. Everything you say gives the audience a sense of your character, your persona, and they decide how to react based on that. Are you going for highly credible? Formal? Serious? Then you might want to lean on formal language and stay away from profanity and slang. Are you going for informal? Cool? Down with the kids? Then you might want to use more slang or humor.
  • Pathos is an appeal to emotion. This is often done through anecdotes, vivid descriptions, or references to things your audience might have an emotional attachment to. Pathos is used to help the audience connect emotionally.
  • Logos is an appeal to logic. It is a speaker asking the audience to follow and trust a particular logic. Often, people think of facts, data, and evidence as key elements of a speech’s logos.

Performance and Tone

While giving a speech, you are essentially performing for the audience. So, it’s important to strike the right tone.

Your tone is a marker for how your audience should react. If you’re confident in your comedic skills and the subject is relatively light, try sprinkling in a few amusing bits or anecdotes. (But only if you are confident in your humor. We’ve all been in the crowd when the presenter makes a joke, and no one laughs; it’s not good.)

If the subject is more serious, the tone may need to be more somber or subdued so no jokes and language that reflects the seriousness of the subject.

Tips and Strategies

  • Have a strong “hook”
    • A “hook” is the thing that draws the audience in and shows them why they should listen to you. It can be dramatic or stark or funny or odd or many other things, as long as it draws them in and fits with your purpose.
  • Repetition
    • Because speeches aren’t necessarily recorded people can’t go back and hear what you said. So, if you want them to remember something in particular, it can help to repeat it. Think of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, perhaps the most famous in American history. We remember the line “I have a dream” because he repeated it over and over and over again.
  • So what?
    • Let your audience know why what you say matters.

 

Writing Theses and Claims

Virtually all genres of academic writing rely to some degree on claims as the engine of arguments, whether as the main point of arguments (the central claim or thesis) or as supporting points (subclaims).

For this reason, writing effective claims is vital to success in academic writing. But what is a claim? How do you distinguish it from other statements. To understand claims, it can be helpful to distinguish them from facts and opinions, as follows.

What is a claim?

  • Fact – information that is held to be true by reasonable people
  • Opinion – a wholly or near-wholly subjective perspective
    • Example: Vanilla ice cream is the best flavor of ice cream. (This is an opinion because it isn’t arguable. It’s based solely in someone’s subjectivity, their preferences.)
  • Claim – a perspective that can and should be be supported with evidence
    • Example: The ubiquity of vanilla ice cream disconnects consumers from the complex and unethical agriculture practices that create it. (This is a claim because it can be argued with, and it can be supported with evidence)

Dispelling some myths about claims

Sometimes, people are given a set of rules about claims that don’t apply in all contexts. Here are some common beliefs about claims that aren’t necessarily true or are perhaps only true in some circumstances.

  • Central claims (theses) should always appear at the end of the first paragraph.
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. This may have been true in high school writing contexts, but in college and beyond different audiences have different expectations for where central claims will be located. Sometimes it’s after a few paragraphs. Sometimes it’s in the middle. Sometimes it’s at the end. At the college level, it’s time to start thinking more rhetorically (meaning thinking about audience expectations and impact) about where the central claim should go.
  • There is a formula for writing central claims
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. You can use a formula, but you don’t have to. And the formula’s you’ve learned previously may only be useful in the specific context you in which you learned them.
  • There is one way to write a central claim.
    • NOT TRUE AT ALL. Central claims differ depending on the genre in which you’re writing. They look different in different disciplines (history, english, psychology, biology), and they look different in genres outside of academia, as well.
  • Central Claims should be one sentence long.
    • NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. Again, they might be, but as writing becomes more sophisticated and topics more complex, it’s likely that you’ll come up with central or supporting claims that are more than one sentence long. That’s fine, potentially good even.

Two Types of claims

  • Normative – claims made about how something SHOULD BE
    • Example: The University of Virginia should change its admissions practices in an effort to admit more low-income students.
  • Descriptive – claims made about how something IS
    • Example: The University of Virginia’s admissions practices create systemic hurdles to the admission of low-income students.

