Faculty on Writing

Professor: Marcus Robyns
Department: Archives and Record Management
Interviewed By: Barbara Erickson
Date: Oct. 6, 2005

Q: What courses do you teach? What is the thrust of your duties at NMU?

MR:  I teach AIS 330, which is Management and Use of Archival Information; also I teach instructional workshops on campus on how to use the archives and how to apply critical thinking skills to the analysis of primary sources.  I have several duties, but in general they are, as records manager, to identify, manage and preserve both the active and inactive records the university creates.  As archivist, my duties are to take records that are inactive but have permanent value, and make sure they are preserved and accessible.  My other job is to collect historical manuscript material and primary sources that document the history of the region, make them available to students, faculty and the public, and also to support the curriculum and faculty on campus.

Q: Do you give writing assignments to your students?  Why, or why not?

MR: Oh, absolutely!  I’m a firm believer that, at the college level, students must write and write constantly.  I am appalled with instructors, especially in the social sciences, who give multiple choice questions.  I think that all questions should be essay questions, and answers should be written out.

Q: What do you look for in a student’s writing?

MR: First and foremost, I look to see if a student can articulate an argument.  I look for proper grammar, syntax, and that their prose is readable and clear; but I also look for appropriate thesis statements, clearly stated and unambiguous.  I want to see the body of the paper sorted out in such a way that the points made in the essay are supportive of the argument or thesis that is being made in the paper. 

Q: I know I had a problem with passive voice.

MR: Oh yes (laughing) I remember one of the first things they did in graduate school was to rip right out of my head writing in the passive voice. They did such a good job that when I write now, it’s almost painful to me, in a Pavlov dog kind of way, to write in the passive voice.  I almost write, without thought, in the active voice.  Historians are trained to write in the active voice, and I’m a stickler for that, so when I correct a paper and I see passive voice used, I’m always changing it, harping on it in class.

Q: How important is it to know how to write in the field of Archiving?

MR: Well, like in any other profession, writing is essential.  Not having the ability to clearly articulate a thought or to effectively argue a position…the purpose of writing is to form an argument and support that argument.  I’m appalled that sophomore and juniors don’t have a concept of what a thesis statement is.  If you want to go on to be an archivist, clearly you have to be able to write.  I’m constantly writing, whether it’s Journal articles, grants, or campus articles.  It’s absolutely essential—you couldn’t function if you couldn’t write.  With the budget situation, it’s absolutely essential.   

Q: Have you heard of the Writing Center?

MR: Oh, yes.  I’m constantly referring students to the Writing Center; my student staff is aware of the Writing Center; I think it’s fabulous that it’s there. 

Q: Last but not least, do you have any suggestions for the Writing Center so we can help our students more effectively?

MR: Not really—writing is a process of constant re-writing; having someone proofread what you write and getting feed back is important, because you forget who you are writing for.  One of the most important things I look for is for someone to tell me if I’m clear and I’ve properly supported the argument I’m trying to make.  Get students to stop being “wordy,” teach students to be concise, and to use active voice—active voice because it’s very strong and concise.  Get students to use the thesaurus, start using words that are precise, instead of wordiness and being awkward.  I get so frustrated with convoluted sentences. 

Q: Well, thank you for your time. 

MR: You’re welcome.  It’s a nice project [the interview].  Please say hi to ZZ for me.

End.