Welcome to Communication Corner!
The Speaking and Writing Center offers one-on-one and small group consultations for any oral or written project at any stage of the process for any class at University of Mary Washington. In order to be able to do this, our consultants go through extensive training which provides them with a wealth of knowledge about speaking and writing as well as surviving and thriving in college. In fact, they are so bursting with helpful tips and information, I thought they needed their own corner of the internet to share what they know with you.
Each week of the semester, a different consultant (or, occasionally, a featured guest) will offer words of advice, encouragement, support, and motivation about speaking, writing, student success, and having the best college experience possible. Please check in regularly– the posts here are not only informative and helpful, but also entertaining: filled with insights, kindness, and often humor.
Have a request for a topic? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most Recent Blog
Thanksgiving break is coming up, and we here at the UMW Speaking and Writing Center want to share our love and appreciation for all of you!
Being a student is a lot of hard work, and we commend you all for being so stellar this entire semester! As finals come up, and we all turn our focus to exams, papers, and projects, it’s important to remember to take advantage of the upcoming break to connect with loved ones and recharge your energy. We’ve prepared a list of different self care activities to help you relax and refresh before coming back ready to slay the last few weeks of the semester 🙂
- Spend some quality time with loved ones
Whether you’re traveling to visit family or friends for the holiday or enjoying the break from classes and a quieter campus, this break is a great opportunity to connect and spend time with your loved ones. Take the time to call a friend, play a board game with your family, or enjoy each other’s company over dinner!
- Have some de-stress time just for yourself
It’s time to curl up with your preferred warm beverage and have some me time! Get cozy under a blanket, have some snacks, and work on your favorite de-stressing hobby. Maybe you like to crochet or solve puzzles. Maybe you’re like me and want to curl up with a good book! Maybe you’re keen on playing your favorite video game. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy it!
- Move your body
Before we spend the next few weeks glued to our desk chairs, use this freetime to have some fun moving your body! Take a walk through the crisp autumn air, play some frisbee with your family, or try out a yoga class online! (You’ll be able to find me absolutely crushing my brother in Just Dance, by the way.)
- Take care of the important stuff
Maybe you have an assignment you’ve been putting off, or you want to finally tackle cleaning out that one closet. Maybe you’re gonna take the time to get your holiday shopping done. Or, in the spirit of the holiday, let your loved ones know why you’re thankful for them 🙂
On that note, I’ll end this post by sharing what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for the amazing UMW community and all the friends I’ve made in my time here. I’m thankful for hot chocolate and good novels. And most of all, I’m thankful for everyone who has played a role in my life in the past year and everyone who will in the next.
Adjusting to Writing in College
Writing your first college paper can be tough, as the expectations are often sharply different from what you might be used to from high school. Assignments and requirements are often much more open-ended than the type given in high school, and the kinds of tasks professors assign are typically much more complex. So, here are some tips to make tackling your first college paper a little bit more manageable.
- Break it down.
Your first college paper can be overwhelming, especially if you’re being asked to write something longer than you’ve ever written before. To help combat this feeling, it’s important to break the assignment down into smaller chunks. Don’t expect to be able to sit down and complete the entire paper in one sitting. Plan out time to work on each stage of the writing process, including time to brainstorm, research, outline, draft, and revise. Try to set incremental deadlines for yourself to help avoid procrastination.
- Don’t skip the outline.
Many people think they can skip this step of the process because they think it’s just more work, but outlining actually makes your writing process exponentially easier. It’s also incredibly important for establishing clear organization for your paper.
- Let go of the 5 paragraph essay.
In high school, we’re often taught the five paragraph essay (intro, three body paragraphs, and conclusion) as the only template for writing. But in college, especially with longer papers, this template isn’t always feasible, and it can actually hold you back (and lead to some gigantic paragraphs). Try to aim for at least one main point per the required number of pages when you’re planning (but don’t feel like you have to follow this formula exactly). Following a strict template like the five paragraph model tends to lead to more simplified thinking, so don’t be afraid to step outside the box!
- Draft… and edit and revise.
