Thursday, September 29, 2005

The writing process

Writing essays can seem difficult and challenging at the best of times but at the beginning of university this is particularly so. When compared to high-school writing assignments the complexity and length of university level papers can be daunting. How does a student adapt to this change?

Understanding the guidelines for the assignment is a first step. Knowing how many pages are to be in the paper, how many references are required and the date on which the essay is due all help to orient your mind towards beginning and completing the assignment. Once these questions are answered the next thing to do is to read the material from which you need to draw from for your paper.

While reading, it is good practice to take notes and/or remember ideas with certain marks and techniques. By doing this, the information that will be of assistance in the writing process will be easy to access. This stage of the writing process can often be difficult for new university students, as it is the process of idea formulation—beginning to put ideas into words. Writing down all relevant ideas that come up during this stage helps, as an excess of information is preferable to not having enough.

After the material is read then the true idea formulation begins. Sorting through the ideas that have been written down during research and organizing them into categories which may turn into paragraphs is another important step in the writing process. Once the ideas are written down and organized, refer back to the parameters of the assignment for guidelines such as length. It is often an easy guideline to have one to two paragraphs per page of double-spaced text, and one individual idea or group of related ideas in each paragraph. For example, for a six-page paper you may need nine paragraphs, one of these paragraphs as the introduction, seven paragraphs with ideas relating to your topic and one paragraph as a conclusion. This is a rough guideline, but can help when beginning to write university papers.

The process of organization is a great way to become familiar with the ideas that will end up in the paper. Organization is a first step and is perhaps one of the most important steps when learning how to adapt to the expectations for university papers. After becoming familiar with the types of organizational strategies that work most effectively for you it is then possible to become creative with these techniques and truly begin to formulate your own style in the writing process.

Useful Links for ‘the writing process’:

UNC Writing Center—handouts and links page

Linn Benton community College Learning Center—Organization Strategies

Union Institute and University—Organizational Strategies for Writing


Ch, Ch, Changes . . .

As of September 29th, 2005 the LAC tutorial staff will be temporarily located in the reference section of the Elizabeth Dafoe library (next to the writing tutors). No appointments will be made while the tutors are located in the library. However, students are welcome to drop-in during the periods listed below. You can see the LAC tutors for writing and/or study skill concerns. When we move into our new space (201 Tier) appointments will be accepted again.

LAC Library Hours

Monday 9 - 12 & 1 - 4
Tuesday 9 - 4:30
Wednesday 8:30 - 12:00 & 1:00 - 4:30
Thursday 8:30 - 11:00 & 12:00 - 1:00
Friday 8:30 - 11:30 & 12:30 - 4:30

We can be reached at 480-1481.

We are hoping to be in our new space, 201 Tier, late October. The space is looking great and we are looking forward to establishing ourselves in the new digs.

Workshops for next week are:

Articles: The/A/An on Oct 4 in 340 Helen Glass at 2:30-3:30
Learning and Memory on October 6 in 340 Helen Glass at 2:30 - 3:30

If you can't come to the workshop (or even if you can) here are some useful Learning and Memory websites:
This site is aimed at secondary teachers but the information is still relevant and useful.
The sites aim is to sell Advanced Cognitive Enhancers but the information found on the page linked to above is solid, and the techniques are ones we teach ourselves.

Massey University (New Zealand) emphasizes the important of "
Context and Environment, State, Regular Breaks, Understanding, and Active Learning" for learning and memory
And finally, Bucks County Community College (US) provides a list of links to learning style inventories and other learning related sites. Check some of them out, and find out how you learn.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Keeping the chaos at bay

In the last week or so, I have met numerous students who are new to the university environment in which large classes, lots of reading, and long lectures are the norm. Several of these students have told me that they are feeling “overwhelmed”, “in over their head”, or simply “a little lost”. I’d like to make a few suggestions if you are feeling the same way.
First, go to your lectures and keep going to your lectures. With the new freedom university allows, it’s easy to skip when very few profs check to see if you’re there or not. However, even if the textbook and the lecture are similar, consider the time in lecture as study time or time spent learning the material.
Second, go beyond simply marking the due dates or deadlines in your day planner. Make appointments with yourself to study or establish regular study/reading times. While high school or work environments sometimes allow for slow times that are interrupted by cramming or hectic days, in university most new students find it less stressful and more effective steadily working on something for each course.
Finally, if you are struggling, get help immediately. If you ignore the problem it will only get worse. Write out a specific list of questions and take those questions to your prof’s office hours. Alternatively, you could exchange or photocopy notes and ideas with a classmate.
The adjustment to university life does get easier…just make sure that you are constantly moving in the direction of your goals.


