Word of the Week

disputatious, adj.

“Characterized by, or given to, disputation; inclined to dispute or wrangle; contentious.”

“Everyone knew that the professor was disputatious so they never argued over their grades.”

“disputatious, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.

Tuesday Tip: Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Image of the word "impossible", with a pencil crossing out "im."










Finishing a paper can sometimes seem impossible, but it doesn’t have to be! Break down your task into manageable pieces by setting some S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Specific: State exactly what it is you need to accomplish. Be as explicit as possible, including the requirements and details of the task. Maybe it’s completing a final draft of your history paper, or maybe it’s brainstorming thoughts for your thesis statement.

Measurable: Decide how you will know when you have met your goal. Maybe it’s when you turn the paper in, or maybe it’s after you’ve written the first 300 words.

Actionable: Determine what steps you will take in working towards the completion of your goal. Maybe it’s by spending all Saturday at the library revising your essay, or maybe it’s by spending an hour each day doing research for your proposal.

Relevant: Focus on how the steps you’re taking help move you toward your goal, instead of getting off track. Maybe it’s finding three primary sources to read tomorrow or maybe it’s deciding that color coding your notes isn’t a very effective strategy.

Time-bound: Set a deadline so that you commit the correct amount of time and effort to meeting your goal. Maybe it’s finishing your first draft by your writing center appointment, or maybe it’s finishing your outline before the 10pm Game of Thrones watch party.

Tuesday’s Tip: Outlines

picture of three boxes that say introduction, body, and conclusion.

An outline can be a great way to get started with a writing assignment, especially if you don’t really know where to start! According to Purdue Owl, “For research papers, an outline may help you keep track of large amounts of information. For creative writing, an outline may help organize the various plot threads and help keep track of character traits. Many people find that organizing an oral report or presentation in outline form helps them speak more effectively in front of a crowd.”

Purdue OWL offers some great suggestions on how to create an outline for a writing assignment. You can also make an appointment with a tutor. Remember, our tutors can help at any stage of the writing process!



Every Writer is a Chef

Today’s post comes from Fahad, one of our Writing Center tutors.

Every Writer is a Chef

A blank page is like an empty pot. The tough part is filling it with something to make people come back for extra helpings. Here’s the actually tough part, though: how do you make something that fits everyone’s taste. Maybe the better question is: is it possible to make something to everyone’s taste?

It’s not.
Cooking Ingredients

That’s not quite the end of the discussion. How do you decide what to make? The first thing to do is peek at who’s in the dining room. A vegan at breakfast is going to appreciate a different dish from someone with a more permissible diet. In the same way, readers have different dietary restrictions – some of them are strict vegan readers: no fat; no bull; no waste. Some are less strict. One thing is key for both, though: does what you put out work as a whole dish?

“Vegan readers” appreciate a neatly edited piece which follows a strict set of grammatical and spelling rules. Keep in mind that just because you’re following some rules doesn’t mean you don’t get to be creative. If anything, limiting yourself to traditional grammar, or even a standard “academic” essay formula (no first person, and don’t even think about using the passive voice) forces you to garnish your writing with spices and make creative substitutions to make up flavor and lend some flair.

Some eaters are a little less concerned with ingredients and are okay with a little grease in the writing. “Omnivore” eaters are a little less restrictive when it comes to ingredients, but are definitely as demanding when it comes to flavor. Similarly, an omnivorous reader knows that mistakes happen, and stresses demands on content more than keeping your commas and semicolons in order.

No single dish will ever work for every eater, in the same way no one piece of writing will work for every reader. What’s important is to understand who your reader is: vaguely and broadly, but it’s important to have an idea. Do some digging and figure out how a professor, or a particular publication’s patrons like their dish prepped. The details can elevate a plate from a meal to an experience the same way the details turn a piece of writing into something tinged with art.

All this is great, and it’s fine to know, but every chef knows better than to serve a meal without tasting it first. Great chefs know better than to serve without enjoying their own meal. If you can’t read your own work, how are you going to serve your work to someone else? There’s no set way to cook a perfect meal for everyone, but you can at least make it something you’ll want to consume again and again.

