Author Archive

If you’re wrong, does that mean I’m right?

By Cate Daczyk - Monday, March 19, 2012, 4:08pm

While the Writing Center does so many things to help students become better writers, the main way we help students become better writers is showing them how to make strong theses. I cannot count the number of times that I have told a student that a thesis must be debatable, precise, and supportable.  While these are essential aspects to making a strong thesis, they certainly are not the only ways one creates a strong argument.

Recently, I had a student come into the Writing Center for a research paper on Huckleberry Finn. This student chose to write about homosexuality in Huck Finn, arguing that Huck and Jim do not have a homosexual relationship.  This is a perfectly acceptable argument– this topic is something that has been exhaustively debated (so one could assume there will be a lot of information from the text and secondary sources to support this thesis). While this argument does work, the student’s thesis statement did not.  Instead of focusing on textual examples to support Huck and Jim’s platonic friendship, the student was heavily relying on one critic’s analysis of the novel.  Further complicating matters, her only means of defending her argument were to attack the critic– not the critic’s argument.

I will admit, I have read some relatively outlandish critical analyses that have caused me to question the legitimacy of the author(s).  However, if I were to use one of those articles in a research paper, attacking the author would not help my thesis whatsoever.  When one poorly chooses to critique the critic and not the critic’s argument, they are not helping their own argument; this type of argument is considered an “Ad hominem” fallacy.  Using Huck Finn as an example, if I were to argue that Huck and Finn have a homoerotic relationship, I would not be helping my own argument if I attacked a critic who disagrees with me.  If I argue that Sawyer’s argument (imaginary person) is incorrect because Sawyer is a product of his ridiculous religious beliefs, I am doing absolutely nothing to help my own argument.  The only thing I am actually achieving is showing my audience that Sawyer’s background and personal life might be affecting his argument.  Let me reiterate this– Sawyer as a person (an imaginary person), has nothing to do with my argument about Huck and Jim’s relationship.  How is this helping my argument? Long story short, it’s not.  So to answer the question that started this all: If you’re wrong, does that mean I’m right?  No.  Just because you’re wrong, doesn’t automatically make me right.  That would be too easy.  If I can properly negate your argument using textual evidence and other critics theories that support my argument, then there’s a much better chance that I’m right… and who doesn’t love being right?

Say “No” to Boring Slideshows

By Cate Daczyk - Thursday, December 8, 2011, 4:52pm

While a lot of people already wrote blogs about technology in the Writing Center… I’m going to jump on the train.  Say what you will about me being a follower, but I still have things to say.

The Writing Center has grown so much this year.  Not only are we getting more students coming in, but we are also working with so many different types of assignments.  Even though a majority of the assignments coming in are still for humanities classes, we are getting more lab reports, science research papers, and even math papers.  Slowly but surely, the rest of the student body is beginning to realize the Writing Center does more than help with English papers.

At the beginning of the semester, Dr. Cordell had discussed the possibility of working on slideshows and other technology-related projects.  I hadn’t really thought about this much, until I had a slideshow presentation for my psychology class.  I have done quite a few slideshow presentations in my college career (and I have sat through quite a few bad presentations); but for some reason, I had never thought to go to the Writing Center to work on and perfect my presentation.

I met with Dr. Cordell for tips on how to make a good slideshow– he made a couple of suggestions (such as thinking about what I don’t like about other people’s slide shows) and sent me a couple of links about how to make a good slideshow.  To summarize some of the most helpful tips, I learned…

1. None of your slides should be each of your points verbatim.  There is no point to having a paragraph on a slide that you’re already going to read. Summarize your most important points so your audience will know what to pay most attention to.

2. If you’re going to use visual aids (graphs, tables, pictures, etc.), make sure you actually use them.  If you’re going to have visual aids, make sure you explain them so your audience knows why you’re using them. Don’t put in pictures just to make your slideshow longer.

3. Use visual aids.  As long as you know how to use them, it’s nice to change up from seeing bullet point after bullet point.

4. Make sure your background/text colors work together– bright yellow text and a white background are not only going to be impossible to read, but they’ll give your audience a headache.

