Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Art of Close Reading

by Olympia Georgeson

You may have heard your professor stress the importance of close reading in a class lecture or write as a comment how you could have gone deeper into close reading your chosen short passages and excerpts.  If you feel as though you’re not sure how to further close read a passage, review these steps!

1. Paraphrase in Simple Language:

Paraphrase the passage’s meaning in itself and in comparison to the rest of the text. What are the themes and issues the passage brings forward? How does the plot relate or repeat other aspects of the text?

2. Language of Passage:

Look for key words, phrases or patterns. Does a passage point to an earlier passage? A word or phrase repeated from another passage hints to the fact these passages should be read in conjunction. Also look for repeated words within the passage. Do the repeated words have a meaning?

3. Form of the Passage:

How is the language of a passage structured? Does it rhyme? Does it make use of alliteration, parallelism, etc.?

4. Chronology of Events:

Why does the passage enter when it does? Are there any missing transitions between the passage and its context?

5. The Speaker:

Is the speaker a reliable narrator? What character judgments do you make of the speaker or character? Are they telling certain truths?

6. Symbolism:

Are there metaphors? Is there one controlling metaphor? How do they apply to the text as a whole?

"Some Close Reading Tips." Some Close Reading Tips. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. http://mason.gmu.edu/~rmatz/close_reading.htm

Friday, February 12, 2016

Writing for Better Classroom Conversations

by Marilyn Savich

Have you ever been frustrated by your own lack of classroom participation? Your professor asked you to share your thoughts on the assigned reading, and your mind just went blank. What gnaws you is that you spent a fair amount of time getting through to the end of the page(s), underlining certain passages, circling keywords,and even scribbling some bullet points about it. In that setting and time of day though – zap. Perhaps you genuinely forgot. Perhaps you had a neutral response to what you read – you understood the author’s argument, but because you didn’t feel strongly about it one way or another, you struggled to put it into greater meaning, especially at that particular moment.

Here is where reflective writing can be of great help if you identify with any of these experiences. Reflective writing is tailored for you and meant to help you make sense of your thoughts. It seems non-intuitive, especially since you’re the only one reading it, and indeed – the beauty of reflective writing is the freedom to write whatever you desire however ineligibly you want. Nevertheless, there are some aspects to think about that can be motivational if you haven’t tried this kind of exercise in college yet, which is namely writing for the purpose of richer contributions in an academic setting. Below are some suggestions to ultimately help you develop your thoughts about those long, technical readings that are the basis of your classroom discussions.

Step 1: Find a journal.

Whether it’s the same journal for class notes or a different one for your personal reactions, make sure you have it available when it may be needed in class. Paper is all you really need, so any journal will do; of course, an aesthetically pleasing one is often encouraging if you need an additional incentive.

Step 2: Write in paragraph format.

The advantage of writing in paragraph format as opposed to bullet points is that writing in paragraphs helps you contextualize all the information in a way that makes sense to you when you re-read it. Writing one sentence after another also helps you internally make connections by propelling you forward to more ideas along the thought process, which is one of the overall goals of this exercise. It may help to think of this reflective exercise as a type of story or journal entry that you are creating for yourself.

Step 3: Give yourself time.

You may already be asking yourself: why am I giving myself extra homework? Sure, it may seem like a little bit of effort upfront, but in the long run, you are helping yourself immensely so that the next time you’re asked to think about that reading, the process of remembering will be less painful.

Step 4: Forget all of your professor’s writing pet peeves.

Even if the personal reaction you are writing to yourself is ultimately toward the very same class in which the professor let you know of her/his personal writing distastes, jot down all of your thoughts in the style that you would find most accessible. Since this is a self-reflective exercise, feel free to use the terms “I feel,” “like,” and “cool,” or whatever pet peeve your professor mentioned if those words are what come naturally to you. You can change those irritable words afterward when you re-read your response or when you orally share your interpretations in class. When you’re first writing to yourself though, you should focus your attention on making sense of ideas for yourself so that you can actually get somewhere.

 Step 4: Rephrase what the author is saying. 

 This process is actually really helpful when your professor asks you to think about the argument and how this specific theory differs from the other text you just read. Even if there is a line in the text that you highlighted which clearly gets across the author’s main point, it helps to write the author’s thesis in a manner that you would actually say out loud so that you are sure you understand it.

Step 5: Connect the text to greater themes.

What are the big, memorable keywords that have already discussed in class or in the syllabus? Along the same lines, think of ways in which this reading contributes to some of the comments mentioned by your professor or classmates. You may also find a greater connection to another field outside of the discipline you are studying in– be it a connection between mathematics and politics, the economy, religion, or a current event. Sometimes those links between the classroom and the outside world can be really exciting and lead to an interest you follow when you’re outside of the classroom.

