Faculty on Writing

Professor: Marla Buckmaster
Interviewed By: Michelle Marchant
Department: Sociology and Social Work
Date: October 6, 2004

Marla Buckmaster is a part of the Sociology and Social Work Department. Since she is the only one at Northern who teaches anthropology, they couldn’t make a whole department out of it.  She has been teaching at Northern for 33 years, and is a full professor.  The only classes she teaches are anthropology ones.  I actually have her for AN 210. 

Marla says that she usually only gives out writing assignments in her upper level classes.  She thinks it's important for the students to be able to organize and present a large amount of data.  She wants to see if they can pull it all together to make a clear point.  She also used to give out writing assignments to students who did poorly on tests so they could improve their grades.  The students wrote these so poorly though, that she couldn't even read them and soon gave up on the idea.

About the abilities of her students, Marla says that she occasionally has some excellent writers, but that the vast majority of students have difficulty with sentence structure, don't understand paragraphing, have no topic sentences, no understanding of an introduction and conclusion, are vague about footnotes, and don't know the difference between a noun and verb.  In her students’ papers, Marla would count each of these mistakes and allow for as many mistakes as there were pages in the paper.  Therefore, if she was reading a five page paper and there were five mistakes, she would stop reading the paper.

In her students' writing she looks for evidence that they clearly understood the problem they were addressing, and that they can organize what they're saying to make a clear presentation of the topic.

Prof. Buckmaster recently had an article published and is currently writing another one, and also wrote an environmental impact statement.  She says she writes quite a lot but finds it difficult sometimes.  She always writes a strict outline first and sticks to it.  She thinks it’s important to have an outline to follow and not to stray from it.  Marla says that there should be nothing in the paper that isn’t in the outline, and vice versa.

Marla says that writing is very important as a communication skill.  She says anyone getting a job with a college degree absolutely has to know how to write well.

She heard about the Writing Center when it was instituted "a very long time ago."  She has often sent her students there for help on their papers

Her advice for improvements in our work at the Writing Center was to work with students on outlining.  She wants them to be able to build their case, know their argument, and have good content.