Currently, the Writing Intensive Program (WIP) consists of 74 writing intensive (WI) courses spanning across the University’s schools and colleges, from accounting to women’s studies.
WIP’s goal is to ensure that each student achieves proficient writing skills by undergoing an intentional writing process of drafting, revising, editing, and learning to document sources correctly.
The WIP Faculty Advisory Committee of St. Catherine University represents faculty teaching in the colleges and schools located on both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. The Advisory Committee works to ensure that St. Kate’s faculty across the curriculum prepare their students to graduate with excellent written communication and critical thinking skills needed to achieve success in their professional and personal lives.
To help their students to develop as writers and to achieve excellent writing skills across the curriculum, faculty will engage their students in an intentional writing process of pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and documenting sources correctly.
To foster student development in writing, WIP strives to meet the following liberal arts goal in all WI (writing intensive) courses:
Critical and Creative Inquiry
To gather, analyze, and critically evaluate information to develop reasonable arguments, sound judgements, and effective solutions in written communication. Founded on a broad knowledge of the achievements of human creativity and of the variety of disciplinary approaches for exploring truths, critical and creative inquiry requires integrative thinking and interdisciplinary learning.
Effective Written Communication
To read and write about information with understanding and critical discernment. To effectively communicate ideas through writing to various audiences. To effectively and responsibly use and share information for the researched writing task(s) at hand.
(LAS/Mpls.), 2009/ongoing LAS Rep
2015, ongoing O’Neil, St. Paul Campus
2016, ESL Director (2 yrs)
2016, Education Grad School Rep (2 yr)
Maria Pabon Gautier
2016, Psychology (3 yrs)
2016, Academic Advising, ongoing
Amy Mars and Anne Beschnett
2016, Library Instruction, ongoing
2017, CORE Rep, Biology, ongoing
Pamela R. Fletcher
Director, Writing Intensive Program (WIP), Professor of English
If you are interested in developing and instructing a Writing Intensive course, please carefully review the information below.
After familiarizing yourself with the University's criteria and policy regarding WIP courses, you may complete a proposal form and send your completed application to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Currently under revision for 2017-2018.
St. Catherine University Proudly Announces Two Writing Competitions:
Email questions to Pamela R. Fletcher, St. Catherine University Writing Director, email@example.com.
This is a blog on writing with contributions from the St. Kate's writing community.
Susan Bosher, English/ESL
The general public, and indeed many educators, are unaware or unconvinced that all dialects of a language are considered equal in terms of their ability to meet the communicative needs of their speakers. In addition, though dialects may vary in terms of the rules they follow, they do follow rules. They are not incorrect variations of “Standard English,” but rather separate dialects. Language use that is not consistent with “Standard English,” however, is often characterized as street slang, broken English, or hybridized varieties, such as Hmonglish or Spanglish, despite their linguistic equality. Such characterizations are especially common when the speakers are from marginalized groups in society, most often people of color. Linguistic equality does not mean social equality.
In addition to diversity in language use, there is also considerable variation in how individuals use language, based on any number of factors, including where we were born, where we now live, our age, ethnic/racial background, social class, educational background, profession, social circle, etc., not to mention the rhetorical context of any given interaction: topic, audience, and purpose. Furthermore, language is not a fixed, static entity. It is constantly changing and reinventing itself, so much so that the very notion of a “Standard English” has been called into question.
Although some variation is acceptable in “Standard English,” what is acceptable often depends on the source of variation. For example, we accept colour as equivalent to color, but not talkin as equivalent to talking. Though “Standard English” is often presented as a “‘neutral’ tool that provides access and opportunity to all who use it” (Greenfield 54), there is considerable evidence that suggests that reduction of racially marked features of language in speakers (and writers) does not necessarily result in less racially motivated judgments about someone’s intelligence or ability to communicate effectively on the part of listeners (and readers). Evoking the myth of “Standard English” as an essential component of effective communication shifts responsibility for linguistic discrimination onto the “language practices of individual people of color, rather than [on] the racist practices of American institutions, [that] are responsible for those inequities” (Greenfield 39). By accepting the neutrality of “Standard English” rather than challenging discriminatory attitudes and practices toward language diversity and variation, educators may inadvertently be promoting a racist pedagogy in their classrooms despite well-meaning intentions to the contrary.
How do we, as writing instructors with the best of intentions, reconcile our understanding of linguistic diversity and variation and our awareness of language discrimination with the broader goal of helping students become good writers? If “Standard English” does not exist, then what language code are we teaching students to use in their writing? Can we help students become effective writers while allowing for greater diversity and variation in language use? And, are the rules of engagement different when writers are working in a second language? At what point does variation in a student’s language use reflect pragmatic competence in the second language rather than a developmental stage somewhere between the student’s native language and English? I have struggled with these questions for much of my professional life, in particular working with students who are writing in English as a second (or other) language. Some of my students are recent immigrants who are still learning the language; others are long-term immigrants who have acquired features of “non-standard” English as part of their integration into American life; and still others are second-generation immigrants whose language use reflects the multiple cultural and language influences in their daily lives.
Here are some principles that I have tried to follow in creating a classroom environment in which students learn to think critically about language use and in the process find an academic voice that honors and incorporates a linguistically and culturally diverse personal voice:
When students find their voice that combines both the personal and academic and learn to think critically and creatively about language and language use, both their own and at the societal level, the result is interesting and engaging writing – in short, excellent writing.
