You’re writing a paper. So what?

Last semester, when I was preparing to begin working on a research paper, one of my professors recommended that I look at a few chapters from a book called “The Craft of Research,” by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The sections he recommended focused mainly on choosing and developing a topic that would allow for  interesting and coherent argumentation, and had advice about generating ideas, questions, and thesis statements. Of the many helpful tips and ideas that the selection offered, the one that stood out the most to me was a point the text made about asking the question, “So what?”

To ask “So what?” of an idea is to question its greater significance within the context in which it is presented. Why have you presented your topic or research question the way you have? What can others gain from this presentation of your ideas? One way in which “The Craft of Research” encourages writers and researchers to approach the “So what?” question is to frame their thoughts generally in this fill-in-the-blank sentence:

“I am studying/working on _____ because I want to find out who/what/when/where/whether/why/how _____ in order to help my reader understand _____.”

Whatever you fill into the last blank space is the beginning of the answer to your “So what?” question.

The authors provide an example of this model in the text. One could say, “I am working on Lincoln’s beliefs about predestination and their influence on his reasoning, because I want to find out how his belief in destiny and God’s will influenced his understanding of the Civil War, in order to help my reader understand how his religious beliefs may have influenced his military decisions.” In this case, the influence of religion on Lincoln’s military decisions is answering the “So what?” of studying Lincoln’s religious beliefs.

While the chapter on the “So what?” question in “The Craft of Research” was geared toward generating a topic and thesis, the advice applies to all parts of developing a cohesive paper: So what about your thesis? So what about your evidence? So what about the details you include? Personally, I find the question most helpful when thinking about writing conclusions.

It is often easy to get to the end of a paper and find yourself unsure of what to say. Is it best to summarize your main arguments or repeat what you’ve already said, or should you attempt to add in something new? While either or both of these may seem like the best option, their execution is often poor or trite, and they risk adding an element of redundancy or irrelevance to your work. Instead of limiting yourself to these two options, why not ask, “So what?”

A conclusion that answers “So what?” tells the reader why the topic is important and why they should care about it. It answers questions like: Why did you choose to write about this topic? Why was the topic presented as it was? How can this topic and information be used in further research or applied in the real world? What has the reader gained from reading the information and evidence you have discussed? What should they do next in order to maximize the effect of what they just learned?

It can be helpful to think of writing your conclusion as the process of asking “So what?” of your entire paper and providing readers with the answer. Writing in this way makes your paper more than just words collected on a page (or many pages). It supports the argument of the paper by giving reason to the choice of evidence, counterarguments, and analysis, and allows it to become a complete and cohesive presentation that accomplishes a task for both you and the reader. So, what about that?

Mary DePascale ’16 has been a writing mentor for two semesters. 

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Come to “War Stories: Reading and Writing the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars”

When: Tuesday, April 22nd, 4:30 p.m.Where: PAC 001

Although the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars constitute two of the longest wars in American history, American literature from these wars is only now beginning to flourish. Novels such as Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds and Phil Klay’s Redeployment are slowly beginning to enter literary consciousness, but war literature from this dark period is still an underwritten and understudied genre. Next Tuesday, Wesleyan will host a panel which will hopefully mitigate that situation. Called “War Stories: Reading and Writing the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars,” the panel will feature three writers and commentators who have all written on some facet of the war experience. Lt. Col. Peter Molin is a professor of English at West Point who comments on the war experience on his blog, Acolytes of War. Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya is a novelist whose latest book, The Watch, Publisher’s Weekly compared to the works of Joseph Heller and Tim O’Brien. Finally, Roy Scranton is co-editor of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, which E.L. Doctorow praised as “searing stories from the war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the USA by warrior writers. Fire and Forget is about not forgetting. It is a necessary collection, necessary to write, necessary to read.” Please join us on Tuesday for what should be a stimulating and informative discussion.

This event is sponsored by the History Department with the support of the Dean of Division II and the co-sponsorship of the Departments of English, Government, and American Studies, the College of Social Studies, and the Writing Programs.

Sammy Rosh has been a writing tutor for two semesters. He currently tutors in Olin on Sunday nights.

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Monday: Student Documentary Nonfiction and Poetry Reading

archivesOn Monday, May 13th at 5 p.m., student writers in WRCT 267 will read from their archive-based creative writing projects. Over the course of the semester, each of these students (enrolled in Teagle Fellow Kate Thorpe’s “Creative Criticism and Inquiry: Writing Documentary Nonfiction and Poetry”) chose an archival collection from the holdings of Special Collections & Archives and wrote a creative piece inspired by the collection.  According to Director of Special Collections Suzy Taraba, “The results are wonderful examples of thinking outside the box of traditional archival research.  The collections chosen range from Civil War letters to the Hewlett Diversity Archive.  A selection of the archival materials will be on display at the reading.”