This exercise is a pretty no-pressure task in which no one can judge you except yourself. It is also an opportunity for growth. In fact, you may be surprised at what new ideas spring forth when you give yourself time to think and express yourself beforehand.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Writing Quotes by Writers but not Written about Writing

By Lyndi Scott

It is easy when someone says the word “writer,” to immediately think of names like Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen, Shakespeare or Mark Twain. You know, the Greats (relatively speaking). The writers that defined what it meant to be a writer. It is a great misfortune that we often make this association. Just because you didn’t write Paradise Lost or Harry Potter doesn’t mean you can’t “write.” It also ignores the technicality, of course, that anyone who writes is a writer: to write, and write something significant, doesn’t mean you have to be a professional or that it has to be awe-inspiring poetry that transforms the nation, or a masterpiece of the novel genre-- it just has to be written.

With that adieu, I will further this perspective using the great writers who wrote great quotes about writing but not about writers. (Say that three times fast-- or even once, for that matter.)

“A word after a word after a word is power.” ― Margaret Atwood
Even writers don’t write to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Writing is therapeutic and is a powerful thinking process for both the individual writing, and those who read it. The act of writing is a cognitive process, so no matter what you are writing about, you are going to think very deeply about it before and while your pen touches the paper.

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” ― Albert Camus
If philosophers like Plato and Socrates or ancient scientists like Galileo or Copernicus had never written their thoughts down, not as writers, mind you, but as thinkers, gravity would’ve taken centuries longer to understand. Do you think? Then write. It is through writing that the world connects, grows, and accumulates the mass of knowledge that is currently swirling around in Google databases. 
“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves") imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.” ― Carl Sagan
When you think about writing in the reductive form that Sagan puts it, it probably makes you feel a little silly at first-- it is such a simple thing, so useless when taken out of context. Sagan goes on though, giving writing context and emphasis, and suddenly the BuzzFeed article or that Tom Clancy novel is now an historical document, and is a small cross section on the web of writings that expands infinitely. And like Sagan says, our ability to access that web of ideas is the greatest gift we give to each other.

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him.” ― Dylan Thomas
Replace the word poem with “idea” and suddenly you are contributing so much more than new perspective, you are contributing to progress.
“All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche was a German philosopher who believed God was dead due to the increase of secularism in Western civilization and wrote many theses on nihilism, which is the idea that life lacks purpose because nothing has an innate value. Maybe you knew that, maybe you didn’t. But you have heard of Nietzsche, because like me and you and Nietzsche, we are part of that web of writing. This blog you are reading this very instant is now a part of the great expanse. Writing is not reserved for writers, but for thinkers, for those who have ever had a question and desired an answer. And something tells me that you are one of those people. So go write!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

5 Steps to Start the Big Paper Today

by Katie Avagliano

I get it, we’re just days after the snowpocalypse. There might still be snow blocking your front door. Also, it’s January. Do we really need to start that 25 page end-of-semester research paper in January? That grad school application can wait until the snow melts.

But you know that’s not what’s going to happen. It’s going to wait until the day before it’s due, or the week before it’s due, and you’re going to stress out.

So get started today. Baby steps, I swear.


#1: Go to the library

Just go in the library and smell the books. Look up your topic, find the call number, and stand in front of the shelf for a little while.

The library is organized by subject. It’s kind of genius, actually. So if you’re doing a paper on the old Hollywood studio system, you might be looking for Clark Gable and the book right next to it just as useful.

At American University, graduate and undergrad students alike can check out as many books as they want. The loan period is four weeks, for undergrads, and six weeks for graduate and law students. 

So go crazy! Bring all the books home and just flip through them for a couple of weeks. Real paper books can be inspiring.


#2: Read a Wikipedia article

Or, you know, grab an actual encyclopedia, but just knowing the overview of your subject can really help you focus on what you’re researching on. And if you find something interesting, look for more sources to confirm it. Wikipedia is a good way to know what the bare minimum research already can tell you. Just make sure to move on from the website and actually read a scholarly source.


#3: Talk it out

This is where the Writing Center comes in. We’re like those friends who pretend to care about your French Revolution paper, except we actually care. Come by with your Wikipedia research and your sixteen books and your idea and we will help you turn it into an outline. Papers always seem so much easier when you have a well-crafted thesis and five or six topic sentences right there.


#4: Un-schedule yourself

You know how when you start a paper the week before it’s due you put crazy demands on your mind and body. Like: Today I have to write my entire paper, or Today I have to get all my research done, or I have ten minutes to edit this whole thing.

Because you’ll now have weeks or months to finish your paper, you’re not trying to schedule your paper like train times. You’re just trying to keep sane, and balanced. Sit down with your planner or your iCalendar app and put in everything you have to do all week. Your classes, your soccer practice, your job, your regular homework. A lot time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, driving, snacks, hanging with friends, watching Netflix, watching the Superbowl, watching the Oscars. Try to account for everything. Remember you need eight hours of sleep.

