Lecturer, Department of University Writing Programs

Rebecca Agosta

Literacy Narratives

Categories: Updates

Hey everyone! If you’ve ever taken a class that focuses on writing, you may have heard the terms “literacy narrative,” “literacy biography,” or something along those lines before. Today’s post is going to delve into traditional literacy narratives, what they’re all about, what their purpose is, and how they are really amazing tools for finding out about how you write! There will also be some helpful tips for writing literacy narratives, too!

First thing’s first—what exactly is a literacy narrative?

To make things simpler, let’s start out by defining these two words separately. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) literacy can be defined as “the quality, condition, or state of being literate; the ability to read and write.” However, there’s more to literacy than that! In the article, “College Writing Tips: Write a Good Literacy Narrative,” Sarah from Letterpile explains that there is a second definition of literacy that covers different facets, such as “professional literacy, hobby-related literacy, language literacy, or many other types of broadened understanding of a subject brought on by its connection to language.” For example, someone who studies music has a literacy in music; they can read sheet music and they understand musical terms, (like accelerando, sforzando, glissando, etc.). Bearing that in mind, we move on to define “narrative,” which, according to the OED, is “an account of a series of events, facts, etc., given in order and with the establishing of connections between them; a narration, a story, an account.”  

So basically, if you put these three definitions together, you get a really vague sense of what a literacy narrative is. A literacy narrative is a story about your own experience with writing and reading, as well as your knowledge on a particular subject of your choosing, whether it be music, learning a new language, the story of how you learned to read—anything! In assigning literacy narratives, professors are asking students to take what they’ve learned about literacy development and apply that to their life stories. Depending on the class and the professor, students may be asked to explore stories that include substantial experiences and powerful sponsors, (people,) who motivated them, and to reflect on them.

Now that we have a somewhat solid idea of what exactly a literacy narrative is, you’re probably wondering about the purpose of it all.

Many professors use literacy narratives in their classes because it’s a great assignment for self-examination. In fact, most University Writing courses (UWRT) have some form of a literacy narrative/biography assignment because it helps students learn to reflect on their experiences with writing and reading. Of course, there are many reasons why literacy narratives are popular assignments in first year writing (and other!) classrooms. Here are three examples of how literacy narratives are amazing tools (inspired by the awesome article, “10 Ways Literacy Narratives Will Rock Your World (or at least your writing classroom)”).

  • Reflection & Overcoming Resistance: In this article, the author chooses to use words like “exorcism” and “scar tissue;” however, those words seem a little too simple to encompass what literacy narratives can actually do. Literacy narratives offer students a chance to examine past experiences—be they pleasant memories, uncomfortable baggage, voices, scars, etc.—and allow them to write through those experiences. While reflecting on these experiences, some students can then go further and use their writing as a way of overcoming the resistance found in those moments, and in turn, they have a successful product that shows their resilience. Now, I’m not saying that literacy narratives turn classrooms into a “Dead Poets Society” sort of scenario (cue the scene from the movie, “Oh captain, my captain!”) However, assignments like literacy narratives really do give students opportunities to deal with sometimes tough, uncomfortable issues, and that is a great learning experience.
  • Connection: When working on literacy narratives, sometimes professors have students work in groups to brainstorm or revise their ideas/papers. This can seem a little awkward at first, (that’s natural!) but working with others and opening yourselves up via literacy narratives can really help students learn to connect with one another. In fact, these experiences working with group members can help students collaborate with others in the future.
  • Scaffolding: Not only can literacy narratives be extremely cathartic, but they can also be fun. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s almost blasphemy to say that an assignment can be fun, but it’s true! Compared to other assignments that students have in other classes, a literacy narrative may not be seen as challenging. In fact, many students often take pleasure in literacy narratives because it gives them time to focus on themselves, (instead of the rest of their never ending homework) to reflect, and to write.

Now that you know what literacy narratives generally are and why they are awesome, you’re probably beginning to wonder about how to go about writing one yourself!

