References for Writers

This tumblr blog is an excellent resource for everything writing related. With specific writing advice and a plethora of informational sites, they provide a list of links to resources such as writing websites and blogs, various dictionaries and thesauruses, grammar hacks, technical writing reads and much much more.

Under the Websites & Online References tab at the top, the blog lists a few of my favorite writing websites that I’ve linked to a few times here on the WRAC site such as Write to Done, CopyBlogger, TerribleMinds, and Daily Writing Tips. The blog also lists Grammarphobia, which I found an extremely helpful grammar resource that focuses on the particulars of the English language like when you should use “toward” or “towards” and what “beg the question” really means. This page also provides teen and young writer resources as well as links to helpful screen and scriptwriting resources.

The blog itself archives helpful bits of knowledge to aide in the writing process such as references for period clothing or what it would take to be a parent in a believable post-apocalyptic world or a lengthy list of alternate adjectives, adverbs, and verbs for ‘smile’. By collecting various infographics, advice, and research, this blog has become not only a valuable resource for writers but also a place for inspiration.

Test Your Vocabulary

A big vocabulary is like a full toolbox; you might not need every tool for every job, but every tool has a time and place. The way we pick up new vocabulary is a fascinating and complicated field, but measuring our vocabulary can be equally complicated. Researchers trying to learn more about this field have created The test has you go through and choose the words you can define and then estimates your vocabulary at the end. A typical score for a native English speaker is between 20,000-35,000 words. Keep in mind, there is most probably a sample bias at work here, since the people most likely to test their vocabulary are the same people who would value a large one. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting experiment. You might be surprised by how much you know.

Professional Writing Study Abroad: London & Paris

If you’re looking for the trip of a lifetime, this study abroad is for you. Professors Jeff Grabill and Liza Potts are heading two programs in London and Paris next summer and the study abroad sounds like a truly unforgettable trip.

Explore the streets of London and take a stroll through the museums of Paris. Work with professionals at esteemed companies and produce writing for the public. Express your condolences at the tunnel where Princess Diana died and visit the resting places of James Morrison and Oscar Wilde. Search for the infamous TARDIS from Doctor Who and take your turn at Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross. Attach your love lock to the bridge at Pont de l’Archevêché or check out the Sherlock Holmes museum. Delve into the heart and culture of London and Paris and discover yourself.

Sounds good, right? Now, the programs will overlap for two weeks in London, but don’t panic, students can go on either trip or both without complication.

urban // rhetoric // cosmopolitan // learning



London: Designing Communication Experiences is the program led by Grabill (with one course team-taught with Liza Potts). The program will be a total of 5 weeks starting June 9 and ending July 11 of summer 2014. The focus of this program centers around “designing communication experiences” and it ties in really well with Potts’ program of participation in terms of communication experiences. Students will be asked to think about Professional Writing as “the creation of experiences for people.” To create an experience requires creativity, design thinking, and rhetorical theory and can be applied to writing practices such as computer interfaces, document and book design, and storytelling. Students will be enrolled in WRA 308: Invention in Writing (3 credits) where they will think about creativity, experience, and design. The other course is WRA 330: Writing Research in Communities (3 credits, this is where Potts’ program overlaps), which involves learning how to research how writing works in public spaces.

“I worry students have an overly narrow understanding of what they can do with our degree,” Grabill said. Through this program, he hopes to expand the career possibilities for students and really challenge them academically and personally. The students are going to be doing a lot of identity work, asking the big questions like “Who am I?”, “What can I do?”, “What is my place in this world?”, and “How can this major and this university help me get to where I want to be in the future?” Grabill wants to use this study abroad to help students achieve and experience things that they can’t on MSU’s campus.

Grabill contacted several companies and organizations in London to provide students on this study abroad with various learning and internship opportunities. He mentioned Avanade, “a joint-venture of Accenture and Microsoft”, which provides business technology services, and Tobias & Tobias, a user experience company that design various multimedia software and applications for organizations. Among many other groups, he talked briefly about Guerilla Science, a group that performs pop-up science events all over London with the goal to educate and engage the general public in basic chemistry and physics. Students are encouraged to get involved, as these learning opportunities are an integral part of the study abroad experience as a whole.

Grabill also explained that not only is this study abroad the least expensive London-based Study Abroad offered next year, but it will provide a sneak preview of what faculty are imagining future courses will look like for Professional Writing.

digital // memory // participation // fans

Writing on the bridge above the tunnel where Princess Diana died in Paris

Writing on the bridge above the tunnel where Princess Diana died in Paris

Creativity and Innovation for Participatory Memory Across London and Paris is Potts’ program, a 4-week trip next summer starting in London on June 25 and ending in Paris on July 25. This program will focus primarily on Potts’ research in Participatory Memory: how do people participate in everyday memory making? How do they turn public spaces into memory making stations? How do we help the memories live on even after they’re torn down?

Students will delve into these questions by exploring physical memory spaces such as the previously mentioned tunnel where Princess Diana died, cemeteries where literary and musical icons are buried, and fan favorite spots for the Potterheads, Whovians, and Sherlockians. Since Potts has many strong contacts and connections to museums in London, there will also be evaluations of museum experiences such as how they incorporate participation and communication into a visit. By being in these places, students can discuss methods to save and digitize those moments and participate in memory capture.

Potts will be teaching WRA 330: Writing Research in Communities and Cultures (3 credits) at this point in the study abroad and it will address rhetorical and creativity theory as well as design thinking. The second course will be WRA 499: Participatory Memory Research, which will aim to digitally publicize the participation of memory.