Writing in high school is oftentimes a one and done process, especially when writing for high-stakes testing. But for quality writing, it’s important to leave time to go over your work and revise. Even the best writers make mistakes, but editing and revising help ensure you’re always turning in your best work. Try to take a break between finishing your paper and revising so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. First, look for big-picture issues, like making sure you have a clear thesis that’s supported by your body paragraphs. Then, do a final sweep to check for errors at the sentence level, like grammar and typos.
- Reach out for help.
If you’re still struggling, that’s okay–you’re not alone! No matter what stage of the process you’re at, the Speaking and Writing Center is here to help. Make an appointment, and a consultant can help you work through whatever you need.
To write an effective thesis statement, first determine what kind of paper you are writing. Is your paper evaluating, arguing, or explaining a topic? Is it analyzing, or doing something else? Your thesis may vary depending on the type of paper you are writing, but at the core, each thesis statement should have three components: a topic, the stance you are taking, and a connection or supporting detail that links the thesis to a broader idea-such as why this is important. The topic is what the paper is about, the stance is the point you are making in your paper, and the connection answers the question “Why does this matter?”
Tips for making a strong thesis statement:
- 1. Be specific-instead of a general statement, use concrete names for nouns-for example, in this case, instead of saying “This work has different themes” say what those themes are by name.
- 2. Generally, the thesis should be at the end of the first paragraph-you’re also not limited to a single sentence for your thesis statement. While the thesis is usually one sentence, for more complex works it’s okay to use multiple sentences and have it at the end of the introduction rather than the first paragraph.
- 3. As you write and learn more about your topic, you may need to go back and rework your thesis. This is a normal part of the writing process, and the thesis often needs adjusting. The original thesis you created wasn’t a life-long commitment.
- 4. If you’re not quite sure what your thesis should be, start by asking a question that can be researched. After learning more about the topic, you should find that the answer to the question is your thesis statement.
Revision and Editing
When revising a paper, one thing many people have trouble with is cutting down the content they’ve worked so hard to come up with. This is definitely understandable, especially if the assignment was difficult to complete or had a word/page limit you needed to hit. To overcome this trepidation, try thinking of your paper like a slasher film!
Generally, the plot of films like Friday the 13th are predictable: the weakest or most distracting characters die quickly. You need to think like Jason (or Pamela) and slash the Barrys and Claudettes first. Much like these characters, stumbling as they flee or rushing down the wrong corridor to a dead end, sentences within your paper can be trailing, frail, or distract readers from the main point. Any content that takes away from your argument needs to go. Remember, not every character (or sentence) needs to make it to the final act.
Some content isn’t necessarily weak, but detracts from the overall theme of your paper. Imagine these are your Steves and Bills: sentences that had a good chance of survival compared to others, but they’re better off cut from the cast of characters. Sentences like this might be strong on their own, but up against the rest of the paper they take away from the thrilling finale (conclusion). These sentences can also be compared to Sgt. Tierney of the local law enforcement; he has the firepower, manpower, and ability to take out the villain, but the movie isn’t a procedural cop show so he shouldn’t steal the spotlight. Similarly, all sentences should help guide towards rather than misdirect a reader from the main idea(s). If you’d like, you can even copy the sentences or paragraphs you’ve decided to slash onto a different document, much like a character being chased off into the woods. These would be your Alices: sentences that survive the purge and have a chance to show up in the following movie (or your next paper).
Next time you’re tackling editing and revision, have a little fun with it and put yourself in your favorite slasher villain’s shoes! Not a fan of Jason? How about embodying Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger instead!
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is observed every October by the U.S. Department of Labor. The Office of Disability Employment Policy, a subdivision of the Department of Labor that works to increase employment and economic success for people with disabilities through legislation, heads the celebration and assigns a central theme for the month-long awareness initiative. The theme this year is “Advancing Access and Equity.”
In keeping with the theme of “Advancing Access and Equity,” the UMW Speaking and Writing Center has been working to create a guide for students and faculty to aid in making accessible educational tools, specifically presentations and handouts. This post will give a sample of the 50-minute presentation that faculty or staff can request for their class or group.