Lucas Pingel, Assistant Professor, LAS
I had to wait until graduate school to get the best piece of writing advice I ever received. It was during a three-hour Introduction to Graduate Studies class, at the point in the semester where we were beginning work on an extensive research essay. After walking us through the basic guidelines of the project, our professor, Barbara Lounsberry, set us loose for the evening with the mission to make our projects “true, new, and important.” It was so reductive that it felt almost confrontational. I have come to realize, however, that despite the brevity in her advice, she had managed to get at so many basic concepts about writing that I think are too often overlooked. This phrase has stayed with me ever since as a guiding principle of how I view excellent writing, but I’ll need to use a few more words than Dr. Lounsberry used to describe why.
For the sake of making this discussion manageable, I’ve limited my focus to academic writing. But I think the value of the “true, new, and important” mantra extends even further, and it can absolutely be applied to creative writing as well. So, who wants to get a tattoo with me?
Pamela R. Fletcher, Director of Writing
Excitement abounds around St. Kate’s, as students and instructors settle into a new academic year filled with promise and readiness. Change is afoot on campus and in the air, where green leaves flutter and imperceptibly turn gold and crimson. Fallen leaves take over our yards and streets, and the foliage crunch under our feet as we scurry from here to there.
I anticipate this cool seasonal change. The chilly evenings make me slow down and mull over recipes that inspire me to bake a scrumptious apple pie and make a soothing pot of spicy butternut squash bisque. I look forward to turning on the oven and making a delicious mess. Soon the rich aroma of the roasting squash warms my home and my heart.
Indubitably, our students’ learning is at the heart of St. Kate’s, and the Writing Intensive Program (WIP) aims to enhance the instruction of writing across the curriculum. Regularly, WIP instructors write about the importance of writing well in our Wonder of the Word column. For this fall 2015 issue, in his piece, “True, New, and Important,” Luke Pingel passes along a principle to both instructors and students that he got from one of his graduate-school writing professors.
Speaking of writing well: Refer to St. Kate’s Writers to read excerpts from the papers of Elea Ingman ‘15 and Elora La Valle ’15, the recipients of the 2015 Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Awards for Scholarly Writing. You’ll also find an excerpt from the work of essayist Margret McCue-Enser, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, and from the work of poet Dawn Quigley, Assistant Professor of Education, recipients of the 2015 Denny Prize for Distinction in Writing Awards.
Enjoy a cozy fall season full of good words. Soup’s on!
Pamela R. Fletcher, St. Catherine University Director of Writing
When I was a kid growing up in Puente Valley, California, we didn’t notice the autumnal equinox. We were too busy settling into a new school year, excited to connect with our friends, show off our new duds. I was eager to write my essay, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” especially after my family and I had driven to Houston, Texas for a family reunion. Although I had looked forward to the summer break, I soon grew bored with traveling, climbing and resting in our giant peach tree, and chasing the ice cream truck. To ease the ennui, my siblings, the neighbor kids, and I often played school, but our stage paled in comparison to the real place, and I got tired of acting the part of Mrs. Fletcher, the schoolteacher, who had to discipline bad pupils.
Eventually, the frost on our bedroom windows and the chill in the morning air signaled fall—we had no fallen leaves, no foliage awash in crimson, gold, and orange. The palm trees in our front yard appeared the same, no matter the season. I thought our monochromatic landscape was normal until I arrived at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and saw the maple trees aglow with flamboyant leaves! So thrilled to share the leaves with my friends and family back home, I enclosed fallen ones in my letters. The recipients, finding dried, crumpled pieces when they opened their envelopes, thought I had gone to Minnesota only to lose my mind. Well, they had a point: Why would a southern Cali gal leave home for some otherworldly place like Minnesota? And stay? Witnessing summer turn to fall is one good reason.
I adore the Minnesota fall with its cornucopia of apples, butternut squash, and eggplant, just to name a few of my favorite fall foods. I enjoy wrapping up in cushy, knit sweaters and kicking around in fashionable boots, as the air turns crisp. Picking apples at a local orchard is such a treat, and traveling to Bayfield, Wisconsin for its annual apple festival is a must-do jaunt to experience this special season. Take advantage of the lovely time before that savage wintry beast pounces on us! (Don't’ forget: I’m still a Puente Valley girl at heart.)
While savoring a cup of your favorite, hot beverage on a fall evening, read the works of several St. Kate’s esteemed writers featured on this Writing Intensive Program (WIP) website: 1) Susan Bosher, Professor of English and Director of ESL, WIP guest blogger; 2) Edward Sellner, Professor of Theology, recipient of the 2014 Denny Prize for Nonfiction; 3) April Gibson, Assistant Director of the O’Neill Center, recipient of the 2014 Denny Prize for Creative Writing (poetry); 4) Anne Floyd, ’14, recipient of the 2014 Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly (BJJK) Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Scholarly Writing; and, 5) Cami Stenquist, ’15, recipient of the 2014 O’Leary McCarthy Scholarship for Excellence in Undergraduate Writing.
Wishing you a productive, successful fall semester!
