University of Minnesota
CLA Media Mill

CLA Media Mill

Sheryl Holt

In this interview, Sheryl addresses the anxieties students have about writing and recommends resources for using the library and learning more about plagiarism.

Sheryl Holt

Maija Brown
Zack Pierson

Johanna Mueller
Zack Pierson

Farha Ahmed
Daniel Balm
Linda Clemens
Debra Hartley
Huy Hoang
Kirsten Jamsen
Katie Levin
Mitch Ogden
Kim Strain

© 2010, Center for Writing
Please do not quote without permission.

One of the groups that I absolutely love working with are those that are really, really new here that have just, just arrived. And I teach a graduate writing workshop for many graduate students who have just arrived, and one of the things that I have found is that everybody is scared. With very, very few exceptions. It’s like, “What are you scared of?” “Writing!” “No, what are you scared of?” “Writing!” It’s like that is the huge fear, and I think part of that fear is not knowing what’s coming. Part of that fear is it’s fairly easy to have an accent in speaking; people accept that. And you have an accent in writing, and people suddenly freak out when they read your writing, and so there’s some reason for that fear. But I remember one of my Korean students who was particularly afraid. And part of it was she’d been told, “Your English isn’t good.” And so throughout the semester she was like, “What do I do? What do I do?” But with practice, and with knowledge, and with feedback, I was absolutely amazed at her progress. Now the bad news is in a semester class, or even in four years of being here, there are probably still going to be some writing accent errors. And there are some professors that just accept no errors, and there are professors that say, “Oh, okay, I get the meaning, the content, and if you need to publish then you get an editor. And that’s pretty standard for any non-native speaker. But getting over the fear, getting over the avoidance of writing, getting over some of that anxiety, really makes a difference because everyone can be a better writer.

I’m often asked advice: how can I be better prepared for university writing? And I actually have two pieces of advice. The first is: as soon as possible, learn how to do research in the library. Don’t just depend on the internet. The internet is rich, and there’s lots and lots of academic pieces of writing on the internet. But we have a great resource in the library, but it’s not necessarily something that you can easily use right away. Go to the library site and find “unravel”. “Unravel” is the program, the tutorial for learning how to walk through university library resources. It’s very, very good. You can also go over and talk to a librarian. They are very, very helpful. And just say, “I have this paper, I need to do research on such and such, tell me where to start.” And the librarian will help you walk through some of those resources.

The second piece of advice I have is about learning what does plagiarism mean in the United States. It’s a huge, huge issue for those students who haven’t been trained in the same tradition as the United States. And there’s lots of issues here. But, how do you use resources in your paper? How do you document them? How much can you use? How much can you quote versus paraphrase? Where do you put the citation? How many other sources can you use and still have kinda your own idea? There’s a lot of issues. But plagiarism is a big deal in the United States, and: if you use other people’s ideas, if you use other people’s words, if you use other people’s research, you have to document it. And if you don’t, you end up getting in a lot of trouble in the US. But more importantly, it’s just a standard of academic writing that is necessary to learn early and practice often. If you don’t know United States standards of documentation, find out. The writing center, the librarians, the professors, there’s a lot of people who want to help you with that.

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