How Classics Professors Write

Henry Bender, Ph.D.
Professor of English

Quick Facts

Do you prefer pen or pencil?

Do you have a favorite place to write?
Yes, I like to write in my study

What are you reading now?
A book on the history of Christianity, and a book on monuments in Rome.

SJU Writes: What kinds of writing do you do?

HB: Most of my writing is comments updating things I have been studying literally all my life. I have travelled to Europe, specifically Italy, over 130 times as the topography of Rome is changing all the time. So, I spend a lot of time reading up on these things. I do rewritings of some of my own publications, and I am hoping to publish another book before the end of my life.

SJU Writes: What is your favorite aspect of the writing process?

HB: Of the writing process, I think getting your ideas and formulating your ideas from mind to word is the challenge. I mean, even the ancients speak about that. When you get an insight into something, for example, when you read a poet in Latin and you get ideas or interpretations, you want to write them down. You may see that they’ve been cited already by commentators, b. But it helps to solidify impressions on the meaning of a poem if you write down your impressions and try to make them coherent. Then they can be shared in the context of the classroom. So that kind of writing is frustrating, but it’s good.

SJU Writes: What is the best thing you’ve ever written in your life?

HB: think one of the books that I have written, the book I wrote on Catullus, a Roman poet, is probably one of the best things that I’ve done as far as facilitating for students the opportunity to engage a Roman writer.

SJU Writes: When you are confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it? Do you spend days fretting about it or do you immediately start jotting down ideas?

HB: think with writing, you do the thinking and reading first—that is, like tilling the soil. You can’t grow the crops unless you have soil and moisture to make things grow. And then you write. But to rush into writing is not a good academic thing to do. On the other hand, to put it off is avoiding the challenge of dealing with your interpretations with the thoughts that have to be weighed. But with the different types of papers you have there is nothing wrong with jotting down your ideas as they come and then leaving them alone for a while, and then go back and re-organizing them.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in the discipline of classics?

HB: would say: 1) think, 2) jot down your thoughts. I had a teacher once who told me whenever you get an idea, put it on an index card. You might not come back to it for a while, but in classics, which is Latin and Greek literature that has been poured over for centuries now, it’s pretty hard to find something new. But your interpretation of a poem is like an interpretation of a painting. When you look at a painting or you hear music, and you look at literature, there is a common denominator in there. You could say that there are certain aesthetics that you pull together. Those are things that are important to pay attention to. How do you do that? You organize your reactions and jot them down and then come back to them and see if you can tie them together into some coherent whole.

—Mary McDermott ’17, M.A. ‘19

How a Student Activities Director Writes

Beth Hagovsky, Ed.D.
Director of Student Activities


Quick Facts

Favorite punctuation mark?
The hyphen.

Favorite music to write to?
The Hamilton Soundtrack.

Misspelled word?
Committed and committee. All the t’s and e’s.



SJU Writes: What kind of writing do you do as a director of a department?
BH: For the most part, the majority of my writing is emails: replies, questions, you know, that kind of thing, answering inquiries.  A handful of times over the course of a year, a director in student life, like myself, will be asked to compile reports that might be paragraph-based or they could be asking for a more bullet point, executive-type summary of things.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for writing a professional email?
BH: You have to reread. I think a lot of people don’t reread their emails before they send them. Maybe use the editor functions your email allows you to use. I also would say don’t do it from your phone.  I don’t think it is nearly as easy to send a grammatically correct and professional email from a phone as it is when you are sitting at a laptop or a computer and you have a minute to really compose your thoughts.

SJU Writes:  You have a doctorate in education. Was your dissertation one of the more difficult things you’ve ever had to write?

BH: Yes and no. I genuinely enjoyed the dissertation process, so I wouldn’t necessarily say it was difficult. I’ll be honest. The most difficult stuff I ever wrote was back in high school and college. In some classes that I had, the teachers, or faculty, were sticklers for how to write , and would make you revise and revise and revise until it was done correctly. I’d rather write another dissertation than have to do those kinds of papers again.