Gay Herzberg, Department of English
So what constitutes good writing? It’s a question I’ve considered during the more than thirty years I have been teaching literature and writing to both high school and college students. And, with a burst of creative writing of my own due to a sabbatical last spring, I have been pondering it in action as I construct the memoirs of my rather serendipitous life. What moves us then, as readers, and how does one construct a work that becomes indelibly etched in the brains of others to remember, savor and reexamine?
Of course, one must begin the discussion of good writing with a number of technical skills that proficient writers should or must employ to capture and woo their audiences. And these are important to note: thoughtful word choice, good grammar, a variation of both short and longer sentence constructions, an organizational approach that is clear and useful for ordering ideas, and speaking of which, a sound and interesting purpose for writing in the first place, coherent sentences and paragraphs that each have their own integrity and hang together well, perhaps some descriptive devices that deepen and enrich the narrative and, finally, the ability to weave the theme, suspense, foreshadowing, character development, and plot into one beautiful and resonant package. In academic writing, these skills might go in one direction and in fiction and creative non-fiction writing perhaps go in another, but most of these qualities are true and relevant for all good composing.
Powerful writing must certainly begin with these essential ingredients, and sometimes they are indeed enough to drive us where we want to go as writers. But what is the je ne sais quoi, the mysterious spark that fires writers to create a work that takes flight?
As a writer, you must love and believe in the importance of your work. This is to say, that the subject, main idea, tale, premise, theme must titillate you and provoke you into communicating it with feeling. If this is true and if you have great affection for what it is you are writing, the passion you feel will likely translate into a powerful and effective telling. Last year, in my class Writing with Power, Purpose and the Perfect Word, for example, I had a student who was a ballet dancer who had trained most of her life to dance. Her passion for this art was clearly a major part of her persona and meant the world to her. This love translated into powerful descriptions of dance, its beauty and magic as well as the fellowship that defines the community of dancers. I could feel the writer smiling through her words as she gave substance and texture to the world of dance, and its ability to link its participants in a loving culture. Images, personas, and action gained tangibility and presence in the writer’s impassioned hands and gained a presence in the minds of her readers.
A good writer must also address the human condition and say something that defines, illuminates, and explains those qualities that connect us as people. A student in my class several years ago, and a biology student at that, wrote an essay that I remember clearly to this day. It was about the pure, untempered kindness that can exist within a person. The student wrote about her father, a poor, hard-working man who took his family to an Army and Navy store one winter day to buy them winter clothes. Their old ones were either tread-bare or no longer fit. They were all trying on clothes, when her father noticed a young man in his stocking feet assisting the shoppers. Upon inquiry, he learned that the young man was an orphan and had been a foster child in the home of the storeowner. He slept in the back of the shop, and apparently the employer did not see it as his place to buy the young man shoes. The writer’s father was silent for a few moments and then took the young man by the hand – he actually had to coerce him to leave his work – and made him go to the shoe store next door where he purchased a pair of work boots for him. The story hit its crescendo when the writer spoke of the joy this young man exhibited at this absurdly ordinary purchase and the fact that her father had to wear, for another year, the same tattered Army surplus jacket that he could no longer afford to replace. The simplicity of this generous act evolved into a story so touching and poignant that it brought tears to my eyes and still does to this day..
Finally, the best writers must imagine themselves a storyteller, weaving in all the suspense, mystery and intrigue one would use in verbally communicating an exciting story to a friend. I tried to do this myself in telling a tale about a toilet in my house that suddenly began to mysteriously erupt into a spewing geyser one morning last fall. As I attempted to stem the tides of the spouting water that flew from the bowels of the toilet bowl, several events occurred: I tried to close the lid of the toilet, but this didn’t stop the water; I attempted to reach my always missing husband; I attempted to reach my frequently missing plumber; and, I finally called 911 (the operator laughed and hung up on me but at least didn’t report me) as I became concerned that my house was about to blow. With all these events, peppered with details to enrich the drama and humor of my story, I hoped to entice the reader to read on. And why, I asked myself and my reader along the way, was my toilet behaving in this peculiar, mysterious manner? If I have captivated you and you want to know how this story ended, let me know and I will e-mail the essay to you!
So there you have it. If you want to write well, believe in the worth of what you hope to communicate, engage your readers in some aspect of the human condition, and practice your story telling skills so your reader will not leave you before the end of your tale. It is just that simple!
Kristina L. Bønsager, PhD; Associate Professor of SpanishDepartment of International Languages & Literatures
When considering what writing excellence is in Spanish, my first thought is that it is longer than writing excellence in English, which you can see in the title of this blog, but otherwise it is similar in many ways. Seriously, though, as a Spanish professor I see writing excellence manifest itself in two central stages of the learning process. First, though I should clarify, as I do regularly for non-academics and on occasion for a handful of colleagues, that my discipline is by nature dual, since we teach both language and literature, and interdisciplinary because we delve into culture, literature, political science, history, art, and economics. Similarly to faculty members in most languages, we guide students through the introductory and intermediate levels of how the Spanish language functions and how to communicate ideas. Then as students’ abilities progress, we introduce more culture and literature to provide context and writing models, until at one point the focus of our teaching and the goal of the students’ language production shifts from learning basic skills to focus on the further development and polishing of writing in response to and analysis of literary and non-literary texts, as well as culture in all its forms.