Two ways of doing claims

  • Explicit – a claim that is clearly stated
  • Implicit – a claim that is implied

Good claims have 3 features

  • Focused – typically, the most specific a claim is the better
  • Arguable – someone could reasonably argue against it
  • Revelatory – reveals something new
    • BAD Example: Colleges and universities should do more to support low-income and first-generation college students.
      • This example is bad because it’s not focused enough. It’s technically a claim, but it’s too broad and not revelatory.
    • Good Example: Colleges and universities should create detailed programs with dedicated faculty and staff to support low-income and first generation students. These programs should be designed and assessed as part of the larger body of research available on support for these students.
      • This claim is better because it’s more focused and as a result more arguable and revelatory.

 

Quoting and Paraphrasing

By Fain Ropelle

Quoting and Paraphrasing

When you quote something, you’re saying that the words you’ve quoted are exactly as they appear in the thing you’re quoting. 

The opening of Romeo and Juliet tells us that the Montagues and Capulets are “two households, both alike in dignity” (Prologue.2). 

When you paraphrase something, you’re putting the idea in your own words. (Of course, you must still be accurate to the idea you’re taking from the source.)

The opening of Romeo and Juliet tells us that the Montagues and Capulets are essentially equal in terms of social status and reputation (Prologue). 

How can quoting and paraphrasing be helpful? 

  • Makes your paper actually participate in a conversation
  • Shows you’ve done your research, which lends credibility to your argument
  • Helps you avoid plagiarism
  • Helps focus your own ideas by giving you something to bounce them off of
  • Helps show which ideas aren’t yours, which is useful for setting up arguments that you plan to argue against or qualify in some way (I.e., “They say _____, but I say _____.”)

When can quoting be helpful?

  • If the language the sources uses is important. (This is common in literature essays.)
  • If the source has a good, clear way of saying something, and it’d be simpler just to use their words than to try and paraphrase it.

When can paraphrasing be helpful?

  • If the idea is the important thing, and the language does not really matter

    • For example, lab reports do not usually quote previous studies. Rather, they paraphrase them, because what is important is what the studies discovered, not how they phrased those discoveries.
  • If you are summarizing a point that the source makes implicitly, but never comes right out and says
  • If it is the major point of a piece, but the way the author phrases their thesis does not neatly fit into your own sentence structure

Some general advice when quoting and/or paraphrasing

  • Read the context around the part you are quoting or paraphrasing to make sure it’s actually what the author is saying. You don’t want to say “Kayla says ____,” when what Kayla was actually saying was “Fred says ____, but that’s wrong.”
  • When paraphrasing, be sure to tell your reader clearly where the source’s ideas end and yours begin. This can often be quite simple: “The author says X. However, ______.” But you will need to be very clear, because you will not have quotation marks to be clear for you.

Incorporating Sources

5 Things to know about incorporating sources

1. It’s a conversation

  • You in conversation with your sources
  • Your sources in conversation with each other

2. Use a source when you want to …

  • Use its insights to build or support your point(s)

EX: Jennifer Denison points out that in 2019 90 percent of news media outlets are funded through subscription models with 60 percent of revenue coming from digital subscriptions.[1] (supporting the point that the financial models for news outlets has changed in the last 10 years)

  • Speak back to or disagree with a source

EX: While Denison believes the prevalence of subscription models indicates their suitability for online media platforms, a deeper dive into the data suggests just the opposite.

  • Create context for your point/topic

EX: Researchers like Denison and JaMarcus Rosen argue that news media companies hold three obligations that are often in contrast with each other: to remain profitable, to remain truthful, and to provide civically relevant information to citizens.

3. Ways to incorporate sources

  • Summarize

Sum up something large (a whole book, chapter, or article) in roughly 1-3 sentences.

EX: As Ella Reaves Vaughan makes clear in her book For Love of the Fame, being paid as a scholastic athlete robs someone of the love of the game.

  • Paraphrase

Sum up one idea from a particular place in a source without using the same words. Keep the idea, but put it in your own words.

EX: Gavin Tygh argues that academic departments within the university would be hurt financially by paying student athletes.