Professional Writing majors possess a broad range of important skill sets that will help them thrive on this study abroad. In this regard, Potts’ said, “Our foundation in rhetoric as writers, we have an understanding of persuasion and audience and appropriateness and delivery. We have sort of this obsession with the context in which you write and create experiences, the content you create and the form that it takes.” This will be especially important on this study abroad with the combination of technology and public writing in the documentation of participatory memory.

It’s never too early to think about your plans for summer 2014!

The UN’s new International Asteroid Warning Group

If you’re like me, you’ve had intense daydreams about asteroids plummeting towards Earth and knocking it off its orbit sending our little blue planet into an inevitable spiral towards the sun and consequently, you’ll never be able to live out your life. Or maybe you haven’t. Perhaps, I watch too much Doctor Who.

Regardless, the Earth now has its own Doctor Who-like authority in the new International Asteroid Warning Group. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. In the wake of the Chelyabinsk meteor in Russia earlier this year, the United Nations took the advice from the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) to go ahead and create this group. In the event that there should be a killer asteroid heading towards Earth, the Warning Group will notify the UN’s Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space who will then launch a missile to knock the asteroid off its course.

Supposedly, the Earth has had a few close calls including an asteroid the size of the Golden Gate Bridge. (I’m convinced one of the members of the Warning Group is the Doctor and you can’t convince me otherwise.) Personally, I’m surprised a larger asteroid hasn’t hit us before. It could just be dumb luck, but I’m glad we have some people thinking about the important things because if we didn’t have this group, to use the words of ex-astronaut Ed Lu, that would be “stupidity”. Catch up on this important development at The Verge.

Source:, Andreus Agency

Source:, Andreus Agency

From The Verge: “What your Instagram uploads say about the city you live in”

Chances are you’ve taken an Instagram photo recently. Maybe it was this morning or last night or maybe you took one a few minutes ago. It was probably of your delicious lunch or the beautiful, generic sunset you witnessed or of you and your BFF all dolled up before going out. I won’t judge. We’ve all done it. But let’s stop and think – how many people do you think have taken a picture just like that? Say on the Fourth of July you snap a shot of some patriotic fireworks and upload it with a cool filter – oh wait, there’s already five more just like them on your feed!

Recently, research has shown that there’s a correlation between the type of photos uploaded on Instagram and the place you live. When we think about national holidays, this makes sense. For example, in Tel Aviv, researchers were able to determine cultural differences between users based on their pictures during three national holidays. However, this discovery can really be illustrated when it comes to unplanned events such as Hurricane Sandy. Looking at the photos taken during the hurricane, researchers could clearly distinguish the time before and after the power went out in New York. Separating pictures according to hue, brightness, and line orientation, they were able to create the image below.

So, before you take that next Instagram, ask yourself, has the world seen enough of that? Read more about Instagram cities on The Verge.

Source: The Verge

Source: The Verge

From The Atlantic: “Y U No Go Viral: The Emerging Science of Memes”

Memes and science. You never saw this one coming did you? There is, in fact, a science to trending memes. After becoming insanely sidetracked by meme websites such as Quickmeme and Cheezburger, I finally read The Atlantic’s article on the science of memes.

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 1.05.00 PM

“Relationship between the probability of retweeting a message and its similarity to the user’s interests, inferred from prior posting behavior.” (Weng et al.)

Scientists have found that memes act like genes where they ‘reproduce’ as they spread through a population and ‘mutate’ as they are interpreted differently by people. Research from Harvard University by Michele Coscia suggested that rather than memes that were shared a lot in a short period of time, memes that were shared on a consistent basis over a long period of time were more likely to reach the ‘success’ threshold.

Even more interesting, nowadays for a meme to rise to popularity another meme must “pass into obscurity”. These ‘more competitive’ memes were found to be more successful in the meme world overall. However, they also discovered that not only do certain memes rise in popularity “clusters”, but also “affinity groups rule the web”. This means that the more that meme lines up with someone’s interests, the more likely they are to share it. This is very obvious. But look they made graphs, it’s all professional and stuff.

Souce: Michele Coscia

Souce: Michele Coscia

While there is still no conclusive evidence to suggest why a certain thing will go viral, I believe it’s gotta have funny. That’s it. Mystery solved. If you want to read more about memes and where the heck the name ‘meme’ came from anyway, look no further than The Atlantic. Y U no click?! CLICK.

How to Be Prolific: Guidelines for Getting It Done by Joss Whedon

Did you know that the genius idea for the television show Firefly came from devouring a detailed account of the Battle of Gettysburg? (Don’t worry: you don’t have to read it to understand the show.) In between the many Marvel-ous productions he’s been working on, Joss Whedon decided to give the rest of us a few tips. If you host Shakespeare readings regularly and eat copious amount of chocolate – you’re already ahead of most people. To find out what Joss Whedon really said, check out the article on Fast Company.

Malea Powell Interviewed for MSU Today

Malea Powell was recently interviewed on MSU Today as part of their Faculty Conversations. Malea, who has worked at Michigan State for over ten years, spoke passionately about her work and the students she’s had the opportunity to teach.

As former Director of the Rhetoric and Writing graduate program, Malea is especially enthusiastic about higher education. “I like working with Ph.D. students because I like the idea that I’m producing my colleagues. Those will be the folks I’ll eventually be in my discipline with and that’s very exciting.”

Her specific interest in the discipline focuses on “American Indian material rhetorics and the degree to which these ‘everyday’ arts are related to written rhetorical traditions…I’m really interested in the connections between material makings—like basket weaving—and textual makings, like writing.”

To learn more about her research, her contributions to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and her work here at MSU, read the full MSU Today article here, and enjoy her interview below.