Tag Archives: digital writing

Writing With Sources

“The alert reader can discover, and take much pleasure in discovering remarkable verbal strategies, metaphoric patterns, repetitions and developments of sound, sense, and image throughout Emerson’s writing.”

—Joel Porte, “The Problem of Emerson”

Literary analysis involves summarizing, paraphrasing and quoting primary and secondary sources. In the coming weeks, as we read Emerson–and think and talk and write about his words–we will be working on the art of quotation. Here are some simple protocols to begin a larger conversation about writing conventions:

  • Quote only to provide evidence to demonstrate a claim or to develop the argument 
  • Introduce the quotation so that a reader understands your reason for quoting

The most succinct summary of Emerson’s philosophy of education appears in a journal entry dated September 13, 1831. “Education is the drawing out of the soul” (490).

Or, use signal phrases is an introductory clause to signal to the reader a shift from your point of view.

In a journal entry dated September 13, 1831, Emerson defined education as “the drawing out of the soul” (490).

  • Follow the quotation with a discussion of what you want the reader to take away from the quotation.

Calling explicit attention to the root of the Latin word Educare, to draw out or forth, Emerson once again locates learning in a continuum. “Because the soul is progressive,” Emerson begins his essay “Art,” “it never quite repeats itself, but in every act attempts the production of a new and fairer whole.”

  • When you introduce a quotation with a signal phrase, the quotation becomes part of your sentence. Make sure that the sentence is grammatically correct. If you are having difficulty, you can use brackets or ellipsis 
  • The choice of verb in a signal phrase will help you indicate to your reader information about the disposition of the source. Here is an example from an essay about Emerson’s writing by the literary critic Barbara Packer:

“In the late brilliant essay ‘Poetry and Imagination,’ published in Letters and Social Aims, he argues that all symbols were meant to hold only for a moment, and that it is the poet’s capacity to transfer significance endlessly from one symbol to another that makes [the poet] the emblem of human thought. ‘All thinking is analogizing, and it is the business of life to learn metonymy’” (732).

  • Continue to read as a writer. Pay attention to how critics use signal phrases. The models will provide you with examples of the conventions for citation in English studies.

Signal phrases need not all be the same. This injunction is a matter of structure and style. Rather than repeat “Emerson says. . .” or “Emerson writes. . .” use words that indicate what you take to the be the tone of the essay. (Emerson “insists,” or “suggest to the contrary,” or “notes that.” Consider “argues,” “adds,” “contends,” “points out,” “admits,” “comments,” “insists.”) Or, consider the use of a transitional phrase:

“In an apparent contradiction, Carlyle goes on to argue that. . . .”

  • Embed a quotation as a complete sentence in your essay. Or begin a sentence with Emerson’s prose and then add the signal at the end:

Emerson even goes so far as to say that the poetry we once admired “has long since come to be a sound of tin pans” (317).

Emerson is firm about the need to reinvigorate poetic form. “What we once admired as poetry has long since come to be a sound of tin pans” (317).

“What we once admired as poetry has long since come to be a sound of tin pans,” Emerson submits, for “many of our later books we have outgrown” (317).

  • Enclose short quotations (fewer than four lines) in quotation marks. An embedded quotation (that is, a quotation embedded into a sentence of your own) must fit grammatically into the sentence of which it is a part.

A simple formulation of this argument in favor of comparative thinking is provided by Arthur Kleinman, a psychiatrist and medical anthropologist at Harvard University. Kleinman’s “Eight Questions” do more than merely guide the medical practitioner toward the step of gathering information about cultural background. The questions prompt a reevaluation of one’s own cultural perspective as one that is not universal. As Kleinman explains, “If you can’t see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else’s culture?” (Qtd. In Fadiman 261). This position requires a radical reorientation from simply considering “the other” as outside the norm to understanding one’s own normative cultural conventions.

