The messiness of writing – Meet Joe Franklin

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My name is Joe Franklin and I have been hired by Humanities to develop a new Writing Centre. In the United States, I studied Composition and Rhetoric and taught academic writing courses to students from all disciplines. As a graduate student, I also worked in a writing centre for the Farmer School of Business and directed an international exchange program on democracy through the State Department over the summers. Before my graduate studies, I taught English in private academies in Brazil and South Korea.

The Writing Centre is working closely in its pilot phase with three disciplines: Business, Philosophy, and Health Sciences. We offer group workshops to students from our pilot subjects where writers practice new strategies for composing their texts. Our workshops focus heavily on peer discussion and feedback for opinions and ideas. Knowledge is socially constructed, isn’t it? We also offer 1-to-1 tutorials in writing. During these 1-to-1 sessions, any student at any stage in their writing process can come for a discussion on what to do next. Students from faculties, all language backgrounds, and all levels can make appointments through our booking site.

Since commencing our services, we have been expanding into new areas, too. Working with Business, we consulted on a writing prize for their second year students. With a Placements office, I recently did an interview on application writing, you can see here. Electronics and Computer Science has also asked to have workshops for their students, which we are currently planning. The Academic Skills team at Hartley library have been supportive by hosting and contributing to our Dissertation Workshops. The Centre is contributing some to the update of the Academic Writing portions of the Academic Skills website, too. We even get an itch for a podcast or a blog post every now and again.

That’s what we do. Now for the how.

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Writing a text is inherently messy. Fragments of thoughts entwined with the words of other writers and lecturers seem to almost resist the task of a single coherent sentence. Often, writing is not a symphony; it is a hostage negotiation. It is not a dance; it is a wrestling match. It is a battle through the processes of planning, composing, organising, and refining language in order to communicate ideas for specific readers with a specific purpose. Writing is to turn all that chaos into clarity. That’s what the Writing Centre is here to help with.

Why is an understanding of specific readers and genres so important? Well, if you’re still reading, part of the reason you are might be that this is written rather informally. I am addressing you, the reader, with a specific pronoun. I am going a little meta by writing about writing about writing. This, it turns out, is not only intended to keep you reading. By writing like this, I am also paying attention to the conventions of the genre. You will read this on a blog. Blog posts are often less formal than most other form of writing. Could I write like this for a journal article? Sure! Would it get published? Probably not. Sad face. Does that make it better or worse than another kind of writing? Such questions gesture to the politics of writing: a complex matrix of audiences and purposes. Is there one way to write well? Hell no. Like life, there are choices, and some are clearer than others.

In order to work with a range of different writing tasks, then, a Writing Centre should attend to the writing process, not just knowing the rules for each different product. So, attending to the writing process is what we do. Often times, students aren’t necessarily in need of more expertise on a subject. They are in need of someone to facilitate their navigation of a learning process; someone to calm them down and offer them strategies; someone to make what is messy feel more manageable. We in the Writing Centre do have expertise in a number of areas specific to writing, and we are learning more and growing all the time. But, our role is not just to police the practices of proper writing technique. Our role is to support the development of effective practices by each student according to their needs. That role is something we take very seriously, because we want to honour the differences that students bring to this institution.

And each time we help you understand that the barriers you feel are not so big, we also get reminded that our own barriers can be overcome.

–Joe
J.B.Franklin@soton.ac.uk

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