Critical Writing/Critical Thinking Webinar Series

This web series supports students practicing the skills and knowledge gained during the week-long classroom session of Critical Writing/Critical Thinking as well as other interested in strengthening their writing skills. All webinars, including questions and answers, are recorded and available in this web library.


Critical Writing/Critical Thinking Descriptions and Resources

A Reference Toolbox: Your Guide to Style Manuals and Reference Works

Do I need a comma in this sentence?  Should this letter be capitalized?  What is the difference between that and which?  These questions can plague anyone revising a document.  No one has all the rules down pat.  But every serious writer should have a series of good reference works handy.  This webinar provides a brief tour of a variety of grammar handbooks and style manuals, invaluable resourc es for anyone who wants to improve their writing or editing skills.  You will learn the difference between the hard and fast rules known as grammar and the variety of writing choices called style.  You will be given an overview of several grammar handbooks, including typical organizations and answers to common writing questions.  You will also see how to use the government’sstyle manual:  The United States Government Printing Office Style Manual; or, more simply, the GPO.  Finally, you will learn how to use Word’s formatting and grammar features more effectively.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Distinguish between grammar rules and style choices.
Use a grammar handbook effectively to answer common writing questions.
Use the GPO to format documents correctly.
Use Word’s grammar features effectively.

Choosing the Right Words for More Powerful Descriptions

As we learned in Critical Writing-Critical Thinking, clear, concise and vivid language help evoke the senses and ultimately provide a more powerful and convincing argument. In this Webinar, we will explore more techniques, tips and tools to help you create compelling descriptions. We'll discuss some tips for planning, drafting and revising your description; a few simple things you can do to inspire your descriptive writing; and a few hints about choosing more vivid language. Students will be also invited to try out some techniques to help them sharpen their description writing skills.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Use some imaging techniques to prepare you to write good descriptions.
Write descriptions that are clear and evoke the senses of your reader.
Write descriptions that are well-organized and follow a pattern such as, chronological, cyclical, spatial, or comparison.

Develop a Writing Collaborative

Mature writers never work in isolation but collaborate frequently.  Collaboration itself looks different depending on the writer, the document, and the context.  In some situations, this may mean scheduling a coffee break with a co-worker to brainstorm a new idea.  Or it could involve a week-long conference with co-authors, alternating between whiteboard think-tank sessions, break-out meetings, and periods of solitary retreat.  When reviewers are involved, constant communication is a key element of success.  But reviewers vary in the stage they prefer to be consulted—from issue identification to copy editing—and new team members may have difficulty determining when to call for help and when to plug away on their own.  This session will cull sets of best practices from university researchers, corporate professionals, and government workers to provide you with a variety of scenarios that you can then tailor to your own region’s needs.  Note:  We suggest that offices or regions sign up in teams and schedule a follow up meeting on their own to get the most from this session. 

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Explain the value of collaboration to co-workers at all levels.Distinguish between types of collaboration appropriate to different stages of the writing process.

Distinguish between types of collaboration appropriate for those with different roles on the project.

Establish a collaborative plan for large documents that makes the best use of your office’s or region’s resources.

Effective Editing

Every writer knows how painful the editing process can be:  hours of effort, returned with hundreds of tiny red marks that feel more like stab wounds than corrections.  Editors, on the other hand, share one common goal:  clear communication with the reader.  And while some editors remain distant throughout the process, others may also wish to foster collaborative, collegial relationships with their writers and perhaps train them to become editors themselves one day.  Whether you are a supervisor, a colleague, or an instructor, this webinar will change the way you edit by shifting your focus away from the rules and towards the review, the relationship, and the reader.  We will identify best practices to use when working in a long-term relationship with writers who need to cultivate their skills.  We will show you how to diagnose common problems so you can train your writers to correct themselves.  And we will turn the magnifying glass away from the manuscript and towards ourselves to see what we can do to make the document more accessible.  Finally, this session provides effective strategies for serious retooling of two different kinds and reminders for best management of files.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Develop concrete strategies for long-term cultivation of writers with different attitudes and goals.
Diagnose problems and offer solutions, not corrections.Identify and practice the three cardinal rules of editing.
Receive two tips for major retooling and several tidbits for file management.

