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Featured Member Patricia Goodson – Promoting outstanding writing

Patricia Goodson
Patricia Goodson

Becoming An Academic WriterPatricia Goodson is Professor of Health Education at Texas A&M University, and Director of the College of Education and Human Development’s Writing Initiative (P.O.W.E.R. Services), a college-wide writing support service for graduate students. P.O.W.E.R. is grounded in the model described in her book, Becoming an Academic Writer.

Here Goodson talks to TAA about her approach to writing and about managing a successful writing support service for graduate students.

TAA: What is your approach to academic writing?

PG: “I approach academic writing as a learned behavior and, therefore, something anyone can learn! This was not my approach in the beginning of my career. Early on, I viewed writing as resulting from one’s innate abilities or talent: some folks struggled more than others because some had the talent, others, didn’t. Only later, as I explored the research on faculty productivity, I learned about the need for practice (actually, a special type of practice, called deep or deliberate practice), and began to ask myself: what do I do to practice my academic writing besides just, well, just… writing? Once I understood that learning how to practice and practicing daily could significantly improve my writing productivity (as well as its quality), there was no turning back.”

TAA: Can you describe the P.O.W.E.R. model that you developed for use at Texas A&M University?

PG: “P.O.W.E.R. stands for Promoting Outstanding Writing for Excellence in Research. It is the name of a support service for graduate students’ writing I created here in the College of Education and Human Development, in 2007. We are not an editing service, nor a traditional university writing center (Texas A&M has a fabulous writing center, already!). We do, however, offer support, motivation, and feedback for graduate students who are struggling with their writing. We share tips and suggestions for enhancing productivity and for coping with things like ‘stuck-ed-ness’ (you know what I’m trying to say!). We provide reader-, criterion- and, at times, expert-based feedback for the material being written, and we encourage folks to keep writing and practicing their academic writing.

P.O.W.E.R. Services are based upon what I now call the ‘POWER Model’. The model incorporates the constructs and principles from Peter Elbow’s theory of the writing process, alongside helpful evidence culled from the psychology and neuro-science literatures on talent development and deep practice. It was Elbow’s book ‘Writing with POWER’ that gave me the idea for the concept of ‘POWER’—defined as the process of taking control over one’s writing—and I turned the concept into an acronym. My father keeps joking that POWER really stands for ‘Poor Old Writers Expecting Rejection’… but I beg to differ!!!

Graduate students at Texas A&M University can schedule an appointment with any one of the 20 P.O.W.E.R. consultants and meet with them either face-to-face or through video Skype.”

TAA: Can you share some of your insights on managing a successful writing support service for graduate students?

PG: “If I had to point to a couple of features that have made P.O.W.E.R. successful, I believe those would be: a) it offers students a systematic way of approaching their academic writing, so they are equipped with appropriate tools, strategies and resources; b) the service demonstrates the importance of obtaining different types of feedback at different stages of a writing project; c) the service provides support of various types, not merely technical: emotional and instrumental, as well; and d) P.O.W.E.R. comprises only people who are enthusiastic about what they learn, who want to share their success with others. You should see the level of commitment and enthusiasm of my team! And they are all volunteers!”

TAA: What do you value about your TAA membership?

PG: “If it weren’t for TAA, I wouldn’t be here, right now! Really! My interest in writing as a process that can become easier with specific strategies and tools started when I attended a TAA-sponsored workshop taught by Tara Gray in 2005. After that workshop I remember testing several of her suggestions, including writing daily, logging my writing time, obtaining different types of feedback, and editing in specific ways. Every small strategy I tried translated into a huge impact on my writing productivity, and I was hooked! So I wanted more and began sharing what I had learned with my students, tried learning even more, and began asking questions about how all this might fit with prevailing theory and research (I really wanted to know why these strategies worked).

Soon I was invited to work part-time as associate dean for Graduate Studies at my College and that became the right place and the right time to attempt something larger; to apply the strategies to students’ writing, not merely my own. I guess the rest will soon be history, but it all started with that single workshop, compliments of TAA and Texas A&M University! I consider myself very privileged to be a small part of both organizations, and I always make it a point to include TAA as a valuable resource on my ‘resources list’ for graduate students and faculty writers.

We recently developed a TAA Chapter at Texas A&M University. As chapter members, my P.O.W.E.R. consultant-team have access to TAA’s network, free audio conferences, further mentoring and annual conferences. All of these resources will serve double-duty: contribute to strengthening P.O.W.E.R and enhance TAA’s reach. A win-win scenario, most certainly!”

Patricia Goodson is a Professor of Health Education at Texas A&M University and author of Becoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing. The book highlights the importance of practicing academic writing. Chapters contain exercises for practicing writing specific sections of academic journal articles.