The Beautiful Writing Series, Fall 2016 Re-Cap

By: Sarah Begovac

Writing is an important skill to have in any profession or field of study. The Interdisciplinary Writing Program started the Beautiful Writing Series (BWS) as a way to show how writing is utilized in different careers. Various professionals in diverse fields of study come to discuss what writing is like outside of the university in a panel discussion, where students and faculty are free to ask any questions that pertain to writing.

On September 29th, we invited two prominent members of the Flagstaff community to come and talk about their writing experience. Claire Martini is the Citizen Volunteer Coordinator for the Grand Canyon Trust and talked about writing for the Uplift Program, which is a climate conference for young people, by young people. Molly Joyce is the sales manager of Flagstaff Bike Revolution and talked about writing advertisements and web content for social media.

Both of these women addressed what it is like to write to an audience that is wide and diverse, and how language choices change when writing to a larger audience. Unlike writing a paper for a professor and turning it in for a grade, they talked about how their writing represents their business/organization so they have to make sure that their writing accurately reflects their company’s values. It’s important to utilize language in a way that appeals to your intended audience, and that audience changes depending on what medium you are using. For example, when writing a post to Facebook, it is important to keep the writing brief, concise, and straight to the point. Conversely, they discussed how writing for a grant requires more professional and technically sound language.

Lastly, they offered some personal advice for students who may be struggling with what they want to do with their degree after they graduate. Both suggested that it is better to graduate with something, whatever that degree may be, even if you change your mind later on, so that the degree can serve as a window for various opportunities. Also, they both stressed that it is essential to know how to write in any field of study. People will take you more seriously, and you will be seen as more credible.

On October 20th, the Interdisciplinary Writing Program hosted the second installment of the Beautiful Writing Series (BWS) that was open to the Flagstaff community. For this installment, we invited two panelists to discuss changes in the journalism industry and environmental activism in an open panel discussion. Audience members were encouraged to ask the panelists questions about writing at any point during the discussion.

The first panelist, Michael Chizhov, talked about writing for environmental activism based on his experience working for the Grand Canyon Trust, an organization that is dedicated to protecting and preserving the Colorado Plateau. His position entails communicating all of the Trust’s work to the general public, which mainly includes the volunteer community. In the panel, he discussed how writing is the most efficient form of communication for his team because they want to reach a wide audience. In order to do so, he talked about how social media plays a huge role in communication. For example, many of his volunteers keep up to date on current events regarding environmental preservation by using Facebook and their website’s blog. Michael discussed how he posts on these social media sites on a regular schedule in order to optimize audience involvement.

The second panelist, Elizabeth Edwards, talked about how the industry of journalism has changed since the 2008 economic recession. Elizabeth has been a primary leader in Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and its many publications that are under the umbrella of MyNorth Media. Elizabeth began working as a staff writer, but is now a managing editor and manages other magazines such as Northern Home & Cottage, MyNorth Wedding, MyNorth Holidays, MyNorth Vacation Guides, and the website Elizabeth discussed how after the recession, the market changed and to keep pace she changed the format and style of her writing in her publications. She talked about condensing her articles and optimizing her material for web-based interactions with her readers. Which, of course, meant learning about search engine optimization and how to utilize social media as a form of advertisement and involvement. She stressed the importance of knowing your audience for any publication and staying up to date with current forms of communication mediums.  

The Beautiful Writing Series will continue to bring in guests for the Spring 2017 semester, and we encourage students and faculty to attend these panel discussions to gain new perspectives on what professional writing is like outside of a university.

In addition to the Beautiful Writing Series, the Interdisciplinary Writing Program also offers the Writing Commons as a resource for assisting students with their writing skills. Students are encouraged to make appointments with a Writing Assistant so that they can work on their writing with another student.

Closed for Winter Break

Hello! The University Writing Commons is closed for Winter Break. We’ll be back, ready and excited to provide you feedback beginning in the second week of classes, January 23rd at the Inclusion & Multicultural Services office, Health & Learning Center, and Cline Library. You can learn more about our Spring 2017 schedule by visiting the University Writing Commons official page.

