One of the nice perks of my work as a professor is the chance to interact with the new cadres of teachers and scholars at all levels of tertiary education. I am privileged to serve as mentor to a few of those bachelor's, master's and doctoral candidates and I learn as much from them as I get to teach them. Over the years, I have noticed a few trends in areas that need some improving. That is the goal of this page (which once was just "about writing"): To provide an outlet for some resources and ideas of my own to help these young scholars improve their "Kung-Fu". As always, I am always welcome to suggestions for other websites and resources.
The Process of Writing
I have been involved in writing for quite some time: As a writer myself, as a mentor to young teachers both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellín. In all that time, I have noticed that students need different kinds of help when it comes to writing. So, I have now this page to offer ideas that have worked for me and other sources I have found over the years. I will divide the page on different topics and things that may matter to improve one's writing.
But, before we start, I would like to offer a short, yet useful piece of advice to all those beginning writers: Don't be discouraged if your first draft is bad, terrible, or plain awful. Most first drafts are! Anne Lamott once wrote about this in her text Shitty First Drafts! As you grow as a writer, you will learn that while writing is not an easy process by any means, it is not impossible to do, either. You just need to be organized and efficient. And, most importantly, you need to WRITE, WRITE, and WRITE some more. Just remember that nobody has ever published a blank page! There are some basic steps to getting your paper done, and done well. I usually follow all these steps when I write. They are still quite effective. I will mention the steps, and include several links that I have used in my classes. The process is nothing different from what other teachers may have told you, so do not be shocked.
Before we go over the steps, here are some useful sites to get your writing groove on the way. For an overview of process writing, check this site that Ms. Camila Giraldo, one of my former students, nominated. Another student, Mr. Juan Manuel Estrada, nominated this site with useful tips to make writing a habit. Finally, Ms. Maryori Giraldo nominated this site with some ideas to improve your writing.
BRAINSTORMING: That is simply the moment you start organizing the ideas in your head and you start putting that somewhere you can visualize it. A journal or notebook is usually a good place to start. You can find additional information about the process of brainstorming HERE and HERE
OUTLINING: I have made it a rule for my students not to start writing a draft without an outline. You cannot go from brainstorming to drafting unless you are a very experienced writer. You need to structure your ideas in order to have a sense of direction for your draft. While it is true that the first draft will not be the best, that is not a fee pass to be sloppy. The more organized your ideas are before you write, the more effective that first draft will be. For more ideas about how to write a good outline, click HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
DRAFTING: Now we can have some writing action! You need to get that first draft out of the way. Write and take a few risks along the way. The draft is the best way to check if your ideas are making sense. Write the draft and, at that time, do not worry too much about grammar or spelling. You will have time for that when you are revising and editing your draft. To look at the importance of drafting from a historical perspective, look HERE. Then take a look HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for further ideas.
REVERSE OUTLINING: This is a strategy that I learned from my first adviser at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and it has become one of my favorite strategies. Sometimes while you are drafting, it might be easy to lose track of what you actually wanted to write in the first place. A reverse outline is one you write once you finish the first draft and then you compare to the original outline to make sure you are still on course. Feel free to browse HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for more examples about reverse outlining.
PROOFREADING and REVISING: These are two important processes to make a powerful second draft. Proofreading usually refers to the process of checking the draft for grammar, spelling, and punctuation, as well as checking it the overall text makes sense. Revising is the process where you look at what you wrote and edit the sentences for precision, cohesion, and coherence. Revising usually requires rewriting sentences, changing words. Look HERE,HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for examples of proofreading. Take a look HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for examples about revising.
As I said at the beginning, writing is about writing. You need to develop habits and ways to make writing a normal element of your life. As I found on a blog I read about on Facebook the other day, you have to find ways to do some writing on a regular/daily basis. I encourage you all to read the recommendations from the blog. I can assure you, they do work!
The Process of Reading
In the development of academic literacies, there is a symbiotic relationship between reading and writing. You need to read in order to write your papers, and you write so that others may read your work. In addition, reading does help shape your writing style. Academic discourse, like all forms of discourse, is social in nature. There are social conventions that regulate it (for example, the use of APA) and the more knowledgeable you are of them, the more successful you will be as a writer. In addition, academia is, using the old metaphor, built by "standing on the shoulders of giants." Reading other authors in your field helps you shape your style while keeping in mind the social conventions of academe.
Writing academic papers, then, is a necessary step in becoming a scholar. But, academic reading is an exercise of strategic thinking. Once you have hundreds of papers to survey for a literature review, you cannot afford to read them all in full. You need to know what to zero in on, what to save for later, or what to skip. If you check out the links below, you will find plenty of resources to help you develop that sense of strategic reading that academic discourse entails.
Response Papers (also called Reaction Papers or Position Papers) have a very rich conceptual tradition. The idea of responding to something one read hearkens back to ideas from John Dewey, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Louise Rosenblatt. It is a very interesting writing exercise that may foster critical thinking.
