Faculty on Writing

Associate Professor: Sandra Burr
Interviewed By: Amanda Riddle
Department: English
Date: October 1, 2007

Professor Burr only teaches English courses – typically 211A composition courses, Introduction to Literature (EN 282), and all of the American Literature classes.

Professor Burr feels that any writing assignment can provide a valuable way to see how students think.  She feels that writing is a way to see how information used in coming to conclusions, bringing in viewpoints about the subject matter, bringing to the table a person’s full intelligence.  Writing provides a fabulous tool to assess how people think and how they support their thoughts.  “What we read is writing … not until we wrestle with writing ourselves … do we start to understand how difficult good writing is.”  Professor Burr believes that in order to develop an appreciation for good writers, we must write ourselves.  Writing can also tell a teacher who and what students are all about.  She feels that even though writing is a communal process, it is, in the end, the individual’s writing, so it must be the individual’s and not the groups’.

Professor Burr frequently wishes the entry level students were at a higher level of development in their writing, but she also realizes that this is a systemic problem.  She feels that teachers don’t get to spend enough time on writing in the classroom.  This leads to huge disparities in writing skills among groups of students, showing up in all levels of classes, from entry level to 400 level classes.  Professor Burr takes this into consideration when creating fair writing assignments.  She also says there are problems with students on campus who blow off writing because it is something they have to do.  She never knows how many of each of these students will be in a particular class, and sometimes it makes creating assignments difficult.

Professor Burr looks for both the big picture and correct grammar.  “Writing is a package – the package has to look good.”  First, the audience deserves and needs an order of communication.  Writing has everything to do with clarity, with the most important thing being clarity of thought.  Professor Burr says the audience shouldn’t have to guess or decipher the information in the paper.  That’s the bigger picture.  On the other hand, she says, you could have fabulous ideas and terrible grammar, which will get in the way of clarity.  Grammar can change the meaning of the paper, but mainly, Professor Burr says bad grammar is just too distracting.

Professor Burr writes for publication and does a lot of editorial critiquing.  She is on an editorial board of online subscriptions where she reads manuscripts and then advises journals whether or not to publish the manuscript.  She also does lots of writing through e-mail and writing for committee work.  Professor Burr says editorials and committee work are not the kinds of writing she would prefer to be doing, but she also puts a lot of effort into them.  Professor Burr would prefer to be doing research writing and sharing it with the community (local community, community of writers, community of the Northern University staff, etc.).

Professor Burr encourages students to go to the Writing Center, but does not have enough time inside of class to talk about the Writing Center or open up time to make a visit.  She also feels that the Writing Center is in a difficult situation because it has to constantly battle misconceptions about the Writing Center’s job.  She also worries about mix-ups and uniformed tutors or writers.  Sometimes tutors might give the wrong kind of advice, for various reasons, or the student might be asking for the wrong kind of advice.  Professor Burr wants the students, and the tutors, to understand that the Writing Center is not a “proof-reading” center.

Professor Burr feels that the Writing Center poster might be sending mixed messages to students who might interpret it as saying the WC is a “proof-reading” service.  Other than this, she suggests having weekly or bi-weekly (whichever worked best) workshops giving presentations on different aspects of writing in order to help educate writers.  Presentations could include thesis statements, history papers, citations, lab reports, etc.  Professor Burr feels this might help draw in people who might not have thought about going to the WC in the first place, and also it might help students, as well as community members, begin to see writing as a process.