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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy First Week of Classes!

Sitting in the hallway outside a classroom waiting for my class time, I heard a Statistics professor say the following: “You don’t need to use a formal citation style for your papers. This isn’t a writing class and I don’t care about how fancy your vocabulary is.” There were, of course, cheers and scattered clapping in response to those words. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard a non-English teacher make that pronouncement and it wouldn’t be the last; the very next hour my own professor made the same comment.

If you’re attending upper-level high school classes or a university, you need to keep in mind that the emphasis in higher education has focused to content because instructors assume you’ve already mastered the basics of English writing.  The very same Statistics professor who had moments before said what I’m sure students interpreted to mean “Writing isn’t important” said:

That being said, you need to write in complete sentences. I need to see a thesis statement or I won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. If you turn in a page that is one long paragraph, your grade will NOT be good. I need paragraphs with topic sentences. I need to see tolerably good grammar and spelling.

No one expects you to write like an academician who’s published dozens of peer-reviewed professional journal articles.  You’re just expected to write well. The idea of being judged on one’s writing ability makes most students nervous (I have several writing assignments coming up and even I’m nervous) because 1) not everyone is confident in their writing abilities and 2) half of how writing assignments (i.e., their content) are graded is subjective.

The good news is, with some practice, you can master the basics of writing and eliminate half of the stress associated with writing assignments.  I’ll be working on posts that focus on some of the most common difficulties writers face, like when to start a new paragraph and how to write topic sentences. But just because I don’t write too often about spelling and grammar issues doesn’t mean they’re not important enough for you to address. 

Don’t take just my word for it that grammar and spelling are fundamental. Check out this book review published in the Daily Cougar yesterday. The journalist reviewed a book written by a University of Houston alumnus and, goodness, was the review ever critical. If you ever thought spelling and grammar weren’t important, then this sentence from the review should help change your mind:

Any big ideas grasped within the novel feel incomplete due to clunky prose rife with spelling and punctuation errors.

The takeaway message is: Keep working on your spelling and grammar issues, NEVER forget to proofread your work, and seek out help from a competent source if you know you need assistance to find and correct your errors.  

Here’s to a great start to the new semester!

Photo credit: Markrabo


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