  • Set off long quotations (more than four lines) in wha tis called a “block quotation.” To set off a long quotation, begin a new line, indent ten spaces from the left margin, and double space throughout. Do not use quotation marks. Block quotations need adequate introduction and are most often immediately preceded by a full sentence ending in a colon. Too often the reader will get lost as you transition from your own writing into a long quotation. It’s better to use a short introductory tag (as described above) and then follow the quotation with your discussion.

Whitman Ah Sing’s resistance to a “hyphenated identity” is further illustrated near the opening of the final chapter in the novel, One-Man Show”:

There is no East here. West is meeting West. This was all West. All you saw was West. This is The Journey In the West. I am so fucking offended. Why aren’t you offended? Let me help you get offended. Always be careful to take offense. These sinophiles dig us so much, they’re drooling over us. That kind of favorableness I can do without. They think they know us—the wide range of us from sweet to sour—because they eat in Chinese restaurants. . . .  I’ve read my Aristotle and Agee, I’ve been to college; they have ways to criticize the theater besides for sweet and sourness. They could do laundry reviews, clean or dirty. Come on. What’s so ‘exotic’? (308)

Here Whitman is offended by the “sinophiles” who consider themselves knowledgeable about the experiences of the “Chinese.” Of course as the language of this passage suggests, Whitman is performing—he is on stage, speaking to the audience, waving the reviews in his hand. His veiled reference to Wu’s The Journey to the West reminds his audience, as he puts it elsewhere, that “we allthesame Americans” (282). His rambling monologue therefore has a very particular rhetorical end” to challenge his audience to see how easily they construct a binary opposition that forces him (“I’m common ordinary”) to be either American or Chinese.

  • Check your quotation for accuracy at least twice. If you intend to add or substitute a word in the quotation, enclose the words in square brackets. Indicate omissions of material with ellipses (three periods, with a space between each). If you omit words at the end of sentence, indicate the omission with three periods (an ellipses) and end punctuation (a period) 
  • MLA Persnickities: Commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Semicolons and colons go outside quotation marks. Question marks, exclamation points and dashes go inside if they are part of the quotation, outside if they are your additions.

Living the Liberal Arts

Only a few years ago, Caitlyn McCain was setting up a blog in English 215 and writing her personal essay on her experiences with writing in school. Today she is blogging alongside Jeffrey Sachs, Ralph Nader, and Patricia McGuire at the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post is read by millions of readers, and the Huff Post College pages are frequented by tens of thousands of people.

Last week, our very own Teaching Assistant Caitlyn posted her first essay on HuffPost College.called “The Advantage of a Liberal Arts Living Space” describes the heady life of a student on a campus that values the liberal arts. The essay is a semi-promotional piece written for the Keene State College community in her internship at the KSC Marketing and Communications Office.

As a professor at a public liberal arts college, I appreciated Caitlyn’s glimpse into the experience of “living the liberal arts” at a school that values more than preparation for the specialized tasks of a professional life. I recently read an essay by Cecelia Gaposchkin in the November/December issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in which she calls for all of us to share the meaning and value of the liberal arts in an age when specialization appears to be the coin of the college realm. In “Train the Brain,” Gaposchkin argues that the liberal arts are a “means to stoke curiosity, promote critical thinking, and, simply put, make you smarter” (26). A liberal arts education, she goes on to say, “teaches you to distinguish between fact and opinion and to use facts to pursued informed agendas. These skills are sharpened first in the context of an area of major study, but the point is that they are basic transferable skills, to be used in any—or many—contexts. This is why,” she adds, “when employers hire students from liberal arts colleges, they care less about the student’s major than about the student’s ability to talk about his or her major.”

This line of thinking makes a lot of sense the more you spend time with students whose lives after College unfold in unpredictable ways. It also should make sense to students who, as Caitlyn points out, are experiencing “how beneficial a liberal arts living space is to you—not only as a student, but also as a person.”

