DukeWrites Interviews Tutor Zackary Vernon

How long have you worked as a writing tutor at Duke? This is my third year as a tutor at the Writing Studio. During that time, I’ve had nearly 500 appointments with writers from all fields and disciplines.

Describe your particular approach to tutoring. My approach to tutoring is improvisatory. The Writing Studio does not have a single formula that can be applied to each writer’s work.  Instead, we strive to tailor every appointment to best fit the needs of the individual writer and project. As a result, my appointments always start with the question: “What would you like us to work on today?”

 What do you think are the most useful resources at the Writing Studio? The Writing Studio has a very impressive collection of helpful links and handouts on our website. In particular, I’d like to highlight the reverse outline handout.  The idea behind revere outlining could not be simpler: You create an outline for a paper after, rather than before, you have completed a draft of the paper. This can help you assess the global organization of the paper and then rearrange the structure to cultivate the most effective form possible for the piece. For me, discovering this revision strategy was a complete revelation, and it has undoubtedly strengthened my writing ever since.

 What do you enjoy most about tutoring? I enjoy getting to see the interesting work that is being done in many fields across the university. As an English graduate student, I’m normally only exposed to a relatively small spectrum of work that is done primarily in the humanities. But at the Writing Studio, I’m exposed to the valuable scholarship that is currently being produced by writers from many different areas. It’s particularly rewarding to discover connections between these projects. There are many issues, such as environmentalism, that seemingly far-flung parts of the university are all working to address.

If you could offer writers only one tip, what would it be? Revise. It’s unrealistic and unproductive to expect perfection from a first draft. Writing is a difficult process that can and often does take a lot of time and energy.  That’s not to say that the process is always painful; it can be, but it can also be very rewarding.  The point, though, is that writing—like many things that are worth doing—requires tremendous and ongoing effort. One of my professors once said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.”

What do you do when you are not tutoring? This will probably sound like a lie, given the context. But when I’m not at the Writing Studio, I actually spend a lot of time writing…and I enjoy it.

Also, I like films, fiction, cooking, gardening, pouring salt on slugs, cheese, birds of prey, swimming, watching trains, getting lost in the woods, finding shark’s teeth, coffee, Irish accents, catching blue crabs, listening to crickets, making campfires, the color blue, the texture velvet, Seagrove pottery, Indian arrowheads, the sound of stepping on a pinecone, the word bougainvillea, and the phrase “Don’t overdo it, but don’t overunderdo it.”

Above all, though, I love just hanging out at home with my fiancée and our two Australian Shepherds.


Handout Highlight: Commas Got You Down?

Have you been told you have a comma problem? Do you insert commas where you think they are necessary, but you are not sure if you did it correctly? Do commas confuse you? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the Writing Studio has a handout just for you! The handout about commas provides readers with guidelines for proper comma usage, and it includes sample sentences of proper and improper comma use. Check it out!

Libraries and Research: Tools for Successful Academic Writing

I recently had a student make an appointment to discuss research strategies for a class paper. She had a general idea of what topic she was interested in but was not sure where to go from there. I offered to show her around the Duke University Library website. Duke has an impressive library system, which includes nine individual libraries; the Princeton Review ranked Duke in 2011 as having the second best college library.

Students can conduct research remotely through the library website. Duke’s primary library website (http://library.duke.edu/) provides access to a host of searchable databases that can help a researcher get started on just about any topic. The “How Do I” page provides links for conducting research. This category covers a wide range of topics, including beginning your research, getting help with the research, learning new research tools, and citing sources. In addition to databases, Duke has access to countless e-journals. The library is also connected to other Triangle libraries through the Triangle Research Libraries Network, which helps facilitate a quick Interlibrary Loan processing time for requests.

Perhaps the most valuable resource the library provides to researchers is the librarians. Duke has a live chat feature where students can ask general questions. For more detailed guidance, researchers can schedule a research consultation or make an appointment with subject librarians. Additionally, the library offers research guides according to discipline.

Researchers should not overlook Duke’s Special Collections Library where they can meet with reference librarians and conduct primary source documents.

The research possibilities at Duke are endless, as the student who recently visited me at the Writing Studio soon realized.


