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.

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

Undergraduate Column: Showcasing Writers on Campus through the Writers of Mason Project

The Writers of Mason, a online project initiated by the Mason Writing Across the Curriuclum program and based on the popular Humans of New York book and Tumblr site, attempts to capture the diversity of writers and their experiences on campus. Each profile highlights the writing experiences, projects, and philosophies of students, faculty, administrators, and staff. I began working on the project in late fall of 2016 when I was hired by WAC director Michelle LaFrance. It has been a wonderful experience to learn how to use a camera, put together profiles, and showcase each individual writer through this project.

Since the first weeks of this work, we have published 20 profiles on our blog. But, the team has completed 45 additional profiles (readying them for publication) and taken 64 photos of participants, but creating an interviewee’s profile takes time and patience beyond the initial interview and photograph. Because we are striving to showcase a human experience, we spend a good deal of time making sure that all the details are exact. Each profile moves through a series of stages: after we set up and conduct the initial interview, we take the photograph, transcribe the interview, select the quotation to publish, and add any necessary finishing touches on the photo before editing and publishing the profile.

At the beginning of the project we drafted a script of eight questions. These questions included, “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. For example, when the interviewee is asked if he or she is a good writer, we often see members of our community hesitate 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.” There have only been a few participants who have openly agreed that they are good at writing.

There is only one other question that has triggered such a strong response: “What feedback negative or positive has stayed with you about your writing?” This is my favorite question to ask because you can get an answer about something that happened in elementary school or something that happened during the interviewee’s college years. When a person recounts how he or she received feedback, they will share intimate pieces about that memory, both good and bad. This intimatacy and honesty is something we aim to capture during our transcription process. These are stories that all writers have in common. Writing is hard work. Most of us have had a couple of knocks along the way and, when we end up working with a mentor, we are often changed as writers, thinkers, and people.

While transcribing the interviews, a unique sense of the person who lived the story is center in my mind. The aim when we trancribe is not just to catch the exact words an interviewee has said, but the way that person has said it as well. To do this, I have to pay attention to the way people are speaking, capturing a sense of their speaking patterns in order to truly create an image 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. This leads to our inserting commas and using other forms of punctuation to accurately represent the pauses, inflections, idioms—all the things that allow journalists and creative writers to recreate the way a person speaks.

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 that I can program with short cuts to help my transcribing go faster. I will code certain behaviors and sounds, like ‘I’ for being incomprehensible or ‘R’ for being 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. Sometimes there is a moment during an interview where you just know which quote you 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 you are interviewing a person, the interviewee has a certain apprehension that fades away during the interview process. That is the moment when you know you’ll have a good quote. There are other times when I have no idea what quote I will use from the interview. That is when transcription of the interview becomes so much more useful. When you reread the interview, the quote you need, that you thought you didn’t get, is right in front of you. The criteria for a strong quote is that it grabs your attention, you remember it when you look away from it, and it stirs a reaction in you.

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 you have to take into consideration. The ones that have been the most challenging for this project are 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 that person’s office before the interview so I can adjust my camera settings. This way I am 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 you cannot see the individual’s eye lashes, then your image is not sharp enough.

After the interview is transcribed and the photo finished, the editor chooses the quotation to publish. 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 over-all interview, and this means looking for the story that is hidden in the snippets of responses we’ve collected. The quotes are often pulled out of context, so it’s 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 as a writer.

Mason’s Writing Across the Curricuum program argues that campuses are, at heart, communites of writers. Everyone at Mason writes. They send emails, turn in papers, write reports, draft technical documents, edit books, communicate via texts, memos, and forms, and write reviews of other people’s writing. The writing that each individual does captures his or her story and perspective on writing. Writing is a grow-as-you-go process, and the Writers of Mason shares this within our community. In showcasing the diverse writing community and culture here at Mason, we are able to think more as studnets, teachers, and leaders about the role of writing in our work and in our complex lives. It has been great fun to meet people, talk to them about their writing, and to learn about the many different ways members of our community write. We look forward to talking to you, if we have not already.

 

Undergraduate Column: Talk To Us About Your Writing Process

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For many undergraduate writers, being introduced and reintroduced to the writing process is an important part of learning to write in an academic community. Some of the most important aha moments I’ve had as an undergraduate writer have come from these infrequent opportunities to listen to my professors talk about their own writing, their experiences as writers, and their strategies for overcoming difficulties. I find this especially true as I take courses on the 300 and 400-levels. As my writing becomes more intensive, the insights I can gain from conversations with professors about their own writing has become invaluable. Continue reading

Exploring the WAC Archives at Fenwick Library

This piece was first published in our WAC 2015-2016 newsletter.

By Emily Chambers

Emily Chambers is an English M.A. student in the Teaching Writing and Literature program and a Graduate Research Assistant for Mason WAC.  She taught sixth grade English for five years in Culpeper, VA before beginning her studies at GMU.  Emily’s main interests are in teacher development and curriculum resources.  She can be reached at echambe5@masonlive.gmu.edu.  

