Undergraduate Column: How Do We Create Our Writers of Mason Profiles?

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The Writers of Mason, based on the Humans of New York, attempts to capture the diversity of writers on campus by profiling students, faculty, and staff through interviews and photos. To date, we have published 45 profiles on the blog, are currently processing multiple different profiles, and have snapped 189 photos of writers in our Mason community. Because we strive to showcase the human experience, creating a profile for an interviewee takes time and patience; each profile must go through a series of stages: conducting the interview, transcribing the interview and selecting the quotation to publish, taking and adding the finishing touches on the photo, and then editing and publishing the profile. Now that we have been publishing these profiles for a while, we thought we would share a little bit about the process of creating our Writers of Mason profiles.

At the beginning of the project, we drafted a script of eight questions. Our script included questions like, “Do you think you are a good writer?” and “What feedback, negative or positive, has stayed with you about your writing?” These questions are open ended to allow for an interviewee to provide an authentic response. Interestingly, two questions seem to trigger the strongest responses. When I ask an interviewee if he or she is a good writer, I often see hesitation to claim the title of ‘good writer.’ People tend to shy away from calling themselves that and will respond with, “I’m a competent writer,” “I’m a strong writer,” “I write well enough for my field,” or “I have been told that I’m good writer.” Only a few participants have called themselves good writers.

The other question that triggers a strong response is: “What feedback negative or positive has stayed with you about your writing?” This is my favorite question to ask because the answers I receive touch on all of life’s stages; interviewees have told me about experiences occurring in elementary school, college, and their professional lives. When a person recounts how he or she received feedback, they will share intimate pieces about that memory, and that intimacy is something that we aim to capture during our transcription process.

While transcribing the interviews, I always develop a different sense of the person. I am trying to type down everything they say, but the aim for a project like this is to catch not only the words but also the way our interviewees say them. I have to pay attention to the way people are speaking in order to truly create a glimpse of that person. People do not always speak in complete sentences. There are pauses in their speech, or sometimes there are no pauses at all. When transcribing the interview, we want to recreate that person’s speech patterns. This leads to using punctuation differently to represent when they are pausing, just trying to recreate the way they speak. To transcribe all of the interviews, I use a software program called F5. It has the basic controls of any transcription program, but F5 has a side bar, which I can program with short cuts to help my transcribing go faster. I will code certain behaviors and sounds like ‘I’ for something incomprehensible or ‘R’ for a long pause.

The transcription of the interview is the easiest portion of creating the profile. Once the transcription is done, I move on to selecting the quotes so my editor can choose the final quotation that best fits the photo; I usually provide three or four quotes. Sometimes there is a moment during an interview where I just know which quotes I will select. People say interesting things naturally. Most often the quotes that are selected are when people seem to feel most at ease during the interview. When I am interviewing a person, the interviewee has a certain apprehension that fades away during the interview process. That is the moment when I know I will have a good quote. There are other times when I have no idea what quotes I will use from the interview. That is when transcription of the interview becomes so much more useful. When I reread the interview, the quotes I need, that I thought I didn’t get, are often right in front of me. When I’m selecting quotes, I think about how they grab my attention, how they stir a reaction in me, and how well I remember them when I look away.

In my opinion, the hardest part of this process is getting the photo. The photo needs to be sharp, pop with the right amount of saturation, and provide that ‘wow’ effect. It has been a journey to get there. Taking a photo is more than just point-and-shoot. There are a lot of factors that I have to take into consideration. The ones that have been the most challenging for this project is time and lighting. When I go into someone’s office and conduct the interview, I only have about 5 minutes to get a good photo. If I can, I will stop by a person’s offices before the interview, so I can adjust my camera settings. This way I’m able to take a quick and decent photo. Most of my time for the project is spent processing photos. I was once told that if I cannot see the individual eye lashes, then the image is not sharp enough.

After the interview is transcribed and the photo finished, the editor chooses the quotation to publish out of the few that I have identified. We look for quotes that offer a unique perspective on writing, funny or interesting anecdotes about writing, and helpful tips that writers would find useful. We want the quote to reflect the overall interview, and this means looking for the story that is hidden in the quote. The quotes are often pulled out of context, so it is important that they are able to stand alone. The editor aims to preserve the personality of the interviewee through their voice. By preserving these details, the quote is strong, can stand alone, and lets the reader get a sense of the person.

Everyone here at Mason writes. We send emails, turn in papers, write reports, draft technical documents, edit books, and write reviews of other people’s writing. The goal of this project is to catch a glimpse of our collective writing experiences and showcase the diverse writing community and culture we have here at Mason. This project has been a lot of fun, and we look forward to continuing our conversations about writing with the Writers of Mason.