5. Because there can’t only be four points (but actually, this is the most important point): Don’t forget about your audience! You’re presenting a slideshow for a reason– you’re trying to educate your audience. Make sure you interact with the audience; talk to your audience, not at them.

Long story short, I think it is a brilliant idea to have people bring in slideshow presentations to the Writing Center.  Not only will people learn how to present a proper slideshow, but no one else will have to suffer through a horrible slideshow presentation.  This is the Writing Center’s way of giving back.

 

Work Cited:

McKinney, Jackie Grutsch. “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the Late Age of Print.” The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 4th ed. Eds. Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. Print

We’re the Writing Center… Have We Met?

By Cate Daczyk - Monday, December 5, 2011, 12:26pm

I’m sitting at the front desk of the Writing Center, anxiously awaiting students to run in here with theses problems, as I see a campus tour pass by when the tour guide says, “This is the Writing Center. Students that do not test out of the College Writing class usually come here to get help with writing, or sometimes professors will require you to come here or they will deduct points from your grade…”  I will give you all a moment to recover from this…

Feeling better? Probably not– I know I don’t feel any better about this.  It saddens my soul to hear that as I had just written a blog about how the Writing Center was the cool place to be this semester, and then I hear a current student say this to prospective students?! My heart has sunk all the way to the unused basement of the Mulva Library.  How many times must we say that the Writing Center is a place for all students– no matter their year, major, or skill level of writing.  I am a senior English major and I still come to the Writing Center.  No offense to the other students, but if a senior English major isn’t “better than” the Writing Center, I highly doubt anyone on campus is.  I promise I really do not think that highly of myself, I just want to emphasize that no one is too good for the Writing Center, and we’re an excellent resource for all students.  I feel like our mission statement clearly states our purpose:

“We aim to help students become stronger, more confident researchers and writers. Trained as tutors, not editors, our consultants teach students how to improve their writing skills.  We help them develop strategies for generating ideas, researching, drafting, and revising work in General Education courses and in major and minor programs. We assist students with other writing projects, as well, such as applications, cover letters, resumes, and creative work.”

I wish there was some clever declaration I could make right now, solving this problem of students thinking the Writing Centers is just for freshmen or College Writing students.  If you look at our blog, the Writing Center tutors clearly ponder so many higher level writing issues– it would almost be a waste of time if all we did was assist in grammar issues in 100 level classes.  What do we need to do so all the students on campus realize we’re not just a resource for underclassmen?  Do we just need to wait for students to realize how awesome we really are, or is there something else?  Suggestions?

Come One, Come All! WC Help Desk is On the First Floor.

By Cate Daczyk - Thursday, December 1, 2011, 4:27pm

Yesterday during our Writing Center meeting, my favorite topic came up: the Writing Center Help Desk. If you don’t know what this is (or where it is), you’re probably not the only one. On the first floor of the library– right next to the Technology Help Desk– is the Writing Center Help Desk. While the first months were full of awkward glances and puzzled looks at the random podium in the library; slowly but surely, people began approaching the podium to check it out a little. At first, people were acting like there was an invisible electric fence around the podium—they were afraid to get too close. Once people actually got close enough to the Help Desk, they began asking us questions– unfortunately, a lot of these questions were technology related (the Tech Desk is right next to us). A month ago, the most magical thing happened– someone came up to me while I was working and asked me a question about CITATIONS! I had never been so happy to talk about APA formatting in my entire life. More and more people are beginning to actually use the Writing Center Help Desk, so I feel slightly troubled that people are already beginning to doubt how helpful the Help Desk could be.
I remember in the beginning of the year, the Writing Center was concerned with the lack of students that we had who went to the Writing Center last year. People just were not using this wonderful resource, and it was very troubling– especially to the staff. Interestingly, this year has been extremely busy at the Writing Center. People actually have to schedule ahead of time to make an appointment– it has been difficult to take walk-ins when we have been so busy. I’m not sure how we became so popular compared to last year, but I’m liking it. Therefore, I am slightly puzzled as to why people are so quick to doubt the Writing Center Help Desk. Perhaps, we need to give the Help Desk the same chance. It took people a while to use the Writing Center in the new library, so I don’t know why it would be any different for the Writing Center Help Desk. While the Writing Center Help Desk might not be as popular as the Writing Center itself, it’s going to take time. We cannot expect one day to magically have a line all the way into Ed’s with students and their burning citation questions. I think the Help Desk is a wonderful source; we just need time to let the rest of the student body realize this. It is an excellent resource to have for students when they have a quick question about citations, sentence structure, or how to make a strong thesis; most importantly, it is a great way to advertise the Writing Center.
On a slightly random note, I would really like to have Ms. Joanna Holzhaeuser’s Writing Center haiku on the front of the podium– it might bring in some more students. Probably wouldn’t hurt to have a candy jar either.

