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.

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

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

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

“I Changed My Mind”: Articulating Empathic Design

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By: Rachael Burke

Rachael Burke is a second-year Writing and Rhetoric PhD student at George Mason University.  Her research centers on empathic articulation and social-emotional design.  She has taught composition, ESL, and interdisciplinary studies, and she is currently teaching at GMU and Northern Virginia Community College.  You can reach her at rburke13@gmu.edu.

This post is the third in a series on empathy and writing scholarship. For the full series, please see her first post and second post.

When I think about what it means to write collaboratively and productively across the curriculum, I am always attempting to determine which frameworks best help us all define empathy ontologically and pragmatically. Toward this end, in my previous posts, I have attempted to simultaneously advocate for empathy’s inclusion across the curriculum even while I have tried to better define it. Admittedly, this is a complex task, and not just for me. As Daniel Batson (1991) says, “opportunities for disagreement abound” within the framework of empathy’s theoretical uncertainties (p. 11), and even with a “liquid” understanding of empathy (Burke, Permanence and Change, 1965 qtd. in Miller, 1984, p. 158), a firm sense of definition or application can be hard to come by. Continue reading

Error in Student Writing: A Balanced, Developmental Approach

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By Paul T. Corrigan

Paul T. Corrigan teaches writing and literature at Southeastern University, where he serves on the steering committee for Writing Across the Curriculum. He writes at Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. You can reach him through Facebook, Twitter, and paultcorrigan.com.

Errors in writing may irk and confuse readers, imply ignorance or negligence on behalf of the author, and have unintended consequences in the real world. For these reasons, many teachers feel compelled to try to “cure” students’ writing of errors, often by prescribing heavy doses of red ink. I am grateful for the thankless efforts these teachers make to help students become clearer, more accurate writers. But I bear bad news. There is no cure for errors in student writing. We need to be absolutely clear on this. Short of not writing, students will continue to err, no matter what we do.

Butlet me hasten to addthis bad news is also the good news. Continue reading