Letter to the Unsure Writer

Dear Unsure Writer,

We’ve all been there: the place where we’ve written a paper and turned it in, and we’re afraid of the possibility of a failing grade. We’ve all produced papers that we feel are not up to par with the grades we want on them. But take heart! We don’t always have to feel like what we’ve done isn’t good enough. There are a few ways to check and make sure that the work we’re about to turn in is exactly what we want it to be.

The first and easiest way is to simply read the paper out loud, especially from the first to the last paragraph. Take 10-15 minutes to sit down with the paper and go through it. People often find that by reading their work out loud, confusing phrases and typos are brought to light and can be easily fixed. The ear is the best tool to check for mistakes after slaving over a paper for who-knows-how-long, but remember to spend some time away from the work before reading it to give the brain a break.

Get a friend or two to read it. Not only can they catch typing and phrasing aberrations, they can tell if the ideas present in the paper go along with what the writer wants to say. This prevents rabbit trails and ensures every point refers back to the thesis. Plus, it isn’t the author tiredly rereading the same material without actually noticing anything wrong. Most of the time, minor errors that were previously over looked could add up to a large percentage of points counted off by the professor.

Ask the professor if s/he will take a rough draft and give comments/corrections. The professor is the one grading the final product, so s/he knows what is desired when the work is turned in. This is a great way to understand which direction to go on a paper and ensure that the all the guidelines set by the professor are met. S/he can give helpful advice either on the paper or what to do if s/he will not look at a rough draft.

Finally, the option that will give authors the most help possible: visit the University Writing Center (UWC). At the Center, a trained consultant is able to sit down with authors and walk through their papers in a friendly, helpful way. The consultants at the UWC are well trained in the most up-to-date practices and rules of grammar and writing needs. They are paid to walk alongside students with their works, so why not set up an appointment to go through a paper? Their job is to help all writers become more confident in their skills and to make sure those writers understand what mistakes they make on a regular basis so they can be fixed. A consultation may bring to light some obscure meanings or flow issues that had not been detected by the author’s ear or friends.

After working hard on a paper, it is a wise decision to get all the help available in order to be confident about the product being turned in. There is no need to be unsure about the work produced when so many options are available to help improve it.

So the next time a paper is due, don’t feel uncomfortable about the work being submitted. Take advantage of the many choices available, especially the UWC, in order to be confident with the final product.

Written by Maddison

Image credit

Take Chances, Make Mistakes

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday, one of my family’s favorite traditions is watching the annual Mythbusters marathon on the Science channel. For anyone who actually has things to do over the holidays and has no time to flip channels, Mythbusters episodes—all fourteen seasons—run back-to-back for nearly two weeks, saving everyone the breath it takes to moan, “There’s never anything on over Christmas!” It’s almost as good as a college education, but with practical knowledge instead of vague theories. (Sorry, college.)

Among the many notable quotes from the show (e.g. “This is starting to sound like a bad idea,” “Am I missing an eyebrow?” and “I reject your reality and substitute my own”) is one used quite often throughout the show’s run. In the episode in which this particular quote was first used, the Mythbusters hosts attempt to get two trucks to fuse together by crushing a small car between them at high speed, but no matter what they do, some part of the experimental process goes wrong. After several failed attempts and discouraging results, the hosts finally manage to completely demolish the trucks and car, but, just before the test, they spray-paint a valuable lesson on the sides of the semis: “Failure is always an option.”

The idea of failure being a viable option is easy enough to learn when the whole idea of an endeavor is to learn whether or not something can be done, like in the process of myth-busting. When the stakes are higher—say, a student must make an A on her final exam in order to pass her class—failure suddenly becomes a lot scarier. When we think of failure, we often think of an ashamed student refusing to look his or her angry parents in the eye as they wave a test with a big, red F scribbled across it, but it’s not always that simple. Failure can take different forms for different people; even the student with a 4.0 GPA can live in fear of that first A- (ask me how I know). Writers know this well; after all, what if their manuscripts aren’t good enough for a publisher to accept?

Sometimes we need a little push to get going on a task and do it well, and fear of failure is as good an incentive as any. However, letting that fear of failure run our lives is a much bigger mistake. Say, for example, all your friends are going ice skating at the mall, and they invite you to go with them. The thing is, you’ve never skated before, and you’re sure you’ll end up on your backside, bruised and embarrassed, with the entire mall laughing at you. What’s the harm in saving yourself a little dignity? Besides the fact that you could be a great skater and you just don’t know it yet, you’re giving up valuable bonding time with your friends. Plus, even if you do have trouble simply standing in skates, you might have a good time, anyway.

Most importantly, though, failing gracefully in a small instance such as this failed ice skating excursion would give you the ability to fail gracefully in bigger situations. I can’t stress enough how important it is to train your mind to not beat yourself up over mistakes. It takes conscious effort to say, “Hey, that didn’t go well, but I’m still smart and capable, and I can learn from this, so I can avoid making the same mistake again.” However, as hard as that can be, completely forgiving one’s own mistakes is even harder.