To Do List: Step 1. Make a To Do List

By Cate Daczyk - Wednesday, November 30, 2011, 5:49pm

As the end of the semester is beginning to wind down (thank goodness), students are starting to race to finish their final papers and assignments.  I completely understand that the Writing Center has been extremely busy lately– we’ve had quite the productive semester.  But I’ve been noticing lately that more and more students are coming in with half-written papers that are due the next day (or worse, at the end of our tutoring session).  I would be lying if I said I had never procrastinated on a paper before, but these last few weeks of the semester are hard enough– students don’t need to make them even harder by cramming to finish assignments and study.

No matter what your major is, you are bound to have numerous final assignments, papers, and exams coming up.  As much as you might want to stay home to watch Criminal Minds instead of going to the library, you’ll most likely regret it later; especially when you’ve been at the library for thirteen hours working on assignments.  To ensure that you will get all of your studying and papers finished (and maybe even have spare time to watch Criminal Minds), it is vital for your health and your sanity that you schedule out your time for the next couple of weeks.  Now, when I say that you should make a schedule, I do not mean you should write: “Tuesday: Write Psychology Paper” as this will eventually cause you great distress. You may be wondering why this is problematic, so let me paint a little picture for you:

It’s 5:30 on Tuesday and you just got to the library to work on your psychology paper. It’s due tomorrow, but you have the entire night to do it, so you should be fine.  All of a sudden, you realize you forgot about your statistics homework– let’s add that to the to-do list.  While you’re working on your psychology paper, you get a little bored so you decide to go on Facebook for a little bit (you’ve earned it, you’ve written 3 out of the 7-10 pages you need). BAM! It’s 11:30 and you still have to write at least four more pages and do your statistics homework…

Moral of the story: never assume you can complete an acceptable paper in one night– something else will always come up.  Even worse, lack of sleep and panicking over finishing your paper will hinder your ability to write a good paper.  When making your to-do list, make sure to check all of your syllabi, so you can be sure you don’t forget about any assignments.  Once you’ve made a complete list of everything you need to do over the next few weeks, divide up all of your assignments– give yourself something to do each day.  Instead of attempting to write an entire paper in one night (especially the night before it is due), work on certain sections each day.  Not only will you have fewer panicky finals-related moments, you’ll also feel a sense of accomplishment when you write more than you had scheduled for that day.  Lastly, if you know you have an important paper coming up, schedule an appointment at the writing center at least a few days before it was due; this will ensure more time for you to work on numerous drafts and perfect your paper.

Good luck with your to-do lists and good luck with finals!

My Majors Are NOT Random

By Cate Daczyk - Monday, November 28, 2011, 4:40pm

I am a double-major in English and Psychology, and for the longest time, people have exclaimed at the randomness of my majors. I usually just tell them one is for fun and the other is so I can get a job in this horrible economy (I’ll let you guess which is which). For the first time, I think I have found a way that my majors actually work together.

This semester, I am taking Memory and Cognition, perhaps the most difficult psychology class I have ever taken. A majority of the discussion centers around memory and how one learns and retains information. Instead of explaining each and every theory about how we learn and why we learn the way we do, I will summarize a couple of theories that I believe are pertinent: individuals can only learn so much new information at a time, depending on the type of item(s) that one is trying to learn and remember. Studies done by psychologists Craik and Lockhart have revealed that deeper processing aids memory and recall. Essentially, if something is more meaningful, one will have an easier time remembering and recalling the information.