The Literature Review: Guidance from the Cline Librarians

By: Claire Seel

cline-research-tips-pagePopular wisdom has it that the literature review is among the most dreaded steps of thesis and dissertation writers at universities nationwide. But it need not be, if we lean on the expert advice and expertise of our subject librarians. On Wednesday, October 12, 2016, Education Librarian Brittany Blanchard presented, in conjunction with the Graduate College, an overview of how to do a lit review.

Let me just drive home the point that you’ll want to go to your subject librarian. As Blanchard discussed, there are a number of strategies for finding and organizing information, many of which will be subject-specific. The subject librarians are experts at these strategies: Make use of their knowledge and your lit review will go much more smoothly and — dare I say it? — quickly.

So, to get started, let’s ask the question we’re all afraid to ask: Just what is a literature review? Well, Blanchard tells us, contrary to popular opinion it is neither a list nor an annotated bibliography. Rather, it is:

  • A comprehensive examination of extant research on a defined topic
  • A synthesis of that research
  • A critical review

A well-done lit review shows your audience a number of important things. First of all, it shows that you have a firm grasp on what your field is all about, and that you know enough to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Furthermore it places your research into the larger picture, demonstrating that your work is original and adds new knowledge to your field. And, it provides you with an intellectual, historical, and theoretical framework for your writing.

Choosing Topic Questions

Before wading through the databases, Blanchard recommends that you begin with a good brainstorming session. Your subject librarian will happily assist you with this step, as well. Sketch out what questions you want to answer or find answers to, and then break these questions down further. Keep going until you have a number of very narrow, easily managed sub-topics. Blanchard recommends doing this using a mind map or spider chart. The more focused your topic is, the better off you will be. To paraphrase her words, if you start your research and get 40,000 results, your topic is too broad. If you get four results, your topic is too narrow. If you get 400 results, that’s about right.

Prepare to Start Your Research

Look at your mind map or spider chart and ask yourself: If this information exists, where will I find it? What fields and what subtopics are most likely to be useful. Will the information be found in a book, journal, dissertation? Also, which questions are the most important or interesting? Further to the positive questions are the important negatives: What information should be excluded from the search? Would it be anything written before a certain date? Would it be particular theories?

As you ask yourself these questions, Blanchard recommends that you create keywords that you can use to search and to organize your results. She further recommends that you take a piecemeal approach. The lit review will not be completed in a weekend and there is no reason to try to do everything all at once.

Start Your Research

First things first: Find out if someone has already done the work for you. Check other dissertations and theses, including those written by your peers at NAU, annual reviews, and systematic reviews. Also look at the big names and the big studies, both good and bad. Find out who other people are citing and discussing. Here, Blanchard reminds you that your subject librarian is your best friend, and adds that your advisor or faculty mentor will have much to offer in helping you know where to search.

As You Proceed

Different information will be turned up in different searches. So check databases, use general web searches for grey papers, use google scholar, do citation searches, and anything else you can think of. Blanchard states that, “If you’re only going to one place, you’re probably not doing this right.” Be flexible and rely on the resources available to you and you will find the information you seek.

In fact, she says, remember to occasionally: Pause * Skim * Weed * Reevaluate. Do you need to narrow your topic or the parameters of your search? Are you finding answers to your brainstorming questions? Are one or more subtopics looking more promising than the others? Answering these questions as you go will help you stay organized as you move along the process.

Staying Organized

Perhaps the most daunting part of the literature review is the organization. Blanchard has valuable advice here, too. First, take notes and label as you go: You want to keep track of search strings, of keywords that payed off, when and where you visited. She recommends using a bibliography reference tool such as RefWorks, Zotero, or Mendely. She states and reiterates that you must “Save, save, save.”

  • We all get pressed for time, but Blanchard cautions that no matter what, don’t let an article go without taking a picture of the citation information, or writing down the full name and author, or something specific that will help you identify it later.
  • Also save search strings, and if you are a writer, note jotter, etc, take pictures of those. Bad things can happen to paper, so take pictures and back your pictures up to the Cloud.