Writing one, however, might be daunting at times. So, I have gathered a few resources available HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE (credit for last link: Ms. Camila Giraldo). You can also read the handout I put together:
Writing papers in APA format can be hellish for some students, as they lack the information to organize their papers. I will not go into much detail here, but I will offer you plenty of links. You should probably start with the APA's official website, and them move on to additional information found HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
E-mail Etiquette... Because Not Every Message You'll Send is a Snapchat!
While communication today is far more ubiquitous, one issue has become more evident in the era of Whatsapp and Snapchat: People sometimes lack basic etiquette for professional e-mails. As cool as emojis are (and trust me, I love using them!), sometimes we need to (in the immortal words of Barney Stinson) "suit up" when we write a message.
E-mail remains the main communication form for professional purposes in today's digital world. A well-crafted e-mail (or Facebook Messenger message... and yes, even a message on Whatsapp... always remember Oscar Wilde's maxim, "You can never be overdress or overeducated.") will surely prompt a response. A badly-crafted one... well, that's why e-mail accounts have a Trash option, right? (I apologize if I seem rude, but that's the harsh truth.) I invite you to check the links below for suggestions about how to craft a good e-mail to your professors, faculty in other universities, and other professionals:
Applying for jobs is a situation everybody will face eventually. There will be other times when you have to share your credentials and academic history with others. A well-crafted Curriculum Vitae (CV or Vita) will be the difference between hearing back from people or an empty inbox. Your CV, besides being well organized, with careful attention to detail, grammar, and spelling, should offer a good description of who you are and what you have done.
If you want to look at one example of a vita, feel free to browse mine. In addition, you can check additional information HERE, HERE (pay special attention to what goes and DOES NOT on a CV), courtesy of my beloved Alma Mater!
Also, there will be times when you may need to write a cover letter to go with your CV or to express interest in a position. Check HERE for some information about how to craft your cover letter, again thanks to those folks in Orange and Blue.
While the previous paragraphs highlighted some information, there is so much more to cover when it comes to writing. Below you'll find some of my recommendations. I have reviewed all of these sites and I consider them top-quality (criteria I keep in mind include: Who hosts the site, the quality of content, and the availability of resources for students - needless to say, I make sure to go over each site before posting it here!)
All of these sites have my "Patron Seal of Approval":
Colorado State University also features its Writing Studio, with a healthy amount of resources.
The University of Adelaide in Australia features varied resources for writers at their Writing Centre.
The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a number of very useful handouts.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a very useful Writer's Handbook at their Writing Center website.
The University of Richmond Writing Center has some interesting resources at their Writer's Web.
A Word about Publishing I: Be Careful Where To Submit Your Work
It keeps coming to my attention the proliferation of calls for papers from journals that at first glance seem interesting yet a closer look tells you a whole different story.
While yours truly will be the first to invite you to publish and present often, I also invite you to do this very judiciously. One very useful resource in case you have question is the Scholarly Open Access site. This site tracks down both publishers and journals of predatory nature (something that's informally known as Beall's List, named after its creator, Prof. Jeffrey Beall, librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver).
Specifically, I invite you to raise red flags if the journal in question (these two taken from Beall's List web:
1. "Depends on author fees as the sole and only means of operation with no alternative, long-term business plan for sustaining the journal through augmented income sources." 2. "The publisher publishes journals that combine two or more fields not normally treated together (e.g., International Journal of Business, Humanities and Technology)."
And my own, main red flag: The journal is so LUDICROUSLY INTERDISCIPLINARY to the extent that it's the Mixed Martial Arts of academic journals. Here's an example from a call for papers I read recently:
"The journal publishes research papers in the fields of humanities and social science such as anthropology, business studies, communication studies, corporate governance ,criminology, cross-cultural studies ,demography,development studies, economics, education, ethics, geography, history, industrial relations, information science, international relations, law, linguistics, library science, media studies, methodology, philosophy, political science, population Studies, psychology, public administration, sociology, social welfare, linguistics ,literature, paralegal, performing arts (music, theatre & dance), religious studies ,visual arts, women studies and so on." (seriously, is there anything south of engineering that they DO NOT publish here?)
In addition to these criteria, it is also important to be particularly careful as to where we search for literature for our work. While it is fine to rely on Google Scholar as ONE among several search tools, do not overrely on it. Google Scholar works in an analog way to regular Google, sweeping results based on keywords. Google does not sieve the information for you, though. That's what you're supposed to do in a critical fashion. You should combine Google Scholar with the search engines already available at our university database and other reliable repositories such as ERIC. Also, when you're not sure about some article, that's when your professors and advisers come in handy.
It is up to us to give a critical, reflexive twist to the use of academic search engines so that whatever articles finally make it to your own research.
A Word about Publishing II: Ideas and resources to get your work out there, successfully!
