What Being a Dork Can Teach Us About Writing

I’m going to put this out there now: I play Dungeons and Dragons. And I love it.



A lot of people dismiss this game as being the epicenter of nerdom. But not only is this game a ton of fun, in addition to being a great game for actors, writers, storytellers, fantasy-lovers, and generally creative people, it actually has a lot to offer in terms of life lessons. That’s right, D&D teaches us about life. And life includes knowing how to write.

I guess you knew that this would have to connect to the Writing Center somehow. But I can honestly say that playing D&D has taught me some important things about being a writer. Not just a fiction writer, either. D&D has taught me some great things about writing essays.


For those of you unfamiliar with the game, D&D (also referred to as DnD) is known as an RPG, or role-playing game. Its all about creating a role-play character that moves around the world, makes decisions, fights monsters, and (hopefully) triumphs in the end. For a brief tutorial, we refer to the British TV show, The IT Crowd:

All silliness aside, as Moss begins to explain, a large portion of the game is based on chance, which is where the infamous dice sets come into play. However, the ultimate success or failure of the characters is based primarily on making logical and well-thought-out decisions. And this is where writing comes in.

When fighting a monster in D&D, we could charge in blindly and attack with the first weapon we get our hands on. Similarly, when writing an essay, we could try to write it the night before it’s due, BSing our way through the topic and randomly inserting sources as we go. But is that going to give us the best sucess rate?

Sure, we might get lucky, and accidentally smash the monster to bits, or turn out a work of sheer brilliance. Or, in a more likely case, we might crash and burn. Or at least drive ourselves crazy in the process.

Just like when we strategize your next move in D&D, we need to think strategically about our approach to the paper.

Strategy- it rocks! Image from http://www.outsourcing-center.com

Consider what tools you have at your disposal: how much time do we have to write it? What argument will be the most effective? What kind of sources can we and should we use to support our arguments? What guidelines has the professor set up to help us? Ultimately, going in with a game plan, or at least a general strategy, will leave you with a better final result.

What else does D&D teach us? It teaches us to think creatively, in order to get outside the box and find a different, more effective way to approach a challenging situation.

In D&D, players are faced with situations that, at first, might be mysterious and potentially dangerous, or even ones that that they feel wholly unprepared for. Essay assignments can put us in the same place; we are left feeling totally at a loss, with no clear direction to go in.

This is where we need to think creatively. In D&D, a seemingly useless object (like a bar of soap, or a hand mirror) might be just what the player needs to overcome the difficult situation; they need only step back and survey their resources to find it. Similarly, when we feel totally stuck on a paper, all we might need to do is take a step back and revisit what we have to work with. What options does the prompt give us? What new ideas and inspiration can we glean from our research sources? What kind of argument could we make that would be completely different from anything we might have already encountered (maybe even something we disagree with)? When we endeavor to consider new possibilities, we can help ourselves out of the most difficult situations.

Finally, D&D teaches us that we are not alone. When the players encounter a hoard of goblins that only want to mount the character’s head on a pike, the player knows that he or she has other players who will help them keep their heads on their shoulders (figuratively and literally!).

And that’s where I come in. Along with the other writing tutors, I am here to help you out of tight situations. We will help you with everything from brainstorming a plan of attack to cleaning up the smears of goblin blood after the battle. No matter where you are in your paper, no matter how hard that paper might seem, we’ve got your back. And with us there, you WILL succeed.

So next time someone invites you to join them for a rousing session of D&D, don’t just dismiss the invitation as a “dorks only” zone; the things you can learn might just get you an A.

–Sammi, peer tutor

The Invisible Gorilla; An Exercise in Attention

In the following video, there are three people dressed in white and three dressed in black. Count how many times the people in white pass the ball to one another.

You should have counted 15 passes. But that isn’t the important part.

The real question is: did you see the gorilla?

Some of you may respond with, “Well, of COURSE I saw the gorilla. How could I miss it?” However, according to the study conducted at Harvard University by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, a full half of the people who took part in the experiment were so focused on counting the passes that they completely missed the gorilla. That’s 50% for whom the gorilla was completely invisible. (Even more crazily, in this recently conducted study, 83% of radiologists missed a rather large gorilla hidden in x-ray images!) Thus, we have the name of the experiment, “The Invisible Gorilla.” (Check out their site for more information!)

