A Nearly Septuagenarian’s Adventures with Purdue Owl


A Nearly Septuagenarian’s Adventures with Purdue Owl

January 9, 2023

As a student, the Purdue Owl website was a source of great comfort for me. It seemed almost a tangible, billowy, yet safe and confining space; kind of like those bounce-houses filled with balls for kids. I would flit among MLA and APA and general writing tips: pulling up a sample reference page here, making sure I knew the difference between effect and affect there, and ended up by checking an in-text citation for a quote within a quote.

I haven’t perused Purdue Owl’s website in some time, so, it is disconcerting to find it is completely tied into Purdue University’s writing lab. Now, you can also more readily access various sections of the style guide directly from the browser. If, for example, you want to check to cite a poster in APA format, Purdue Owl’s information is listed among the many sites you can choose in your browser. I can see how advantageous this fine-tuning is, and, in fact, I have already made use of this feature over the years. Yet, I am nostalgic. I remember clicking into Purdue Owl and finding a wonderful and useful anthology of styles.  I clicked into it and from there, I could go to MLA, APA, Chicago and Basic Writing tips with ease, and all with a sense of contained and defined space! Now, each section of the “anthology” is disconnected and floating alone in cyberspace. (I realize to a computer programmer, it always was, but I do so much floating through life that I appreciate any notion of the concrete.) 

Now when I go to Purdue Owl’s website, I find myself in a much larger and confusing space. Instead of a cozy little den surrounded by familiar and worn volumes, I am in a vast storage house of knowledge, and I have to search for information through many portals while avoiding countless rabbit holes. The current site does indeed have many tabs that sparkle and shimmer, and I bet they would taste like chocolate if they could. 

As I wandered the site, the vidcasts caught my fancy. I was going to watch all the ones I saw listed, but after the first one, which seemed to cover basic information well, I realized that, even with closed captions, the presentation moved at a pace too fast for me to comprehend if I had needed it. I did not investigate whether there were settings to slow or speed up the vidcast. But, if I had been new to the material, I would not have found the vidcasts helpful at the initial speed. 

Next, I spotted the citation generator. They have been around for quite some time, but seeing one in association with Purdue Owl, gave it a legitimacy.  I tried it out. The instructions made sense to me, but I am not an impatient 18-year-old in a hurry. I wonder if an indicator—with possibly flashing lights and huge letters saying, “Wait, I need more information!” would be helpful. But then again, I may not be giving 18 year-old scholars enough credit.

January 11, 2023

Today in my exploration of Purdue Owl’s Website, I found the “Purdue Owl Style Guide to be the first site listed in my browser for a Purdue Owl search. Ahh! Even though it took me to the Purdue Online Writing lab, it was like coming home! At a glance, I was reassured that my familiar resources were there—that this was the place. And it was all cozy and orderly inside like a good website should be!                                               One bit of confusion is that there are two home tabs:  the “Purdue Owl home” and the “home” tab. The Purdue Owl home page seemed to be there to bridge the gap for people who are looking specifically for reference material as opposed to the Online Writing Lab.  This home page seems older and, well, clunkier. The information was boxed and concise to a fault—almost clipped. In fact, it could have been a PDF version of an old page. The site designers definitely weren’t expecting you to linger here. It didn’t strike me as a place where I would get any real information. It felt like a ghost…kind of like that dive on the outskirts of town you would avoid except they used to have the best pizza in three states. 

The other “home” page is the page that opened when I clicked on the link in the browser: the Purdue Online Writing Lab. The next tab after “home” is labeled “about” but, really, it’s the donation page! Very clever Purdue.

The tabs following get into information areas, including General Writing, Research and Citation, Avoiding Plagiarism, Teacher/tutor Resources, Graduate Writing, Subject Specific Writing, Job Search Writing, Multilingual, and Owl exercises. All of these links are also provided in column form at the left side of the page. along with suggested resources, including Style Guide Overview (The kitchen table of the site; it is good to be home!), MLA Guide, APA Guide, and Chicago Guide. A description of the writing lab and its mission statement, a message from the director (about online services during the pandemic) takes up the rest of the page.  