Like all assignments, sometimes it’s hard to find a place to begin. Don’t sweat it though! That’s natural and something we all struggle with. Here are some reliable tips to help you tackle any form of a literacy narrative:

  • First thing is first: follow the prompt! Everyone has their own different ideas of what a literacy narrative is, so what your professors asks you to write about will ultimately affect where you start and what you write about. Make sure you understand exactly what it is your professor wants you to explore in your literacy narrative and you will be good to go.
  • Sarah from Letterpile suggests that you ask yourself some thought-provoking questions to get yourself started. She writes, ““Generate a few topics that are meaningful to you. Ask yourself, what do I want to write about for my literacy narrative? Do I want to write about my favorite book? Do I want to write about writing poetry? Do I want to write about overcoming a big hurdle? List those topic ideas” (Letterpile).
  • After you consider these questions, decide what exactly you want to write about. The Norton Field Guide to Writing also offers some great ideas to get you started, such as:

*(Courtesy of  https://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/write/fieldguide/writing_guides.asp )

  • Once you choose a topic, then you can start to consider other things, like your audience and the story you want to tell!
  • The Pen & The Pad also suggests using “vivid details” to help your narrative really sparkle! They also emphasize the importance of reflection, and recommend that you take some time to reflect “on how the event you’re writing about changed or shaped you” (The Pen & The Pad).

These are only a few suggestions to help you begin your literacy narrative. However, there’s no one right way to go about it—what is important is that you take some time to think, write, and reflect on your story. As simple as that seems, it can really open your eyes to how you have evolved as a writer and reader!


Resources Consulted







Nominalizations- know them; try not to use them.

Categories: Updates

“When ideas fail, words come in very handy.”- Goethe

Nominalizations.  What are they?  A nominalization is when a word, typically a verb or adjective, is made into a noun.  

Why do we need them?  Because it is often useful to identify what a thing is rather than what it is doing or what it is describing.  You will write with more fluency if you are aware of both the root forms of nominalized words and how to nominalize familiar and unfamiliar words.  Since it’s English, there are plenty of exceptions, but there are many common suffixes that will help you to recognize nominalizations.

Suffixes like: -tion (operation), -sion (comprehension) -ty (flexibility), -ness (happiness), -ment (commitment), -ance (governance), and -ence (conference), -ism (capitalism), -ury (usury).  

Here are some words with common suffixes:

nominalized verbs:

From prohibit–> we get prohibition,

from systematize–>we get systematization,

And from nominalize–> we get nominalization.  

nominalized adjectives:

From difficult–>we get difficulty,

From facile–>we get facility (as in with facility or ease),

And from hopeless–>we get hopelessness.


Here are some less common suffixes:

(- al)

from refuse–>we get refusal

from renew–> we get renewal

Note that the suffix -al may not always constitute a nominalization. It can also be used to convert a noun into an adjective, as in autumnal.


from fail–>we get failure

from censor–>we get censure

from expose–>we get exposure

Note that just like the -al suffix, the suffix alone will not be sufficient to determine whether it is the verb form of the noun or vice versa, so always consult a dictionary if you’re unsure.  Perjure, for example, has a -ure suffix, but it is the verb form; perjury is the noun form.   


Why should we avoid them?

When we write in academic spaces, we are often tempted to effect an elevated or formal diction, and nominalizations are one way to do this.  However, it is not advisable in most cases.  Using nominalizations makes the writing passive rather than active, and tends to disrupt typical sentence structure (subject–verb–object), which is most comprehensible to us.

Of the following two sentences, the latter is clearer because the subject is foremost in the sentence and active.  

Original: The experience of children with respect to being at school for the first time is common.

Revised: Many children experience worries when they go to school for the first time.

While we are interested in “the experience of children,” making experience rather than children the subject makes the sentence needlessly abstract.  The former sentence makes experience the predicate rather than the subject.  

Note: the example using “experience” is known as a zero-change nominalization, where the form of the word is the same for both the noun and the verb.  Another example is “murder” which can refer both the act (to murder) or the thing itself (a murder).  


Here’s another example:

Original: The companies reached an agreement to build in the neighborhood.

Revised: The companies agreed to build in the neighborhood.

Losing the nominalization makes the revised sentence less wordy.  The subject-predicate position is not affected in this case, but why use a verb phrase with a nominalization when a verb will do.  Do we know more by understanding that the reached an agreement rather than simply agreed? Not really.  

This aversion to nominalizations is a somewhat recent backlash in academic culture, so more conservative fields, like science and law have been slow to adopt this change, but if we are thinking about how to write with clarity, this is practically axiomatic.  However, feel free to defer to the stylistic preferences of your professors.  


So never use them?

Of course not.  Just don’t use them without reason.  You will need to refer to things and concepts as things and concepts.  But if your are nominalizing what should be your verb or adjective for the sake of reaching a word count, or sounding like a smarty-pants, know that your professor can probably tell.  