Tuesdays Tip (from the archives): Brainstorming


This Tuesday’s Tips is brought to us by Dr. Eric Stottlemyer

I never like to interfere with a writer’s process if that process works or leads to a desired outcome. If Never Brainstorming works for you, then Never Brainstorm away, I say. If you’re feeling adventurous, however, brainstorming can be a wonderfully creative and profoundly engaging way to access your inventive mind, and I guarantee that it will lead you into surprising mental territory. Think of your brain as a primordial sea and the act of brainstorming a 15-million-volt electrical charge: life emerges suddenly from nothing (or seemingly from nothing). We don’t write to reflect our thoughts, but more accurately to create them, and when we brainstorm by using writing, we do so without judging or restricting ourselves in any way whatsoever. This is critical, so it’s worth repeating: when brainstorming—whether free-writing, concept mapping, thought bubbling, or whatever else your amazing mind can generate—don’t judge. Just write. Then witness the amazing ideas as they emerge from the primordial sea.

Breaking the camel’s back, or: That was the final straw(man)

Today’s post comes from T. H. M. Gellar-Goad, Assistant Professor of Classical Languages.

When you started this school year, you were pelted (I’m sure the administration would prefer I say “welcomed”) with messages about wellbeing, diversity, and the Wake Forest Way.  Incoming first-years at the University of Chicago got, as you might have heard, a rather different message[1] from their Dean of Students.  He mansplained (I’m sure he would prefer I say “wrote”):

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

This caused controversy[2] across American academia and provoked thoughtful responses from faculty[3] and alums[4] of U. Chicago, among others.  It’s an important debate to have, one that pre-dates the Dean’s letter and extends past U. Chicago and the United States.  President Obama has spoken with commendable nuance[5] on the topic.

But one of the problems with that letter “welcoming” new students to Chicago, and the name of that problem is a straw-man argument.  Rather than engage with what “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” actually are — the first is an important tool initially conceived on feminist Internet message boards in the 1990s to allow survivors to skip reading particularly vivid descriptions of trauma, and the second are places where members of marginalized groups can just be themselves instead of the token representatives of their group — the Dean created a false version of them, one that would be easy for him to dismiss in the virtuous defense of intellectual rigor.

It’s easy to win an argument when you can turn your opposition’s position into a two-dimensional caricature of itself.  Why respond in detail to critics of your compliance with campaign finance laws when you can just say they’re trying to force you to give up your children’s beloved dog Checkers[6], a gift from a campaign donor?  Why analyze and interrogate an interlocutor’s political views when you can just compare them to Hitler[7]?

Well, here’s why: because the straw man will break the camel’s back of your writing!  Not only do you need to write to think[8] and ensure that your writing keeps things in context[9], but also you must strive to keep your argumentative playing field level.  Report your opponents’ views fairly and completely, and use reasoning and evidence to prove them wrong.  In writing just as in the Land of Oz, a man made out of straw is simply brainless.

[1] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/25/u-chicago-warns-incoming-students-not-expect-safe-spaces-or-trigger-warnings

[2] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/29/u-chicago-letter-new-students-safe-spaces-sets-intense-debate

[3] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/09/14/u-chicago-professors-issue-letter-safe-spaces-and-trigger-warnings

[4] http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/the-university-of-chicago-letter/498110/

[5] http://www.npr.org/2015/12/21/460282127/obama-warns-campus-protesters-against-urge-to-shut-up-opposition

[6] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/eisenhower-checkers/

[7] http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/godwins-law

[8] http://college.wfu.edu/writingcenter/tips-and-tricks/tuesdays-tip-writing-to-read-2

[9] http://college.wfu.edu/writingcenter/uncategorized/who-will-watch-the-watchers

Need Citation Help?


Many of our Writing Center clients come in with questions on how to properly cite their sources. We love talking with you about these issues, but there are also lots of other great resources right here in ZSR.

