A Short Rant on Inefficient Writing

There is one form of writing I hate most: networking emails. There are many different kinds of networking emails, such as:

  • Cold-emails (I don’t know you, but plz help me get job thx)
  • Warm-emails (You were in a student org 6 years ago that I’m now involved in, help me get a job plz & thx)
  • Post-event emails (We chatted for 4 minutes in a circle at Pizza House with 6 other students, plz help me get an interview)
  • Post-call emails (Thanks for spending 45 awkward minutes on the phone)
  • Post-interview emails (thx 4 ur time, it was great to chat about ___, thx, etc)

After recruiting with at least 10 companies, I’ve probably sent at least 100 networking emails in the past couple months. These emails are rarely longer than 3-6 sentences long, but usually take me at least 15-20 minutes to write. It’s infuriating. I’m constantly asking myself questions like “How do I mention our common interest in soccer in a way that makes this person remember me, but not in a way that makes me come across as extremely fake?” Or I’ll spend my time making my email sound less repetitive so I don’t use the word ‘chatting’ three times. The frustrating thing is that none of these specific choices ever really affect the reader, because the people reading these emails will likely skim them. But this doesn’t stop me from spending forever writing them. Having to write a personalized follow-up email to someone you connected with is incredibly easy, but unfortunately you can’t connect with everyone well. Not having to write these emails is probably the best part about being done with recruiting. Bureaucracy is fun.

ePortfolio: The End of an Era

It’s over. After hours spent just figuring out which template to use and even more time spent populating the website, I’m happy to have submitted my ePortfolio.

What I liked: I think the overall theme (expanding my writing identity as one that eclipses just essay-writing) worked out well. I’m satisfied with the design, and I like the way I illustrated the reflective text for each major assignment.

What I still want to work on: The ePortfolio feels a little empty because I don’t have more than 10 pages total. I think it would feel more comprehensive if I added more pages for writing I’ve done outside of Writing 220. I also feel that if I had more time I could add more new-media or cool HTML elements that are user-interactive like games, music, applications, etc.

What was the process like for you? The process was very overwhelming at first, because I didn’t like the first 50 templates that I tried to use. Then, when trying to integrate my home page picture, it seemed to conflict with every design I tried. Eventually I found one that I liked, but even after deciding on a design it was overwhelming to fill completely blank pages with content. I tried to map what I wanted each page to look like and created the visuals before starting the text. Then when I felt the page looked good visually, I typed in the text I needed and made adjustments from there.

How well did you achieve your purpose in presenting yourself as a writer? My goal was to highlight my identity as a diverse writer, and I think I did this pretty well through showcasing my work across many genres. By including consulting presentations, blog posts, my remediation script, and my resume, I think I communicated this point effectively.

Eportfolio link: http://jmarples.wix.com/eport

As a whole, I think I can sum up my eportfolio experience with the following gif:

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Advice to Future Minors

This class has been one of my favorite classes I’ve taken here at Michigan. Here is my advice to make the most of it:

  1. Take risks. Try something you would never have considered before, whether it’s a new genre, medium, audience, whatever.
  2. Embrace feedback and constructive criticism. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by criticism and want to ignore it, but growing as a writer is really difficult without outside feedback.
  3. Learn to love the revision process. There is no such thing as a “final” draft, just drafts that are slightly more “final” than the last draft.
  4. Enjoy the blog posts, and make them fun to read. If you don’t want to use boring formal language, you don’t have to!
  5. Make friends with people in the cohort.
  6. Pick topics to write about that you are actually passionate about, and your life will be wayyyyyyy easier.

If you follow these six steps, you should end up looking like this:

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viWFR

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And not like this:

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Would you rather?

With finals right around the corner, do you prefer taking a big final in say a science or math class, or is the longer, but more spaced out, process of our final remediation/eportfolio projects preferable?

Neither, and that’s the end of this blog. In all seriousness, here’s my take on the pros/cons of each.

Quantitive final

Pros:

  • Higher degree of closure and feeling “done” with it. When you’ve read all the textbook chapters, done all the readings, and finished all the practice problems, its very easy to feel closure with the study process.
  • The black/white nature of practice problems for most quantitive classes (like finance) can make studying pretty rewarding and you’re able to get immediate feedback. If you take a multiple choice practice exam, you either get things right or wrong. I think in this sense it’s easier to monitor your progress in comparison to a project that is more rubric-based.