There are other cases in which nominalizations are perfectly acceptable.  Writers often take advantage of nominalizations to link sentences together, in which a nominalized verb (often preceded by a pronoun like this or that) refers back to known information.  This kind of coordination with the referent is often necessary in writing.  Take the following example:

The grammar of the written language differs greatly from that of spoken language.  This difference is attributable to the constant innovations of spoken language  (Kolln, Gray 126).  

If you are further interested in other kinds of nominalizations like agent and recipient nouns, and gerunds, consult this site.  


Referenced works:




Kolln, Martha, and Loretta S. Gray. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. , 2017. Print.



The Rhetorical Triangle

Categories: Updates

If you’ve ever taken a speech, writing, or communications class, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the Rhetorical Triangle. It looks a little something like this:

The Rhetorical Triangle is composed of three parts: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. It is often represented by an equilateral triangle: all three sides are equidistant from one another to show the equal importance of each concept to effective communication and persuasion. Aristotle (the Greek philosopher and rhetorician) taught that audience appeal in these three areas is what determines whether a speaker can effectively persuade, but this does, in fact, extend to all forms of communication, including writing!

So without further ado, I present our three concepts:


Ethos is what convinces your reader that you’re a writer of character and credibility. It employs a variety of techniques to show the reader that you as the writer know what you’re talking about and are trustworthy enough to provide the right information to the reader. As a writer, you’re tasked with persuading your reader to accept your thesis/argument as true. In order to do this, you should show that you’ve considered multiple viewpoints in the development of your argument by correctly citing and documenting sources, and illustrate an awareness of the genre and purpose by choosing appropriate words and a suitable tone. This is where professionalism and formality come in: if you send an email to, say, a professor, and you begin the email with “What’s up,” you immediately destroy your ethos; your reader will assume that you are unaware of generic conventions, and whether you like it or not, may believe that you aren’t invested in the course or the subject.

Think of Ethos as your chance to make a good impression. You want to put the right foot forward from the beginning and show your reader that you’ve done the work, you know your subject, and that they can trust you to tell the truth. If your reader inherently trusts you, then it will be much easier for them to believe you!


On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pathos is an appeal to emotion, beliefs, and values. Instead of focusing on the writer’s role, it places emphasis on the role of the audience/reader. In some genres, this is a direct appeal to the audience’s emotions through, say, the telling of a heart-wrenching story with vivid detail and imagery; other times, it caters to belief and value systems that the writer knows his or her readers might ascribe to through specific, relatable examples. Essentially, Pathos is how you make your subject matter to your reader. Regardless of the method by which you appeal to audience, Pathos requires that you think about your audience even before you begin writing, asking yourself who you want to read your work and who is likely to read it. If you have an idea of who your audience is, it will be much easier for you to appeal to them using Pathos.

Some of the best examples of Pathos that we see on a regular basis are advertisements. Think of the last commercial that stood out to you. Why do you remember it? The Cam Newton Buick commercial from the 2017 Super Bowl employs Pathos incredibly well; small children play football in a field when parent points out a new Buick to another parent, who says “If that’s a Buick, then my kid’s Cam Newton.” The kid promptly morphs into the popular Panthers quarterback, much to the chagrin of the parents and young football players. It seems like a silly way to sell a car, but the thing is, it’s one of the only ads I remember from the 2017 Super Bowl, so it was obviously effective. Your goal is to do something similar with words in your writing!


The third corner of our Rhetorical Triangle is Logos. Logos represents the role of the text in effective persuasion, as it asks us to think specifically about how well the writer has argued his or her point. It appeals directly to logic and reason. The easiest way to test out your Logos is to ensure that your argument is clear and specific; if you’re writing an academic research paper, you might underline or highlight your specific thesis statement to assure yourself that you are indeed making an argument. You should also revisit your evidence; are your sources not just well-documented, but credible? For instance, if you make a strong argument but use biased “news” sources or your friend’s blog as evidence, you immediately throw your own argument into question. Is your thesis supported well throughout the paper by strong connections and references back to the argument? Do you argue your point logically and in an organized manner, so it’s easy to follow your thesis as it develops? These are the questions you should ask yourself as you evaluate your work.

In sum, the Rhetorical Triangle is a useful tool that you can use to evaluate the effectiveness of your writing. If you want to put these concepts into practice but would like some guidance doing so, be sure to visit the Writing Resources Center, and we can help you continue to improve your communication as a writer!






Reading as a Writer

Categories: Updates

So you’re a writer. Or maybe you hate writing. Maybe you’re a student who has been assigned a ton of writing for your class, and you find these assignments frustrating because you don’t consider yourself a writer. Maybe you don’t feel like you have enough experience with writing to call yourself a writer.

