Journal – Week 4
Tutoring Peer Writers
The aspects of writing that concern me the most are flow, coherence, organization and style. Once I have a topic chosen, coming up with the content of what the paper will be, or gathering information about that topic isn’t hard. Organizing that information into a coherent paper that flows from one idea to the next is what troubles me. Maybe this is due to a lack of experience, but for some reason I can’t get away from the habit of rambling on in generalities and taking too long to make a point. This problem could stem from the way I talk, and the types of people I like to listen to and read. I don’t like to read or listen to a lot of baloney surrounding the main points, nor do I try to say things with a lot of baloney attached to them. It doesn’t make me particularly eloquent or even fun to listen to at times but at least I get to the point. But when I write I go on and on and on before getting to the point. There is a lot of baloney attached to my writings. Being concerned with word or page count could lead to this problem. But if I’ve done my homework having enough material shouldn’t be a problem. So when I read I don’t like seeing a lot of crap—I want the barebones facts with some examples thrown in to illustrate the main idea or point. For this reason I didn’t particularly like either North essay. He just went on and on and on, either repeating himself or saying nothing. I would have preferred him just say this is why writing centers are important, and then list the reasons why. Present readers with his ideas and then let them decide. But he supplied a lot of anecdotes about nothing really and it was boring. Consequently I had trouble sticking around long enough to get his gist. The second North essay was better because he did list scenarios relevant to writing center work and could help convince people of their relevance.
In another class we are reading a textbook by Gunther Kress. He is writing about the evolution of literacy. What is the new literacy is the old manner of defining literacy still pertinent, things like that. I don’t like the text book because it is incoherent. I can’t understand anything he is saying, or even if he is even saying anything. He’s using lots of big words, lots of words that aren’t even words but words that he has invented; he repeats himself over and over again. He is so hard to read that the instructor cancelled a test on three of his chapters because no one could follow along with him. After the teacher lectured I understood better what he was trying to say, and she didn’t need to ramble on and on. She took the ideas he was trying to convey and made them simple to understand. He made them hard, like it is a contest to confuse his readers, or if he was writing to his peers only, or something like that.
The Bedford Guide is an example of better writing. It is concise, follows a clearly defined layout, and gets to the point of each chapter quickly. I understand that it is basically a how to book but the author’s there weren’t trying to impress anyone with their vocabulary and did a very good job of telling people how to tutor. The textbook for my fiction class is also this way. Each chapter presents one aspect of fiction writing and goes into just enough detail to explain each aspect clearly. The chapters are short and the material is easier, but this particular author seems to want her readers to pick-up what she is saying about fiction writing. Her examples are easier to get also.
If I were to explain to someone what good organization is I would point to the old five paragraph formula my classmates frequently refer to. First and introduction, then a few bodies paragraphs talking about the thesis of the paper, and then a conclusion. It wouldn’t be as basic as this but the principle is the same. Don’t waste time getting to the point, a short intro and then the point. People want the main course and don’t want to feed on appetizers all day. I tried this approach with my interview essay. I noticed some of my classmates had more protracted beginnings before getting to the information about the person they tutored. This may not make for entertaining reading but the paper itself had a focus, Janine, so I wanted most of what people read to be about her and what she had to say. I had trouble in my Intro to Critical Reading essays with a lot of fluff and less focus on the assignment. I was told this repeatedly by the instructor. I have also noticed that for longer papers a well planned organizational layout of the paper will practically write the paper itself. So for new writers I couldn’t stress organization enough.
Coherence and flow come from a good organization. From Step 1 to Step 2 to Step 3 and so on, just following along with the outline and the paper will flow from topic to the next. How to go about the transitions is another matter and is a matter of style. My generally style is light and humorous and informal.
When I’m reading essays or columns it the style of the writer makes a big difference to me. Maureen Dowd is one of my favorite columnists but sometimes her habit of giving nicknames and dropping in pop culture references can detract from her point but overall I like it. I disagree with the politics of William Safire and Charles Krauthammer but they are both, in my opinion, highly intelligent and skilled writers so I read them because I like to read well written pieces. The style of a writer for the Post-Gazette grates on me with his continual use of humor. I took a class taught by him once and I liked him personally but his style of writing makes him unreadable. All these writers have different styles and all are successful so for new writers I’d advise them to find that inner voice and use it to the best of their abilities.