Cons:

  • The closure of reviewing all possible study materials is pretty difficult when your professor provides you with 50,000 practice problems for each chapter.
  • Because you can only get practice problems right or wrong, if you’re not getting them right, well, you’re getting them wrong (duh). And this can be really demoralizing when you do 9 out of 10 things right and then get a problem wrong. So the black/white nature of problems being wrong or right can sometimes make you feel like you know less than you do.

Qualitative project

Pros:

  • The higher degree of creative freedom often makes it easier to be more involved in the project. In this sense you can manipulate the content to a certain degree unless the project gives you a narrow scope.
  • You can take more risks, and usually this leads to a greater reward in terms of your satisfaction with the finished product. For the remediation project I felt completely uncomfortable using a green screen, but now I’m pretty proud of myself that I got it to work.

Cons:

  • It’s often to hard to feel any degree of closure because there will always be things we want to fix about big projects. About 12 hours after submitting my remediation project I realized that there were things I would go back and change (re-recording the footage with more enthusiasm and bleeping out swear words).
  • It’s really hard to plan for these projects because the time they take is pretty unpredictable. I had no idea how long it would take me to edit 17 minutes of footage in iMovie for my remediation project. It actually took me about 4 hours longer than I anticipated, whereas the script writing actually took much less time than I anticipated. In contrast, when I’m studying for a big final, I can usually estimate pretty well how long it’s going to take to read X number of pages.

I think that for me, I personally prefer exams, except in cases when I’m passionate about the project I’m putting together. For example, I have much preferred studying for my finance exam than I have working on my marketing project. That’s just because my marketing project involves analyzing Walgreen’s marketing strategy, and frankly I don’t care about Walgreen’s marketing strategy. At all. Whereas, with a project like the Remediation project that I designed myself, it’s much easier for me to enjoy the work because I’m (presumably) passionate about the topic or medium that I chose. So in a sentence, I usually prefer exams, except when projects are discussing things I care about (not related to drug store advertisements).

Google Doxx

In Elizabeth Clark’s “The Digital Imperative: Making the Case for a 21st-Century Pedagogy”, five novel benefits of digital rhetoric are outlined: interactivity, collaboration, ownership, authority, and malleability. Across these areas, digital rhetoric arguably offers more than physically written rhetoric (and this is why everything is moving towards a digital form). Upon reading this, two words came to mind: google docs. The cloud service serves as a compelling piece of evidence for Clark’s theory, as it demonstrates pretty much every benefit she outlined:

Interactivity – Google docs, although not quite as interactive as the vanilla Microsoft products, still offers a variety of different interactive choices, from font size to spacing. Manipulation of text and pictures is pretty easy in google docs, and the user interface is extremely easy to use.

Collaboration – This is one of google docs biggest selling points. Multiple people can work on the same document at the same time. This is significantly easier than trying to have two people take notes on the same sheet of paper.

Ownership – Through the digital nature of google docs, the owner of a document can establish clear ownership (through timestamps) and view it from multiple locations digitally as well as physically if printed.

Authority – You can control who has access to a document, and also whether they can edit the document. (see below)

Capture

Malleability – Unlike most physically written documents, the content in google documents can be changed instantly. You can delete content in seconds, and copy-paste other content easily. Unlike a type-writer, no change is permanent.

Therefore, I completely agree with her notion that the move towards digital rhetoric is both exciting and beneficial. One thing that Clark didn’t highlight extensively is the downside to digital rhetoric. In my mind, the two biggest issues are privacy and volatility:

Privacy – Although digital security has evolved significantly over time, there will always be flaws in security systems and there will always be people smart enough to take advantage of them. I remember listening to an NPR story (which I can’t remember in enough detail to find via google) in which one man described how online hackers “doxxed” him and ruined his life. The guy had a very unique twitter handle (unfortunately I’m fuzzy on the details), that was sought after by lots of people online. After refusing to sell his twitter handle, hackers decided to take it by force, and hacked the guy’s email, facebook, flickr, and twitter. They published all of his personal information and deleted all of his stored pictures/videos/projects. Without physical copies, the digital rhetoric that guy published online would be gone forever.

Volatility – The malleability of digital rhetoric can also be a negative effect. Many important documents (passports, court documents, FBI files) are kept in print because there is a permanence to physically written rhetoric. Even though some online platforms time-stamp changes made to rhetoric, it can often be hard to tell whether or not a piece of digital rhetoric has been manipulated recently.