For students first learning Spanish, excellent writing consists of correctly conjugated verbs that are accompanied by appropriate direct and indirect objects, with properly placed adverbs and adjectives. More advanced students create a sentence that may begin with a prepositional phrase, followed by another well-crafted sentence that combines what earlier in their learning would have been two short sentences with a carefully selected conjunction to produce a complex sentence in Spanish that rivals one the student writes in English. Although the creation of a compound sentence may not be considered “excellent” by some, it is the crowning glory of a language learner and cause for celebration. Equally exciting is that research shows that by learning the intricacies of another language, knowledge and understanding of one’s first language increase, which directly correlates to improved writing skills in English, for example.
Excellence in writing for an upper level student of Spanish resembles that of a student writing in English and can be found in analytical and creative forms. When writing a critical essay, students evaluate their topic, explore a research question, develop a thesis statement, construct a supportive argument, form logical transitions, and finish with a well-designed conclusion. Although the written product that the students submit for evaluation will be deemed excellent, good, fair, or needs improvement, the process itself and the students’ decision to pursue this road less traveled of writing in another language should be commended and encouraged. The experience in its entirety progresses simultaneously in two or more languages, as students consider their sources, word selection, phrasing, expression, punctuation, and citation.
As you can see, the evaluation of writing by a Spanish professor involves many aspects, from linguistic accuracy to critical analysis, and includes many points in between. Excellence in writing is a developed skill that does not come easily to most. So, you may be wondering just how often this level of excellence appears in our classrooms. Admittedly, it is not as frequent as I would like; however, that fact does offer a bit of job security, as well as an ongoing challenge to mentor students in their journey from good writing to the realm of excellent writing. It is an enjoyable and rewarding expedition, which starts with learning another language, progresses through exploration of culture and literature, parallels critical thinking in English, and culminates in students’ ability to express their ideas at an elevated level with grammatical accuracy and extensive vocabulary. This is writing excellence in Spanish.
Cindy Norton, Biology
With keen interest, I read Allison Adrian’s post on the power of personality in student writing. I have often heard my colleagues in the Arts and Humanities talk about helping their students “find their voice”. Yet this search for one’s personal style is exactly what we discourage in scientific writing. As scientists, we are much more concerned with clarity, accurate description of complex data or concepts, synthesis of what others have discovered, or summarizing the evidence for some theory, and convincing the reader of its validity. I often tell my students, “I don’t want to hear your voice.
Scientific writing has often been dry, uninspiring, and understated, as when Watson and Crick, upon publishing their model for the structure of the DNA molecule, stated: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing that we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material." [This stuff cannot only code for all of the proteins in every living organisms, it can also explain how this information is passed from generation to generation! The is a type of realization about which we suspect scientists shout “eureka!”] Or when Darwin, near the end of his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, mused, “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”. [Yep! I just wrote this book that not only describes in glorious detail the current evidence for evolution and provides a mechanism for evolutionary change, but these ideas are going to dramatically change the way we view humanity!]
This is not to say that scientists are not excellent writers, or that they should not write in ways that engage. Darwin did write eloquently, and there are many scientists today who write for the general public, using their unique voices to bring scientific concepts to the interested, yet not scientifically trained majority. But the “meat and potatoes” writing of most scientists is dry, matter of fact, and voiceless. So how do we teach our students to write well?
My colleague, Jan Pechenik, whose Short Guide to Writing about Biology is now a staple in our department’s writing intensive courses, says that “Bad writing often reflects fuzzy thinking,” so what we really need to teach our students is how to think better. He also states, “The hard work of thinking about biology is at least important as the work of doing it. Writing provides a way to examine, to evaluate, to refine, and then share that thinking. Writing is both a product and a process.”
One of the first steps in good scientific writing is thus learning to think. So our challenge in teaching writing is to structure assignments that require students to summarize what they have read, or what they see in a graph, and then analyze what they see. What is the purpose of this study? In what context are these researchers working? What have these researchers found, in your own words? How do these data fit with what you already know? What questions does this study make you ask? This mode if inquiry forces “intellectual interaction” with the material, and makes writing much easier; you can only write well about what you understand. Of course, scientific writing also involves good sentence structure, attribution to sources, structuring different types of papers, and responding to feedback with careful revision, but the heart of scientific writing is good thinking.
Jan Pechenik will be visiting St. Catherine April 10 & 11 to facilitate several STEM writing workshops for students and faculty. Look for more information on the Daily Update and in your email inbox.
By Stacy Coleman Symons
What constitutes ‘excellence’ in scientific writing, and how do we help our students achieve it? The longer I ponder these questions, the more challenging it feels to craft a set of worthy responses. ‘Writing excellence’ can be (and is) objectively defined by criteria that vary by institution, genre and culture. Such criteria are intended to capture the complicated concepts and processes associated with the production of writing that is clear, effective and tailored to its intended audience. When I reflect on writing excellence,however, it is not a list of criteria that first comes to mind. Instead, it is my many memories of working with a wide cross-section of our students as they develop the awareness that writing, in science and in general, is a hard-won skill, an essential tool for personal and professional expression.