There are endless Bible verses about forgiveness, but sometimes we forget that those verses aren’t just for sinners to receive admittance to heaven. We can rest easy in God’s forgiveness, knowing that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our sins are covered, so what are our blunders to God? They simply don’t matter. That means we can forgive ourselves; we can refuse to dwell on our mistakes and move on; we can learn from them, but they don’t have to signify the end. In that sense, failure is absolutely an option.

ms-frizzle

The end of the Mythbusters story didn’t come for another four years. This was the time when the valiant Mythbusters decided to retest the myth—only this time, the test was successful. The ultimate conclusion, that two semis cannot fuse together via high-speed collision, was the same, but this time, everything went according to plan, and everyone was satisfied (except for the unfortunate assortment of vehicles, of course; they didn’t stand a chance against a rocket sled). That’s the thing about failure—it’s almost never final. In a vast majority of cases, failure is still a perfectly viable option. Failure is a chance to learn and grow. Don’t rob yourself of that chance. Go out on that limb. Maybe you’ll regret it in the moment, but chances are, you won’t regret it forever.

Written by Catherine

Image credits: Header image, Ms. Frizzle

Letter to the Overconfident Writer

Dear Over-Confident Writer,

I applaud your self-assurance concerning your writing abilities. It is important for anyone to be proud of what they have produced. Your paper certainly has many great qualities that reflect the work of a mature writer. However, I sense a little pride resonating from the gait in your walk. While signing in with our receptionist, I overheard you mention a tid-bit about how you just came here because your professor required you to for a few extra points. “There’s nothing wrong with my paper,” you said. “I just came here for the extra credit.”

I mean, there is nothing wrong with wanting some extra points on a paper that will be turned in. Hopefully, a short visit to the University Writing Center (UWC) does not put you out enough to make the 5 points worthless. But there is a little secret I want to let you in on: every paper can be improved. There are definitely great points and parts of your paper, like how your voice is clearly communicated, and there are smooth transitions between paragraphs and ideas. But from looking over it, I can tell that some work needs to be done.

You’ve read your first paragraph aloud, and there is no thesis. Without a thesis, there is no direction for a paper. Even if the body sections are written with such pizzazz that one cannot help but believe what you’ve said, theses provide points of reference for readers. If, anywhere along the way, the reader becomes confused, s/he should have something to refer back to for clarity. Theses also keep your writing in line with what is necessary for understanding what you’re trying to prove.

I ask you to identify your thesis, and you are at a loss for what to say. Obviously your paper was not as perfect as you thought. When you came to the Writing Center, you expected to simply have a stamp put on your paper and to walk out the door all within a few minutes. I’m sorry that is not the outcome you received. I am trained in all the best tutoring practices and have studied the English written language in order to be confident in helping each student who walks through the door. I am not simply trying to make more work for you; however, I cannot let you leave without expressing to you, and making sure you understand, some of the things lacking in your paper.

boys-studying

The Writing Center can add immense value to a piece of written work. Our job is to help you become a better writer. We want you to love the work that you have created; however, confidence in a paper does not mean perfection. I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but we suggest you should tone down your swagger walk until you’ve had someone from the UWC go through your paper with you. We are certainly not perfect, and we don’t claim to be, but someone should at least read your paper before you turn it in. You might understand what you’re trying to say, but a reader may not.

You have just reached the 45 minute limit for a session. Congratulations, I believe you are leaving feeling even better than when you walked in. Although, now I think you have stepped down a few rungs on the perfection ladder ;).  I hope to see you in the UWC again soon but, hopefully, as a Growing Writer rather than an Over-Confident Writer.

Sincerely, The Consultant Who Helped You

Written by Maddison

Image credits: Header image, Boys Studying

The World on the Page

Lately I’ve been thinking about learning. It happens in so many ways outside of traditional classroom instruction, but I think we’re rarely aware of it when it occurs. So I’ve been taking stock, taking time to notice how I’m learning – whether it’s by reading recreationally, surfing internet articles, or driving through an unfamiliar part of Dallas. Of all the ways I learn new information, discover new ideas, and encounter new perspectives outside of the classroom, reading students’ papers in the Writing Center has to be my favorite.

There’s a common myth about academic services (like the Writing Center, the Math Lab, and so on). The myth says that learning in a place like that is a one-way street – that students learn and tutors/consultants teach. It is true in the Writing Center that we as consultants teach students certain academic skills, and we truly hope that students learn how to improve their writing. However, it is also true that students teach us new things, and personally, I learn something new every day in the UWC.

At this point, you may be expecting me to launch into a lecture about how teaching others teaches me how to teach. But that’s not where I’m going with this.

I’ve worked in the Writing Center for three years now, and in that time, I’ve probably read 2375681736846 papers. (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea). With every one, I’ve done my part – I’ve kept my eyes peeled for grammatical errors and searched for ways the paper could be improved – but I’ve also listened, as students read, to what the papers were about. And I’ve learned so much!

I’ve learned about cell death from biology students.

I’ve learned about sports injuries from kinesiology students.

I’ve learned about the Minor Prophets from religion students.

(I could go on and on for days).

Even when I’m not encountering totally new information, hearing new perspectives is so refreshing. I’ve read about a million English 2302 papers about Tartuffe, and every student has a new insight about Molliere’s work. It never gets old.

Every new writer who walks through our doors has something unique to share, and it’s such a privilege to be the student body’s audience. We get to see the world on the page while helping students polish their papers, hone their skills, and boost their self-esteem. What could be better?

Students, it’s a blessing to serve you. So bring us your rough drafts, your outlines, your ideas. We want to learn something new from you.

Written by Caitlin

Photo credit: http://www.worldmapsonline.com/lg_image_windows/le_globe_terrestre_lg.htm