SJU Writes: Do you think any of that structured writing has stayed with you in your professional writing?

BH: Oh my gosh, sure! I mean, OK, so I’m probably a bit of a contradiction because I’m also the person who sends every email in lowercase letters. That being said, those folks back then–they were both English instructors–really informed how I write in terms of grammar. Also the woman who edited my dissertation for me, a friend of mine and a lawyer, really made sure I nailed the grammar. She was a wonderful editor.

SJU Writes: What’s your favorite thing that you have written?
BH: When I was in fourth grade, I entered this short story competition for the city. I don’t remember what I wrote. What I remember is that I won a prize for it, and I got a ribbon, and I got to pick out a pumpkin from this weird pumpkin patch at the awards ceremony. But I just remember this feeling that I wrote something, someone read it, and I got positive recognition for it. So that’s what I take away from that experience even though I don’t actually remember what I wrote.

—Dominique Joe ’20

How English Professors Write

Melissa Goldthwaite, Ph.D.
Professor of English


Quick Facts

What are you reading now?
Color Purple

Favorite word?

Oxford comma or no?

Favorite punctuation mark?

SJU Writes: Who’s the best or most influential writing teacher you have ever had?

MG: Two writing teachers come to mind. One was my undergraduate writing teacher, William Jolliff. He taught both poetry and advanced writing, and from him I learned that all of the writing that I did, whether it was essays or poetry, could be creative. So I didn’t have the divide that some people feel between academic and creative writing. And he was also funny and smart. I think about him a lot. He was a great teacher.

The other person that I think of is my graduate dissertation director, Andrea Lunsford. I think about her more in terms of modeling for me how a professional in my field should be and interact. I was her research assistant, and I saw how she was every day,: how she interacted with other people in the field, how she did her research, and her writing. She was a role model for me.

SJU Writes: Do you write with the advice of a particular person echoing in your mind as you compose?

MG: Well I can give you two examples from the two teachers that I just mentioned. One thing that Bill Jolliff said to me when I was anxious about miscommunication in writing was, “Mellissa, just because words don’t communicate absolutely, doesn’t mean they don’t communicate at all.” That calmed me down a little bit, and I worked on communicating what I wanted to communicate, instead of worrying that I would be misunderstood.

The other thing that stands out in my mind is something that Andrea Lunsford said to me. For my dissertation I had to interview someone who I was nervous about interviewing, and I can get very wrought, so she said to me “Melissa, just do it.” And I did it, and I felt a lot better afterwards. So, when I get myself worked up about something that I need to do, I remember her words: “’Just do it.’ I know it’s a Nike commercial, but it’s also very good advice.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students trying to write in your discipline?

MG: I would say read a lot. When you’re reading, try to figure out how the writer does what he or she does. Pay attention to your own responses. If there is something in what you’re reading that you think is really amazing, figure out why it’s amazing. Maybe it’s because it’s something you identify with, but maybe there’s something about the sentence structure or the way that the writer is doing what he or she is doing that makes you respond to it. And if you feel put off by something, try to figure out why you’re put off by it.

—Gia Primerano ’17, M.A. ‘19

How Chemists Write

Peter Graham, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Chemistry

Quick Facts

What are you reading now?
American War

Favorite word?

Favorite place to write?
Office on campus

Favorite punctuation mark?

SJU Writes: What kind of writing do you currently do?

PG: I do academic writing. I also write some for fun, some poetry, not really for general consumption, just for myself and sometimes my wife.

SJU Writes: When you’re tasked with a writing assignment, how do you approach it?

PG: If I need to think something through, I will just start writing stream of consciousness. That’s probably how I write anything. I just get my ideas into text. It’s probably unusable, but it makes sure I get my ideas out and that I’m thinking straight.