Now how much time do you have left over? Per day? Per week? That’s how much time you’ll use for writing. Now, if you have two hours left per day, you don’t have to use all of those two hours. But try to make it at least thirty minutes, so that you can really get into the groove of your assignment. And then move onto something else.

Make writing a routine. Make it un-scary. Make it so that there’s enough time left for revising, rethinking, re-editing. When you finish one assignment, move onto another. Keep that thirty minutes a day productive.

Then you’re good, man. You’re golden.

#5: Just do it

The best part about starting the paper in January is that you can procrastinate. Write five pages this month, five pages next month, edit on the weekends. But in the end, remember that procrastination can only save you for so long. Eventually you are going to have to do the thing. And when the time comes, you’re going to have to turn off Facebook and stop scrolling through Twitter and just do it. And it sucks. But it makes you a better person, I swear. If nothing else, knowing every Confederate general will help you be boss at pub trivia.


Friday, December 4, 2015

Final Freeze:

Beating Writer's Block

by h. grieb 

By this time in the semester, you're already a writing machine. Just two more papers, and you're done. No problem. Or so you think. 

You resume your position in front of the computer screen and open a new document. There it is - the blank page - and there it stays. Just like that. Blank. Every time you write a sentence, you end up pressing delete. 

"Maybe it's just the lack of sleep. I need some coffee." Four cups later and you're still like:

Okay, put the coffee pot down, and grab some water. It's important to stay hydrated throughout the finals marathon. Drinking a cup of coffee can give you a badly-needed boost, but too much caffeine can actually overstimulate your system, increase anxiety, and inhibit your ability to focus. Drink responsibly, folks. 

Now take your creative pulse: What is your aim in writing this assignment? Re-evaluate your expectations. If your expectations are too high, you will never be satisfied with your progress or the final product.

Still struggling? Here are some additional strategies for beating writer's block: 

-Make a list of words or phrases. Whether on a separate sheet of paper or in your word document, writing anything – even a single word – helps when you’re stuck in a rut. I keep a legal pad and pen by my laptop, so I can write down words or phrases that come into my head without cluttering my word document. This process forces thoughts out of my head and onto a piece of paper, so I can better visualize the material I need to weave into the text. 

-Try switching it up and working on a different section. You do not have to write in the same order the paper will take. 

-Step away from the computer. No, I mean it. Get up, stretch, and move around. If it’s a nice day out, head outside for a quick stroll around the block. Raining? Talk a little walk around your desk. 

-Schedule a session at the Writing Center. We're open during finals week and ready to help you meet the challenges of academic writing. (Open Monday 12/7 - Thursday 12/10, 11am - 6pm & Friday 12/11, 11am - 3pm)

*Remind yourself: Writing is just practice. We're all learning. All we can do is our best, and hopefully, our time and effort shines through. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't Panic, Organize!

by Justine Zapin

So your professor has assigned a research paper and you're like,

But then you sober up and think, “Hey, maybe I’ll just get all the research done now! I know how to use the search box, and then I’ll wait to write the paper. Writing at the last minute is the best recipe for producing a fantastic paper.”

So you hunker down and do the research. You get really great research. You know your research is sick – so good. Definitely top notch research from excellent, reputable sources. Your teacher wishes he had found these sources. What??!?!? And then you read through all of the articles and you realize:

Then you re-read through it and realize that you do understand. But there is so much of it. There is just so much stuff. And where on earth will you put it? How will it all fit in the paper? And where is the paper going? And where are you going? You should drop out. This can’t be what life is all about? And:

Not to fear. Should you have started earlier? Yes. Does that mean that you’re screwed? No. Sometimes when you are drowning in research and pieces of paper with thoughts scribbled, and – wait – where are your chemistry notes? You know you wrote down something about your research topic during that last chem lab – a thesis statement even! Where did that go?

So . . . Sometimes, when you are drowning in research – photocopies, random notes, thoughts scribbled on post-its and receipts, books – it helps to organize like a movie producer. Use the walls. Post all of your paper up on the wall and organize like that. The wall with the poster of Bieber gets all of the info/quotes you will use for the intro. The wall with your roommate’s Death to Smoochie poster can have everything you are planning to put into your body paragraphs. From there you can organize into specific paragraphs over that creepy clown’s face and so on. Or better yet – come to the Writing Center and we can help you plaster the walls!                        

Once the info – that great research – is out of the pile of imposing papers and out in front of you, organizing gets easier. It creates an outline that doesn’t reek of your eighth grade English teacher’s perfume and requires no extraneous bullet points. And guess what? Not only can you do this with any type of academic paper, but once assembled, the paper is practically written!