interviewed received undergraduate degrees at:
Davis, UC Santa Cruz, San Francisco State,
College, and Peru State College.
interviewed received Masters at:
of Michigan, University of Maryland University College, Columbia
University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
person interviewed is currently enrolled in the UC Davis School of
Education Ph.D program.
person interviewed received a PhD. at the
of Michigan and currently is an Assistant Professor of Literature
at Colby College in Maine.
As a current
student/former college student, and/or educator, can you tell me what
your English professor’s expectations were for reading and/or writing?
My college professors expected that I had read a great many "classic"
literary works before entering college. The expectation was
that, both for literary criticism and for general expository writing,
that I be "well read." Being "well read"
presumed that I be able to analyze and reference specific literary
works as well as general literary forms and themes in my writing.
In addition, as an English major my professors expected that I read
both the required reading list as well as the recommended titles –
I still recall events in my college career related to the books I
was reading, finishing, or analyzing at the time.
Entering college my professors expected that I be able to write a
well-constructed research paper (complete with note cards, outlines
and footnotes); essays; editorials and general works of expository
and creative writing. We were expected to be familiar with various
style-sheets and use the preferred form for the academic discipline
- the MLA was the style-sheet my professors typically required. My
professors also expected that we write multiple drafts of any written
work this was designed to encourage editing and revision skills.
Some of my professors even required that we turn in early drafts as
a graded assignment.
you have any particular writing strategy?
I use the Splash down method. I write as much as I can about a particular
topic for a specific amount of time and then revise/refine to
make up an outline and then I begin writing.
First I pick a novel, poem, play, or popular culture artifact
to write about. I read my object of study at least twice. The first
time I read it for pleasure. I just want to find out what the story
is about, even poems have stories, and I want to hear the language
of the story. In my second reading I start taking notes. I meticulously
copy quotes that catch my attention. I do this because I want to be
able to see what is it that is talking to me in the text. Once I am
done with the re-read and note taking of the quotes, then I start
looking for patterns. I start to think of a possible topic I want
to write about. I start to map out ideas on paper. I start drawing
pictures of images, making connections between characters. I look
at the words that describe the characters. I look at the dialogue
between characters. I look at the descriptions of the setting(s) in
the stories. I want to know how the piece of writing works to produce
the themes found in the story.
I start freewriting about the topic I picked. I start thinking about
my audience. I start thinking about writing something that I want
to read. I start thinking and writing about the patterns in the story.
I write about what I found most compelling, not necessarily the most
easy or obvious themes in the story, but about the themes that leave
me with questions. I want to usually answer a why question
by providing how answers. Before I write, even now as
a college professor, I spent a good day in the library researching
Yes. Typically, for any
type of writing, I construct an outline. The outline may be
a series of questions; elements that support the main topic; a plot
skeleton or the more traditional outlining form with main topics,
subtopics and supporting ideas. After outlining, I write a rough draft
paragraph or page on each question, element, or topic on my outline.
This helps me determine what I already know and what I absolutely
do not know about the topic. In these rough drafts I often will
cite references I plan to use, or if I have already begun researching
a topic I will actually note page numbers from references pertaining
to the subject. If, instead, the writing is a "creative"
form of writing, at this stage in the process I will develop, independently,
the rough draft of the introduction, setting, characters and conflict.
Also at this point, I will insert ideas that I have already journaled
that may apply. Once the first rough draft is completed, I will research,
or in the case of creative writing, re-write the initial topic pages.
This stage of the writing process, for me, is about fleshing out the
information, descriptions, analysis etc. At this point it is
not important for me to work on the piece as a whole. I may
choose a topic or a section of the work and work exclusively on that
section until I am satisfied. The rewriting phase, for me, can
consist of a single draft to as many as 10 drafts. It is interesting
to note that although I always use a computer to write, I still have
a hardcopy of the draft I am working on printed out as well.
I will often use the hardcopy draft to jot notes, as well as indicate
where I need to insert information or description. Lastly, I begin
writing the final draft, using the rough drafts as resources and references.
Another word-processing note; I do keep all my early drafts as DRAFT1,
DRAFT2, etc. until I have completed the final work. The rough
draft process is about the evolution of your thought and the critical
evaluation of your style – I prefer to hold on to the map of the journey
until it is completed. Once the final draft is finished I will then
proof and edit the work for grammar, spelling, errors in logic, and
general structure and format.
you have any particular reading strategy?
I seem to be able to read and synthesize loads of information. I do
pay attention to the headings and topic sentences, however, to guide
my thoughts as I read.
textbooks, I need to read and highlight (or write comments in the
margin). If I need to do a presentation on some part of the
text and/or be tested on it, I go back to the highlighted sections
and take notes and/or review those sections.
- I read to
know my characters and their lives. I am very much a spectator
and sometimes I tried to intervene by cursing the characters that
drive me insane. Read for pleasure. Read as if you were watching a
- Not at first,
but I later started writing notes in the margins, highlighting or
underlining only the important points, taking notes as I was reading.