SJU Writes: Do you ever find that you write with the advice of a particular person echoing in your head?

PG: One of my friends who I went to graduate school with is a professor at Muhlenberg. We always help each other out, reading each other’s papers. He’s a really good writer and a really good editor. So, I’m always thinking, “Joe’s going to be mad if I leave this in here,” because he’s always going to read anything I publish.

SJU Writes: Do you find it more useful to go about peer revision through a more collaborative or directive approach?

PG: My Ph.D. advisor didn’t give a lot of feedback. He would just change it. So, it would come back, and you would kind of figure out what you did wrong. My post-doc advisor was really good for that stage in my career. He basically left my work untouched unless it was wrong. Then he would be like, “that’s not the best way to say that” or “can we rephrase that,” and it was a little bit more collaborative. I think it’s better to say, “I think this could use fewer words” instead of just correcting it.

I see this when I revise lab reports for students in Inorganic Lab. The first lab report, a lot of times, I just rewrite sentences or cross out three sentences and write one sentence to show them, this one sentence can say everything you said in three sentences. I’ll stop doing that, certainly, later in the semester. 

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students trying to write in your discipline?

PG: I think it’s always good to learn the correct terminology and use it. When editing, be as concise as possible. You have to go back and cut it down. What distinguishes scientific writing is being very clear. When you can summarize a big idea in very few words, it’s like saying “E=mc2.” You have all of that information packed into a tiny little package. It makes it seem very powerful.

—Leslie Briggs ’17, M.A. ‘18

How a Deputy Attorney General Writes

Dave Tuason ’03, J.D.
Villiger Speech and Debate Coach
Deputy Attorney General, New Jersey

Quick Facts

Favorite place to write?

Favorite punctuation?

Favorite word?

Oxford comma or no?
No Oxford comma

SJU WRITES: What kind of writing do you do for your job?
DT: I’m an attorney, so I litigate cases. I write a lot. I actually have to do briefs. I manage a case of 50 or 60 cases. For many of the cases, I have to write briefs for the court—full of motions, precedents, questions for summary judgment. I also have to write memos to my supervisors for certain things or case evaluations to get cases out, so writing is probably 90 percent of my job now.

SJU WRITES: Typically, how long are your arguments going into a case?
DT: It would depend on the case and how many arguments we have. You want to keep things to maybe 10 pages or 15 pages because you don’t want the law clerk that will be reading the brief to fall asleep. I really find more succinct arguments are the ones that work, so I try to keep it as short as I can. Eliminate unnecessary words. It’s really key to that.

SJU WRITES: Do you have a set revision process?
DT: I’ll try to shorten sentences and cut out unnecessary words, and then it will go through my supervisor before I follow up with the court. I’ll read his revisions, and then I’ll submit it to the court. But because we have such a high-volume practice, it’s hard to really get the nitty-gritty of things.

SJU WRITES: Do you write with a certain thought process or is it more a matter of checking boxes to finish what you need to tackle?
DT: When I do have time, I will try to make an outline first, just to understand the big picture of what I’m trying to accomplish. The misconception for writing is that a lot of people think that writing big words is the best thing to do, but in the legal profession, it’s best to simplify things so anyone can understand it, so really a fifth grader could understand it. It allows you to skim it and get what they’re trying to say where if someone uses big fancy words you wouldn’t use in everyday language, it’s confusing. That’s definitely been part of my development as a writer.

SJU WRITES: Is there any writing you are expecially proud of?
DT: My latest brief that I won in federal court. It was a constitutional issue, a 14th amendment challenge. I was really proud because I did a lot of research for it, and it took a lot of days to do. Without the assistance of my boss, I was able to prevail in district court. It was also a culmination of my writing.

—Christopher Pendleton ’20

How English Professors Write

Ann E. Green, Ph.D.
English Professor

Quick Facts:

Pen or pencil?
Straight on the computer or pen

Favorite word?