Come out to support student writer/scholars and hear about fascinating Wes-related history! For more information, please contact Kate Thorpe at kthorpe@wesleyan.edu.

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TONIGHT: Writing Prize Winners Read at Russell House

Chapter One

Come hear this year’s writing prize winners read their work at 8 p.m. tonight at the Russell House. It’s the last Writing Programs event of the year, and we’re excited to feature talented student writers Charlotte Hauser, Kyra Sutton, Mary Vallo, Scott Farmer, Natalie Fine, Nicholas Joseph, Kayla Stoler, Anna Swartz, Ryan Sheldon, Piers Gelly, Amy Block, and Elizabeth Sallee. Each writer will read a short selection, and the reading will be followed by a catered reception. Come out to support some of Wesleyan’s best writers!

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Writing Exercise of the Week: OneWord

fiction-writing-exercises-settingIf you’re gearing up for finals and need to get the creative juices flowing, try this simple exercise, brought to you by oneword.com.

Click go, and a word will appear at the top of the screen. You’ll have one minute to write anything about it: short or long, poem or exposition. “Don’t think. Just write.” You’ll be surprised at what you can come up with under the sixty-second deadline.

Check out the entries for yesterday’s selected word “enemies.” Take a stab at it today!

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John McWhorter: Texting and the False “Decline” of Language

A few days ago, my roommate and I butted heads over the consequences of loosening conventions in writing. I defended the grammatical principles beaten into me at a young age, while he championed a fluid notion of language that allows for greater experimentation. Soon, it became clear that we weren’t really talking about the same things.

Linguist and Columbia professor John McWhorter’s TED talk on the new frontier of communication illustrates the difference between writing and sending texts, which he sees as a kind of speech. Check out his presentation, called “Txtng is killing language. JK!!!” It made me think more critically about the sort of communication associated with our generation, and how texting – or being a good “texter” – requires a level of savoir faire not typically accorded it.

Do you agree with McWhorter that there are advantages to developing fluency in the language of texting? Can people younger than we are learn the difference between two formal levels of writing? Has society always been distrustful of the vulgar and vernacular? (Will our parents ever grasp the nuances of texting, or will they always sound so unhip?)

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Writing at Wesleyan on iTunes

If you’re still kicking yourself for missing Colum McCann this month — or Edwidge Danticat last year — then you’ll be happy to know about the Writing at Wesleyan podcast. On the iTunes U site, you can find scores of great lectures and readings from the Russell House Series and Distinguished Writers Series held at Wesleyan over the years. Didn’t see it? Hear it!

Click here for the iTunes Preview of the podcast. To see what other collections Wesleyan has to offer — such as the Wesleyan Storytelling Project — visit the campus iTunes U page.

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Writers at Wesleyan

Did you know: that Resident Writer Kit Reed has published over one hundred short stories? That George Saunders was a 2010 Visiting Writer? That Ann duCille has written numerous essays on the subject of “multicultural Barbie and the merchandising of difference?” That seven English Professors have received Guggenheim Fellowships, such as Henry Abelove (pictured) — and Elizabeth Willis was awarded one this past year?

Foundations and universities at home and abroad have bestowed high honors on the distinguished faculty at Wesleyan, past and present, who people the English Department. Check out the Department’s faculty achievements page. And be on the lookout for works by onetime and longtime Wesleyan faculty — you never know where you might find them!

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April 24: Poet Eileen Myles Speaks at Russell House

Eileen Myles will speak next Wednesday, April 24th, at 8 p.m. at Russell House, as the final guest speaker in this semester’s Russell House Lecture Series.

Since she came to New York in 1974 to be a poet, Eileen Myles has produced more than 20 collections or poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays, and libretti, including most recently: Snowflake/different streets; Inferno: (a Poet’s Novel), for which she won a Lambda award for lesbian fiction; and The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art, which was supported by a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Art Writers Grant. She has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America and a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in New York and is teaching poetry this semester at New York University.

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Reminder: Writing Tutor Pre-Application Due Friday

If you’re interested in being paid to help fellow students with their writing and develop yours in the process, don’t forget that the pre-application to work as a Writing Tutor is due this Friday, April 19th, at 5 p.m. The full application is due next Friday, April 26th, at 5 p.m.

Working as a writing tutor is impressive on a resume or a grad school application–if you’re planning to enter a field in which writing is important (that’s most fields, by the way!), having experience as a tutor will make you stand out. Tutoring is also really rewarding, and fun!

You can find more details about applying on our website, and if you have any questions please contact Ford Fellow Emma Mohney at writingworks@wesleyan.edu. We look forward to receiving your application!

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