The next key step to staying organized is to use a Synthesis Matrix, which you put together once you have summarized and evaluated your sources. Essentially, a Synthesis Matrix is a table arranged by themes or by case study. When inputting a source into the Synthesis Matrix, Blanchard recommends that you consider using specific quotes and page numbers; it can also be useful to add geographic information. This worksheet can help you get started.

The Synthesis Matrix can help you to identify gaps in your research and get started writing as it provides a visual comparison of who is talking about each of your topics, and what they are saying about it.

Writing It Up

Before you start writing, consider: What is the most logical way to organize your literature review? By topic? Chronologically? By Methodology? Look at your Synthesis Matrix and think about your readings. Are there major themes that appear? Are there major agreements or disagreements among your sources? Any serious controversies? These questions will all help you get started on the vital step of putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, and launching the written portion of the exercise.

More Resources and Tips:

Cline Library’s Graduate Students General Research page

Cline Library’s Guide to the Lit Review

Log onto NAU’s VPN because it tricks your computer into thinking you’re on campus

Documentary Delivery Services: Never pay for anything!

Click the RSS feed button and Search While You Sleep! Citation alerts can be set up to match your specific criteria:


Beautiful Writing Series: Enhancing Student Perceptions of the Value of Writing


Panelists Claire Martini and Molly Joyce at the Beautiful Writing Series, September 29, 2016.

Students often question the value of writing in “the real world.” To enhance student understanding that writing is a valuable skill in every field, the Interdisciplinary Writing Program (IWP) launched the Beautiful Writing Series (BWS) in the Fall 2015 semester.

Now in its third semester, the BWS brings professionals from a variety of disciplines to talk to students and faculty about the type of writing they do, who their audiences are, and considerations they must keep in  mind as they write.

To date, the BWS has hosted two creative writers and professional teachers, a doctor, a science editor, a sales manager, and a volunteer outreach coordinator. You can read more about each speaker’s contribution to the Beautiful Writing Series on the IWP’s Symposiums & Events page.

The IWP strongly encourages all teachers to attend – and to offer extra credit to students for attending – the panels. The final panel of 2016 will be October 20th from 3:30-4:30pm in the Health & Learning Center (HLC) Room 2403, and will feature a journalist and a representative of the Grand Canyon Trust.

Never Pay for Anything: Demystifying Cline’s Resources

By: Claire Seel

Cline’s homepage:

Did you know that Cline can save you time, money, and hassle? It can.

Here we are in grad school, doing research, relying on online databases and Cline Library’s Research Librarians to get us through. To ease our way through our studies, the librarians have teamed up with the Graduate College and launched a series of workshops aimed at grad students to ensure that we make full use of what they have on offer.

The first workshop for Fall 2016 was held on September 23rd in the multimedia room. Brittany Blanchard, Research Librarian for the educational fields, was the facilitator.

Which brings us to an important point: if you need in-person help, you’ll save time by going straight to your subject librarian. These experts have specific knowledge of the databases most likely to be useful to you in your search, and will have tips and tricks at their fingertips to streamline your research. The services of the subject librarians are available to all students at NAU, those on the Flagstaff Mountain Campus as well as extended campuses and online. 

The workshop kicked off with a review of the library’s physical resources, including study spaces, carrels and lockers, computers and technology, and hours

The handiest button in the world!

The website’s Ask Us! button is on every page, and gives you instant access to the library’s live chat, email, phone number, and FAQ page.

Another tip: Brittany recommends that grad students go to NAU’s website and connect our computers to the university’s VPN (virtual private network). This essentially tricks our computers into thinking we’re working on campus, which can make accessing articles less of a hassle.

The workshop moved from physical resources to database searching. This section was a surface overview of the multiple databases, journals, and library sharing resources available to us via the Cline. A grad student can search databases by title or subject, with subject being the recommended search because the subject librarians have gone through the databases and narrowed them down to the best bets, or, rather, those databases that they consider most likely to be useful.