Favorite music to write to?
Beyoncé when writing comments

Favorite punctuation mark?

SJU Writes: What kinds of writing do you do right now?
AG: At the moment, because I am president of the Faculty Senate, I write a lot of memos and emails so I would say my work writing is instrumental. For my creative writing, I took a spiritual writing course over the summer and I try to write 3 pages every day, but I’m not always successful.

SJU Writes: What is your favorite aspect of the writing process?
AG: I really love revision. I really love structural revision. I really love, after I’ve written a good chunk, or writing and looking over it, or having someone else look over it with me and I find a new structure for it because it often takes me a long time to figure out what I need to say. So if I write something long, I may figure out that I’m really supposed to start in the middle and I cut a lot and write more.

SJU Writes: When you are confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it?
AG: The way my life works right now, I always have to find time to write as soon as I can even if it’s bad. And if I know I have a deadline, I block out time to write.

SJU Writes: What’s the best or most difficult thing you’ve ever written in your life?
AG: I wrote my dad’s eulogy and that was in December and I wrote it really quickly. I wrote it in one draft and I think I was able to do that because I had written a lot about my dad when he was alive so, in that moment I was proud to write that eulogy. To try and capture what Dad was for eighty-two years was also really challenging. And to try to speak to an audience of people who knew him but knew him in different contexts, like people that knew him since he was a little kid, people he worked with at different times and then my sister and my mother—it was difficult.

SJU Writes: Who’s the best or most influential writing teacher you have ever had?
AG:I had freshman studies in fiction writing and it was a year-long course with a woman named Myra Goldberg. She was my advisor, so I met with her every week to talk about writing and about college and she really appreciated what I was trying to do and that I didn’t really fit in at my college because it was an elite place, and I didn’t have parents that went to college. She was the best listener as a writing teacher; She is a great writing teacher.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline?
AG: Read a lot. Read everything—the good and the bad. Get to know what other people are writing about. Find certain writers that you love and read everything by them…and also, just write. You can talk a lot about writing, but if you want to be good at it, then just do it. You have to learn by doing it. And you also have to learn by screwing it up. You’re going to write and you’re going to fail. It’s not going to be the best American novel or an “A” paper all the time, but you just have to keep doing it.

—Dominique Rolle ’18


How a Chief Diversity Officer Writes

Monica Nixon

Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion

Quick Facts

Favorite word?

Favorite punctuation?
The vocative comma.

Misspelled word?

SJU Writes: Why is writing important to work in inclusion and diversity?
MN: With concepts that can trigger immediate responses, writing can be a way through that response mechanism. Writing allows people to digest, to have an initial response—even if it’s one that negative—and to revisit. Because inclusion is so broad, being able to target how I describe this work to the aspirations of the group helps people see that this work matters and it matters to them.

SJU Writes: One of the ways I’ve noticed your use of language in inclusion and diversity work is how you use the word “minoritized.” Can you explain that term?

MN: In some cases there are groups who historically have been numerical minorities, and, given systems of power, have been on the receiving end of oppression. In others, folks may be in the numerical majority but still be in a group that experiences oppression, again given our structures of racism, sexism, ageism, a lot of different  “isms.” I think “minoritized” says something about who creates minority status, whereas “minority,” a less active descriptor, removes agency. I realize I’m just creating new jargon, but I’m trying to be more specific.

SJU Writes: What’s your favorite thing that you have written?
MN: When I was in fourth grade I entered this short story competition for the city. I don’t remember what I wrote; what I remember is that I won a prize for it and I got a ribbon and I got to pick out a pumpkin from this weird pumpkin patch at the awards ceremony. But I just remember this feeling that I wrote something, someone read it, and I got positive recognition for it. So that’s what I take away from that experience even though I don’t actually remember what I wrote.