In conclusion, I completely agree with the “21st-Century Pedagogy” that Clark describes, and google docs illustrates why. However, I think there will always be a place for physical rhetoric because the privacy and volatility concerns associated with digital rhetoric will probably continue to exist for a long time.

The Terrifying Fear of Not Being Funny

As somebody who is constantly making snarky jokes on facebook, I didn’t think that writing a Daily Show/Last Week Tonight-esque bit for my remediation project would be too difficult. I was very very wrong. Since attempting the storyboard and subsequent script writing for this piece has caused to me to gain a lot of respect for the Daily Show writers. The Daily Show does two major things really well:  it informs and provides a political critique of current issues andalso it’s hilarious. The hard part is balancing the two. In my attempt to write a similar script on the topic of corruption in banking, I constantly found myself one of two questions:

(1) Is this even funny?

(2) Is this even informative?

The second question is easier to address. When content seems too driven by humor, you can add more serious facts and boring words like “sub-prime mortgage” and “collateralized debt obligation.” But when you’re not sure if something is funny, it’s not to objectively make it funnier. Humor is, after all, a very subjective thing. So about half-way through writing in my script, I started to question if any of my jokes were actually funny, which is a pretty demoralizing feeling. Luckily, this didn’t last long as I ran them by some friends who thought the content was hilarious. I learned that the best way to approach the content was by outlining the big-picture arguments seriously, but finding the most humorous anecdotes to provide as evidence. For example, the topic of investment banks disregarding client interests isn’t inherently funny at all. However, the famous allegation made two years ago that investment bankers at Goldman Sachs often referred to clients as “muppets” in emails is undoubtedly hilarious. Even without context, the following picture (of Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein and everyone’s favorite green puppet) is pretty funny in my opinion:

blankfein-kermit

As I begin to finalize my script, here is what the first two pages look like: (with clips and quotes indicated in red)

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Hopefully, if everything comes together nicely for the final cut, I’ll have a product that’s both informative and funny.

 

Tackling iMovie through trial and error

In my attempt to create a John Oliver-esque satire bit, I’ve realized that superimposing images and videos into other videos isn’t quite as easy as I imagined. If you’re not familiar with John Oliver’s show Last Night Tonight, it’s a satirical news show that features John Oliver speaking on a certain issue with about a dozen or so superimposed visual aids in every 5-10 minute segment. It looks like this (and here’s a link to a full segment on YouTube):

So I browsed youtube until I found some useful tutorials. Unfortunately the first two I found used versions of iMove that were different that the one I have installed on my laptop, and I wasted about 10 minutes watching completely useless videos. but eventually I found the following video:

I haven’t recorded any of my actual video yet, so I played around using practice images and was able to superimpose them correctly after many failed attempts to even import them into iMovie. I’ve learned that the drag-and-drop feature doesn’t work if your clips are in the wrong format, and also that iMovie is pretty hard to pick up and self-teach. Although some things are intuitive, there are SO MANY little icons that do not have functions that are not clear from their appearance. For example, how am I supposed to know that the button with a key on it does, until you actually click it? There’s a lot of things going on in the interface, and just figuring out how to superimpose images took me a decent amount of time. I imagine that learning how to edit and polish videos will also take a while to learn, which is frustrating but also exciting at the same time because I have so much to learn.

 

Learning boring but important stuff

Digital rhetoric can often add a visual element to non-digital rhetoric (here’s one example). In an educational setting, this can do two things:

1) Facilitate more learning of complex topics

2) Make complex topics less boring

An example to illustrate my point:

Does anyone really want to read a paper on how mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps, and collateralized debt obligations affected the global financial crisis of 2007-2008? These are not the types of words that make readers think “wow, I don’t understand those words but I’m really interested in learning about them.” Given the choice, most people would be more interested in reading the buzzfeed article “21 Emoji Comebacks You Should Start Using“. However, should people want to learn more about the recent global financial collapse? In my opinion: yeah, probably.