Prioritizing accessibility is crucial in creating an inclusive learning environment. Some disabilities are invisible to the eye, and it is the responsibility of the presenter to construct a lesson that values various types of learners. Consider these general tips the next time you give a class presentation:
Aiding the Audience – Think about making a recording of your presentation so students have the opportunity to reference the content after you have formally concluded. Also, consider making a handout to give students during your presentation. This can act as an overview of key points and allow students to look at a physical copy closely.
Content Tips – Use inclusive language! Avoid using outdated or potentially offensive terms. There is a reason language shifts as culture progresses; be cognizant of the terms you are using and the impressions they may leave. Similarly, explain all acronyms, jargon, and other complex vocabulary.
Clear Delivery – Explain, explain, explain. Explicitly describe the information on the slides, including visual information. Check periodically with your audience to gauge understanding. Pausing and saying something like, “Is this making sense?” can engage the audience. Practice makes perfect with most things, but especially presentation delivery. When in doubt, make an appointment with the Speaking and Writing Center to solidify your skills.
Working to facilitate an inclusive and accessible academic setting benefits everyone. Sometimes, disabilities can be “invisible,” and it is not clear what accommodations a student may need. It is best practice to implement as many accessibility features as possible to help mitigate exclusion.
For many, the nightmare of public speaking is just that: a nightmare. It can seem like a horrific and vulnerable experience to place yourself and your work in front of others. However, just like in Scooby Doo, there are many ways to unmask the big, scary monster and make the fear more manageable. The fear may never go away, but it can be countered with preparedness!
Here are some tips for vanquishing speaking apprehension:
- Practice! This is the best way to become more familiar with the information you are presenting, and you will know what to expect in the presentation. This will help BOOst your confidence!
- Dress Up! Wear a “costume” that makes you feel more confident! Appearances are reality; if you look confident, then it will help you feel confident.
- Remember to breathe! Silence can seem spooky, but it is better to take a moment to breathe and collect your thoughts than to try and rush your way through the presentation.
- Use effective speaking notes (with professor permission)! This is a SCARY good tool for you to bring to your presentation. Make sure to use bullet points instead of full sentences so that you can quickly see the information that you need to continue with the presentation.
Lastly, I will present something scarier than public speaking: more puns! Here are some Halloween jokes to celebrate the spooky season:
- Why didn’t the skeleton go to Fall Formal? He didn’t have the GUTS to ask someone to go with him, so he had NO BODY to go with.
- Why don’t vampires target Taylor Swift? It’s because she’s got Bad Blood.
Keep in mind, much like a Scooby-Doo episode where they always manage to unmask the monster within just 30 minutes, your presentation stress is temporary!
Writing Apprehension and Writer’s Block
Writing academically can be a stressful experience for the most proficient writer. As November begins and the weather grows colder, one may want to sit down with a warm meal and fall asleep to the smell of baked goods. Thankfully, at the basic level, writing is much like baking. While you work on your papers, consider baking your favorite fall meal; you may find yourself recognizing the similarities! First, you must decide how you would like to organize your space; as a chef would line up their measuring cups, whisks, and baking equipment, take the time to create your ideal writing environment. Perhaps put on a pot of coffee and relaxing music to clear your head and prepare you for writing. Chefs work best when they are comfortable with their environment as well. A well-organized kitchen can be just as comfortable as one’s tranquil space for writing. Fostering a space where your mind can focus is critical to cooking up your best work.
There are different types of writing anxiety; you may experience little motivation to complete your writing assignment because of past criticism, as you would find yourself directionless in a kitchen if your first batch of cupcakes did not rise. You may lose your train of thought and similarly avoid writing because you fear judgment. Receiving a bad review of a meal on which you worked hard hurts. You may also be obsessed with going back and dwelling on every detail of your writing and miss the bigger picture. Adding more frosting and fondant may make a cake look appealing on the surface, but in doing so, you may miss adding a key ingredient.. Do not worry; these feelings are common!