  • Quote

Take language directly from a source. Do this when the language from the source is particularly profound, interesting, or thought provoking. DON’T QUOTE SOMETHING JUST BECAUSE IT’S EASY.

4. Using Signal Phrases

Signal phrases are phrases that show the audience you are incorporating a source.

EX: According to research from the NCAA, …

EX: As Regina Marcy argues, …

[1] ALL SOURCES AND FACTS USED AS EXAMPLE ARE COMPLETELY MADE UP. DO NOT BELIEVE THEM.

Citation and its Uses

by Fain Riopelle

Tracking a conversation

The main purpose of citations is to show readers what the conversation you’re taking part in looks like. In other words, it helps the reader track the progress of the conversation. For example, if a writer wants to contribute new information on methods of teaching history, they will help the audience understand where that conversation currently is by integrating secondary sources to track it and citing those sources.

 

How do you figure out how a source fits into an ongoing conversation?

If you’re reading something, the writer should tell you. Pay attention to how writers talk about their sources. For example, here’s an excerpt from an open letter by Geoffrey Chase, a composition director at Northern Arizona University:

In a recent article on liberal education, William Cronon writes, “More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways” (78). Paraphrasing Cronon, I would like to suggest that being a teacher means being able to make sense of the academic community and act within it in creative, productive ways. (Chase 16)

In other words, what Chase is saying here is essentially, “Hey, Cronon says this thing about what it means to be an educated person. I think he’s right, and here’s how I think it applies to teachers, in particular.”

Compare that with this little imaginary conversation:

Tim: What should we do, tonight?

Fred: Well, Carol said yesterday that she wanted to go see that new movie downtown. Seems like a good idea to me.

This conversation might not be about something academic, but what Fred is doing here is fundamentally the same thing as what Geoffrey Chase is doing with William Cronon’s article. Each of them is just saying, “This other person said something earlier, and I want to respond to what they said in some way.”

 

Various citation styles

Citation also allows a writer to give credit where it’s due. Try to be as thorough as possible when listing your citations so as to avoid the appearance that you are taking someone else’s ideas and trying to pass them off as your own. Although different citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) have small differences that emphasize different aspects of a work, you can generally expect that a citation will need the following things, if you can find them:

  • Author
  • Title of work
  • Title of publication
  • Date of publication
  • Volume and issue number
  • Place of publication OR Name of publishing house

Works Cited

Chase, Geoffrey. “Composition, Community, and Curriculum: A Letter to New Composition Teachers.” In Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition, eds. Duane Roan et al., National Council of Teachers of English, 2002, pp 11-17.

Reverse Outlining (an Organization Strategy)

by Fain Riopelle

 

You may already know about the useful aspects of outlining. It allows writers to organize thoughts and ideas before drafting to get a broader perspective on how best to meet the purpose of the piece. Outlining is a useful strategy to make drafting more efficient and effective. If you have a plan, it’s a lot harder to steer off course.

That said, sometimes, we steer off course anyway. That’s where reverse outlining comes in. If outlining is mapping out what you’re going to write, then reverse outlining is mapping out what you’ve already written. It’s a way of making sure you’re staying on topic and your ideas are in the most effective order.

Why reverse outline? Haven’t I suffered enough while writing?

If outlining helps you plan out your first draft, reverse outlining can help plan out your revisions. It can sound a bit tedious, but it can help clarify your thoughts and get you back on track.

It can also be a bit tricky to figure out what you’ve actually written, as opposed to what you thought you were going to write when you started. It might help to let it sit for a day or so–or an hour, depending on your time frame.

How does it work?

Simple, you start by determining the purpose of each paragraph. What is the point of this paragraph? What’s it supposed to be about? You write what each paragraph is about in the margins of the paper.

Then, you can do two things: 1) See if the ideas of the paper are in the order you want them in. 2) See if each sentence of your paragraphs relates to the topic of that paragraph.

If you’re unsure what a paragraph is supposed to be about, that should be a red flag that the paragraph has no point or that it has more than one. Either way, you’re learning something that should help you during the revision process.