As much as every professor on campus would like to think that every word spouted in each of their lectures is the most meaningful thing we have ever heard, they are sadly mistaken. While the information being taught may be extremely interesting and meaningful, after so many different classes, different professors, and different lectures, all of this essentially become meaningless– it is a jumble of information. So when it comes time to begin studying for the test, students are left with one agonizing question: how can I remember all of this?

A majority of the time, students rely on rehearsal– repeating the information over and over again until we think we know it. Unfortunately, various research has shown that rehearsal is not the best way to aid memory and recall. As I said previously, Craik and Lockhart discovered that meaningful information is remembered better than information with little or no meaning. With rehearsal, one is not focusing on the meaning of the information, the student is just focusing on trying to remember of the order of the words. According to Craik and Lockhart, this is a lower level of processing since there is little meaning associated with this. Deeper levels of processing help us remember things better– so why do students torture ourselves and study this way?

Finally (what you’ve all been waiting for), psychology’s tie to my English major. To put it simply, my psychology major tests my knowledge with exams and and my English major with papers. I have found that after I have written a paper, I feel extremely knowledgeable on the topic I had just written about. Interestingly enough, I know more information and research that went into papers I wrote years ago than information and research from my last psychology exam. Have I perhaps been ignoring a completely useful and simple study method all of these years?

While it may seem arduous and annoying, what if instead of reading through your notes thirty times, you attempted to write a paper about the information? It would not have to be a perfectly crafted paper with a flawless thesis or hypothesis, just an attempt at organizing pages and pages of arguably meaningless information. Writing a paper as a study method would use deeper levels of processing, and according to Craik and Lockhart, one would be able to retain and recall this information much better than if one simply tried rehearsal. If two people had only ten hours to learn the same information (while controlling for third variables, of course), I believe that the student who chose to write a paper on this information instead of using simple rehearsal techniques would have a better retention and recall of this information. I’m going to put this theory to test and try this for my next Memory and Cognition Exam. Fingers crossed!

Please, Don’t Beat Me With Your Writing

By Cate Daczyk - Monday, October 24, 2011, 3:53pm

David Bartholomae defines writing as “an act of aggression disguised as an act of charity” (407).  This definition was the root of numerous discussions at the Writing Center. Primarily, people were struggling with Bartholomae’s use of the word “aggression.”  When I think of aggression, I think of someone punching me in the face– I think it is relatively safe to assume that Bartholomae didn’t mean that people were beating each other with their papers.  Our class further discussed what “aggressive writing” meant, concluding that it was just the opposite of passive writing.  When one creates an argument or hypothesis, it is not a passive process– one actively pursues their thesis or hypothesis.  While we had somewhat settled on this, there were other notions of writing our class was struggling with.

John Pennington and Robert Boyer’s essay A Reflective Strategy for Writing Across the Curriculum: Situating WAC as a Moral and Civic Duty brought up what it means to write “ethically” and how one does it.  We had first discussed writing about ethical topics and how one goes about this, and then related writing ethically to writing aggressively.  Can one write both ethically and aggressively?

When thinking of how one would write ethically, one should think of the style of writing, rather than the topic being written about.  In order to create a concrete argument, one should not rely on fallacies to support their argument.  Fallacies are “false or deceptive statements” (www.oed.com).  If one is relying on deceptive statements to support their argument, they are not writing ethically.  Since there are so many different types of fallacies, I will list some of the more common ones.

Ad Hominem: Instead of attacking a person’s argument, you attack the person.

Appeal to Tradition: Stating that if something is tradition, it must be correct.

Circular Reasoning: Stating what you are trying to prove in your proposition.

Post Hoc: Coming to an extreme generalization after one statement.

Slippery Slope: Again, coming to an extreme generalization or consequence after one statement.

In order to write both ethically and aggressively, one must avoid relying on fallacies to support their statement.  A powerful statement does not need to rely on deceptive, half-truth statements.  When one clearly states their argument, acknowledges opposing arguments, and clearly defends their argument without relying on fallacies, one is able to write both aggressively and ethically.