Chopping up your paper into slices may make your workload more manageable. A good idea is to let your dough cool in the fridge before going back and putting it in the oven; spending time away from your paper can let your mind rest before you return to it. By breaking the assignment into a step-by-step process in a helpful outline, you can create your own recipe and feel more at ease.
There are several other “ingredients” you can utilize to prepare a delectable paper.
- Breathing exercises: for example, Box Breathing or four-square breathing in which you inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and exhale for four seconds can calm your nerves.
- Meditation: meditation is an excellent relaxation method; clear your head of your current anxieties by setting time aside daily for self reflection.
- Guided imagery: work on creating a comprehensive outline that visualizes the steps you need to take to formulate your paper. The Speaking and Writing Center offers services to help you do so!
A clear mind can do wonders for creating a paper or preparing a fine meal. Hopefully, these skills serve as tools that mitigate feelings of stress during the writing process and let out a pie of relief!
If all else fails, actually bake yourself something comforting. Here’s a good pumpkin muffin recipe that always cheers me up!
Tips to Overcoming Writer’s Block by Danielle Ross, 11/10/2023
One of my biggest goals in life is to write a novel. When I was younger I would have countless ideas, sit down to write, and somewhere along the way lose the motivation to finish. My desk, and now my computer hard drive, has accumulated piles of incomplete stories. For each one, I remember the excuse: I was too busy, didn’t know enough about the topic, read a book that already wrote what I wanted to. Since then, I’ve developed a list of solutions to the formidable writer’s block.
1. Write when you feel most inclined
Finding the time of day when you feel most productive is key to making progress with your writing. For me, I can easily write five pages within an hour in the morning, but if I sat down around 3 pm, it’d be like pulling teeth. Work and school dominate our time and it can be hard to set aside time that’s conducive to your schedule. Try your best, even if it’s a half hour before work or class in the morning, during a lunch break, or before you go to sleep at night.
2. Keep a daily journal
Journaling has been linked to lower levels of stress, improved memory and cognitive functioning. Writing in some capacity every single day can help you feel productive, as well as generate new ideas to use in your story. Plus, the repetitive practice of sitting down to write will strengthen the habit of consistently adding more to your story.
3. Write now, edit later
It can be tempting to read through what you’ve written for that day, but this will only sidetrack you and distract you from finishing your manuscript. Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect and most likely won’t be. You become a better writer once you’ve gotten past that first hump of just completing a draft.
If you’re stuck, do some research! Dive into your topic and make it fun. What better way to write about experiences than to live them? Sometimes research can point us in different directions or open new doors that we wouldn’t have walked through before.
5. Get moving
Exercise in general is good for the body and mind, but it can also provide a change in scenery. Staring at a screen or page for hours on end will, regardless of the progress you’re making, will only lead to fatigue and frustration. Successful authors, such as Dickens and Tolkien, attribute their greatest brainstorming sessions to their walks. Putting your body to work gives your mind a break and leaves you refreshed to come back and finish at a later time.
6. Establish a writing community
There are countless online writing communities and events, such as National Novel Writing Month, to partake in. National Novel Writing Month is an annual event which takes place during the month of November. Participants attempt to write a 50,000 word manuscript over the course of 30 days. While this feat may seem daunting, the main goal is simply to overcome procrastination, writer’s block, perfectionism, and self doubt to produce a completed rough draft of a novel. Aside from NNWM, there are many other writing communities, online and in-person, to join that meet year round. On our campus there are clubs such as Fine Print, which focuses on poetry, and the English Club, which concentrates more on Literature. There are plenty of opportunities to form your own writing group, or even come by the Speaking and Writing Center to bounce ideas around with a consultant.
7. Leave mid-sentence
Some authors suggest leaving a writing session in the middle of a sentence. This makes returning to your story less scary, since you left in the middle of a thought, and provides a jumping start for new ideas.
The most important thing to keep in mind during your writing process is that your worst critic is yourself. We all have inner critics, little voices inside our heads telling us we aren’t good enough or we need to be more. Don’t let that voice get louder than the one that’s telling you to write.