Blogging: Making the Most of It

I’m not sure if any of you caught the moment on the first day of class when I asked you to give your blog a subtitle, or tagline. What happened was that all of you paused. What I realized was that I had set for you a very simple problem that is at the center of your work as a writer: finding the right words and placing them in the right order. The words “finding” and “placing” of course stand for an extraordinarily complex process that required you not only to think about language, but about form and context and audience and medium.

The taglines you have formulated for your blogs are really good. That is, your blogs are already showing attention to how you might represent your reading, thinking and writing in this course. I encourage you to continue thinking about your blog as more than simply a functional tool (an archive). I am interested in you using the blog to better represent your intellectual work and to help you develop as a writer.

Below is a post by a friend of mine who teaches at Washington College in Maryland, Sean Meehan. Making Use of the Medium: Ways of Doing Digital Writing and Reading says much of what I want to say about your writing on a blog. Professor Meehan and I are both interested in using blogs to develop the reading and thinking and writing  of our students. Here is what he says:

I mentioned in the first class that we would be focusing in the course on ways that we could develop and strengthen our writing by being more aware and making better use of the medium and multiple media of writing. The blog postings you are doing in response to reading and discussion (and on your way to the larger writing projects) are a good example. So here are some tips, offered in response to your initial posts, for ways to develop a stronger response and to experiment with future postings.

  • Provide a  focus for your response–both in terms of summary (what the reading says) and analysis (what you say, your critical thinking in response to the reading). Some simple ways to develop focus:
  • title: at the end, or while writing the blog (I suggest you save or publish the blog before finishing, and then update it once or twice while writing), use this to ask yourself: what am I getting at.
  • at the very least, don’t title it “blog #1″; start experimenting with some creative thinking–you will need a good title for your essays.
  • summary (what you hear the reading say): think 2-4 sentences, an initial paragraph that summarizes in a way that will allow you to later dig in to a key point and elaborate further.
  • elaboration (what you notice; what you want to say about the reading): dig in by providing a  quotation; use the quotation tool (in toolbar) to highlight this.
  • basic paragraphing: though the posting need not be fully edited or as formally organized as an essay, consider some basic paragraph breaks to move from summary to analysis, to distinguish different main points; this will also allow you to do some practice with transitions.
  • tags: after finishing the draft, the tag function invites some reflection on what the focus has been, what some key ideas and keywords are; tags can also be effective later when working on an essay and looking for material–to remember or be surprised by some associations (two different posts that turn out to be related by a tag); tags can sometimes lead to interesting associations to other blogs. Some of the WordPress formats will actually suggest automatically other blogs out there that might relate to your post.
  • Advance your focus by making a link
    • the basic links we will use (and mainly use in writing) are quotations and citations.
    • consider digital quotation: a link to a site that offers definition or explanation or example for your focus.
      • use the link function in the toolbar
    • consider linking/inserting an image or other media, if relevant and effective for your focus
    • think of this as a digital means of forwarding and countering (two key elements of academic writing we focus on in the course)
  • Look ahead: to discussion in class, to the next section of the reading, to your next posting.
  • one way to conclude effectively (wrap up, but not entirely–since a blog by definition is not a finished product, should have more to say): ask a question.

We will go over these suggestions in class, as I am interested in what you think about them. If these suggestions are interesting to you, and you want to respond, go ahead and post a comment on this page below.

Getting Started

All of the writing you complete in the course will be on a blog (an abbreviation of the phrase “web log”). We will be setting up your blogs on the first day of class. Your blog is a working space for your reading, thinking and writing process. It is also a product, a portfolio that I will use to assess your learning in the course

Setting Up Your Blog
Go to WordPress.com. You will be prompted to choose an address, user name and password. For the address, you may use the following convention (first initial + last name + english or if you would like you may use a pseudonym (pen name, nom de plume, or alias). Once you have registered the blog, you will set up your blog using the  Get Started page. The default “theme” for your blog is Twenty Ten. We will talk about configuring and personalizing your blog during the first week of class

You will use a consistent page format for the blogs. Click Dashboard. Click Pages. Add the following pages:

