Welcome to the Active Voice Blog!

Active VoiceWelcome to the Active Voice Blog, the official blog of the Wake Forest University Writing Center. You can find all the information you need about the Center around our main site, but this space is reserved for students, faculty, and staff to share perspectives on writing practices and processes. We hope you’ll find something here that speaks to you!

A Funny Way to Start Your Monday

enhanced-13911-1404836778-12Here’s a little funny article to start your Monday: 15 Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean.

I literally died laughing over these — see what I did there?

What to do When You Can’t Get an Appointment

So you have a paper that you really want to review with someone, but all of the Writing Center appointments are filled up. Now what?

– Get on the waitlist. WCOnline has a great waitlist feature that will actually text you when an appointment opens up. Click on the little clock button for that day and you’ll be able to sign up.










-Just walk in. While there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to see a tutor (or that you’ll have a full 50 minute session if you do), you can always stop by 426 and see if we have an opening (for example a student might not have shown up for his or her appointment or a session ended early).

– Definitely not getting an appointment? Ask your roommate to look over your paper. Sometimes a new set of eyes can help point out small errors. No roommate? Take a break from your paper, take a walk, get a snack, and then come back. Fresh eyes are helpful, too.

– Read your paper out loud. This is something our tutors often ask students to do because reading work out loud really works. It’s a great way to catch errors and to make sure the paper flows well.

– Stop by the ZSR reference desk. Student workers and librarians can help with citation and research questions.

– Have a question about a specific portion of your paper? Stop by your professor’s office hours and see if they can go through it with you.

Really, really want to meet with a Writing Center tutor before turning in your paper? Then the best thing to do is make those appointments well in advance. And a few appointments are best when working on larger assignments.

And in case you missed it, here’s a look back at the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

Wednesday’s Word of the Week












vicissitude, n.

“The fact of change or mutation taking place in a particular thing or within a certain sphere; the uncertain changing or mutability of something.”

He had the ability to change with the times and to share the vicissitudes of opinion.”

“vicissitude, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 2 September 2014.

Flexing your Mental Muscles


I recently saw this floating around on my Facebook newsfeed. As we’re almost a month into the new year, it’s important to think about how we approach our work and ways that we can work hard and be productive. And see the results we want!

What are other ways you can stay mentally strong? Eating well? Working out and relieving stress? How about seeking out academic resources and coming to the Writing Center?

“Make a pact with yourself today to not be defined by your past. Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your hard work isn’t what you get for it, but what you become for it. Shake things up today! Be You…Be Free…Share.” Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

The Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences

P-ActionSentences_A_1024x1024If you’ve been around the Writing Center lately, you’ve seen that we’ve spruced the place up a bit. A few plants here, a new lamp there. And a lot of great artwork!

One of the coolest pieces, and a favorite of Writing Center Director Ryan Shirey, is a print from Pop Chart Lab — A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Notable Lines of Cinematic Action. 

Does it get any cooler that the sentence diagrams of famous action movie lines? Dr. Shirey thinks not.

Think back to high school English class. Between reading The Great Gatsby and studying those SAT words, we all learned how to diagram sentences. But could you do it now?

A recent NPR story states that sentence diagramming has a long, controversial history in our education systems, and while it’s been a mainstay in education, the  art of diagramming sentences may be fading away.

The articles goes on to ask the question – does diagramming sentences still belong in the classroom? What do you think?


Friday Flashback


We made it to the end of another week!

Here’s a look back at the week on the blog:
– on Monday, we introduced you to Phoebe Zerwick’s series Fleeing Syria.
Tuesday we shared a great tip from the Nieman Storyboard about developing your skill as a storyteller
– We forgot to share a word on Wednesday, so here’s a look back at a great word from our archives
- Thursday Phoebe shared her experience traveling in the Middle East and how she found the narrative thread

Happy weekend and happy writing!


Researching for the Narrative Thread

Professor Phoebe Zerwick, a faculty member in the Writing Program, recently traveled to the Middle East. What came from her travels, Fleeing Syria, is a a powerful account of the stories she gathered and the people she met.


photo by Phoebe Zerwick

I spent the month of June traveling in Jordan and Istanbul with a group of other college professors who had signed up for an exchange program called “Borders, Identity, and Displacement: The Evolving Syrian Crisis.” There were 12 of us, from at least eight disciplines. And we all had different projects in mind, all involving writing in one way or another. Some of us were there looking for lecture material or content for a new course. The biologist in the group was interested in water shortage and its impact on regional conflicts. And I was there to report a series of newspaper stories on the refugee crisis.

We met with government officials, human rights activists, scholars and refugees, each time our questions a hodgepodge, defined by our different and sometimes competing writing projects. I often felt like the odd one out. Others were asking lofty questions about political theory, military maneuvering and urban planning and there I was, asking for the simplest details.

“How many children do you have,” I asked a man named Mayzeid, who had found refuge for his family in a village in northern Jordan. “And how old are they?” ”And what did the border look like, when you crossed?” “How much did you pay the man who smuggled you across?”

With every question, I could sense my colleagues’ growing impatience. They didn’t know that I was searching for human stories, for stories that would reveal something larger about the refugee crisis. They didn’t know that my writing project was different from theirs. What difference could the ages of Mayzeid’s children or the bus route he drove back home in Syria possibly make to the study of a civil war?

That night, after our visit with the refugee families in the village of Al Dafyaneh, David Campbell, the biologist in the group, and I got to talking. Campbell is also a writer, of nature and travel books, who understands storytelling. “I know what you were up to,” he said.  “You’re looking for the narrative thread.”

He was absolutely right. Lectures on politics require a knowledge of political theory. But stories require details. I learned that day that Mayzeid and 72 relatives crossed the border between Syria and Jordan walking through the night. His mother was 75. A Bedouin guided them across streams and fighters with the Free Syrian Army protected them from soldiers with the regime who controlled the border. See what I mean about the details? Without them there is no narrative, only broad strokes and generalities, and no real understanding of what it’s like to flee a civil war.