Let’s say I wrote an essay intending to explain the credit crisis of 2007 targeted to non-business or economics savvy readers. There’s pretty clear exigence for this rhetorical situation: the financial collapse decimated the value of many Americans’ homes, and caused others to lose jobs. When a certain event impacts everyone around you, it’s generally good to understand the how and why involved. The credit crisis itself is not a very approachable topic to those unfamiliar with financial concepts like interest rates and the banking system. Therefore, there is exigence to write a piece explaining this to non-finance oriented people. However, despite this exigence, this blog post would be really boring. Almost excruciatingly boring. So boring, that people probably wouldn’t even finish it unless it was assigned for a class. Also, in addition to being boring, the content would also seem dry and hard to understand. These issues are fixed with new media:

Unlike the paper I described, the video above isn’t boring or overly complex. The main reason is due to the use of graphics and illustrations. In a sense, the exigence is fulfilled in this video that might not be satisfied by somebody reading a paper on the same topic. In digital rhetoric, there are more opportunities to take advantage of visual learning (you can’t embed a video into a 5-page paper), and the example above really illustrates this well.

Group Essay-Writing: A Rant

With the topic of this extra-blog post being pretty open-ended, I’ve decided to do what I do best: be snarky and criticize things. I was talking to a friend yesterday about a business school class that she’s taking (and that I took last year). One of the assignments is to write a paper. Pretty standard right? The catch is that it’s a group paper. Basically, each 6 person group turns in one paper. So how can a group approach this? In my mind, there are 3 major options:

1) One person writes the entire paper.

2) Six people write different parts of a paper, and the group attempts to stitch the parts together Frankenstein-style. The six parts will inevitably be written in six different styles with overlapping content. The group will then spend a ridiculous amount of time normalizing the styles and removing the overlapping content. This method takes at least 10x longer than method 1.

3) The group writes the paper together. Essentially, six people verbally discuss the paper on a sentence-by-sentence basis until they are in agreement. People will disagree on everything, so this option will take even more time than option 2.

Option 1 sucks because one person does all the work. Option 2 sucks because Frankensteining and then de-Frankensteining a paper takes forever. Option 3 sucks ever more than option 2 because it takes even more time. Therefore, the group must agree on which of these options is the lesser of the three evils. This makes the project frustrating and borderline nonsensical. Last year, my group chose option 2 and I naively volunteered to stitch everything together. I ended up spending more time putting the different pieces together than I would have just writing the whole essay myself. The only positive thing I can say about this assignment is that it teaches students how to finagle themselves out of an inefficient project structure. In business, similar situations will inevitably arise when a client gives a team a chunk of work that can’t be split into pieces. So in a sense, the project was a good exercise in navigating situations that seem doomed to fail. But as a whole, I think group essay-writing is a mostly pointless exercise and hopefully I won’t have to do it again soon.

Why losing objectivity is fascinating but also overwhelming

For my re-purposing project, I’m attempting to transform an academic argumentative essay into a personal narrative. Last year, I wrote an essay outlining the rampant corruption throughout the banking industry. When I made an argument, such as ‘Bank needs to embrace more social responsibility’, I made sure to support it with compelling evidence. In this academic genre, I attempted to maintain objectivity by creating a universal argument that was independent of my personal experiences. Every argument was supposed with evidence, and every piece of evidence was discussed in depth. As a stereotypical ‘left-brain’ thinker, I am very comfortable with this genre.

I’ve recently begun the first draft of my personal narrative. This new piece will attempt to explore how my academic view on banking actually affects my personal behavior. Despite not really being interested in banking, I can’t stop myself from networking with banks in pursuit of potential summer internships. I’ve been asking myself the following question for weeks: ‘If I don’t like the banking culture, and I believe banks have demonstrated poor social responsibility in the past, why am I still setting up networking calls with people that work at banks?’ I legitimately have no idea what the exact answer to this question is. I know it involves a combination of pride, prestige, selfishness, and not wanting to turn down potential opportunities. But I can’t really explain my behavior completely, because there seems to be a divide between my personal beliefs and my pre-programmed desire to act in my best interest. Unlike the academic context, I don’t actually know all the answers to the questions I’m posing in the personal narrative. I think this is fine, as it would be naive to address subjective issues with complete objectivity. But it’s still uncomfortable to write, as I usually embrace objectivity in my writing. The goal of my piece is to provoke thought on the topic, and therefore I’m planning to ask more questions than I answer. By exploring my motivations, I’m hoping my audience will ask themselves the same questions and think more deeply on how their personal and professional ideals intersect. So I’m content with my planned style, but I still feel apprehensive to stray from the topic-evidence-discussion that has been drilled into my head from an early age.

Questions for my blog group:

  • Have you written more open-ended pieces before that didn’t grant the audience complete closure on the topic? How did you approach them?
  • Are there any personal narratives you’ve read that have really resonated with you? What helps you connect and empathize with the author?