Rhetoric and Composition: A Class Blog Response

Rhetoric and Composition: A Class Blog Response

Rhetoric has been one of those topics I have never felt very comfortable with, for as long as I can remember. It just intimidates me and gives me anxiety! Perhaps it’s because I never fully understood the term, or that it is associated with thoughts bigger than what my brain could comprehend in the past. The readings for this week’s discussion do help eliminate some of that anxiety, but I was still feeling lost. During our class discussion, it was easy for me to see that most of my peers feel comfortable with the term, and few are intimidated like me.

When I took my first college level writing course, I assumed I would get an A because I did in high school. In high school, I was taught the basics. Paragraph structure, syntax, grammar, mechanics, spelling, etc. But I wasn’t taught to synthesize. I wasn’t taught to analyze. Or, maybe I was, but it didn’t get through to me. This is something I want to change for future incoming freshman, should I become an instructor. I want to bridge that gap and not make students feel intimidated when we discuss topics like rhetoric. Incorporating the meaning behind ethos, logos, and pathos into class discussion and exercises have always helped me better understand the topic – had I learned about it earlier in my education maybe I wouldn’t feel so intimidated?

After our class discussion, I realized something… even though I hear the word and feel my mind is about to explode… I use the practice nearly every day without a second thought. It’s the word that, to me, carries the negative connotation.

This gives me hope, as a future teacher. I am learning the tools to use while teaching students (ideally high school or college level) to not think negatively about the Greek words we’re assumed to understand. Teaching rhetoric can tie the shoes, but in order to do that, we need the laces and the shoes themselves. That would be the process of all the elements I mentioned earlier, wrapped into one. Rhetoric can just tie them all together. Maybe if I was taught this way, I wouldn’t feel so intimidated? What kind of exercises could be incorporated in class discussion to take away the assumption that students comprehend what rhetoric really is, and instill the knowledge they need to succeed in a college level English/writing course?

Revising As I Go

Revising As I Go

Freewriting, to me, is the ultimate way to begin any piece of composition. It prompts the writer to get their thoughts out and on to the paper. Freewriting helps the writer to organize their thoughts before starting the final draft. The key to freewriting is to not stop writing – no matter what. Why is it when I write… why do I always want to stop, contemplate, and revise what I’m writing.

Peter Elbow tells us in his book Writing Without Teachers that I shouldn’t revise myself as I’m writing. Goodness, I believe that is my biggest problem.  (Wow, see, I just did it with that sentence, editing it as go.) I have to stop the madness sometime if I’m going to expect my future students to understand and work with a freewrite method/model. If I can’t make attempts to break my habit, how can I in turn 1) teach the model when I am not perfect and 2) help others learn the model and break their own bad writing habits?

I want to write about my writing habits for a while. I have found that revising as I go is not effective when trying to compose a piece of writing. I often get frustrated, find myself staring off into space while I try to think of a clever way to reword a sentence, and I don’t make progress within a small period of time, versus where I could end up if I would just write off the cuff and not worry so much about the revision process. I think that’s the editor in me, and the drive to write a document once and only have to lightly edit it. It is hard for me to turn that off, but when I do, I can plainly see the success. I notice I get further, I have more written down to potentially draw additional ideas from, and I don’t have to do as much work.

So I must ask myself… why do you work harder instead of smarter in this case? Come on! The answer at first is obvious – I’m an editor. But I need to dig deeper than that. Why do I enjoy editing? Refining a rough draft to get closer to a finished piece gives me a great sense of accomplishment. So, why won’t I just get closer to the finished piece to start, and then go from there, revising as I need to once the first draft is complete?

Once I do have a draft together, I usually print it out, read through it once, and then cut up the paragraphs if I feel there isn’t a solid flow throughout the entire piece. I have a rough time getting to that step, though, unless it’s personal writing. Writing for my undergraduate degree (the first few years, that is), I would often procrastinate and turn documents in as is, and hope for the best. More times than not I would get the grade I desired, which would lead me to believe I was okay doing this process, and could keep going. I’ve learned in my last year of my undergraduate degree, I needed to take more time to develop my writing. Perhaps this is because I began tutoring in my last year of my undergrad degree, but either way, it helped me achieve a better result: a good grade and satisfaction. Before, I would just turn something in and hope for the best, but at the end of my senior year, I knew I was turning in something quality and would deserve the best.