Response to Close Reading

I’d like to respond to Anita’s blog (see Close Reading) about close reading with some practical suggestions related to the reading of literature or other narrative texts. My first suggestion is to mark your texts. When I read a novel, I write a few words or a short phrase about the plot on the top outside corner of each page. For example, on page one I might write “Harry gets letter” (though, I might abbreviate “Harry” as “H”), and on page two I might write “H boards train.” I might also use the top left corner to note details about characters, such as, “H meets Sarah—lawyer, sister to Robert”. This technique not only helps me stay focused on my reading, but also makes it easier to find textual references later (in class, when writing an essay). In the margins I write definitions of words I had to look up. I also circle, underline and box words or phrases that are important to the theme, or reveal a pattern of word choices and/or literary devices. I try to make some note in the margin explaining what/why I’ve underlined, circled, or boxed; for instance, if I notice that many of the metaphors used in a text are animal-based, I might write “animal” in the margin next the underlined comparison of a man to a bird. I might further highlight a pattern by recording other page numbers where I see similar animal comparisons: “SEE 35, 78, 147”. I might also use the margins to ask questions, such as “who is ‘the man’?” or “why does H run away?”. In novels that jump back and forth in time/place, or where there are shifting narrative points of view, I mark these changes in the text, as well. For example, I might write “SHIFT to Vince, 1938” or “Flashback--Paris 1910.” These marginal notes really help me to keep track of what’s going on in a text.


Monday, September 19, 2005

First Things First

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
-Derek Bok

First things first, congratulations for registering for university. Coming to university is a huge investment in your future and can bring you much success and happiness. Right now, you might only be thinking of how expensive it is, and you’re right. But if you play your cards right, it is infinitely worth it. OK, enough preaching.

“First things first” is a saying I’ve used over the years to remind my daughter and myself of the responsibilities we have. With her I’ve said that she can’t have a candy until she finishes her healthy food. I use it to remind myself that I need to do a more urgent task before I can do a less urgent but more pleasing task, or even have my little fun. It’s a catchy little phrase that’s helpful for keeping us acting responsibly.

“First things first” can also be a useful little chant when you’re feeling really swamped and you don’t know what to do first. Sometimes just singing “first things first” allows me to figure out what is my priority, what needs to be done before anything else. Knowing that you’re doing the most important task is in itself calming

September is a Super Fun month here at The University of Manitoba and that’s a good thing. It is important to meet friends and new people, enjoy the entertainment and have some fun. But, remember why you’re here and those priorities will help you know what your first things first are.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

WOWW it's Your First Week!

The first week of classes is rapidly approaching and campus is starting to buzz. Welcome to new students of UM and welcome back to returning students. You may feel overwhelmed this first week, as you go through orientation, buy books or claim ids, and get to know how you will get to the U, where you are taking classes, and what your routine might look like.

In the midst of the bustle of the first week, we at the LAC want to remind you that we are around to support your learning process! And WOWW have we got ways that you can tap into learning:

Workshops are a popular medium for many students to learn more about a particular area of study or writing. See our workshops schedule: and plan to attend those (free) workshops that you think will help you! Whether it’s about writing or studying, you are bound to find some tips.

One-to-one meetings with a Learning Skills Specialist at the LAC is another option for those of you who feel less comfortable in a group. You can talk together about pretty much anything to do with learning or writing; if we can’t directly assist you, we can probably refer you to someone who can!

Website resources provide a third way the LAC can help. On our website you can find:

  • Description of our services and location
  • Printable handouts on a variety of learning and writing issues
  • Helpful links to UM sites as well as other study skills and writing sites
  • Online tutoring
  • Workshop information
  • Writing Tutor Program information

Writing tutors
Your peers, UM students who are experienced and capable writers, offer their time to help you one-to-one with writing. You can find them in Elizabeth Dafoe library from mid Sept to end of Nov and mid Jan to mid Apr. Visit the website for their schedule and info on how best to use your time with the tutors.

Where is the LAC?

Currently we are at 520 University Centre (same building as the bookstore, Tim’s and IQ’s—you’ll find us at the end of the hall on the 5th floor). In October we will move: find updated location information on our website as moving day comes closer.