Welcome to the Active Voice Blog!

Active Voice BlogWelcome 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!

Breaking the camel’s back, or: That was the final straw(man)

Today’s post comes from T. H. M. Gellar-Goad, Assistant Professor of Classical Languages.

When you started this school year, you were pelted (I’m sure the administration would prefer I say “welcomed”) with messages about wellbeing, diversity, and the Wake Forest Way.  Incoming first-years at the University of Chicago got, as you might have heard, a rather different message[1] from their Dean of Students.  He mansplained (I’m sure he would prefer I say “wrote”):

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

This caused controversy[2] across American academia and provoked thoughtful responses from faculty[3] and alums[4] of U. Chicago, among others.  It’s an important debate to have, one that pre-dates the Dean’s letter and extends past U. Chicago and the United States.  President Obama has spoken with commendable nuance[5] on the topic.

But one of the problems with that letter “welcoming” new students to Chicago, and the name of that problem is a straw-man argument.  Rather than engage with what “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” actually are — the first is an important tool initially conceived on feminist Internet message boards in the 1990s to allow survivors to skip reading particularly vivid descriptions of trauma, and the second are places where members of marginalized groups can just be themselves instead of the token representatives of their group — the Dean created a false version of them, one that would be easy for him to dismiss in the virtuous defense of intellectual rigor.

It’s easy to win an argument when you can turn your opposition’s position into a two-dimensional caricature of itself.  Why respond in detail to critics of your compliance with campaign finance laws when you can just say they’re trying to force you to give up your children’s beloved dog Checkers[6], a gift from a campaign donor?  Why analyze and interrogate an interlocutor’s political views when you can just compare them to Hitler[7]?

Well, here’s why: because the straw man will break the camel’s back of your writing!  Not only do you need to write to think[8] and ensure that your writing keeps things in context[9], but also you must strive to keep your argumentative playing field level.  Report your opponents’ views fairly and completely, and use reasoning and evidence to prove them wrong.  In writing just as in the Land of Oz, a man made out of straw is simply brainless.

[1] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/25/u-chicago-warns-incoming-students-not-expect-safe-spaces-or-trigger-warnings

[2] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/29/u-chicago-letter-new-students-safe-spaces-sets-intense-debate

[3] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/09/14/u-chicago-professors-issue-letter-safe-spaces-and-trigger-warnings

[4] http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/the-university-of-chicago-letter/498110/

[5] http://www.npr.org/2015/12/21/460282127/obama-warns-campus-protesters-against-urge-to-shut-up-opposition

[6] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/eisenhower-checkers/

[7] http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/godwins-law

[8] http://college.wfu.edu/writingcenter/tips-and-tricks/tuesdays-tip-writing-to-read-2

[9] http://college.wfu.edu/writingcenter/uncategorized/who-will-watch-the-watchers

Need Citation Help?


Many of our Writing Center clients come in with questions on how to properly cite their sources. We love talking with you about these issues, but there are also lots of other great resources right here in ZSR.

ZSR Citation Workshops

Zotero: Students often use web-based tools like EasyBib or Citation Machine to generate citations. Now, Zotero provides both students and faculty with an easy-to-use tool for managing sources and creating citations in a wide variety of citation styles! We have Zotero workshops on weekdays and weekends in order to meet the needs of both students and faculty interested in learning to use this program to organize research and streamline the citation process. Click here for a list of Zotero workshops.

The RIGHT Way to CITE: Do you need help need help with parenthetical citations or footnotes? This one-hour workshop will take students through the basics of both MLA and APA citation formats. We will cover in-text citation and Bibliography/Works Cited formats. Source management strategies will also be covered. Designed for students at any stage of research to help make those citations easy peasy! Click here for a list of workshops.


Need to know about the new MLA updates? ZSR has you covered there too!

Online Resources

The ZSR website has lots of different guides and resources to help you with APA, MLA, and others!

Need more help?

Did you know you can chat with a librarian, email them, text them, or even set up a personal research session? Well you can!

Welcome Back!


Welcome back Deacons! We are now open (with limited hours) and we can’t wait to see you! We will open with our full staff on Sunday Sept. 11.

Feel free to visit our schedule to make an appointment.

Words Awake 2!


Get ready! Words Awake is back!

Wake Forest reprises WordsAwake!, the alumni/ae-faculty-staff celebration of Wake Forest writing past, present, and future,April 8-9 on the Reynolda Campus.  There will be presentations on the history of writers in NC (including at Wake Forest); panels on literacy issues both local and national; the challenges in writing about “ISMs” (racism, sexism, homophobia, more); and how to think about and prepare for an MFA graduate program in writing.  Recent NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti will read, as will student winners of the Wake Up to Poetry competition.  Also presenting will be the student participants in the 2016 ZSR Writers Camp.  A Hall of Fame banquet and Poetry/Spoken Word Slam! are also included.  All events free and open to the public.  Come meet and engage professional writers from around the world who are here to give back to their alma mater.  (Over 25 of these authors will be out in WSFC schools on April 8 offering readings, workshops, and inspiration.)  Friday night at Byrum Hall; all day Saturday in the Benson Center.

For more information visit http://wordsawake.events.wfu.edu/ or call Tom Phillips, x 5180.

Lovers of the written word unite!

Wednesday’s Word of the Week











aa, n.

“A kind of volcanic lava with a rough, jagged surface covered with loose clinkers.”

As we toured the Hawaiian volcanoes on our spring break trip, we  saw plenty of aa lava from previous volcanic eruptions.”

“aa, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 16 March 2016.

Wednesday’s Word of the Week

document-152679_640avuncular, adj.

“Of, belonging to, or resembling, an uncle.”

“I spent all weekend watching Fuller House, and it was great to see Danny, Uncle Jesse, and avuncular Joey back together.”

“avuncular, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 2 March 2016.

Tuesday’s Tip: In Case You Were Wondering…

Here are the five most frustrating writing mistakes (according to Grammarly) and, more importantly how you can avoid them! Read the full article to learn more.


Literary Landmarks

Fisher-FishkinsmallIf you could be transported to the location of your favorite novel, where would you go? What would you love to see in person, not just in your mind’s eye?

In Writing America: Literary Landmarks From Walden Pond to Wounded Kneeauthor Shelley Fisher Fishkin looks at just that — literary landmarks and how the places authors wrote about shaped their writing.

Inside Higher Ed recently interviewed Fishkin. In her initial research, she was “struck by the absence of sites on the National Register of Historic Places with a direct connection to many authors and works that I especially valued and I found that even sites that were linked to literature often failed to make the importance of that connection come truly alive. Might paying more attention to these relationships — and finding connections that hadn’t been made before — help us appreciate and value both the literature and the landscape more fully? I wrote the book to find out.”

From Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Connecticut to the woods around Walden Pond, Fishkin hopes “readers of the book to leave with an appreciation of the special ways that literature can bring a place to life and etch it into memory.”


Learn more about some of your favorite literary landmarks from The Literary Landmark Association.


Flashback Friday

flashback-fridayHappy Friday! And happy national tell a fairy tale day!

Here’s a look back at our week:
Monday we shared an infographic of the top 10 most read books in the world. How many have you read?
Tuesday we pulled a great tip from the archives, written by Prof. Elisabeth Whitehead.
Wednesday featured a word of the week.
– And Thursday we shared another great graphic about how to find focus.

Have a great weekend!

Finding Focus

With spring break right around the corner, focus can be hard to find this time of the semester. If you find you’re spending 5 minutes on Facebook for every two minutes spent studying, these tips are for you!