What changed? What did I do different? I spent more time on a project. I was organized from the beginning. I still struggled to stop revising as I wrote a paper, but would have my fellow writing tutors or my boyfriend proofread for me. By the way, he’s an excellent writer, although he won’t admit it often enough. I enjoy reading his work – he’s very intelligent when it comes to tech-centered ideas and video games. He always manages to put a creative spin on things. I sit here and wonder to myself, does he freewrite when composing his blog posts, and at the end of the piece, revise then and only then, or does he revise as he goes along? I know he has me proofread and edit for him on occasion, but I have never asked him this. I do wonder what his process is… and now that I sit here and think about it, I’m kind of mad at myself for not asking him this sooner. I suppose we will have to have a discussion when I get home this evening!

Anyway, back to revising as I go… how do I turn it off? How do I stop the urge to edit while composing a document? I need help with this. Maybe Elbow’s practices will stick with me. I particularly enjoy the concept of allowing four hours to work on a piece and breaking up the first three hours into two sections: the first 45 minutes and the final 15 minutes. This might actually help me concentrate more on getting the writing done versus making it perfect. I need to remind myself that this comes later, not first. I bet I’d be more productive with this approach, and then in turn, I could teach my future students this model and get their feedback. Does it work for everyone? I’d imagine it doesn’t, just as there is no one standard way to write. But I do believe that following Elbow’s suggestion will help writers, both struggling and expert, improve their craft.

I love both revising and editing – sometimes I have to remind myself they are two very different elements of the craft. Revision – re-seeing a document and making changes as necessary to fulfill requirements, whether it be substance or flow. Editing is different. And there are different types. Copy editing, editing for grammar and spelling and punctuation, editing to add a creative spin, and more. This is the part of writing I really enjoy.

Write, write, and write. I hardly spend time writing for pleasure anymore, and I really should, as it is my form of therapy. The fact of the matter is, I always find something else to do, or something else that needs to be done. I’m making time for reading more fiction, so why can’t I stick to my proposed daily writing schedule? How I wish there were more hours in a day, to accomplish everything I want… but by the end of the day, I end up giving up because I’m tired, work has worn me out, my eyes can’t bear to read another word, let alone paragraph or page. This must stop. I remember I used to tell myself “you make time for the things you want to do.” I should start telling myself that again. I have many things I want to do, and writing at least for an hour, or even 30 minutes a day is one of them.

Does the above help me gain clarity about freewriting and my own habits? I do believe so. It has helped me to point out what I believe is a top flaw in my own writing: revising as I go, editing before a document is complete, etc. Sure, I rambled a bit, but I think I was finally getting somewhere regarding revision. Is this a breakthrough? Quite possibly.

How Do We Teach Genre?

How Do We Teach Genre?

Genre is defined as a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content. Although this might be the dictionary definition, how can we extract an actual, physical definition of genre? It means a lot of things and covers many areas. Personally, I would have to say it’s a way to separate and organize writing, music, movies, books, etc. It’s a way to fit in all the different types of art that could potentially fall under a single category. I feel I must ask myself… how is genre meaningful as a term? A simple conclusion: form + situation = genre. That could work, right?

In our class discussion, we thought of various genres and jotted them down. When I first think of this on my own, I’m naturally drawn to these three stereotypical genres: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Before, this was my definition, plain and simple. Seemingly, everything can fit into those three categories. After discussing this with my peers, I had a better idea of what genre is. But how do I teach it to my students?

This week, the authors speak about critical thinking when applied to genre writing. How do we teach genre? Like I mentioned before – those three main categories is what I was always taught. I did not think critically when it came to genre. Or maybe I did but I just didn’t realize it. Can we teach a genre as if it were a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ thing? Part of me says yes… but the critical and analytical part of me says no.