That’s okay.

Along with assigned writings, most of us have assigned readings for our classes.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: even for readings assigned outside of a writing class, a text can function as a tool box. You can use the tools and techniques an author uses to develop your identity as a writer. So next time your instructor assigns a piece to read, read it as a writer

Think about it like learning to drive. Many of us have been in cars with good drivers and bad drivers. When we learn to drive, we think about the things we would never do behind the wheel as well as behaviors that are conducive to a safe drive. We select the behaviors we want to replicate when we are behind the wheel because we know that those good behaviors will get us to our destination faster and more safely.

We can do the same thing when we read. Think about something you’ve read that you really enjoyed. What did the author do that made you enjoy the piece? Maybe the author used anecdotes to better illustrate his or her thought. Maybe the author is careful to use clear transitions between thoughts so that you, the reader, are never left wondering how the author moves from one topic to the next.

As you think about what tools the author used to make the piece more effective or more enjoyable to read, you can think about how you might use the same techniques in your own papers.

You can also think about techniques the author uses that make the piece harder to understand or less enjoyable to read. For example, maybe the author used ten dollar words when one dollar words would have sufficed. Knowing that this was not helpful for the reader to understand the piece, you can avoid this mistake in your own writing.

When instructors assign readings, it’s clear to students that there is some information that the student needs to glean from the reading – that’s no secret, right? But sometimes there are secondary lessons that the instructor wants students to learn. Examples and mentor texts help students model successful writing. Many instructors will show students a sample of a successfully completed assignment.

As you read such an example, compare the sample to any rubrics or assignment sheets that have been given by the instructor. What did the successful student do to fulfill all criteria of the assignment? Were the sources cited correctly? Was the paper organized logically? Was the thesis clear and consistent throughout the paper? These are just a few of the things that the student did to ensure that he or she received high marks on the paper, and you can mimic these moves in your own writing.

Speaking of your own writing, once you begin to make these decisions as you complete your assignments, guess what! You’re a writer! And continuing to read as a writer will help you hone your skills.


How to Write an Effective Cover Letter

Categories: Updates

As we get closer to the end of another term, when many of you are preparing to graduate and head out into the world of internships and jobs, it seems like an apt time for the Writing Resources Center to give you a little advice about how to write the perfect cover letter. Nearly every job or internship application requires one, but they can be a bit intimidating, especially since the cover letter is almost always the first time your prospective supervisor or employer encounters you and your personality. That said, you want to put your best foot forward, and I’m here to give you some tips on how to do that.

The purpose of a cover letter is simple: to show your prospective employer that you can communicate; to convey what you find to be interesting about the job you’re applying for; and to show how your experiences, education, and skills make you a good fit for the job. It must be clearly written so it’s easy to read, and it’s short so that hiring committees can quickly skim for necessary information as they read a lot of applications. It may seem daunting to know that you have to do all of this in less than a page, but there are certainly things you can do to set yourself up for success! Here are three useful tips for writing a stellar cover letter:

1) Only include relevant information

This one seems particularly difficult for a lot of first-time cover letter writers. For one, it’s easy to think that the cover letter is the perfect space to elaborate on the information we include in our resume; however, recreating your resume, even if you are elaborating on some of the more important points, is not going to get you noticed. Instead, you want to maximize your application space by including information that isn’t necessarily showcased on your resume. This will give prospective employers even more information about you, instead of several documents that essentially say the same thing.

For instance, you might have included on your resume that you volunteered for a water conservation nonprofit and listed the day-to-day tasks you completed. Don’t just mention it again in your cover letter, along with your other education and work experience. Instead, if you think it’s relevant, spend some time discussing exactly what skills you developed or knowledge you acquired during your time volunteering that are relevant to the job for which you are applying. In the case of this example, this may be anything from volunteer management skills to an awareness of water conservation methods; it just depends on the circumstances and the job opportunity.

2) Customize

Let’s face it: the job search is exhausting, and applying to several similar positions at a time–all of which may require a cover letter–may tempt you to save time and energy by submitting the same cover letter to multiple jobs.

You should never do this, though. It’s too impersonal, and may give the impression that you’re just mass-applying to jobs instead of looking for the perfect fit: one that will balance your skills and expertise with the company’s needs and goals.

Instead, do your research before you apply for the job. What is the company’s mission statement? What are their goals? What are the requirements of the position? Who is the head of the department? You don’t have to communicate that you know all of this information in your cover letter, but you can show that you’ve put in the time and effort to see if the company and the job are a good fit for you (and vice versa). All it takes sometimes is dropping the mission statement in your first paragraph, something like this:

My management skills, experience in marketing, and educational background make me the ideal candidate to help X-and-Y Company “put consumers first.”