  • About (For a brief bio). You are welcome to use your name or to not use your name
  • Book List (List the books you read in high school and that you have read in college that are worth knowing. Include the author and title and date of publication: Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952).) Organize the list chronologically by date of publication. If you would like, you may divide the list into genres of writing
  • Commonplace Book (This is the page where you will gather quotations from your reading.)
  • Reading (This page will be a space for shorter writing tasks and pre-class writing exercises focused on careful and close and resourceful reading.)
  • Thinking (At the end of every week of class you will be reflecting on your work and your learning: thinking through a complex concept, a theoretical idea or a practical problem; or, making connections to other class material, other classes or to other relevant literary and cultural contexts).

We will go over the difference between pages (as opposed to posts) and widgets (such as a tag cloud or a list of links that you can use to customize your page and make it easier for a reader to navigate). If you would like to add images to your site or to postings, you will learn how simple this really is. I will show you the Word Press tutorials as well. The eleventh tutorial, titled “Insider Tips,” is helpful. The “kitchen sink” icon in the post/page editor, to take one example, reveals formatting options, enabling you to create headings and indent text, or to use the “paste from word” button that will carry over formatting from a word document.

Once you have created the blog, send an e-mail with the blog URL to me at mlong@keene.edu. I will post a link on the course blog so that everyone has access to your writing. If you are having any problems working with  your blog, or would like to talk with me about your blog, please make an appointment with me.

Managing your Blog All of the writing you complete in this course will be posted to your blog. You are required to complete all of the writing tasks that I post on the course blog to receive a passing grade in the course. You must do all of the writing on time. I read every word you write to prepare for class and your writing will be the subject of our class sessions.

Here are some suggestions as you make choices about organizing content:

  • use categories and tags to organize your posts. These features will allow a reader to follow threads in your thinking and writing more readily across different posts. Most WP themes list the categories and tags in a sidebar or in a tag cloud;
  • build a list of relevant links. The “Blogroll” on your site might list sites with materials useful for students of language and literature. The goal is to establish a set of links for readers seeking pathways into the world of English studies.

During the first week of class we will look over the WP dashboard and the various features of the WP platform. However the best way to learn how to use WP is to experiment. As you will see, changing the look and organizational structure of your blog is simple.

Why a Blog?

E-mail, web pages, wikis, blogs, Facebook, social networks, twitter—much of the writing we are doing now takes place using digital media. And while all of us are still working out the conceptual implications of these new technologies, the advent of digital writing has created pedagogical opportunities to think about (and with) the digital tools that we use to represent and understand ourselves, and the world.

Blogging offers significant opportunities for student writers:

  • Designing and managing a blog offers experience using one of the digital technologies we use as readers and writers. Digital writing requires all of the knowledge and skill writers use in other formats in addition to the new ways digital writing blends modes of representation (visual and verbal) and creates opportunities for fresh conceptual and material connections;
  • A blog can help shift the motivation for writing from the assignment to the writer. For it may be that one of the obstacles to growth as a writer is the writing assignment: that is, more often than not, writing assignments motivate writing for a purpose other than one’s own. Your blog posts will therefore be focused on questions and problems rather than assignments, on the thoughtful (and creative) exploration of ideas as opposed to more mechanistic forms of response to the readings;
  • The relatively short form of the blog entry encourages concise and purposive writing. Managing to say exactly what you need to say in fewer words will challenge you as a writer;
  • The likelihood that the blog will actually be read will help you become more rhetorically aware—of the conceptual, linguistic, social, emotional and ethical concerns a writer must address to be effective with any audience;
  • Writing in a digital format (a web log, or blog) enacts (and represents) the complex process of thinking and writing that takes place in a college-level course; and we will use your writing experiences, and the archive of writing that we create, to reflect on your learning process, and the role of writing in that process;
  • Finally, from a standpoint of sustainability, a blog allows for drafting and composing and sharing your thinking without using reams of paper. While the resources to sustain the electronic networks consume vast amounts of energy, we will at least be using and recycling less paper.