In Bawarshi and Reiff’s article, the list they provide on page 197 helped me to consider different questions to ask, such as “Who can, and who cannot, use this genre? Does it empower some while silencing others?” and “What sort of communication does the genre encourage, what does it constrain against?” Teaching that the use of genre can spread further than my initial categories go, and we even have the power to change the world by understanding how to use genre – whether it be fiction, a news piece, the story of someone’s life and how others relate to it, or even a poem that knocks you on your feet when you understand it fully.

Another thought – when considering literacy – can it be used as a metaphor across various disciplines? We can also ask ourselves, what can our knowledge of literature/literacy contribute to other genre areas? As we move forward in life and evolve, new genres are being thought of as we speak. Digital media is one that has taken the world by storm. This did not exist almost 25 years ago. Blogging has become a genre in and of itself. We do it in class, we do it for pleasure, and we do it reach others around the world and relate. On that note, we definitely study genre to understand our culture better, and to relate to others.

 

Journal: Theory & Writing

I began working on my graduate degree in January, and the following journal is based on the first class session for Theories and Applications of Teaching Composition. We started our semester by discussing the relationship of theory and teaching composition. If you have anything to share or want to discuss… please do so in the comments below!

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Theory is defined as a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be; a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based.

Considering this definition and the readings, theory has a large role in teaching composition. Up until I began my undergraduate degree in English, I did not understand how theory had a place in writing… when I look back on my education, theory was present the entire time – I just didn’t realize I knew how to identify it. Writing was always just a hobby, a way to get the ideas and demons out of my head and on paper. It was just, and still is (but with more meaning), my form of therapy.

What is the role of theory in our teaching practice?

The role that theory plays in writing can be flexible – there are many ways to go about instructing someone to conduct a task. Understanding theory and how to apply it to each unique situation in the classroom helps everyone – instructors and students alike – become more versed in a craft. With writing, I never realized how theory really comes into play until a few years ago when I began tutoring.

Do you have a theory or set of theories about writing and teaching writing? 

When I began this course, I feared I did not have enough experience as a teacher like my fellow classmates, as I have only tutored in the academic setting. In fact, until this class began, I did not believe that I had a pedagogical background. I am discovering it has been there, waiting to be uncovered. I’m beginning to understand this desire to teach has been here all along, and I have to reflect on my life as a writer to even begin considering what my teaching theory could be. To be honest, I never thought I had a set of theories about writing and teaching writing until now. It brought a lot to light for me, and helped me identify and physically write what a couple of my theories could be. The beginning of my running list is below:
  • Writing is therapy.
  • There is not one end-all-be-all way to write a piece. The beauty about writing is that it’s flexible and can vary from person to person.
What experiences and knowledge have led you to your current theoretical stance?

Why write? Why teach writing? Why develop theories about the writing craft? I have always asked myself “why write?” but never started to think deeper than my obvious answer… because it’s enjoyable. That’s why I write – because I enjoy the craft. The other two questions I never really considered until now.

Pondering the how and why of teaching composition, I’m discovering my principles began to take shape when I took a course to become a tutor in the University Writing Center (UWC). Looking back, I feel like I can barely remember the studying and researching that was done to prepare myself to become a peer tutor, but after conducting a year of tutoring sessions with fellow undergraduates, I could clearly see my path as a writer would be to help others and educate them about the craft.

Specifically about the two theories I stated above (my running list)…

  • Writing is therapy. Many who write can funnel their passion creatively, or use research as a way to find the answers to their pressing questions. In my experience, journaling has been a savior on its own. I can spend a few moments a day writing out what is bothering me or what makes me happy. I also enjoy challenging myself to put a creative spin on my words when freewriting.
  • There is not only one way to write a piece. After I trained to be a tutor for the UWC, I realized I would need to adapt the way I assisted each individual student. Some learn better by seeing, then doing… and others learn better by simple instruction. Even though I would begin each session the same way – breaking the ice, asking them questions about the piece, and have them begin reading aloud – I would often find myself ending the session a different way every single time. This alone helps me learn to adapt to unique situations in an instructor position, which I believe is very important.

(Photo credit: http://fab4fan.wordpress.com)

Revising As I Go

The Power of Proofreading

It’s no secret: I have always enjoyed writing. During the past few years, I’ve discovered I have a knack for professional and technical writing. I know, it seems kind of boring at the surface… but I love it. I enjoy creating how-to guides, drafting emails to colleagues, and editing/revising professional documents to make sure they are as clear and concise as possible.

