Information Sheet # 144

September 2, 2004


Writing in Stilettos

According to the latest issue of the New York Times Book Review, Pamela Anderson's first novel, Star, is now #13 on the best seller list, moving up from 15th spot the previous week. Earlier this spring a cover story on Ms. Anderson in Stuff magazine reported that writing the novel was going "really well." Her secret? "I only write it when I'm wearing my eight-inch stilettos. I put them on and suddenly I feel smarter."

* * * * *

Using a Blackboard Web Forum To Teach Paraphrasing, Summarizing, Proper Citation/ Documentation, and So Much More-All in One Assignment

Step #1: Students use a Blackboard web forum to discuss a topic they are studying in the class.

Step #2: Using the transcript of their Blackboard discussion, students write a paper reviewing the transcript. The assignment should require that the papers include passages which summarize, paraphrase, and quote from the students' transcript. Quotes should be properly cited, using whichever documentation system appropriate for the discipline. [Or an instructor could ask students to devise their own citation system for this particular assignment-creating a system so that someone not affiliated with Coe could find the transcript. Once students have constructed their own citation system, they could then compare their creation with existing academic formats (MLA, APA, CBE, Chicago, Columbia, etc). ]

Step #3: The papers are posted to the forum and read by other students in the class. The student readers review their peers' texts to determine how well each writer handled the summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, and documentation of sources. What makes this assignment potentially effective is that the readers are not only familiar with the issues but with the exact language used in the transcripts for initially discussing these issues. Everyone is drawing on ideas and words from a small community of writers--and thus they can quickly identify instances when their own writing has been misappropriated.

Step #4: As students compare and discuss their findings, they should gain a better understanding of what is involved in the fair, accurate, and precise handling of sources. This assignment can help students not only learn about the mechanics and formal rules for documenting sources but also appreciate the ethics of a proper respect for sources and how we use those sources.

[The original idea for this assignment came from a posting by Nick Carbone (at that time an instructor at Marlboro College) in a listserv for Writing Center administrators.]

Writing as Therapy

While cleaning out folders in a filing cabinet a few weeks ago, I came across some notes on an April 1999 New York Times article summarizing a study that originally appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study tracked individuals with mild to moderately severe asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. One group of patients wrote for twenty minutes a day for three consecutive days about their most traumatic experiences. Four months later, just over 47% showed significant improvement in their health and under 5% showed worsening of symptoms. On the other hand, the control group wrote for 20 minutes on three consecutive days about their plans for the day. Among these patients, only 24% showed improvement while almost 22% of got worse.

Dr. Smyth and others suspect that the writing task may be effective because it lets patients synthesize and make sense of their experiences. . . the writing allows patients to alter the way they think about an event, giving it order and structure. This process . . . . is very different from the intrusive and upsetting rumination that often follows traumatic events, a process that has been shown to have physiological effects, among them increases in heart rate and in the levels of stress hormones.
-Bob Marrs, WAC Program Coordinator

Contrasting the Inexperienced and Skilled Writer
[One of our Writing Center workshops that focuses on the revision process includes an exercise where students are asked to distinguish between the attributes of inexperienced and skilled writers. The basis for the exercise is a chart that the WC staff constructed several years ago, listing primary characteristics of ineffective writing strategies and how those contrast with strategies typical of most skilled writers. Since this chart has nothing about stiletto heels or any references to footwear, it is obviously incomplete, but the descriptions may still provide useful guidance as we help students become more skilled and flexible writers.]

Focal Issue
Inexperienced, Developing Writers
Skilled, Experienced Writers
Prematurely convergent thinkers; looking for a quick, final solution. The ideal that the first draft should be close to the final draft. Divergent thinkers, willing to postpone convergence. While searching for solutions, they welcome new perspective on their ideas and compositions.
Focus on editing issues. Research studies show that after completing a first draft inexperienced writers spend over 90% of their time correcting editing errors and ignore revising issues. May edit texts during all stages of writing process, but in initial stages of revising, the focus is on revising and rethinking important issues-not correcting grammatical and editing errors.
Thinking locally. Focus on minor details and lose sight of the big picture; so intent on the trees (punctuation, spelling, word count, etc) they lose sight of the forest. Thinking globally. Always aware of the paper's basic goals. They know the purpose of the paper, have a plan, and focus on strengthening text so it fulfills goals.
They often forget the needs of the reader. Rarely analyze a text from another reader's perspective. Aware of the reader's needs. They understand what the reader already knows and what information/ evidence/explanations the reader will need to understand the text.
Premature concern for correctness. They often assume that the good paper is the paper without composition errors (spelling, grammar, etc). Focus on clarity, development of ideas, effective presentation of message. Correctness is seen as one aspect of larger goal: to make sure readers understand message.
Minor/Major Revisions
Inexperienced writers seldom add or delete significant bodies of text. Most changes are inside a sentence. The first draft will usually establish the final parameters for a paper. Experienced writers frequently add and delete extensive passages; willing to make significant changes to a text; they are not tied to the boundaries in the first draft.
Attempt to find safe, mechanistic forms and templates; they may be careless but there is seldom any thoughtful risk-taking. Satisfied with 5-paragraph theme. Willing to try new ways of developing texts; interested in experimenting with established formats. May use 5-paragraph theme format, but they seek ways to transform it.
Defensive thinkers: they look for ways to defend the existing draft; not enthusiastic about making changes in a composition. Open-minded thinkers: receptive to ways for changing, developing, improving a draft.
Often work alone; may feel threatened, passive, or unenthusiastic when working with peers. Recognize value of frequent collaborations and working within a community. They use other readers to help them see what they have done and what is still unfinished.
Time Management
Wait until the pressure of a deadline forces the writing to occur; drafting, revising, and editing in condensed time frame. Writing process begins early enough so there is time for reflection and reconsideration of basic issues; allows time for further research if necessary.
Inexperienced writers tend to be afraid of writing; lack confidence in their ability to do well. Skilled writers approach even new and difficult tasks with sensible confidence in their problem-solving abilities.

"Writing . . . is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights,
but you can make the whole trip that way." --E. L. Doctorow

This website created and maintained by the Coe Writing Center. Copyright 2001.
Email Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.