 

Works Cited:

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” An Anthology of Essays. 403-17. Web.

“Common Fallacies.” No Beliefs. Free Thinkers, 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://nobeliefs.com/fallacies.htm>.

Pennington, John, and Robert Boyer. “A Reflective Strategy for Writing Across the Curriculum: Situating WAC as a Moral and Civic Duty.” The WAC Journal. 87-100. Web.

 

 

Honestly, I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

By Cate Daczyk - Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 3:53pm

Okay, it’s time to be honest. My name is Cate Daczyk, I am a psychology and English double-major, and I still have no idea how to write a proper psychology paper.  This wouldn’t be so daunting if I wasn’t one class away from completing my psychology major.

Our Writing Center class got into a very interesting conversation on Monday that I would like to share with you.  St. Norbert College boasts Writing Across the Curriculum: “Since writing is essential to learning in the classroom and to communicating in the world at large, students need to master their writing skills and take responsibility for their written work. Students have an obligation to their academic community to perform their best on all written assignments.” How is it that I am a senior in college (I have completed 27 classes here), and no one has taught me how to write except for the English Department?

At first, I thought this was totally acceptable.  I thought English = writing, so the English professors should be in charge of teaching me how to write, right? Wrong.  Why would my English professor teach me how to write about an experiment I did in Psychology?  My Psychology classes do not teach me about Psychoanalytic Theory, so why should my English class teach me how to write for my Psychology class?

I love St. Norbert– I really do.  But now that we have touched on this in class, I’m puzzled how none of my other classes have taught me how to write for that discipline.  I remember turning in a 28 page report for one of my Psychology classes last year, and one of my professor’s initial comments was that I was writing “too much,” that I just needed to get straight to the point.  Um… hi?  How would I know that?

Last week I had a student come in to the Writing Center asking me how to cite a paper using ASA format. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I had no idea what this was at first.  What was more alarming was that the student  was a Sociology major and no one had taught her how to do this type of citation.

I think having Writing Across the Curriculum is an excellent idea– all schools should have this.  But why should all of the other disciplines rely on the English department to teach how to write for them?  I do not want to sound like I’m bashing SNC because I do love this school.  As wonderful as all of the English professors are, I don’t think they should be in charge of teaching me how to write for all of my other classes.

Him? Her? It? Who am I talking about?

By Cate Daczyk - Monday, September 19, 2011, 4:41pm

I recently came across a relatively sticky situation at the Writing Center. A student came in with a personal essay about faith and God.  Throughout the paper, this student repeatedly referred to God as “Him.”  Personally, I do not care what someone chooses to call God.  Someone can call God “The All-Mighty Wind,” and I would be fine with it.  But what should you do when you are writing a paper for someone who does care what you might write?

I have been told time and time again that professors want you to write your papers your own way and that they encourage students to honestly state their opinion.  I’m not doubting the professors that say this– I’m sure they do earnestly want students to be honest and authentic in their papers.  The problem is– we’re human.  We all have our own biases and personal opinions. This is a good thing; life would be terribly boring if we all agreed all the time.  My question is: how much should we edit ourselves?  Sticking with the example of what to call God, should a student edit themselves and slightly adapt their vernacular and opinions to their professor’s?  I could probably ponder and argue this for pages, but no one would really want to read all of that (nor would I really want to write all of that).  Instead of letting myself become absorbed into this internal struggle, I discussed this with Dr. Cordell.  He stated that the only time (in this example) a student should consider editing themselves would be if the paper was an argumentative essay.  In this instance, the student would want to stay on a more neutral ground.  However, if the paper is a personal essay, the student should be able to write freely and use their own vernacular and opinions.  As a student, I understand wanting to write a paper with a similar opinion to my professor, but I do not think I would be as good of a student if I always sided with my professor.  Part of becoming a good writer– more importantly, a good student– is pushing ourselves to write outside of the box– beyond what our professor might expect.  Writing a paper is daunting enough, there is no need to make the process even more difficult by attempting to alter your views and opinions.  Whether it is a personal essay or an argumentative paper, students should be able to be honest with their opinions as long as their opinions and statements are properly supported.