Go with the Flow - Adding Transitions

If you’ve ever had a draft returned with the words “choppy,” “doesn’t flow”, or “irrelevant” blotting the margins, this webinar is for you.  Such comments are frequently found in writing that lacks transitions.  By learning to identify and use transitional words and expressions, you can improve the flow of your ideas and demonstrate their significance to the topic under discussion.  As part of our continuing webinar series for graduates of NCTC’s Critical Writing, Critical Thinking course, this session will identify the common problems caused by missing transitions.  We’ll review different types of transitions from the blatant to the subtle, practice using them smoothly and logically, and discuss the critical thought advantages to considering connections.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Identify problems caused by a lack of transitions.
Understand and employ a range of transitional words, expressions, and alternate methods of connecting ideas. 
Avoid common transition problems, including errors in logic or misplaced emphasis.
Learn the benefit of transitions to the critical thought process.

HEAT Your Paragraphs Up

It has been said that every piece of writing is an argument.  Perhaps it is true that everything we write includes some element of persuasion.  But even in a document that is intended to be objective and impartial, data is used to arrive at a conclusion. And between the two lies interpretation.  The flow of logic from the data to the conclusion often seems so natural, so obvious, so simple that the writer fails to include it.  But that is precisely the part of the document that causes the most disagreement.  Consider this—in every single trial, both the prosecution and the defense are limited to the same set of evidence.  It is their interpretation alone that convinces the jury to rule in their favor.  Every piece of data is open to interpretation, yet in many scientific documents, the data is presumed to speak for itself.  A simple paragraph structure called HEAT will help to ensure that the data in your documents is analyzed to clearly demonstrate a hypothesis that supports the thesis of the argument. 

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Identify and create a thesis statement.
Identify the various hypotheses, claims, or premises that constitute the thesis.
Determine the relationship between evidence and a hypothesis and organize a paragraph to differentiate between the two.
Analyze the evidence to demonstrate that relationship explicitly in the paragraph.
Connect the hypothesis to the thesis in the paragraph. 

Make An Appointment to Write

The greatest barrier to clear, effective communication is the lack of time.  But you don’t need a time machine to overcome this obstacle.  Nor should you be spending endless nights and weekends at the office.  This webinar will offer practical suggestions on time management in general and specifically in relationship to the writing process.  We’ll identify some “best practices” in terms of time management.  And then we’ll talk about how to tackle all kinds of projects, both small and large, in realistic and effective ways that guarantee timely completion, a more natural working schedule, and a more polished document.  Finally, we’ll connect time management questions to the six different stages in the writing process, so you can pull yourself out of any rut and recognize those rare and precious golden opportunities when they come along.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Identify and consolidate time “wasters”.
Recognize tasks appropriate to various times of day.
Chunk time to complete smaller writing projects.
Identify and schedule writing tasks for large projects.
Managing your energy and your time during each of the 6 writing stages.

Prewriting Effective Use of Brainstorming and Mindmaps

Even though we are taught in the CW/CT class how important it is to engage in pre-writing before launching into a complex piece of writing we still don’t take the time to do it.  But investing in a few simple prewriting strategies can save you during editing and revision process later.  Review some brainstorming techniques that you can work on by yourself or in collaboration with others.  I’ve heard that some of you are interested in learning more about “Mind Maps” so I show you how to work with these.  Mind maps help you with the overall structure of your topic and the relative importance of individual parts of it. They help you to associate ideas and make connections that you might not otherwise make.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Identify a few ways to consolidate information, think through complex problems and play with the overall structure of your document by using pre-writing techniques.
Organize your document so that it suits your context, purpose, and audience using pre-writing techniques.
Construct a simple mind map and transfer it to a document draft.