In this section, I will write some ideas and share resources that I have found useful to get my writing done and out here. While I get this section up and running, here's an excellent article from The Guardian related to getting published.
The Art of Presenting
Putting together a good presentation is sometimes as important as writing the paper. As Wineburg (2005) argued, a well prepared talk might entice people to actually read your paper. It has been my experience that scholars whose work I have read have been a serious disappointment as presenters (yes, I am looking at you, David Nunan!), just as there have been people whose presentations led me to review their work once again (people like Brian Street or Cornel West... as awesome as advertised!)
One important element that is essential to a successful presentation is the presentation itself. Whether you choose to go with Power Point or Prezi, a presentation is only as successful as how one delivers the contents. In this case, a well-crafted presentation is a big factor in that success. One thing all presenters should avoid, is, well... let's let Boromir tell us:
Here are some links that will offer you more ideas about how to put together a professional Power Point presentation:
In addition to using Power Point or Prezi, posters have become a very useful way to present one's work in conferences. A good poster offers people the chance to see your work and learn from it, even if you are not present. Here are several links that you can use as reference to prepare your posters for your next conference!
And because the good Doctor actually leads by example, here are some examples of posters from 2013:
A Word on Grammar
In my experience working with preservice teachers in the U.S. and Colombia, I noticed a series of common and frequent mistakes while writing the papers. Some of them appear regardless of whether English is one's first or second language. Overall, whether we like it or not, grammar is still necessary, even in the age of Twitter (and yes, before you ask, I do proofread my Tweets). Grammar helps our ideas, especially when we write, sound more articulate and coherent.
In the case of teachers, I believe all teachers are expected (by parents, students, and employers alike) to use the English language properly, regardless of your students’ ages and backgrounds or your subject area. Carelessness in the use of the language is unbecoming a teacher. That, in fact, may even raise questions about your skills as an instructor (you would be surprised to learn how many times spelling errors in cover letters or résumés can cost someone a good job). Fortunately, some of these mistakes are easy to fix. Sometimes, they are more a matter of lack of attention when writing than they are actual lack of knowledge. This is a quick guide to help you tackle some of them as you are working on your written assignments.
WATCH OUT FOR THESE MISTAKES!
Over the years I (and other grammar buffs like myself) have found some gaffes that have become commonplace. Please check the infographic below and make sure NEVER to make these on your own papers:
One common error I have noticed in terms of the use of abbreviations is that of e.g. versus i.e. The former means for example; the latter, that is [to say]. Here are two examples:
As a future teacher, I think that looking at some elements of a teacher’s classroom management (e.g. behaviors, language, preventative management, etc.) is important because it provides one with examples of how to proceed when one has his/her own classroom. – Here we use e.g. because you are providing examples of the categories that are used (some is the key word here).
This paper will explore the four key elements of classroom management (i.e. behavior, rewards and consequences, language, and preventative management) and the examples I was able to find after observing my teacher for ten hours. – Here we use i.e. because we are listing what the elements are (since we said there were four).
This is another error I have told students to fix in several sentences. Parallel structure means that when you are separating items within a series, they should all be the same part of speech.
Incorrect: Students arrive at 7:00 am. Once they enter the room, they are supposed to hang their coats, sharpen their pencils, and picking up their assignments from the mailbox (You are mixing up simple forms and gerunds. The verb “Be supposed to” [which, by the way, is spelled with the “d” at the end] is to be followed by the simple form).
Correct: Students arrive at 7:00 am. Once they enter the room, they are supposed to hang their coats, sharpen their pencils, and pick up their assignments from the mailbox.
Incorrect: When students misbehave, they go either to detention or miss recess (When using paired conjunctions [i.e. either…or, both…and, and not only…but also], parallel structure rules apply).
Correct: When students misbehave, they either go to detention or miss recess (Here you keep parallel structure since what follows both either and or are verbs).
As the name indicates, the use of do/does/did within an affirmative sentence should only occur when emphasis is needed. Some sentences I have read do not need the extra emphasis. Let us review some examples:
Incorrect: During all my observations, the teacher does always provide the class with handouts at the beginning of the class (In this example, the emphatic do is unnecessary because you are using always. It is clear, without the need for further emphasis, that this is a regular classroom practice.)
Correct:During all my observations, I noticed that the teacher was very inconsistent with the use of the board. However, he does provide the class with handouts at the beginning of every class. (In this example, the use of emphatic do actually adds to the meaning. It stresses the contrast between the inconsistence of the board versus the regular practice of providing handouts).
Before you place a do/does/did within an affirmative sentence, ask yourself, “Is the emphasis really necessary?”
These are just a few that are most recurrent. Please pay attention to these, as well as your use of punctuation (comma use is another recurrent error I have found).
FOR FUN'S SAKE
Listen to what Slam Poet and former middle school teacher Taylor Mali has to say about the use of spellcheckers!