ZSR Citation Workshops

Zotero: Students often use web-based tools like EasyBib or Citation Machine to generate citations. Now, Zotero provides both students and faculty with an easy-to-use tool for managing sources and creating citations in a wide variety of citation styles! We have Zotero workshops on weekdays and weekends in order to meet the needs of both students and faculty interested in learning to use this program to organize research and streamline the citation process. Click here for a list of Zotero workshops.

The RIGHT Way to CITE: Do you need help need help with parenthetical citations or footnotes? This one-hour workshop will take students through the basics of both MLA and APA citation formats. We will cover in-text citation and Bibliography/Works Cited formats. Source management strategies will also be covered. Designed for students at any stage of research to help make those citations easy peasy! Click here for a list of workshops.


Need to know about the new MLA updates? ZSR has you covered there too!

Online Resources

The ZSR website has lots of different guides and resources to help you with APA, MLA, and others!

Need more help?

Did you know you can chat with a librarian, email them, text them, or even set up a personal research session? Well you can!

From the Archives: Speaking of Stance


We’re digging in the archives today and wanted to again share a wonderful piece written by Writing Program faculty member Phoebe Zerwick.

I’ve been talking with my students all semester about stance. It’s a tough concept to explain. How does a writer find the balance between argument and tone that works for the audience? This month, an article about abortion that I’ve been working on for more than two years was finally published in the December issue of Glamour magazine. And as I read over it, for possibly the hundredth time, I realized that it makes a terrific tool for talking about a writer’s stance.

I started in July, 2012 just as a new law that mandates an ultrasound before abortion and a 24-hour waiting period took effect in Virginia.  The Falls Church Healthcare Center, about 10 miles outside of D.C., was generous enough to open its doors to me and allow me to interview women who were either waiting for their ultrasound or there for an abortion. I wanted to get beyond the political rhetoric and get to the voices of real women facing an unwanted pregnancy. And because I wanted to provide readers with a nuanced discussion, I headed next to a crisis pregnancy center in Norfolk, Va., where pregnant women can get an ultrasound and counseling – but not an abortion. I did the rest of the reporting by phone, eventually talking with 20 women about the ways in which the ultrasound shaped their decision about abortion.

rstanceThen it was time to write, and this is where the question of stance came in. I tell my writing students to avoid the first person, that is, unless there’s a compelling reason to insert themselves into the text.  My admonition to my journalism students is even stronger: they are to leave themselves out of their writing. I knew before I started my reporting that abortion is one of the most polarizing topics in our culture.  But I found that even in the world of experts, there were no neutral sources to help me interpret my findings; the researchers are either for or against abortion. So it was up to me to find the middle ground. I wanted transparency. I wanted readers to know exactly how I had found the 20 women who made up my small sample. And I wanted my readers to trust what I had to say and feel that they had learned something new about a subject most of us have made up our minds about. I decided that the best way to enter into this fraught conversation was by writing as honestly as I could – in the first person. I did so sparingly, using the first person just four times. Here’s an example: “The more stories I heard, the more I could understand how both sides have become so convinced they are right.”   I would describe that as a stance that’s factual, friendly and a little removed from the fray — as compelling a reason as any for writing in the first person.

Phoebe Zerwick, November, 2014

Happy National Day on Writing!

National Day on Writing – #WhyIWrite

Every year the National Council of Teachers of English sponsors “National Day on Writing” with a theme that encourages us to think about the importance of writing to our lives. This year the theme of the NDoW is “Why I Write,” and English classes, writing centers, and many other groups are sharing their thoughts with the world through events and programming as well as through the Twitter and Facebook hashtag #WhyIWrite. Here at the WFU Writing Center, we asked some of our tutors to share the reasons why they write in the short video below. We also designed trading cards with famous authors describing why they write (or wrote), so keep an eye out on campus for those (or ask a friendly tutor for one)!

Writer trading cards feature: Joan Didion, Lord Byron, Octavia E. Butler, Anaïs Nin, Gao Xingjian, Louise Erdrich, Flannery O’Connor, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Zadie Smith, Stephen King, Junot Díaz, Richard Wright, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gish Jen, and Don DeLillo.

Writer Trading Cards