In peeking inside the Style Guide Overview, I found the links to the individual guides were replicated there, making it a stand-alone reference (sort of like the entertainment center in a den).       

January 15, 2023

I wasn’t expecting to find new and interesting material in Purdue Owl’s short introduction entitled, Style Guide Overview, and I didn’t. However, the section curved, smoothed and rounded my perspective on style. (I know; I just used three words that are synonyms of each other. But maybe the redundancy illustrates some of the incremental changes in my thought process.) Purdue Owl is well-aware that students use the style guide primarily to check citations. That’s what I do. Teachers at SLCC usually go over things like headings and whether they care if a paper is written in third person, so what else do you need a style book for?  The Purdue Owl Online Writing lab explains that particular styles are communication devices that make it easier to connect with readers. Academic styles provide a uniform look within disciplines. The site further explains that readers can tell immediately what type of questions and insights are likely to be found in an MLA paper as opposed to an APA paper and how and where to find these insights. Purdue Owl likens style guides to branding guides in manufacturing and advertising, and underscores this simile with the implied questions, “How do you know an Apple device, and what makes in an Apple?” The headings, Works Cited pages, and citations may help to create the look, but the style of a paper is also recognized by its tone, grammar, word choices and general outlook. Students, of course, are infused with this knowledge as they dive deeper into their studies, but a good stylebook can help. Purdue’s overview lists several stylebooks that students may find helpful, along with some specific or less common styles not found on their site. 

In the past, I have glanced at the section they now call “General Writing”, but I have a renewed appreciation for the communicative aspects of academic writing styles and sense I will make better use of the materials at hand.  Hmmm, all this curving, smoothing, and rounding because of a few short paragraphs…It’s time for me to pick up a trashy novel!


January 18, 2023

I have a confession to make: As a child, I only went to school when it rained.1 Now, I grew up in Northern New York, and it rained more often there than it does here; still, there are huge gaps in my basic education and knowledge. So, when I decided to reflect on Purdue Owl’s grammar section, which used to be in the style guide, but has since been moved to a more general location in the writing lab, I slid down multiple rabbit holes soaking in information I missed as a child. Did you know that -able endings go on complete words like, agreeable and comfortable, while -ible endings go on incomplete words like horrible, audible? Of course you did because you were a good child who went to school and paid attention.

 I also revisited the differences between “that” and “which”. This section had very understandable explanations and examples, and included a link to a video, which was also helpful. At this moment in time, I understand that the word “that” is used with restrictive clauses—clauses that say this information goes only with this noun: The cat, that had kittens yesterday, is hissing under the porch. The word “which” is used with non-restrictive causes: The cat, which has lovely green eyes, is hissing under the porch. In trying to come up with an example of a non-restrictive clause, I realized that in many cases whether a clause is restrictive depends on the writer’s perspective of the information provided by the clause. If multiple cats in the neighborhood had kittens yesterday, then this information would not be as crucial. And if one cat had the loveliest green eyes of all cats, then this information would be crucial. So, the words “which” and “that” really are codes for the reader trying to decipher meaning! Wow! Now the big question is will I remember any of this tomorrow? Well, if I don’t, Purdue Owl’s grammar section will be there.  

1 I’ve quipped this line so often that it is now part of me. And I missed an awful lot of school both on rainy days and sunny days. However, I first heard the line on The Danny Thomas Show spoken by the character, Buddy. Google directs me to season 4, episode 15.

January 20, 2023

Today, I was going to look at the MLA guide in the Purdue Style book, but when I clicked on the section, under the title was a citation generator. And under this, in teeny tiny blue letters, was a link entitled “Using citation machines responsibly”. I clicked on it. The document that came up read like a product disclaimer with the message, “Citation generators can’t think.” They can’t tell if you have fed it the wrong data. So be careful!

The page also explains and illustrates with a diagram how generators handle data given to them. Under the heading “How Can I Use Citation Generators Wisely?” appear basic pointers almost all have the theme: Students are in charge of the data they input.

One example in particular resonates with me. Some generators will automatically change capitalization to fit the style, but capitalization is really the purview of the authors/editors. The style book illustrates this with a citation of E.E. Cummings’ poem, anyone lived in a pretty how town. The choice of capitalization is integral to the work and should be preserved. It is up to the student to know enough to overrule the generator. But being able to do this requires the necessary hubris on the student’s part to say, “I know more than this machine!” This is something that I have trouble with at times and reading this was a good reminder to make use of tools but to trust my own judgment. 

