about using the
|A word about "learning to write"...
As students encounter the reality of having to write in order to express their thoughts well, it is important to keep in mind three concepts:
FIRST: Students shouldn't worry so much about what their reader is interested in reading; students should worry more about what they want to say and how to say it in the most clear, efficient, effective, and compelling way possible. The general principle is: less is more and simple is elegant.
SECOND: At first experience, professional writing is somewhat artificial, especially until students learn how to express their voice in the most forcible way possible, given the constraints of this genre of style. To get there takes trial and error, editing, and especially rewriting/revising. It also involves reading critically (i.e., among other matters, appreciating how authors express themselves for better or worse). Professional writing also demands a personal commitment to inculcating the self-disciplines associated with good writing because so many people are afflicted by what Harris (2003) has described as "malescribism." This disease reveals itself in "an uncontrollable urge to write carelessly and unpersuasively" as well as in "a set of dysfunctional responses to the demands of communicating in print." Overcoming this disease, he argues, is akin to joining Alcoholics Anonymous and following the 12-step program to sobriety. Here, authors seek verbal enlightenment. The principle is: good writing is the result of critical reading and hard effort.
THIRD: Students should be neither embarrassed nor ashamed to ask professors questions about what students really don't know. There's a big difference between "sucking up" to a professor and engaging in "preventive maintenance." The former exhibits little or no interest in learning and engages in dissimulation in order to make oneself appear more intellectual than one really is; the latter exhibits an interest in learning, states the truth, and does not waste time re-inventing the wheel. The principle is: learning to write well begins by asking questions.
In light of these concepts, it should be evident that It is not enough for students to express good ideas; as important as this is, students must also express their good ideas well. What this means practically is that students should recall what most were told by their 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Language Arts teachers, if not by their high school English teachers as well. Namely, a "final draft" is the result of an extensive writing process that requires writing, editing, and revising one's thoughts...perhaps several times. Because of this, students should realize that a final draft is not a first draft. Besides, it is unethical to purport that the latter is the former.
Grading student writing, then, is premised on the notion that students have already carefully revised their projects, exercises, and papers at least twice. In this way, students seek to eliminate as many of the common errors associated with below-average writing as is possible before submitting their projects, exercises, and papers. Yet, because of the human condition, there likely will be some errors in student writing and, thus, grading begins with careful reading and editing, much as the Editor of the op-edit page of the New York Times must do when he prepares op-ed pieces for publication (Shipley, 2005). The first standard used to assess student achievement is entirely objective: the degree to which written products conform with the style and grammar rules set forth in the APA Publication Manual.
Helpful in this regard—by the use of irony—are the 50 rules for "writing gooder" proposed by Richard Lederer (n.d.):
1. Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent.
writing is riddled with so many errors in style and grammar that the grade
received on the project, exercise, or paper is embarrassingly far below what
a students expects. And, rightly so! Objectively speaking, the product is below
that expected of a graduate student! Thus: a "C" indicates below-average
achievement in the sense that the product could have been written by an
undergraduate student who is unfamiliar with APA style and grammar; a "D"
indicates far below-average achievement in the sense that the product could
have been written by an undergraduate whose style and grammar skills are
deficient; and, an "F" indicates a product that is wholly and entirely unacceptable,
even of an undergraduate. Thus, while a student receiving a below-average
grade may feel bad and attribute one's grade to how the professor
feels about the student, there are objective standards for assessing and
evaluating student writing. These objective standards are used to assess student writing.
demonstrate proficiency in style and grammar—and because less attention
must be devoted to these matters when grading student writing—attention
then turns to the quality of the content found in the project, exercise, or
paper. More subjective in nature, the evaluation hinges upon the clarity of
the topic, the relative strength of the argument, the inclusion of
supportive elements (e.g., conversancy with intellectual history as
evidences itself in citations), as well as a conclusion that is justified
not only by all the precedes but also a conclusion that compels the reader
to agree with the author even if the reader personally disagrees with the
author's assertion. Thus: a "B" indicates average achievement in these
matters; a "B+" indicates above average achievement in these matters; an
"A-" indicates general excellence in these matters; and, an "A" indicates
excellence in all of these matters. Whether the issue
is style and grammar or the quality of the content, the difference between a
"+" and a "-" is a question of degree, that is, errors in style and grammar
or in the relative strength of the argument appear in the written product.
The Publication Manual of Style of the American Psychological Association (6th edition) is the standard manual for scholarly communication and discourse in the social sciences. The purpose for this Manual (and any manual, for that matter) is to identify the basic "elements" of grammar and style that scholars in a particular discipline observe when they communicate and engage in discourse with one another, especially through the medium of published communication. All student writing must comply with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition (APA).
Students also commit errors in style that should always be avoided (or, at least, edited out of the final draft). The most frequent "common errors" students commit are:
ERROR: using first and second person, singular and
ERROR: using passive voice (the verb "acts"
on the subject)
ERROR: stating a feeling or belief as factual
ERROR: using adjectives that transform a fact into an
ERROR: using obtuse, complex language
ERROR: pronoun does not agree in person or number
ERROR: using contractions
ERROR: stating "I feel"
ERROR: using "that" (an object) in
reference to a human being
ERROR: using an author's first and last name
ERROR: not hyphenating nouns used as
ERROR: hyphenating nouns that are not
ERROR: ending sentences with prepositions or