SJU Writes: What was your most difficult writing moment?
MN: Writing my dissertation. The way my program structured dissertations was in five parts: the lit review, the problem statement, the methodology, results, and the findings. What I learned over time is that I need to outline what I want to say because I get lost in my own information. In my initial draft of my findings chapter I repeated entire sections; I was so immersed that I didn’t realize if I had already included something.

SJU Writes: How did you overcome that?
MN: One of my committee members told me not to feel bound by the artificial structure. My final draft had nine chapters because she let me create a chapter for each area of significant finding and make the structure work for me. She also reminded me I was telling a story. When she told me that, I think my jaw dropped. I ended up throwing out entire sections, which hurt, but they didn’t fit the story. I prioritized what I wanted to say and had freedom to really tell the story. I remember when I turned in the draft, I was exhausted. But with this opportunity to rethink my approach, I dived back in with all of this energy. When I turned it in again, I didn’t feel exhausted; I felt like I had accomplished something in telling these stories.

SJU Writes: Kinda like when you got the pumpkin.
MN: Exactly!

—Ann Marie Maloney ’18

How Campus Ministry Writes

Beth Forth McNamee
Assistant Director of Campus Ministry

Quick Facts

Pen or Pencil?

Favorite word?

Favorite music to write to?
88.5 WXPN

Favorite punctuation mark?

SJU Writes: Can you describe the kind of writing that your job entails?
BFM: I like to make connections between Philadelphia and Camden partnerships, students, and faculty at SJU. So I write in a way that is inclusive and mostly through email. I do a lot of social media posting which forces you to distill your message clearly. Occasionally I’ll do journalistic writing for the [Campus Ministry] newsletter and the handouts for the Mass. I’ve also written for the Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Hawk.

SJU Writes: When you are confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it?
BFM: Emails, I just write. If it’s a little more formal, like an announcement to the university, I’ll have it sit in my draft folder for a little while. I’ll proofread it a million times. If it is something I have to generate that is more substantial, I’ll keep an electronic document, and I take time to brainstorm. I usually write the piece below where I wrote all of my brainstorming, and I’ll refer back to it. If it is something that’s being published, I will usually have other people look at it.

SJU Writes: So what I’m gathering is, that it’s a continuous process? You don’t simply sit down, and finish it in one sitting?
BFM: No—I taught as an adjunct for four semesters, and I could tell when students sat down and finished assignments in one sitting. It reads like a stream of consciousness. I strongly discourage that.

SJU Writes: Is there a particular book or article that has influenced your writing?
BFM: Reading so much fiction over time really influenced me. I read a lot of journalistic writing and some academic pieces. The more that I read, the more I have a sense of what my writing should look like.

SJU Writes: Do you have a particular favorite book?
BFM: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It talks about writing and about life.

SJU Writes: Is there a particular environment that you do your best writing in?
BFM: I don’t have a lot of writing routines at this point in my life; I feel like having a small child will take that from you. I do love a good space. I do great work in the morning—it’s when I’m at my best. I definitely need coffee. Otherwise, a good table, bright sunlight, and a computer are all I need.

— Jennifer Nessel’20

How Golf Writers Write

Tom Coyne, M.F.A.
Associate Professor of English

Quick Facts

Favorite word?

Favorite music to write to?
None. Silence.

Favorite place to write?
Coffee shops in Europe, but I hate how pretentious that sounds.

SJU Writes: How do you start your writing process? How do you get into the mindset?
TC: The way I start any writing session is just going through yesterday’s work and cleaning that up a little bit which leads me into what I want to do today. But in terms of timing and when, I’ve had to get a lot better at just starting whenever I have a moment because now I have kids and a family. Staying up all night and waiting for inspiration doesn’t fly anymore. It was a great luxury when it did.

SJU Writes: How do you overcome things like writer’s block?
TC: Writer’s block is funny. I’ve never really had experience with this thing where I sit down and can’t write anything. Touch wood. That’s never been my experience. I’ve had good writer’s block, where I’m just writing crap or things that will never see the light of day or things I’m not happy with. In terms of just sitting down and not writing, that’s just never really felt like an option to me.