Then, of course, you spend the next paragraph of your letter detailing just how you’re a great fit for the specific position, since now you know that you’re uniquely suited to help them meet their goals and further their mission. You can easily do this with the following tip:

3)  Highlight your skills and knowledge, not just your education

Coming right out of your degree program (or even if you’re applying in the middle of the program and haven’t graduated yet) can make it really tempting to focus your cover letter on your education. After all, you’re in the thick of it, or just leaving the lengthy, hard work of earning a college degree behind, so it’s on your mind. Think about this, though: it’s graduation season, and you’re graduating with a few hundred others who just earned the same degree. Focusing on your education, the degree you earned, doesn’t necessarily set you apart from the other applicants who also have their degree in Business Management.

What you do instead is focus on the unique aspects of your education, the parts that helped you develop specific skills and knowledge (you know, that stuff that makes you uniquely suited to this one particular job you’re applying for). Were you a member of any honors societies that allowed you to develop leadership skills? Did you work a relevant internship during your junior year? Did you take a class that changed the way you thought about catering to target markets? Did you volunteer in a relevant capacity?

You should also spend some time discussing your skills, even if they aren’t necessarily related to your education–especially if your skills are perfectly matched to the job description. Are you a natural leader? Do you work well with a team? Do you learn new technologies easily? Are you an excellent written and oral communicator? Are you self-motivated? Do you like to tackle new challenges?

That’s about all we have space for today, but of course, if you’re writing a cover letter and you want a second opinion, please be sure to visit the Writing Resources Center or the Career Center (career.uncc.edu) here at UNC Charlotte! The WRC works in tandem with the Career Center to help you ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward as you send out those job applications. Good luck!






Categories: Updates

Diction is best thought of as the style of writing, or your “written voice.” It is “the correct choice of words in terms of their meaning and the appropriate choice in terms of the audience and purpose” (Kolln 296).  

We wouldn’t text or talk to our friends in the same way would would speak to a judge, say. This is because we understand that different contexts and audiences have different expectations about our language. This represents a change in diction. When we are with our friends, we don’t feel compelled to speak in an elevated way, or even be grammatically correct much of the time. At work or within other sorts of institutions like academia or journalism, we understand that our reputations hang more heavily on our ability to be professional by demonstrating acumen and speaking fluently.   

Having said that, good diction is not simply a matter of using elevated language or “filling the page.” The highest maxim is to always be clear. If you can write in a colloquial way but still retain the conceptual complexity of your subject, you should feel confident in doing so. You should also be aware that professors will vary in their expectations with respect to diction. Different fields and genres also vary in their standards and conventions related to diction, so be aware of your audience.

So how do we sound professional? First, you should always work to expand your vocabulary. Being professional does not just mean you should be verbose. The point is not to be pretentious, but to be more precise with your language and expressions. Having the right words at hand will lead you to write more clearly with more economy. Here is an example from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) where wordy sentences are changed to concise ones,

(14 words)

Wordy: Suzie believed but could not confirm that Billy had feelings of affection for her.

(6 words)

Concise: Suzie assumed that Billy adored her.

You should also avoid vague words. If I say, “That is a bad movie,” you may or may not take my word for it, but my review would be more helpful if it were more specific. “Bad” is a word that confers very little information. Bad in what sense? Is it poorly plotted, is it tedious, are the effects cheesy, is the dialogue not believable? There are many places to go from “bad,” and getting to an interesting point that’s worth developing starts with an apt description. One also needs to vary their word choice. If I consistently describe a subject using the same adjective (even a good adjective), the writing will begin to seem lazy.

Diction refers not only to a variety of language but a variety of syntactic arrangement. If I write three sentences in a row that begin, “Hana did x,” (Hana walked, Hana talked, Hana claimed…), I will seem repetitive and bore my reader.  

Purdue’s OWL offers 15 possible revisions of the sentence below. Observe the ways in which the rhythm and emphasis shifts in each, and how you respond to each sentence given the ways in which the information is organized.

“The biggest coincidence that day happened when David and I ended up sitting next to each other at the Super Bowl.”

Your diction is your written voice, and it is as much a part of your identity as your speaking voice, so treat it with care and attention. Determine the sorts of written voices in the world you like and regard them as influences. Broaden your vocabulary, and develop a voice that is clear and unmistakably yours.  


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