Reduce the Readers Workload by Coordinating and Subordinating the Right Ideas

If reading a document has ever left you absolutely drained, chances are it contained no subordinating structures.  If you’ve ever failed to see the relevance, the writer probably failed to coordinate the ideas.  These two simple structures allow our readers to identify a hierarchy of ideas in our documents and thus process information with ease.  Without them, it becomes nearly impossible to make connections or come to an agreement on key issues.  If you want your documents to read smoothly, if you want your readers to see your point clearly, if you want your arguments to communicate effectively, please join us in our ongoing webinar series.  We’ll discuss how to identify sentence groups that require a high degree of attention and how to reduce the reader’s workload by subordinating ideas appropriately.  We’ll also talk about the benefits of coordination and see how both together can improve our flow, our reader’s retention, and our document’s effectiveness.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Identify sentence groups that require a high attention span.

Select the right ideas to subordinate and the logical transitions to do so.

Use coordinating structures to improve relevance and flow.

Balance subordinating and coordinating structures logically and smoothly.

The Craft of Persuasion

Advertisers and politicians understand how to push our buttons and make their products irresistible.  While the techniques of rhetoric are sometimes used unscrupulously or for questionable purposes, there are times when we are called upon to persuade.  Certainly biologists and government employees base their decisions upon sound science and consistent policy.  Still, many of the documents written by the Fish and Wildlife Service require that we take a position and defend it to the best of our ability.  That involves persuasion.  And those documents will be effective if we understand how to use persuasive techniques appropriately and effectively.  In this webinar we’ll talk about the difference between the cheap trick and the sound argument.  We will identify the three classical tools of persuasion—pathos, ethos, and logos.  And we will discover how to develop techniques you already know to effectively deploy those tools and keep your audience well disposed toward you, your position, and your conclusion.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Employ persuasive strategies appropriate to letters, biological opinions, listing documents, and other kinds of scientific and government writing. 

Use narration, description, and tone to establish an emotional connection with your audience.

Demonstrate your good sense, good will, and good character both as the author of the document and as a representative of the US government.

Employ critical thinking strategies, argument analysis, and organizational patterns to strengthen the logical persuasion of your argument. 

The Finer Points of Usage

Although the guidelines for style are far more flexible than the rules of grammar, pundits and pedants alike remain sticklers for differences that seem nearly imperceptible to the average reader.  And as a professional writer, whether you are trying to satisfy your boss or yourself, nagging questions may persist.  What is the difference between that and which?  Why am I receiving conflicting advice on the use of the serial comma?  What is an en dash?  When should I hyphenate multiple modifiers?  Can I begin a sentence with a conjunction?  We would love to answer all of your questions, but the fact is, some of the answers are changing as we speak.  So instead, this webinar will concentrate on the rules that have not changed, like commonly confused words that actually have different meanings.  And where the guidelines are in flux, we will review some of the recent changes and take a peek at those looming on the horizon.  Finally, when there really are no rules, we will do our best to dispel the myths and hope we can all learn how to put our internal editor out to “zen.”

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Distinguish between real comma rules and comma style.
Understand the origins of the en dash, how it differs from the em dash, and whether it still matters.
Distinguish between several pairs of commonly confused words.
Develop best practices going forward for improving usage.
Learn to recognize the mistakes that are not. 

Who is Doing What to Whom: Narration as a Revision Strategy

Smart revision is no easy task.  Trouble spots are simple to find, but tough to correct.  Far too often, we toss whole paragraphs, rewrite from scratch, and end up with just as many problems as before.  If you’re ready to stop reinventing the wheel, one simple question to ask is, “who is doing what to whom?”  The answer reveals subjects, verbs, and objects that magically fall into place as coherent sentences in logically ordered paragraphs.  This webinar in NCTC’s ongoing series for Critical Writers / Critical Thinkers will help you to identify draft material that can benefit from revision.  You’ll learn how to ask and answer simple questions that yield helpful clues to sentence and paragraph structure.  Finally, you’ll practice putting these structures into place, clarifying your own writing as well as the work of others.  Best of all, you’ll save time and energy as you learn to revise more efficiently.

Objectives—At the completion of this webinar you will be able to:

Identify sentences and paragraphs that could benefit from revision.
Answer the question, “who is doing what to whom?”
Put the answer into subject, verb, object positions to create coherent sentences.