I had a reading strategy to a degree. I love to read and there are
very few books that do not really interest me. I usually bought
my books both in high school and college so in texts as well as volumes
of literature I would highlight and write copious notes. The
notes were often my responses or thoughts to what I was reading.
These notes acted as memory-flags for me later, as I was reviewing
the work for a test or a paper. I still like going back to read books
with my notes; they give me real insight into how I perceived the
work or what the work evoked in me as a reader at that moment in time.
do you think makes for effective writing?
I get a little sloppy when I have not had to write something formal
for a while.
with the basics. It's really hard to read for content (does
the person have good ideas? make a good argument?, etc.) if
the paper is written with lots of spelling and grammatical mistakes.
One of my high school English teachers once said to write a paper
"as if you were writing a letter to explain something to a good
friend." Although a paper needs to be a little more formal
in some ways, remembering this advice helps me put a more conversational
tone in my writing (I hope!)
An original or unique idea, a clear intent by the author (to entertain,
inform, enlighten, persuade), clarity of style and language, and a
bit of magic!
Fearlessness. I do a lot of freewriting before I start composing an
essay. I write about characters, I write about their fears, their
hate, their loves, their happiness, their insecurities. I write about
what drives them to act or re-act in the stories. I want to know what
can possibly influence them? I want to know how they relate to each
other and why. Sometimes I even write about not wanting to write.
I think that a lot of times writers, students and professors alike,
fear that what they write is not good enough and then a writer’s block
forms. I find that by being fearless and believing that I have a story
to tell about this characters that then I can give myself permission
to write. Effective writing does not happen in one sitting, for most
people. Effective writing is a process of writing loads of crap without
transitions and connections and bad spelling. Effective writing includes
not being afraid to produce a lot of gibberish before your ideas become
clear to you. Effective writing happens when you allow time to brew
your ideas, and time to clarify them in paper for your self and your
made your "worst" paper?
if there was just one...probably one that I waited until the last
minute, never had a clear strategy and just wrote it and turned it
in without any real re-writes or revising. My professor returned it
saying that my closing paragraph was more like the opening of a paper
and he would have much rather read what came after that paragraph
than what I had already produced. Yikes!
A complete lack of information on the topic made for my worst paper.
I tried to BS my way through a lab paper and it was stunningly apparent
that I knew nothing about the experiment. I learned at that
moment that to be an effective writer there needs to be substance
to your words not just a volume of words.
When I do not put enough time in a paper, I don’t produce good clear
and engaging papers. When I do not care about what I am writing about
I put very little time in my papers. In other words, a combination
of a lack of interest produces a weak need to set up time to write.
disorganized, with no clear point or statement or thesis. It
was a subject in which I was really interested, but I couldn't decide
what direction I wanted the paper to take, and so it went in every
year in college (before there were computers) I had a 20-page research
paper due. I'd done all the research and written parts of the
different sections of the paper but hadn't edited them. I also
needed to type the entire thing on a typewriter (using white-out liberally).
The typing took so long that I wound up staying up all night
in the dorm study lounge the night before it was due and I didn't
have time to edit it the way I should have. Although the paper
turned out fine, I learned that after a certain number of hours I
just wasn't a very effective writer--and my paper would have been
better if I'd had time to write some of it, set is aside and think
about it, and write some more.
made your “best” paper?
where I use the Splash down method, then refine, then outline, then
write and put it away for a day or a few hours so I could read it
with fresh eyes and make revisions. Also, where I had some 3D concept
of my paper in my head. For example, I remember writing a paper where
my visual concept was a coin and I was
referencing my topic as two sides of the same coin.
I write my best papers by allotting lots of time to read, think, get
confuse, free write, organize, re-write, (procrastinate too), and
by having others read the paper and hear their responses to the paper.
One needs time to keep improving the way that we communicate and to
keep clarifying what we want to communicate.
My best papers were the result of a synthesis of information/experience
and original thought/viewpoint on the subject.
-Generally, my "best" papers have been when I've been able
to get excited about the topic or the assignment. Having professors
who encourage creativity (by their attitude as well as their words)
also helps. Last year, for example, I wrote an entire paper
in verse because the professor stressed how much he wanted us to use
"whatever format we wanted." I was a little worried
that he might not really be as accepting as he seemed; he was delighted,
however, and has asked to use my paper as an example when he teaches
the class again.
you ever come across web pages or books that helped you write better?
If so which one?
book - Plain English for Lawyers. (I am not a lawyer, but I
found this book very helpful)
is a great newsletter that UCLA produces monthly through e-mail called
Flourish. Flourish is a free, monthly,
electronic newsletter to encourage and connect graduate student, faculty,
and independent scholarly writers. Never more than two pages once
a month, it tells the stories of those who are surviving and even
thriving as writers in academia. Some of the topics addressed are
developing good writing habits, sending essays to journals for submission,
organizing research material, working with editors and advisors, persevering
on books or dissertations, and using citation and presentation software.
To Subscribe for this newsletter “Just click here”
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is welcome to subscribe to this electronic newsletter!)