During my undergraduate studies, the course I completed have helped me improve my craft tremendously, and I still use many of those practices I learned in the classroom today. This includes how to draft letters and emails to clients  and colleagues, as well as how to communicate clearly with other professionals.

From my experience as a writing tutor, I realize writing is not a strong point for everyone. That’s OK – that’s why I’m here. :) In all seriousness though, I have one tip that can save you when communicating through writing.

PROOFREAD.

It is absolutely necessary to proofread your messages before sending. Start to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it… before the words come out. When it comes to communication through written documents or over the internet, you have the upper hand. Take the time to proofread your message. I promise it will save you time and embarrassment in the future.

I cringe when I receive an email with bad grammar and spelling mistakes. Well, I cringe when I see bad grammar and spelling mistakes in general. I feel that to get your point across and be respected, there is little to no room for errors when communicating with colleagues. Now, I’m not saying I’ve never made a mistake and sent something without proofreading… but when I have, I learned my lesson almost immediately.

Before I send out any email to a client or colleague, I proofread it once or twice. I can guarantee you I catch something every single time I give it another look. I search for spelling and grammatical errors. Sometimes to double-check myself, I even paste the draft into MS Word to run a spell check if my mail client doesn’t offer the service. I get embarrassed when I send an email to someone and it has errors throughout the draft. When I receive an email like that, I won’t lie to you… I can’t take it seriously. The sender did not want to take the extra time to proofread for mistakes or make sure their message is clearly conveyed.

Don’t be afraid to ask for someone to read over your message.

Always have a fresh pair of eyes look over a document, no matter the length. Even if you are an expert writer, I guarantee you will miss something if you don’t take the time to proofread or have someone else double-check your work for you. In my last job, my co-worker and I would read emails out loud to one another to make sure we a) sounded clear and concise and b) found any/all errors. Granted, this doesn’t help catch spelling errors, but that is what the second pair of eyes (and spell check) is for.

Another scenario: the company I used to work for added another fellow English major to our staff, so we had two in-house writers with proofreading skills. The marketing department would constantly rely on both of us to proofread documents for errors before it was published. Also, we could use each other as a fresh pair of eyes. Every single time we read each other’s work, we would find something the other didn’t find before. See, even two English majors made mistakes – but we were there for each other to correct them before anyone else read the material.

When in doubt, Google it.

I do understand that grammar and spelling may not be a strong skill many people have – but with the internet, I don’t believe anyone can use that as an excuse. Even I use Google to double-check myself on occasion. Chances are if you have a question, someone else does too, and they’ve gone on the internet to find the answer. The internet is a wealth of knowledge, so don’t be afraid to use it.

I am a huge advocate for using the internet to do everything. Shopping, connecting, communicating, writing, researching… you can do virtually anything on the internet. So, when you’re having trouble getting the spelling right or you’re not sure if you’re using a word in the correct form, open up your browser and head to Google.

The moral of the story: always, always, always remember to proofread.

Read over your email a few times before you send it. You might find a spelling error or that you can better phrase a sentence. If it makes you feel better, just remember that even the best writers make mistakes. If you need some help, feel free to contact me. I can guide you along the way and be that second pair of eyes you know you will need sooner later. Good luck!

How Do We Teach Genre?

Write a Stellar Résumé

Résumés. We all need them for one reason or another. Whether you have found a wonderful job and have no intention to leave, or you are looking for a career change, it is always a good idea to keep your résumé fresh and up-to-date. Websites like LinkedIn make it easy to maintain your professional experience while allowing you to highlight your skills, display recommendations, and much more… but it’s simply not enough. I believe you must have your résumé in tip-top shape if another opportunity should arise.

I have rebuilt my résumé several times to cater to specific positions, and that goes for cover letters as well. Since I have helped others for a while now, I figured I would post some quick tips for building a stellar résumé.

