The Forum Writing Workshop series serves as a crucial supplement to the Honors College Forum. It consists of a sequence of thematic and topical workshops aimed to foster writing and communication abilities that are key for success both in the Forum and at Rutgers more generally. While students work with their teaching fellows on developing their substantive knowledge and ideas, the Writing Workshops provide opportunities for students to develop the “soft skills” necessary for effectively presenting those ideas through writing, including how to productively articulate a driving problem or organize ideas and material into a coherent and logical structure.
Typical workshops include mini-lectures on key writing skills or norms, the use of previous Forum student work as models, and collaborative activities aimed at developing participants’ own work and abilities. Workshops are scheduled to link up with the assignment sequence in the Forum so that the topics of the sessions will correspond to major aspects or components of the current assignment underway in the Forum.
1. APA Style & Academic Integrity
Scholarly readers and institutions, including Rutgers and the Honors College, take academic integrity seriously. Academic integrity, though, can often seem like a nebulous and ominous notion that simultaneously inspires anxiety and uncertainty. This workshop aims to demystify the principles and practices associated with academic integrity. It will focus specifically on familiarizing students with the rules and norms associated with APA style. How can we use sources ethically and effectively in our own writing? When and how do we cite? What constitutes a violation of academic integrity and what doesn’t? In addition to addressing technical questions, this workshop will also cover best practices in the research and writing process that can help mitigate the risk of violating the principles of academic integrity.
2. Building Effective Context
Every assignment in the Forum requires you to give background on the subject you are discussing. This background helps contextualize your argument and orient any reader that might not be fully familiar with your topic. How do you provide background in a way that is at once clear, concise, and complete? What background is necessary, and what is superfluous? How can we make context engaging and efficient? This workshop will focus on how to effectively and elegantly provide background, including common approaches and strategies with examples drawn from previous Forum assignments.
3. Defining a Problem
Academic research begins with a problem and question. This step can sound simple enough, but it is both more important and more challenging than it seems at first glance. This workshop will focus on the process of moving effectively from an initial interest to a research topic to an effective question and problem. Special attention will be paid to strategies for narrowing focus, the common structure of problems, and successfully answering the “so what” question. These issues will be illuminated using examples drawn from previous Forum assignments.
4. Formulating a Thesis
Most of us have been taught since at least high school that every essay must have a central claim or thesis. This is true, but what actually goes into a thesis? What does an effective thesis look like? Using examples of theses from previous Forum students, this workshop will break down the qualities and features of strong theses. It will also help students identify common problems in thesis statements that should be avoided at all costs (including some that might have been taught in high school writing classes).
5. Effective Peer Reviews
In the memoir of his earlier years as a journalist, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” This is no less true in academic writing, where early drafts often allow us to explore ideas, discover our own take on a subject, and get feedback that challenges or refines our initial approach. Perhaps more than the first draft, though, revising can often be daunting: What feedback do you act on (especially if you get conflicting suggestions from different readers)? How do you create a plan of action to make this process manageable? This workshop will hit on three skills: (1) giving peer review feedback, (2) receiving and responding to peer feedback, and (3) planning out a revision. Participants should bring their drafts and peer review comments for a hands-on workshop activity.
6. Using Evidence & Analysis
Scholarly essays are persuasive documents: they try to convince the reader of the validity, soundness, and value of some idea. Convincing an audience, though, requires understanding how to effectively support a claim to make it compelling. Drawing on examples from previous Forum assignments, this workshop will provide an overview of how to make a good argument that will appeal to an academic audience. Special attention will be paid to the use of evidence and warrants in supporting claims and how to connect claims to premises through analysis. We will also consider ineffective strategies for supporting claims that should be avoided. Participants should bring their current drafts for a hands-on workshop activity.
7. Structuring and Organizing Essays
An essay requires organizing a set of ideas into a clear and coherent sequence. Structuring ideas in such a fashion is both necessary and daunting, especially as you move towards making increasingly more ambitious and complex arguments. What point should come first? Which information should go into a single paragraph? How can we tell if our organization is making sense? There is no set formula for structuring arguments in an academic essay, but there are strategies and principles that can help guide you as you shape and arrange your ideas. This workshop will expose students to these approaches as well as strategies that are less effective. Students should bring the current versions of their essays-in-progress to the workshop.
8. Introductions & Conclusions
The opening and closing of an essay frames its argument. They create expectations and then provide the lasting impression a reader will have for the text. Thus, they are moments of critical importance to the success of any piece of writing. This workshop will provide an overview of the critical components and useful strategies for creating effective introductions and conclusions. Students will leave with a clear sense of the moves that each should make, and they will receive hands-on experience with putting these moves into practice.
9. Counterarguments & Unintended Consequences
A key component of Assignment 3 involves confronting the possible unintended consequences of your innovation. Imagining and then engaging unintended consequences can be daunting. This workshop prepares students to accomplish this task by approaching it as a form of counterargument. To that end, this workshop outlines the different types of counterarguments and strategies for responding to them. Students will have the opportunity to brainstorm potential unintended consequences for their specific innovation and begin to prepare responses to those possibilities.
10. Comparative Analysis
The assignment for Essay 3 asks you to construct a comparative essay. But what does a thesis look like in a comparative essay? How do you structure this type of argument, especially given the other components required by the prompt? How do you compose and execute a comparative analysis and deploy your sources and evidence? This workshop provides a framework for approaching this specialized type of writing, with specific tips on crafting an effective thesis, structure, and analysis. Students should bring along their current draft for hands-on activities.
11. Editing in Action
This workshop focuses in on strategies for revision and editing. The effectiveness of your ideas (and thus the success of an essay) depends on clarity of expression. For that reason, this workshop will provide students with various strategies and approaches that can be used to revise three key levels of an essay: paragraph structure and organization, sentence construction, and word and phrasing usage. Students should bring along their current draft of Essay 3 for hands-on activities.
12. Sentence-Level Concerns and Proofreading
Clarity of expression is essential for effective communication and, in turn, successful arguments. This workshop focuses on style and sentence level issues. Students will become familiar with common usage issues so that they can identify them, understand why they are a problem, and take the steps necessary to correct them. We will also address general proofreading strategies and approaches. Students should bring along their final draft of Essay 3 for hands-on activities.
13. Logical Fallacies
Logical reasoning and presentation is vital to the success of an argumentative paper. This can be difficult, and it is easy to slip up and include defective reasoning such as a logical fallacy. This workshop will help students understand common logical fallacies, identify them in pieces of student writing, and gather tools to help avoid them in their own work.
14. Concision and Clarity
Have you ever gotten instructor feedback saying “wordy,” “filler,” “passive voice,” or “irrelevant”? These types of comments speak to the need for greater concision. Concision allows for clearer ideas and more effective arguments. This workshop will help students identify common causes and issues related to wordiness, and it will provide strategies for writing concisely.
15. Efficient Abstracts
What goes into an abstract? How long should it be? How much detail should it provide? Abstracts are often the first writing element a reader will encounter in an academic paper, so crafting an effective and efficient abstract is key to framing your work. This workshop will help students understand how to construct abstracts, including how they are different from typical introductions.