I have several books that strongly influence my
writing The Elements of Style by William Strunk; A
Writer’s Reader by Donald Hall and D.L. Emblen; The Little
Brown Handbook by Fowler and Aaron; The Thesaurus (because,
with apologies to Mark Twain – the difference between the right word
and ALMOST the right word is the difference between lightening and
a lightening bug), and finally and most importantly to me, The
Writing Life by Annie Dillard
revise, revise… true or false, and why?
True. Words are truly
living things. If you revisit your words, pages you will realize
that what you believed to be "brilliant" a day ago have
now "morphed" into a sentence or a paragraph that is too
lengthy, unclear, over descriptive, or just plain bad. Revising
helps you, through trial and error, determine the most effective way
in which to present your ideas. I believe that it is only through
revision, practice if you will, that you find your "style."
Forgive me for the sports analogy but - revision is what Michael Jordan
did every morning and afternoon as a child. Each day Michael
would spend hours shooting free-throws. He would practice the
shot, gauge the result, adjust his mechanics, and then try again.
It was through his attention to detail and his willingness to "revise"
his mechanics that he ultimately achieved the level of style/performance
that he possessed as an athlete. Interestingly, even with six championship
rings, he never stopped "revising"!
You catch mistakes, awkward wording, punctuation errors - all kinds
to a point. Every paper needs at least one revision. Two
or three revisions are excellent. I don't think that most people
have time for a fourth or more, and by that point what is there to
better for me if I have time to write a paper, set it down and go
away from it for a day, and then return to read it. Having a
chance to clear my head in between often gives me a better perspective
and lets me edit more effectively. Multiple revisions don't
really work for me. If I have to look at the paper more than
two or three times, I'm so sick of it that I just want to quit looking
at it and turn it in.
Writing, like thinking, is never finished. Revising is part of the
process of clarifying ideas, developing ideas, and changing your findings
if need be. Revising always forces me to make my arguments clearer,
stronger, and sometimes even more interesting. If I read something
I wrote and I don’t understand it, then no one is going to understand.
By re-reading and re-vising multiple times I let myself catch mistakes
and fix them. Revising is re-writing. Re-writing is writing. In other
words, revising is just another word for writing. It is a must.
analytical, research, creative writing, poetry, etc. What style of
writing is easier for you, and why?
and research are easier for me because this is what I have the most
enjoy creative writing, but it is harder for me. I suppose that
an analytic or research paper is the easiest to write because they
are so formulaic, but not always the most enjoyable.
like all of it, especially poetry that's so bad that it maybe shouldn't
even be called poetry. I think what's "easier" depends
on the topic and whether it's a specific assignment or something I
have a little more freedom to do.
Journal writing comes easier for me…no one is going to read it but
me. I love to do research and analysis. I learn lots by doing it.
If I read something I learn something, but if I read something and
then I write about it I then learn to connect my previous learning
with my knowledge. Anytime I write about anything, I am most likely
to remember it. With all of that said: it is important to know that
writing is not easy; it is not supposed to be easy.
My two preferred styles are analysis and "creative" writing.
I enjoy writing analytic pieces because this form integrates both
research and opinion writing. It is difficult for me to write a completely
objective work so this is a form in which I can enjoy the researching
of different ideas, styles, perceptions, experiences while still having
the latitude to comment on which idea or style I find to be most valuable.
A win-win from my perspective. I also find "creative" writing
relatively easy. I think this is true for a couple of reasons.
I am a compulsive observer; as a result I witness little dramas each
day. Subsequently, I will often journal these events in a notebook.
My habit of observing, followed by journaling, often provides me a
huge number of ideas. For many it is the "idea" that
is the hardest part of writing creatively. I am lucky, when I want
to write creatively I have a plethora of ideas with which to begin.
Research is the easiest writing style for me because it requires you
to investigate multiple sources and compare the information.
When it comes
to reading and writing, what is the best advice you can give a current
for pleasure - no matter what it is. Do try to read well written pieces.
And so far as writing, don't get married to anything you write and
revise as much as possible!
best advice I've ever gotten: read EVERYTHING you can get your
hands on. Read for fun, read because you want to learn more
about a topic, read because you want to have something to talk about
with your significant other, etc. And look up the words that
you don't understand--you'll be amazed how many of them will find
their way into your future papers once you know what they mean.
an outline down. It is the best way to overcome writer's block.
Dissect a huge paper into manageable pieces, and set pseudo-deadlines
for those manageable pieces. I would start to panic when I thought
of my senior thesis in the aggregate (50 pages was a lot my senior
year), when I broke it down into a bunch of 5 - 10 mini-papers it
was much less intimidating, and therefore easier to start (and therefore
and write MORE as a student. In the classroom you have an opportunity
to read and discuss with a group. This opportunity brings a
depth of awareness and understanding about literature that you can
not achieve as a solo-reader.
-Writing, as a student, is a rare opportunity to receive critique
and editing suggestions about a variety of your written forms and
subjects. As you move into the professional world you will seldom
have the human resource of a personal editor! Enjoy the experience,
your editing will be internal from here on out!
Keep doing it. Experience makes you better.
The best advice that I can give a current student when it comes to
reading and writing is have someone smarter than you proofread/critique