In honor of the National Day on Writing (check out details below!), please come visit the great new writing exhibit at Perkins! On display through November 18th, this exhibit highlights the stories of several recent Duke graduates (who majored in anything from English and history to economics, computer science, biology, and cultural anthropology) who have made writing central to their lives. Though a few of these individuals are now pursuing careers in journalism or education, many of them engage with writing in other ways, from journaling about their graduate school experiences to writing in the sciences to creating public policy. In addition to a short biography, the exhibit features a short interview with each graduate, which includes some great writing tips!

Come by and check it out today to celebrate and while you’re at it, take time to visit the Writing Studio’s table by the circulation desk in Perkins! (We’re also on East Campus near the Marketplace!)

You bring the ideas, we’ll supply the candy!

For more on the exhibit, see http://today.duke.edu/2012/10/writingworlds

National Day on Writing at the Duke Writing Studio!

Join the Writing Studio on Monday, October 22nd to celebrate the National Day on Writing! Find us on West campus at 112 Perkins or on East campus at the Marketplace. We’ll have activities and prizes, so if you have a sweet tooth, stop by!

The National Day on Writing is an annual event, affiliated to the National Council of Teachers of English. It serves as a reminder that we are all writers. No matter what you’re studying or what you plan to do with your life, writing will play some role. Perhaps you write in a journal every day, or you’ve become a master of the 140-character Tweet, or you e-mail your high school friends every couple of days. Or maybe, you write weekly lab reports, or are working on midterm and final papers, or have been writing short stories in your spare time. Either way, you are presented with several occasions to write on a daily basis. The National Day on Writing presents us with an opportunity to both acknowledge and celebrate this together.

This year, in honor of the National Day on Writing, the Writing Studio is asking you to share your stories with us. On Monday, October 22nd, we’ll be asking students how something they have written has made a difference in their life, or in someone else’s life. The tutors at the Writing Studio are all eager to hear your stories, and perhaps share some of our own with you as well. Come find us on East or West campus!

Literary Prize ALERT!

Not sure how many of you out there are interested in literary prizes, but this is one of my yearly favorites! Check out the shortlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, a literary award given out each year for the best novel written in English by a citizen of the British Commonwealth (including Ireland and Zimbabwe). Not only is this prize highly regarded in the (relatively insular) literary establishment, it is also extremely popular in the reading world at large, often bringing with it international fame and fortune for its winner. (Have you ever heard of Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, or Margaret Atwood? All of these amazing authors are past winners of the Booker Prize (in 1981, 1989, and 1998, and 2000, respectively). You’ve probably read a Booker winner without even knowing it.)

Check out this year’s shortlist of finalists, here: http://themanbookerprize.com/feature/examining-books-behind-2012-man-booker-prize-shortlist

Also, check out this neat link from The Guardian that shows each of the finalists’ cover art: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/gallery/2012/sep/11/man-booker-prize-2012-shortlist

To see a comprehensive list of past winners, check out this timeline. http://www.themanbookerprize.com/timeline (Definitely some great names (including Nobel Laureates) in there!)

Also, just as a final note, due to the skyrocketing popularity of the literary fields of contemporary anglophone literature, post-colonial literature, and world literature, Booker Prize-winning novels are increasingly being found on English class syllabi. If you like what you see in this year’s finalists, consider reading further down the list of past winners into the shortlisted and longlisted novels, and consider writing final papers on novels in these lists. If the current trends continue, these novels (and the literary criticism that accompanies them) will eventually pop up on your radar – either on bestseller lists, bookshop shelves, or in the classroom – so they are definitely great choices for final papers!

Happy reading and writing!

Quotes don’t speak for themselves!

Do you find yourself struggling to incorporate quotes into your papers? Consider taking a look at the Writing Studio’s handout on quotations, which provides information regarding the conventions and mechanics of quoting as well as some helpful stylistic tips.

One of the most frequent problems professors and writing tutors find in student papers is the unexplained or under-interpreted quote. Though it’s tempting to try and bolster your argument with a quote from one of your sources, a quote without context, interpretation, and analysis can be more harmful to your paper than helpful. And, it will almost surely confuse your readers, who might not find the quote’s meaning clear without explanation. Because the meaning of a quote may not be self-evident, it’s crucial to tell your reader why and/or how the quote you’ve included is important and necessary to your argument!

The Writing Studio handout’s section on introducing and interpreting quotes might be particularly helpful here. It explains how to effectively incorporate a quote into the body of your paragraph and provides examples of how to avoid the problem of the quote without explanation or context.