The most important tip… Follow the ‘KISS’ rule – Keep it Sweet and Simple. General rules apply here:

  • Stick to one page
  • Don’t go overboard with fancy fonts
  • Highlight your best features
  • Cater to the position

1. Stick to one page. You should assume employers do not have the time to shuffle through pages and pages of information about you. If you lay out everything about your professional history on your résumé, what have you left to talk about in the interview?

2. Don’t use more than 2 fonts. Also, keep these fonts simple. Go with Times New Roman, Calibri, Helvetica, and others that are similar. For examples of fonts you should not use, click here.  Some might say you can get away with using 3 fonts, but I think it’s only acceptable to do so if you have a custom header. For example, in the past I have used a letterhead with a different font than what is on the rest of the résumé. I have since thrown that out because I felt it wasn’t simple enough. You don’t want to overwhelm the reader, or even confuse them. Just because you think it may look pretty, doesn’t mean the employer will.

3. Highlighting your best features is key. You want to show the employer immediately that you are the best fit for the job based on your previous experience. I suggest reading over the job qualifications and using those as a starting point. Let’s say they need applicants to have experience in customer service and management and computer skills. You will want to highlight your expertise with computer operating systems, specific programs (such as Microsoft Word and various Adobe products) and your ability to work as a team player and lead others.

4. Cater to the position for which you are applying. There is some wiggle room here. I have friends who are in creative industries (films, music, etc.) who have interactive resumes. These are awesome, but wouldn’t fly for an office assistant position. It’s simple – if you are searching for a job that allows you to show your creative side, take the risk and make your résumé colorful. If you are looking to work in a professional office setting, it might be best to play it safe and keep it simple.

Other Tips

The traditional “Objective” line is starting to disappear, but is still very acceptable on a résumé. Profile summaries are becoming popular – this gives you a chance to brag about yourself before the employer gets to your history. Here is my basic profile summary:

Profile

Exceptionally skilled editor and writer with experience in editing and publishing, as well as content and copywriting. Knowledgeable with current computer and Internet technology, as well as social media experience. Indiana University graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in English (Writing & Literacy), with the intent to pursue a Master’s degree in English. Fast learner and highly adaptable. Experienced communicator and team player.

I change my summary to cater to each position. If I am sending this off for a writer/editor position, I would probably add “excellent proofreading and editorial skills” or change my first line to “Exceptionally skilled writer with training in the editing and publishing field, as well as experience writing content and copy.” How you spin it is what catches an employer’s eye.

ALWAYS PROOFREAD BEFORE SENDING!

I can’t stress this enough. In the past, I have caught myself almost sending a résumé with a typo or incorrect grammar. Save yourself the embarrassment and proofread! You can never look over your résumé enough, and it always helps to have a second, third, or even fourth pair of eyes take a glance as well. I know people who have submitted a résumé after proofreading, but still did not catch every error. I have been guilty of that – but I learned from it immediately. Do not be afraid to ask for help. If you need a proofreader and don’t want to be judged, I’m your girl. Send it my way and I’ll be glad to help you!

Do Not…

  • Rely on a résumé wizard. You are better off looking at examples of other résumés and formatting yours on your own.
  • Talk salary, reveal your gender, age, marital status, hobbies, etc. It is simply unprofessional.
  • Add references. If an employer wants them, he or she will ask for them.
  • Focus on gaps in employment history. An interested employer will ask you about them if they are curious, and people understand there are reasons (especially in the last few years) why you have been unemployed. Just be ready to talk about it in the interview.

Click here to read some examples of what not to write… and yes, these people actually put that on their résumé!

Again, there are some jobs out there that do not want you to go the traditional route with your résumé, so don’t be afraid to take the risk. Just trust your gut and ask yourself… would I honestly hire someone with this résumé?

When I have helped others complete or revamp their résumés, they have been successful finding a new position. It’s a tough market out there, so make yourself stand out. I can’t guarantee you will find your dream job, but you can gain a nice head start by having different variations of your résumé ready to send to potential employers. At this point, I think I have at least 5 different variations of mine, and I’m still creating more as I go.

If you need some help, feel free to contact me. I won’t charge you an arm and a leg, but I will offer you some advice should you need it. Don’t forget, I’ll even proofread it for you. Good luck!

(Photo credit: http://www.wornthrough.com)