When I have the pleasure of instructing newly enrolled, first-year students, I am always encouraged by how quickly this awareness can develop in students, even during the fifteen (or so) weeks of a single semester. By encouraging beginning writers to read and contend with the language used in scientific publications, I try to help these students gain broad awareness of audience and purpose before the writing process even begins. Though often thwarted by the many technical and curricular demands of these early classes, initial glimmers of writing excellence do emerge. Sometimes it comes in the form of a well-structured lab report, sometimes in the form of a particularly engaging study summary. These glimmers typically reflect not only a student’s strong early writing skills, but her ability to target the broader audience that lies beyond the classroom.
Because science is like a grand conversation, the student who is aware of the wider scientific audience can enable this perspective to shape her ongoing writing development, aspirations and efforts. Rather than simply emulating jargon, the student who aims to ‘participate in the conversation’ knows she has numerous stylistic choices: she knows a single set of facts may be described in a variety of ways. She is, therefore, challenged to develop her own critical voice, even as she works to summarize facts and implement the many rules that govern formatting and scientific expression.
When I have the pleasure of working with such students across several semesters, often as part of our Antonian Honors Program, I have the privilege of watching these early skills develop. Such ongoing mentorship allows me to guide an individual student beyond competence, toward writing that reflects original, skilled and scholarly expression. In my experience, these students are uniquely positioned to achieve writing excellence, as they must learn to contend with additional scrutiny and incorporate suggestions from a variety of mentor-colleagues over time. These suggestions are designed to push the student toward a final document that stands up to scientific and/or disciplinary scrutiny: one that accurately summarizes key areas of scholarship, incorporates critical findings, contains original analysis and, of course, demonstrates impeccable formatting and documentation.
Most importantly (and some scientists would debate this!), truly excellent scientific writing should be clear, compelling and engaging to the reader. It must be capable of igniting meaningful dialogue within a relevant scholarly audience that extends well beyond our university’s walls. In aiming to help our students achieve this, perhaps we will learn better how to achieve it for ourselves…
By Bill McDonough, Associate Professor of Theology
I have never read an excellent anything that was written once. It is probably true that really smart people can write competent papers in a single draft—though I’ve not been able to pull that off myself. No doubt students even receive A’s for work they’ve completed in one sitting. But real excellence, in writing as in life, is the outcome of a process to which we must show up but are never able to control.
A student I’ll call Sylvia showed up in our “Weekend College” program about ten years ago, ready to engage. In her late twenties, she was the first person in her family ever to attend college. Her parents, then the teenaged children of eastern European Jewish laborers, barely made it out of Nazi Europe alive—and never did complete high school.
Sylvia showed up here wanting to understand her background and the anti-Semitism she was recently experiencing in her rural town west of Minneapolis. She declared a history major and added a second major in theology after she fell in love with the writing of Jewish philosopher-theologian Martin Buber (1878-1965) that she encountered in an introductory theology course.
By the time I met her, in THEO 3752 (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), she was president of the Theology Club and busy arranging interfaith conversations with students from the Muslim Student Association. She had found a synagogue she loved, and was doing an internship with the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest. She said she wanted to think through how one can engage in interfaith dialogue while deepening one’s connection with one’s own tradition. Her first paper for the course was a review of Muslim American interfaith youth activist Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith. She liked the book but wanted more. She re-worked and extended the review over the course of the semester into a twelve-page term paper: Is Interfaith Dialogue Anything More Than ‘Tea and Sympathy”? (In her research, she had discovered a major Jewish thinker who critiqued the lack of theological substance in much interfaith dialogue as “tea and sympathy.”)
She re-wrote the paper a third time in order to submit it to the Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference. Her presentation there drew a crowd, and was so well received that the conference organizers asked her to come back the next year and organize an interfaith dialogue among all conference participants. She did that, too. And, by the time she graduated from here with her double major, Sylvia had won a Women’s Center leadership award and a scholarship that helped her enroll in a graduate program at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. She is scheduled to complete her research project on inter-religious cooperation in refugee re-settlement there in December.
She did not even know she wanted to work on inter-religious dialogue and cooperation when she came to St. Kate’s, but she opened herself up to a process that has shaped much of her life over the last ten years. But back to writing—its excellence and the process that achieves it. I think a major criterion for excellent writing (the major criterion?) is that it must address a question to which we do not yet have a full “answer.”
Listen to one contemporary genius describe her writing process. Novelist Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for her novel Gilead, written entirely in the voice of a dying seventy-year-old clergyman, and I do mean man. The novel took her over twenty years to write. She told a St. Kate’s audience on a visit here that she began hearing Rev. John Ames’ voice in her head after she had completed another novel in 1980: though she could not get his voice out of her head, “it took him all those years to explain himself to me.”
Sure, much of what we write is not that involved. But that only means that it is not important enough to be excellent. Moreover, maybe we are all attending to so many unimportant questions that we cannot even hear the important ones in our heads. I do wonder about that in light of all the time I spend writing and replying to emails, and watching all the tweeting and texting going on around me.
The questions you have in your head for which you don’t have answers are waiting to be turned into excellent writing. Not-knowing is our writing’s best friend, if we show up to questions nagging us in our heads.
The writing process goes on for the rest of one’s life, just like the questions to which we don’t have answers. My student Sylvia is now ten years into living this truth—all because she came to St. Kate’s wanting to understand anti-Semitism and was willing to engage in the process that her question opened up to her.