SJU Writes: What do you mean by good writer’s block?
TC: I’ve been blocked from writing anything that I feel is going be good. I’ve certainly experienced that where I feel like I’m in a rut just spinning my wheels. Or I’m just working on something that I know is going nowhere. I’ve experienced that, but at least I’m still writing. At least I’m still getting something on the page. Even if I just find a sentence or two that’ll be part of something else, or will lead me off into another direction. The idea of sitting there and saying ‘I have writer’s block, so I’m not writing’ is a cop out. Writing is work, and other people don’t show up to their job and say ‘I just can’t work today.’ You just slog on. If we all sat around and waited for the perfect story, the perfect sentence or the perfect paragraph or the perfect chapter, if we’re not going to write till we have that, we wouldn’t write at all.         

SJU Writes: You just have to keep at it?
TC: You just have to keep at it. The writers who’ve ever taught me anything, or that I really admire, are writers who always kept at it.

—Rob Roy, ’19

How History Professors Write

Alison Lewin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History

Quick Facts

What’s a word you always misspell?
Florence and authority.

Do you compose on the computer or by hand?
More so on the computer but still somewhat by hand.

Favorite time to write?

SJU Writes: What kinds of writing do you currently do?
AL: Mostly I’m writing a book. Sometimes when I’m upset I jot down odd personal thoughts to get feelings out, but I haven’t written in that vein for a long time–so I guess that’s a good thing!

SJU Writes: What’s your book about?
AL: A lower middle class artist from the late 1300s named Bindino di Cialli di Travale. Near the end of his life, he wrote to his sons a lengthy narrative about events in Siena, his adopted home town. What intrigues me about Bindino is how he knows what he knows. He is a type of person we don’t hear from often. He’s not elite or knowledgeable in Latin, and yet he seems to know a lot about what’s going on. My working title for the book is “Through an Artisan’s Eye: Popular Culture and Knowledge in Siena.”

SJU Writes: Do you write with the influence of someone in mind?
AL: Yes, Duccio Balastarcci, who wrote The Renaissance in the Fields: Family Memoirs of a Fifteenth-Century Tuscan Peasant. Balastracci found records of the peasant’s family for most of the century. He has become my model for what can be done historically when you have limited access to direct sources.

SJU Writes: Was there a piece of writing that was particularly difficult for you? Why?
AL: In graduate school I had to write a short paper about a source, which normally would be a piece of cake. I just couldn’t get started on it. I had never experienced writer’s block before, but I really had it on this one. So I just decided to write my professor a letter about the source: “Dear John, I was reading this and here are some thoughts I had.” I let it sit for two days, came back to it, took out the letter part, and then handed in the paper.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline?
AL: First, start with the evidence. Second, decide what question you want to answer. Third, write paragraphs in no particular order and come back later to organize them. Then, walk away and start again. Read as if you’ve never seen the paper before. Ask yourself, is this evidence forwarding my argument? Sometimes you write a really great paragraph but it doesn’t belong. You have to be willing to throw stuff out if it’s unclear or irrelevant to the paper. Last but not least, read it aloud to somebody. Ask that somebody to tell you if the paper make sense.

What I just described to you is how I write. [During the research stage,] I’ll go through and develop a shorthand of abbreviations. As I read through the evidence I’ll put a symbol next to information that resonates with me. Then I think, what’s the relationship? And then I start writing paragraphs. Sometimes I’ll print and physically cut them up so I can rearrange and see how they fit.

Nobody writes as well the first time as the third time. Nobody. That’s why you can’t write it all the night before. It takes time and reflection. If every student becomes his or her own best editor, then we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

SJU Writes: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AL: Like a lot of people, when I need to write something I dread the idea, but once I start writing I get in the beautiful flow state where I get lost and time ceases to exist.

—Courtney Brouder, ’19