“The Invisible Gorilla”

This says a lot about the human ability to focus on things to the exclusion of all else. This ability can be great, for example, when the person down the hall is blaring heavy metal while you’re trying to study for an exam. However, this intense focus can also pose a bit of a problem, say, when you become so focused on the fact that one friend has not texted you back that you don’t realize that your other friends are waiting on you to go out.

Or, when you’re so focused on fixing all the little flaws in your latest essay that you miss some of the really large issues.

Many of you know how the Writing Center here at McDaniel works: you bring us your paper, and we sit down with you and talk about whatever you need help with. However, we have always made it a priority to focus on the biggest areas and issues. Some of you may be familiar with our Writing Center’s adage,

“If the Titanic is sinking, you don’t rearrange the deck chairs.”

Basically, this means that you shouldn’t worry about the little stuff (grammar, spelling, etcetera) if your paper needs, say, a thesis, or organization and structure. Focus first on the big, and work your way to the little.

Editors sometimes go bananas. (source: http://pschenk.wordpress.com/)

Sometimes, though, its hard to even see the big if you’re so focused on the little. Just like we miss the gorilla in counting the basketball passes, we might also miss the fact that our paper has no supporting evidence if we’re too distracted by trying to fix commas.

At the Writing Center, we want to help you track down those gorillas! That is why we always suggest reading your paper aloud; you’ll really pick up on places where the organization is awkward, or the sentences don’t make sense! Even if you can’t make it in for an appointment with us, you can still do your own gorilla tracking.

Of course, we do recommend making an appointment! As trained Gorilla Trackers, its our job to help you make your paper as strong as possible by weeding out both big and little issues. Even if you’re a strong writer, having another person involved can really help you catch some of those larger snags; that’s why even our own tutors make appointments with each other once in a while!

Don’t let those gorillas slip by ya. Book an appointment with a trained Gorilla Tracker today!

What have you got to lose? Come on in.

Sammi, peer tutor.

How Easy IS EasyBib?

Ok, so nobody’s denying it: citations can be tricky, and students usually look for ways to make the works cited page as painless as possible. And that’s ok! But sometimes, we’re tempted to throw caution to the winds, pay a little visit to an automatic citation cite (like EasyBib or BibMe), and copy, click, paste, we’re done! Hurray!

Ok, maybe not hurray. Using an automatic citation cite can be risky.

Research: the leading cause of citation creation throughout the nation.                                         (Image from http://www.calgrip.ca.gov/?navid=28)

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with using an automatic citation site to HELP you create  your citations, but (and there’s the big but) these cites should only be a guideline. You should ALWAYS check the citations for correct information and up-to-date format before turning them in.

Don’t have a handy dandy MLA citation guide laying around? Wondering how to check your APA? Not sure how to begin with Chicago? We can help with that!

Presenting our Writing Center favorite, the Purdue Owl Research and Citation Resource!

This gem of a cite is not only an excellent tool for checking your citations, but it also can help you cite sources that are unusual or not covered on automatic citation websites. It covers MLA, APA, and Chicago citation styles, and it even shows you how to format in-text citations, footnotes, and paper headers.

Here’s the MLA guide,

Here’s the APA guide,

And here’s the Chicago guide.

Sometimes, when you do research on the Hoover Library search engines, such as Academic OneFile, the sources you access will have citations already created for you.

Check these too! 

Even these citations are not accurate 100% of the time. Basically, you should be sure to check any and every citation you did not handcraft yourself. And sometimes, it’s even good to check those too! Better safe than plagiarizing!

All this being said, you CAN still use these automatic citation sites and provided complete citations. As long as you check them, you’re in good shape! Here are some of our favorite citation sites:

Son of Citation Machine

Citation Needed
Oh, yeah, and don’t forget that most teachers won’t count Wikipedia as a legitimate source. If you find information you want to use on a Wikipedia page, look to the sources at the bottom of the page. This list will refer you to the works that the Wikipedia page cited; these are great sources to use in your paper (and, of course, check these citations too)!

So remember, its important to cite, but it also matters HOW you cite!

Encouragement Graphic #24

If this guy says it, it must be true!
(Image from http://www.commentsyard.com/you-can-do-it/)


Sammi, peer tutor