Pamela R. Fletcher, University Director, Writing Intensive Program (WIP), English/CRST/WOST
Each year, I look forward to a fresh start, getting acquainted with new folks and rekindling our community. Fall semester summons imaginative, thought-provoking courses; progressive projects; and, forward-leading directions.
This September, the Writing Intensive Program (WIP) is taking a new direction by starting the WIP Network to build and expand St. Kate’s writing community. Supporting and featuring the literary work of our faculty, staff, and students is key in reinforcing the Network’s foundation. Therefore, the WIP website is pleased to highlight this work. The St. Kate's Writer's page features writing from Luke Pingel’s collection of poems, Flurries. Pingel is the recipient of the 2012 Denny Prize in Creative Writing and Assistant Professor of English in the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Additionally, you find Tiffany Castor’s dynamic poem, “citywalker,” which first appeared in Ariston 2013.
Moreover, our new direction includes publishing blog posts of Writing Intensive (WI) instructors. Allison Adrian, a recipient of the 2013 Faculty Teaching and Advising Award, and Assistant Professor of Music, writes the first post. It’s a noteworthy piece, challenging her fellow WI instructors to give their students room to be themselves in their papers. She contends that allowing students such freedom yields excellence. I anticipate that Prof. Adrian’s piece will stir our minds and provoke a spirited discussion about excellence.
Enjoy the rich bounty of words and a lovely season!
Allison Adrian, Recipient of the 2013 Faculty Teaching and Advising Award, and Assistant Professor of Music
It’s difficult to accept what your psyche or history dooms you to write, what Faulkner would call your postage stamp of reality. Young writers often mistakenly choose a certain vein or style based on who they want to be, unconsciously trying to blot out who they actually are. You want to escape yourself. For almost ten years it didn’t occur to me that I should exploit Daddy’s blue-collar idiom. I was trying to pass for edge-u-kated. -Mary Karr
I read Mary Karr’s third memoir, Lit, a month ago and found myself captivated by her honest, spare writing – a writing style that seemed so intertwined with (what I imagine to be) her personality that it felt as though I had learned about her agonizing lapse into alcoholism and her eventual spiritual conversion while talking to her over coffee. Although the epigraph above is from an interview where she addresses the art of memoir-writing, and not academic writing, I wonder if student writing would improve if there were more emphasis on working to discover and enhance each student’s unique academic writing style. This is not to say that a students’ writing style emerges fully-formed, without effort, from their personality, but that their academic writing style need not, in fact should not be, divorced from who they are as people.
The first time I was accountable for grading papers, I was a teaching assistant without much guidance about how to assess student writing. In an effort to provide non-biased suggestions, I found myself most comfortable correcting grammar. It seemed the fairest way to grade. Especially in cases where the writing was very unclear, grammar correction was my crutch. I told myself it was all I could do to help the student create a path to clarity. Looking back, though many of my students could have improved their grammar, most of them would have been better-served with suggestions about clarifying their ideas, expressing thoughts more precisely, and writing in a voice or style reflective of their personalities – in essence, a style that mirrored their epistemologies, the ways they knew what they knew. In well-intentioned efforts to produce clear writing, perhaps many teachers, like myself, have felt it necessary to focus on grammar, on the “rules” of writing instead of developing each student’s particular writing style complete with its own quirks.
Is this why it is a rarity to encounter students who love writing? After teaching writing intensive classes for almost a decade, I am beginning to believe that many students have developed an aversion to writing because they feel detached from it, as though professors are asking them to become someone else on paper – someone much duller, perhaps frumpier, than who they are in person. Because their written word seems detached from their true selves, academic writing can feel like a stodgy and cold exercise to even the most enthusiastic students.
Perhaps we would do better to focus on each student’s style – to focus on their writing as an extension of their personality – albeit a fancier, more sophisticated persona, one that wears a sweater instead of a sweatshirt to class. This may give them some intrinsic motivation to be true to their most excellent selves on paper. Proper grammar is necessary, and precise terminology helps produce clear writing, but if grammar and highfalutin words that students know only from the thesaurus come to mind when a writing assignment is announced, it must be tough to get excited about it. Perhaps they believe we are telling them that their ways of knowing (in writing) are simply not good enough. Yet, this is not the case. I am endlessly impressed by what my non-music majors hear when they listen to a tune. Many of them are as perceptive as their peers with more musical experience. They simply do not know the terminology, but through conversation and practice, we tease out what they are trying to communicate – and though the vocabulary changes, their assessment of a tune’s resonance remains the same.
Karr uses nuanced language in her memoirs – but she is true to herself; she writes as her educated self, not her “edge-u-kated” self. Our students must write as their educated selves, allowing their personalities to infiltrate their papers. When I think about the excellent papers I have had the pleasure of reading as a professor, the superior papers always have presence of personality, a writing style that feels true to the author’s life. As professors, we need to encourage students to write as their unique selves while maintaining high expectations for precision in language and clarity of ideas – the etiquette of academic writing. There is room for both.
Re-Visioning The Teaching of Using Sources in Academic Writing
On November 15 and 16, 2012, I attended a small and worthwhile writing conference, “New Vistas: WAC/WID Intersections in the 21st Century,” at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. As the title indicates, the focus of the conference was on the fitting connections between writing across the curriculum (WAC) and writing in the disciplines (WID).