There was also a similar reminder to check editions of materials you use. On its own, the generator will probably suggest the most recent edition which may not be the one you are using. The section ends with tips on how to find reputable sources and includes pointers such as: checking to see if the material was peer reviewed, and if the authors’ credibility is sound. 

All in all, this page was a good review and worth my time. For someone starting out, this page could contain valuable information, and boost their confidence in their authority as a writer.

January 22, 2023

I am coloring outside the lines a lot as I review the Purdue Owl Style guide. This is mostly because things that were included in the old, “cozy”, contained website have been moved to a more general location within the writing lab. This is as it should be. But I actively searched for the Resumes and CVs section tucked away under the Job Search Writing heading. Why? I supposed because I remember it being included at one point in the old site, and our writing center has a lot of people who want advice on resume writing. A hundred years ago, I was confident—even cocky—regarding my own resume writing skills. This hubris soon disappeared as students began asking questions like, “What should I include in my objective?” This was something rigorously discouraged in the days of yore. Back in my youth, I was told to let my experience tell the story. My experience and previous job duties should be tailored to fit the prospective position. It was likewise with hobbies and awards and volunteer work. If you are applying for a job as a managing editor of a slick publication, you may mention the volunteer editing you did for the newsletter for the local YWCA while leaving out the hours you spent in the church soup kitchen. Suddenly, students were asking, “How do I share my personal goals with companies that don’t really care about them?” Okay, most students probably didn’t say the last part out loud. But I realized with a huge jolt to my ego that I couldn’t help students because I no longer knew how to write a resume.

 But never fear, the Purdue Owl site was there (along with other references).  After catching up, I was reasonably proficient at advising students in crafting resumes with objectives that were general, but strongly reflected the goals of the company. I was comfortable with this approach. Well, it has been a while since I’ve checked the best practices of resume writing. Sigh.  Now, it seems you can’t trust that companies will recognize that although your personal goals and objectives may extend beyond your commitment to the company, they definitely include it! Now, the objectives must mention the company’s name and be specific about what you can bring to the company. Yet, you don’t want to overreach and have them assume you will want a promotion next year! So, in essence, your objective becomes doing the job you are applying for well! I wonder when personal objectives are predicted to disappear from resumes! But I digress. Overall, the Resume and CV sections are well organized. However, I continue to be confused by the duplication of reference tabs. It makes me wonder if the tabs on the side lead to different information than the ones at the bottom of the page. In the Resume section, the information was the same. In the CV section, it was different.  In the General Writing Guide, Purdue has a section on the importance of parallelism…seems this would be important in a website too!

January 23, 2023

Well, I finally got around to the “How To” part of the Purdue Owl style guides. I looked at APA and MLA formats (maybe, someday, I might look at Chicago. I don’t get a lot of papers in Chicago, but I remember footnotes from high school and suspect we used a modified version of the Chicago style.) Once again, I found the multiple ways to access the information confusing and distracting. And you have probably surmised that I am not the most tech savvy person, but when did innocent looking headings (Capitalized and underlined) in a document become links? Shouldn’t they at least be blue to let readers know, “Hey, look at me! I’m a link!” After having accidently clicked on one of the headings in the MLA section, I found a wealth of information. I like the examples of works cited pages and other specific aspects of MLA (and APA) embedded and easily accessed where they were discussed. I like the FAQ’s sections (I don’t remember if this feature was included in the cozy website or not. To be honest, after checking my citation, and making sure every comma was in the right place, I was too tired to have any other questions.) I looked at the FAQ sections in both MLA and APA. MLA questions tended to deal with citing electronic sources, and APA questions tended to deal with missing information. There was also a “classroom poster” for both styles that provided “at a glance” information, and, of course, at the top of each section, was a citation generator! Yes, I think this feature alone will ensure that the style guides will continue to be very popular! 

Well, this journey through the past has directed me squarely to the present where the ever evolving, yet eerily familiar quest for knowledge continues. 



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