Preparing for Writing After College: The Archives of Workplace Writing Experiences Project

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Throughout the course of the school year, faculty members at universities across the country assign a plethora of writing assignments. Whether for an English, Chemistry, or Art History class, professors understand the importance of teaching college students how to write well, not only for the sake of the students’ academic career, but also for their professional careers as well. Upon graduation, however, many students are finding themselves unprepared to write for their new jobs, which means they might not be successfully transferring what they have learned about writing in college to the workplace. This lack of transfer presents a real challenge for faculty members, who find themselves asking: how do we better prepare students for writing in the workplace? Part of the solution, according to Professors Brian Fitzpatrick of George Mason University and Jessica McCaughey of George Washington University, is for faculty and students to better understand the expectations of writers in the workplace, so the two researchers teamed up to explore the numerous types of writing professionals produce in the workplace.

Continue reading

An Update on The Writers of Mason Project: By the Numbers

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Since our first interview in February of 2017, we’ve been very busy with the Writers of Mason project. To date, we have interviewed 42 writers, transcribed each of those interviews, and taken 189 profile pictures. We have met and spoken with writers across campus, talking writing in all its messy and awesome glory, with faculty, staff, and students. To date, we have talked with writers from: Fenwick and Johnson Center Libraries, the Students as Scholars/Office of Student Creative Activities and Research offices, Stearns Center, English, Anthropology, B-School, Game Design, Philosophy, Physics, Education, and Mason Korea.

Check in each week as the profiles on our site update.

 

WAC Presents an Evening with Laura Micciche

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Writing Across the Curriculum is proud to sponsor “Partners on the Page,” a special event at George Mason’s annual Fall for the Book festival featuring an evening with author Laura Micciche as she showcases the power of partnerships in the writing community and the genre of written acknowledgments.

Partners on the Page will take place on Thursday, October 12 at 4:30pm on the 3rd floor of the Johnson Center in Meeting Room G.

WAC is also excited for our partner’s event, “Research in Rhetoric: Digital, Visual and Archival Methods.” The George Mason University chapter of the Society for Technical Communication brings Dr. Douglas Eyman, Dr. Laurie Gries, and Dr. Jennell Johnson together for a panel discussion about research methods in the fields of rhetoric, composition, and communication.

Research in Rhetoric will take place in Meeting Room G of the Johnson Center at 6:00pm following the Partners on the Page presentation.

Don’t miss these two great, back-to-back events!

Fall for the Book runs from October 11th – 14th. Find more information about the many incredible authors coming to campus at www.fallforthebook.org.

Mason’s WAC Program Ranks Again!

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For the 16th consecutive year, Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program has been ranked among the best writing in the disciplines programs in the US by US News and World Reports. In spring 2017, US News invited college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions from more than 1,500 schools to nominate up to 10 institutions with stellar examples of writing in the disciplines. Mason was once again included in the final listing.

Mason’s WAC program supports the efforts of faculty across the curriculum to make student writing a priority in course work for the major. Established in 1993, WAC was designed to develop students’ understanding of the writing in their disciplines, as well as their ability to communicate as professionals within their respective fields. The program fosters a number of ideals, but the core of the program advocates that students should have frequent opportunities to write in diverse contexts and for diverse audiences, to receive feedback, and to engage in revision strategies. This foundation helps students to think more creatively and critically, engage more deeply in their learning, and transfer their learning from context to context.

The list of educational institutions ranked by US News and World Reports includes Brown, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and several others.

Congratulations to Mason WAC!

To see the listings, go to:

https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/writing-programs

Introducing the new Stearns Center!

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The Writing Across the Curriculum Program is excited to welcome the new Stearns Center to the Mason community!

August 29th saw the opening of the brand new Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning, a merging of the Office of Digital Learning and the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence. Located in Innovation Hall, the Stearns Center brings together resources and services for faculty and graduate students looking to develop their teaching methods with the latest developments in teaching and digital learning. The Center will host weekly open labs, collaboration spaces for faculty to utilize the same technology available in their classrooms, and allows teachers to research, experiment, and learn new skills to better serve their students.

Learn more about the many incredible resources the Stearns Center can offer faculty and students: http://stearnscenter.gmu.edu/

Technology Access and Use in Writing Intensive Courses

By Bree McGregor, December 17, 2015

Part 1: Introduction

The National Council of Teachers of English describes digital literacy as “proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology” (The NCTE definition, 2013), which include utilizing a networked, social approach to designing, sharing, analyzing, and synthesizing information, and the application of ethical considerations that such complex environments require. At George Mason University, we strive to embody an innovative spirit at institutional and programmatic levels: Continue reading

Undergraduate Column: Can We Talk about Reading?

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By Artie O’Leary

I have only experienced conversations about reading twice in my entire academic career. I don’t mean that we didn’t talk about the course readings themselves in my classes, we’ve talked quite a bit in many classes about the content of the pieces assigned. But these conversations often focused on content alone: What did the writer say? How is what the writer said different from what another writer said? How did what the writer say about the topic help me to understand important information related to the focus of the class? Continue reading