The conference entailed a one-day schedule of 12 well described and compelling one-hour panel presentations organized in the following six groups: General WAC/WID; Humanities and Social Sciences; Math and Natural Sciences; First-year Writing; Composition and Rhetoric; and, Research and Documentation. As you may imagine, I had a challenging time deciding which presentations to attend. Eventually, I chose to attend those grouped in General WAC/WID.
Prior to the Saturday schedule, I had the opportunity to attend the Northeast Writing Across the Curriculum Consortium (NEWACC) meeting on Friday afternoon. Twenty faculty, who are in the process of launching or directing new writing programs in Northeast area colleges and universities, met to discuss their successes and challenges, and to confer with each other.
For me, this NEWACC meeting laid the foundation for the imminent conference, as it offered insight into the common challenges writing program directors encounter, ranging from budgetary constraints, to faculty development matters, to academic integrity issues. At some point during the meeting, we participated in small groups to discuss mutual concerns.
The NEWACC meeting also included a beneficial informal talk—at each quarterly meeting, someone presents on a problem or a solution to a problem—that propelled the group’s discussion. At this meeting, Suzanne Lane, Acting Director for WAC at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), reported on the work MIT WAC faculty did to address academic integrity issues. They decided that taking a pedagogical approach rather than a punitive one would promote student learning. They piloted a two-hour workshop, “Academic Writing with Sources,” and offered it in various settings, like first-year orientation. The workshop presented neither a lecture nor remedial instruction, but a survey that sparked discussion of what students didn’t know about citing sources.
At one session, even though they were targeting undergraduate students, only graduate students attended. A total of 60, or 20 percent of the attendees (40 undergraduate and 20 graduate), reported that they knew nothing about documenting sources in their writing. Additionally, they reported that they enjoyed and appreciated the casual delivery of the workshop information.
Subsequently, instructors began inviting the WAC faculty to their classes to distribute and discuss the survey. Given these propitious invitations, the writing faculty reached an additional 150 students. Ultimately, the pilot resulted in the survey becoming embedded in the curriculum of the first-year seminar.
In light of teaching students how to document sources in academic writing, on Saturday morning, I attended a panel presentation that both puzzled and delighted me. Cecelia Musselman, who teaches writing in the sciences at Northeastern University, gave us a handout that stated on one side, “Do not flip this over yet.” Of course, we couldn’t wait to do so! She explained that we had to undergo trepidation like her students, who were given the upcoming assignment. After a few seconds, Dr. Musselman permitted us to turn the sheet over and to read the following directions: Write a Wikipedia article—one that does not exist. Put your first three steps here.
Several of us gasped. What in the world? Some of us laughed. Those of us who frown on students’ use of Wikipedia had to recover quickly to get the assignment done.
At the end of five minutes, Dr. Musselman had persuaded most of us of the merit of assigning a Wikipedia research paper that students could opt to publish. She guided us quickly through Wikipedia’s specific criteria for searching among four million articles to find topics that have yet to be covered. She also revealed the extensive instructions for good writing and correct citation of sources.
Moreover, Dr. Musselman informed me that now scientists regard Wikipedia highly because they are able to quickly publish high-quality, up-to-the minute, peer-reviewed research that would soon became dated if they had to wait to publish in traditional academic presses.
Despite struggling with incredulity, I gradually gained respect for this free, public source of collaboratively written information. Now, I could imagine Wikipedia serving as a captivating teaching tool. My brain swirled with ideas. That day, I left Quinnipiac eager to teach better and to think differently! I return to St. Kate’s with a renewed mind.
A few months ago, my best friend, True Blue, sent a text, saying she had just spied
her ex, who is such a cliché.
True Blue: Good thing God broke the mold—I couldnt bear a rerun
True Blue had a point, but she needed some honey with that lemon.
Me: Yeah but good thing he tall dark and handsome LOL
Today, True Blue laments that New Dude is nothing like her ex.
Ah, the familiarity of the cliché. What would life be without its color, comfort, and convenience?
A cliché comes in handy when you don’t want to chitchat: Lets cut to the chase.
It’s a Hershey’s Kiss you blow to your beloved: Ain't you a sight for sore eyes?
It’s a phrase you interject before making an unsolicited or a controversial remark: Well, here’s my two cents . . .
It’s unanticipated bad news: It hit me like a Mack truck!
When you really listen, you hear clichés spoken all day long in various milieus. For instance, in his 2012 DNC speech, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer quipped in a refrain, "That dog don’t hunt!" It seems that vernacular demands the expedient and dramatic use of clichés in spoken language.
Using clichés in your writing, however, should be avoided like the plague. I’m referring to writing that demands much effort, not minimum effort you use in text messaging, casual email, and a column, for example. I’m referring to the meticulous writing Rita Dove expends in Sonata Mulattica: “blue saddens this close to the sea, though/turquoise is beckoning and emerald’s best/a hue entertained in furnishings” (45). Despite the unspecified context of these lines, you’re spared reading water of the deep blue sea. It’s apparent that Dove’s use of language is precise, relevant, and true to the experience she attempts to convey.
Now, take some bad poetry I wrote back in the day, when I used the cliché, separating the wheat from the chaff. I had heard and liked it, and I thought I was using it cleverly. But, I had never seen chaff, let alone wheat. I didn’t know anything about a threshing floor or a winnowing fork needed for the process. And, I had no idea that its source is Matthew 3:12.