If you would like to learn more, the librarians encourage you to go to the Research page and make an appointment. They will walk you through time-saving search techniques, ways to broaden searches and ways to save your searches and get the program to generate citations from articles you’ve saved.

One thing that was repeated throughout the workshop was to never pay for anything: Articles, books, software. Chances are excellent that whatever you need, Cline either has it or can get it. So always go through them first and save yourself money.

Finally, don’t forget that coming up on October 12th they’ll be digging deeper into their offerings with a workshop on how to get started with a Literature Review. These workshops are given in coordination with the Grad College. You can learn more about what they are offering on their Events Calendar, and you can RSVP for the literature review here:

Headstorms and Outlines

student in snow
A student enjoying the snow

By: Claire Seel

Northern Arizona University has a robust community of international students. Coming from countries as diverse as China, Kuwait, and Brazil, these students are here in Flagstaff for the same reason domestic students are here: to get a degree, to improve their post-educational job prospects, to impress their families, to grow as individuals. Kathy McKeiver, Coordinator for the Center for International Education, reminds us that international students are going through all the growing pains that domestic students are going through, but are also much further from home and adjusting to a new culture and a new language.

An important facet of that adjustment is absorbing the expectations of American academic writing. With this in mind, two University Writing Commons (UWC) Writing Assistants held a workshop for the CIE 100 class on September 8, 2016. Maria (Masha) Kostromitina and Dannae Patterson planned a lesson focused on outlining and brainstorming an essay while cultivating a sense of community with small group and large group discussion, leading students to reflect on their international experience and to better understand the application of outlining for a writing prompt.

In their write-up of the experience, Masha and Dannae noted that “Our experience was extremely positive. We did not anticipate their eagerness to learn about outlining. We also were very pleased with their participation in small group and large group discussion. “ Kathy agreed, saying that she was quite impressed with the level of student participation in the discussion, because in her experience, international students are hesitant to engage.

Kathy notes that international students face a number of challenges unique to language learners, with the most serious being that everything takes an international student longer to accomplish: note-taking, listening comprehension, reading, and writing. But especially reading. Kathy said that any instructor wishing to learn more can look into a faculty development series in which her colleagues are participating.

Kathy’s favorite teachable moment was when the Writing Assistants brought up the word “brainstorming” without thinking to explain what was meant by ‘brainstorming.’ She said that Dannae’s use of body language to demonstrate bringing ideas out of the head and into the room was quite useful for the students. One student wrote in the follow-up to Kathy that learning about ‘headstorming’ had been a highlight of the session.

How successful was the workshop? Would they do it again? Absolutely. Kathy is pleased that the students are aware of the resources of the UWC and were introduced to it in such a positive, interactive fashion, while Masha and Dannae say that, “We really enjoyed working with a population that we adore and hope to do this again soon.”

Bitzer and Writing Workshop Design

For all the writing any student has to do in school, it is remarkable that writing is still such a difficult task. At any age or level of education, writing is an ordeal, an exhausting endeavor at making yourself sound clever, or well read, or at least like you know what you’re talking about. It’s rough stuff but writing, like a bad breakup or an awful movie, is something for which it helps to have friends around. That’s why the University Writing Commons exists: to work through the hardest parts of writing. And that’s also why the Writing Workshop Team exists: to help in all the ways the Commons cannot and to be around when you’re trudging through another paper; we’re there to trudge with you.

If you were ever seized by the desire to read rhetorical theory, then Lloyd Bitzer’s “The Rhetorical Situation” is where you should begin; it’s a quick read and from it you may learn everything you need to be a persuasive writer and a persuasive person. Bitzer outlines the Rhetorical Situation itself as a situation with an exigence, an audience, and constraints. The exigence is your purpose in the situation, what you want to happen; the audience is the person or group that can help you accomplish your purpose; the constraints are what hold you back from meeting your goal. The rhetorical situation is is the foundation of the workshops we have been hosting for three years; here is our rhetorical situation.