Mason WAC has a rich history of supporting faculty who teach writing across the disciplines. During the 2014-2015 academic year, WAC worked with the GMU Libraries to archive over 30 years of the program’s historical documents. In the Fall of 2015, I searched through those archives for evidence of the history and work of WAC. What I found was documentation of the relationship-building work carried out across campus, by program and department faculty interested in supporting student writers at all levels. Documents reveal conversations with faculty in Nursing, Law, Psychology, Art, and more. Documents include meeting memos, reports, syllabi, student writing, and ongoing communications about course development. There are print and hand written notes from phone calls about writing contests, writing ambassadors, and other collaborations. Through these partnerships, a WAC Committee was formed in 1993 and began to define what writing across the curriculum meant. The Committee continues to do so, overseeing the approval and review of all WI courses on Mason’s campus.  Here are three examples of documents in the archives:

Adams and Thaiss Memos 1991In a memo to Christopher Thaiss, WAC Coordinator, William H. Adams, of the School of Law, wrote, “They need to understand the different writing techniques used in a variety of legal activities…to develop coherent legal arguments, students need both the ability to write clearly and a different kind of understanding of the legal process.” In response, Thaiss sent Adams materials on writing principles and characteristics that work across the disciplines.

On a handwritten note from a faculty meeting, titled “’mini-version’ of 499 papers,” the author jotted down these notes:April 29, 2003 Handwritten note

“Intro spells out how paper will engage in the debate;

“‘I’ is often okay but must be strategic;

“Makes an argument even if flawed.”

This note shows the ongoing collaboration between WAC and faculty in the departments, as they strive to define writing expectations in the disciplines.

In her New Century College Portfolio reflection piece, one student writes, “As a learner I am now better able to read and write, two things that seem more basic than they actually are…As a wriNew Century College Portfolio, Student Writing Sampleter I have learned how to organize and explain my thought[s] more appropriately. I feel I have gotten away from the page filling method of writing. I am better able to write the necessary material to make my point and thoughts clear. Though I at one time was under the
misconception that informative writing had to be plain and straight forward, I have learned to make my writing interesting to not only the reader but also me the writer.” This student’s rich metacognitive awareness is a model for writing students, and one that WAC aims to help students achieve through WAC’s support of writing teachers.

Mason’s WAC program continues to be grounded in this rich history of relationship-building and work across the curriculum, even as it seeks new ways to support and reach writing teachers across campus and to advance the conversation about writing course pedagogy.

Announcing Writers of Mason!

At heart, all university campuses are communities of writers.

In Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum Program, we work with a diverse array of writers. Mason’s students write in multiple contexts, with different styles, and for a variety of purposes. Our faculty teach writing in classrooms, seminars, and as part of their local and global field projects. Students and faculty alike contribute to the literature of their scholarly, research, creative, and professional communities. Continue reading

Mikal Lamdin Published in Exchanges!

We are pleased to report that former undergraduate research assistant, Mikal Lamdin, has had an article published in the undergraduate and graduate research journal, xchanges.

Mikal’s essay, “A Different Kind of War Film : The Ethos of the Individual Soldier in the Hurt Locker,” rhetorically analyzes elements of the recent film, The Hurt Locker. 

xchanges is an interdisciplinary journal that publishes twice yearly. 

We hope you will share out excitement and congratulate Mikal for her terrific publication.

Read Mikal’s essay here: “A Different Kind of War”

 

Practice Makes Perfect: A Student Perspective on Mason’s Culture of Writing

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by: Mikal Lambdin

Mikal is a senior studying English at George Mason.  She previously worked with WAC to create disciplinary writing guides for student use. Mikal is graduating in May 2015! To reach her, please contact wac@gmu.edu.

When first asked to write a blog post about my experience with Mason’s “culture of writing,” I will admit that my first question was “What is a culture of writing?” In response, Dr. Michelle LaFrance, Director of Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum program, showed me the WAC program website. It reads:

At Mason, the WAC program upholds a campus-wide commitment to student writers, writing-rich coursework, and writing in the disciplines. . . Central to our program’s mission is the belief that when students are given frequent opportunities for writing across the university curriculum, they think more critically and creatively, engage more deeply in their learning, and are better able to transfer what they have learned from course to course, context to context.      

Looking back at my own undergraduate experiences, I can clearly see that Mason’s culture of writing had an impact on both my overall education and my development as a writer in many ways. Continue reading

Writing For Real-World Audiences: What It’s Like to Get Published in The George Mason Review

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By: Mikal Lambdin

Mikal is a senior studying English at George Mason. She previously worked with WAC to create disciplinary writing guides for student use. To reach her, please contact wac@gmu.edu.

Last month, I was excited to learn that my essay, “Someone Who Cares a Whole Awful Lot: The Rhetoric of Dr. Seuss’s Political Parable,” won the award for Best Submission in The George Mason Review, GMU’s student-run journal of exemplary undergraduate scholarly works. Like any writer, I have faced the overwhelming task of trying to be published, a feat that is at best elusive and at worst seems impossible. But when I got the news about my success through GMR, I began to reflect on how publishing my work is different from trying to publish other texts or writing for classes. Throughout the entire process – the writing of my essay, its submission to the journal, and its ultimate acceptance – I learned some valuable lessons about what it means to “re-vision” scholarship, and the significance of a journal like GMR as a starting place for students to think about how to write for readers other than their teachers. Continue reading

Professor Expectations of Writing Assignments: A Student Perspective

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By Mikal Cardine

Mikal is a senior studying English at George Mason. She previously worked with WAC to create disciplinary writing guides for student use. To reach her, please contact wac@gmu.edu.

In the subjective world of writing, there doesn’t seem to be any rules – just lots of different guidelines as we students move from class to class. However, effective communication is what writing is all about, and professors can best teach their students this skill by practicing it themselves, especially regarding their expectations of writing assignments. Before assuming that we know what is expected of us, professors need to consider our circumstances and differences: Some of us have not been in a focused writing class in years. Some of us have not taken 302 before taking the WI course. Some of us placed out of first year writing, or have transferred to Mason and are still adjusting to new professors and new expectations. And of course, most of us have probably received terrible writing instruction at some point.            Continue reading