Faculty on Writing

Professor: William Bergmann                   
Interviewed By: Jessica Hendrickson
Department: History                                          
Date: September 19, 2007

William Bergmann is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Northern Michigan University.  Dr. Bergmann has been at Northern for two years, and he teaches various early American history courses, from the colonial period through the American Civil War.  Some of the courses Dr. Bergmann teaches include United States History to 1865 (HS 126), Colonial America in the Atlantic World (HS 325), and The American Revolution to the Age of Jackson (HS 326).  Dr. Bergmann also teaches several of the methods courses in history, such as Historical Thinking and Writing (HS 200) and Junior and Senior Seminar (HS 490). 

Writing is a predominant aspect of history, and it is difficult to take a history course without having to write a few papers or essays.  Dr. Bergmann said that he definitely gives his students writing assignments because “writing is not only important in history and other college courses, but it is an essential skill to have for the world in which we live.”  He feels that knowing how to write and how to write well is incredibly important.  “Writing is something we do every day of our lives,” said Dr. Bergmann.  “It is how we express our ideas and communicate with one another.  More importantly, we judge people on how well they write.  Not only is it a mark of how educated an individual is, but it determines how a person is perceived by the world.”                 

When asked what he thought about his students’ writing abilities, Dr. Bergmann responded, “It is a very mixed bag.”  He said some students are better writers than others, and that it is “often challenging to deal with the different skill levels.”  Because there is such a wide range of skill levels when it comes to students’ writing, it can be difficult for professors to choose which part of writing they want to focus on or look for in a paper.  Dr. Bergmann said beyond the content and focus of a paper, he looks to see if the student has “demonstrated good grammar, used interesting and proper language, and used some sense of creativity.”  Dr. Bergmann stressed the importance of proper grammar usage because he feels it is vital for a high-quality paper.

Dr. Bergmann is an avid writer himself as he has composed several conferences papers, an article, and his dissertation, which he will be turning into a manuscript.  “Writing is an ever present part of my life,” he said.  Although Dr. Bergmann writes regularly, he often finds himself struggling with it.  He remarked, “I have always found it challenging to write well, and it is something I am constantly working on.”  He recollected a story from graduate school when he made a tremendous turn around in his life as a writer.  Throughout graduate school, his professors had “always thought [his] writing was atrocious.”  Dr. Bergmann worked exceedingly hard, and by the time he graduated, his professors commented on how well he progressed.  His writing became significantly “crisper and cleaner,” and it was one of his proudest achievements.

Dr. Bergmann first heard about the Writing Center by word-of-mouth through the University.  When asked what he thought happens during a typical tutor session at the Writing Center, he replied, “I assume a student makes an appointment with a tutor, then the student and the tutor work together through the paper, whether that be the structure, organization, or the grammar of it.”  Dr. Bergmann recommends that his students take advantage of the Writing Center, but he does not require them to go.  “Students should take personal responsibility among themselves to go to the Writing Center,” he stated.  “Some students need to go more than others, and for the ones who need to go, they should know to go.  I’m not going to force them.”  Dr. Bergmann feels that students are adults, so therefore they should make the decision on their own.

The Writing Center is always looking for new suggestions and ideas for improving the services it provides.  In order to help students more effectively, Dr. Bergmann suggested that perhaps the tutors should take a grammar course prior to or during the first semester they are hired.  The better prepared and more skilled tutors are in grammar and style, the better they can help explain the rules to other students.  For instance, Dr. Bergmann has noticed that the semicolon is way overused.  “Sometimes it seems like there are assumptions about how to use a semicolon,” he said.  “I often read papers containing misused semicolons, even after the student has been to the Writing Center.”  Other than providing a little more training for the tutors, Dr. Bergmann has a positive opinion about the Writing Center and what it offers to NMU students.