Exigence: We want to help students write and we want to do that in a way the UWC cannot. Instead of going over one student’s writing assignment, we have opted out of working with assignments at all and teach writing skills instead. The UWC’s work is specific; it helps students immediately, it helps their grade one assignment at a time. With the workshops, our goal is to work on the big picture, to improve the skills students apply to all their writing assignments.

Pictured above: hard work, basically the same thing as writing.

Audience: Students! All of them because they all write. Something we hear from students a lot is that their area of study will not require writing after school. These are the students that benefit most from the impossibility of time travel because their future-selves would strike down their youthful bodies for not learning that emailing is as much a writing process as an essay, that lab reports are not magically completed by lab-fairies, that memos, flyers, Craigslist ads, personal blogs, sappy love notes are all writing, and writing takes work.

Constraints: Writing, as I’ve noted, is pretty hard work and who really wants to exhaust themselves with something they don’t think will be relevant outside of school. I put about as little effort as possible in my high school math classes because I knew I wouldn’t be taking integrals in the future past the final exam. That’s the attitude we’re working against, the feeling that writing is irrelevant. Our largest constraint is that students don’t want to work on their writing and that is a shame because they’re just delaying the inevitable or they’re promising themselves disappointment when a potential employer doesn’t hire them because they can’t write.

It has been our goal to work with students to help them improve their writing, to help them foster lasting writing skills that will help them after college. We have hosted workshops for three years and each year we get a little better at finding ways to work with student writing. The workshop team will continue to work with students, we’ll keep trying to convince people that writing is necessary outside a classroom, and we’ll be around for anyone who needs help writing for a while.

Justin Kanzler is mostly adequate. That’s how he explains the tagline for his personal blog He is a senior at Northern Arizona University. He lives with a cat.

How the Rhetorical Situation Applies To Literary Magazines


In The Rhetorical Situation, Lloyd Bitzer suggests that when analyzing a speech or essay, the reader must go further than just understanding the setting of the piece. Instead, it is imperative to recognize the full context, how the writer is responding to this context, and how this advances the creation of rhetoric. A rhetorical situation has three primary components, the exigence, the audience, and the constraints. For example, I am an English major and in my creative nonfiction class we are expected to submit at least one essay to a literary magazine. The essay I am going to submit is a brief composition that centers around my sister’s battle with anorexia. So the exigence, or issue at hand, is eating disorders and how they affected my family. The exigence effects why I chose to write the essay and why I think it is important for people to read. My audience is multifaceted, I need to impress my professor to get a good grade, I need to

The essay I am going to submit is a brief composition that centers around my sister’s battle with anorexia. So the exigence, or issue at hand, is eating disorders and how they affected my family. The exigence effects why I chose to write the essay and why I think it is important for people to read. My audience is multifaceted, I need to impress my professor to get a good grade, I need to Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 11.42.02 AMappeal to the literary magazine if I hope to be published, and my essay needs to draw in my peers because they are the type of people who would read the magazine. My teacher wants me to write a braided essay with many elements, my peers mostly just want to be entertained. I want to send my essay to magazines like Tin House and Prairie Margins because magazines like this actively seek out undergraduate unpublished authors, as well as frequently publish creative nonfiction. All of these elements have to be taken into account when editing my essay. Finally, constraints affect the variety and gravity of information I will provide to the audience.
Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 11.56.13 AMWhile the essay is personal, I want to also reach out and relate to others who are affected by eating disorders. However, I do not want to come off as preachy or generalize those suffering from disorders and these are examples of constraints. While working in the University Writing Commons I hear the writing assistants reinforce these concepts to students all the time, especially to undergrads like myself who are grappling with recognizing and implementing rhetorical devices for the first time. The goal writing assistants strive towards is to fix more than just surface formatting and grammatical issues. Instead, they delve into the framework of the paper, who it is written for, how it can appeal to them, and how effective students can make a short assignment.

Ashley House is a student at Northern Arizona University. This is her first semester as a Student Assistant at the University Writing Commons.