The metaphor I had tried to build regarding love gone awry had no genuine connection to my limited, suburban, modern experience. So, I had rendered a hollow thing. I had failed to heed the traditional advice of my writing instructors: Write what you know. My reviewer commented kindly in the margin: "Interesting. What do you mean to say?" Hmm, I wondered myself. Eventually, I realized that if I didn’t really understand the words, I shouldn’t use them. Newsflash! But, you know it’s easier said than done when irresistible-sounding clichés float about for the taking.
Many of them were once fresh, meaningful expressions. Now, though they are comfortable and convenient, especially in the vernacular, they’re devoid of depth and ingenuity. You use the same words again and again, when so many are yet to be written, let alone spoken. According to the Oxford University Press, "At the very least, a quarter million distinct English words are published in the Oxford English Dictionary." Take a look in the OED and find some new vocabulary to flaunt in your next work. Perhaps, you’ll create a cliché of your own.
In November 2011, publisher Little, Brown & Company recalled 6,500 copies of Assassin of Secrets after discovering that poet Quentin Rowan, a/k/a Q. R. Markham, had plagiarized passages from many spy novels. Mr. Duns, a writer of spy novels, did a Google search, finding that Rowan had plagiarized at least 13 novels.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Duns stated, "He didn't even bother to rework anything. It must be the worst case of plagiarism I've ever seen.”
On August 10, 2012, Fareed Zakaria, Yale graduate and board trustee, Time Magazine editor, and CNN host, confessed that he had committed plagiarism by failing to attribute credit to The New Yorker writer Jill Lepore in his work.
Suddenly, a debate ensued among journalists, who questioned whether or not Zakaria had actually plagiarized when he lifted an entire paragraph from Ms. Lepore’s writing.
Upon hearing this news, I became fascinated, not by the debate, which I consider ridiculous at best, but by the temptation that writers encounter to be inauthentic and unethical. Apparently, to write is hard work, and to write well is—well—just plain daunting.
Think about the plagiarism scandals that have plagued Romania since May 2012 involving two education ministers and the prime minister himself, Victor Ponta, who allegedly plagiarized his doctorate thesis and a book.
Edmund Niculusca, the head of the Romanian Association for Cultural, Education and Normality, posed an astute question to a SETimes reporter: "If the prime minister cheated, why won’t students do the same? Why won’t we all do the same?" Indeed, Mr. Niculusca. Why won’t I?
Which got me thinking about the challenge of being a writer. How do I maintain integrity? My love and regard for the written word, an exquisite phrase or a masterfully crafted passage others create (and I create occasionally), keep me on the straight trail of academic integrity. On its website regarding academic integrity, American University defines the term as “intellectual honesty.” Honesty, credibility, and responsibility are paramount to my work. I must take credit and blame for my own words and give credit to those whose words I use.
Writing is toil. Writing takes time. And, sometimes we don’t want to invest the requisite effort. Yet, taking a short cut, like plagiarizing, rarely gets us where we ultimately want to go. Even if no scandal happens, we know the truth, and there’s not much worse than a lack of self-respect, as a recently released film, The Words, reveals. It portrays a writer, who publishes an autobiographical novel about a desperate, young writer claiming someone else’s manuscript as his own. When the novelist becomes successful, he encounters the real writer, who had lost the manuscript decades ago. The writer decides to confess, but the old man advises him to say nothing, exclaiming, “You take the words, you take the pain.” In other words, live with your guilt and shame.
Whether we are developing or experienced writers, if we respect the rigorous process of writing, we eventually discover the art and joy of articulating our unique expression and distinctive ideas. Then writing well is just as important as earning an A on that paper, or publishing that poem or book, or posting that blog.
Despite technological advancement in communication devices occurring every nanosecond, despite the preponderance of text messaging, individuals desiring success in their careers still must be competent writers. Therefore, the mission of St. Catherine University’s Writing Intensive Program (WIP) is to prepare students to graduate with excellent written communication and critical thinking skills needed to achieve success in their professional and personal lives.
WIP’s goal is to assist faculty in cultivating a positive learning environment that inspires, encourages, and challenges students to develop as writers and to achieve excellent writing skills by taking four required writing intensive (WI) courses: TRW, GSJ, an elective, and a course in their program of study. The primary objective of the Writing Intensive Program is to help faculty engage their students in an intentional writing process of pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and documenting sources correctly.
As WIP Director, I hope that St. Kate's Writing Intensive Program will help to set St. Kate’s graduates apart from their peers, equipping them with a keen understanding of the power of language so they may lead and influence others in their respective worlds.
I also envision this website becoming a dynamic online writing community among St. Kate's students, faculty, and staff, who love and respect words, a writing community that will build a bridge to the Twin Cities’ writing communities and to the world at large.
Lovers of words and wordsmiths, like Kiese Laymon, Dessa, Toni Morrison, and Ray Bradbury, know that writing is more than an academic exercise and an upward mobility device. Bradbury, who died on June 12, 2012 at age 91, said in his remarks at The 2000 Friends of the Hennepin County Library Pen Pal Lecture Series, “I thought about doing something wonderful that would make me feel alive.” The authentic word emboldens writers, readers, and listeners alike. Let us keep it alive.
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