Why grammar only matters in writing?
The Importance of Writing
Writing is one of the key skills all successful students must acquire.
You might think your main job is to learn facts. So you read your textbook and take notes on important dates, names, causes, and so on. Even if you remember the facts well and believe you understand their meaning completely, if you can’t explain them in writing they don’t mean much.
In courses, writing is how ideas are exchanged, from scholars to students and from students back to scholars.
While the grade in some courses may be based mostly on class participation, oral reports, or multiple-choice exams, writing is by far the single most important form of instruction and assessment.
Instructors expect you to learn by writing, and they will grade you on the basis of your writing.
By paying attention to your writing and learning and practicing basic skills, even those who never thought of themselves as good writers can succeed.
As with other study skills, getting off to a good start is mostly a matter of being motivated and developing a confident attitude that you can do it.
As a form of communication, writing is different from oral communication in many ways. Instructors expect writing to be well thought out and organized and to explain ideas fully.
In oral communication, the listener can ask for clarification, but in written work, everything must be clear within the writing itself.
Academic writing refers to writing produced in a college environment. Often this is writing that responds to other writing-to the ideas or controversies that you’ll read about.
While this definition sounds simple, academic writing may be very different from other types of writing you have done in the past. To become a strong writer in college, you need to achieve a clear sense of two things: The academic environment and the type of writing you’ll be doing in that environment.
Students who struggle with writing in college often conclude that their high school teachers were too easy or that their college instructors are too hard.
In most cases, neither explanation is fully accurate or fair. A student having difficulty with college writing usually just hasn’t yet made the transition from high school writing to college writing.
That shouldn’t be surprising, for many beginning college students do not even know that there is a transition to be made.
College instructors may design their courses in unique ways, and they may teach about specialized subjects.
For all of these reasons, college instructors are much more likely than high school teachers to:
Respond in detail to student writing
Ask questions that cannot be dealt with easily in a fixed form like a five-paragraph essay
The kind of writing you have done in the past may not translate at all into the kind of writing required in college.
For example, you may at first struggle with having to write about very different kinds of topics, using different approaches.
You may have learned only one kind of writing genre (a kind of approach or organization) and now find you need to master other types of writing as well.
Every assignment in every course is unique in some ways, so don’t think of writing as a fixed form you need to learn. An approach is the way you go about meeting the writing goals for the assignment. The approach is usually signaled by the words instructors use. When you first get a writing assignment, pay attention first to keywords for how to approach the writing. These will suggest how you may structure and develop your paper.
Look for terms like these in assignments:
Summarize. To restate in your own words the main point of another’s work.
Define. To describe, explore, or characterize a keyword, idea, or phenomenon.
Classify. To group individual items by their shared characteristics.
Compare/contrast. To explore significant likenesses and differences between subjects.
Analyze. To break an idea into its parts and explain how those parts fit or work together.
Argue. To state a claim and support it with reasons and evidence.
Synthesize. To pull together varied pieces or ideas from two or more sources.
Sometimes the keywords listed don’t actually appear in the written assignment, but they are usually implied by the questions given in the assignment.
“What” questions usually prompt the writing of summaries, definitions, classifications, and sometimes compare-and-contrast essays.
“Why” and “how” questions typically prompt analysis, argument, and synthesis essays.
Successful academic writing starts with recognizing what the instructor is requesting, or what you are required to do.
So pay close attention to the assignment. Sometimes the essential information about an assignment is conveyed through class discussions. If you feel the assignment does not give you a sense of direction, seek clarification.
Scope and Focus
Ask about the scope (or focus) of the assignment:
Which of the assigned readings should I concentrate on?
Should I read other works by these authors that haven’t been assigned in class?
Should I do research?
You can also ask about the approach the instructor would like you to take. You can use the keywords the instructor may not have used in the assignment:
Should I just summarize the information or should I compare and contrast the views?
Do you want me to argue a specific point?
Would it be OK if I classified the information?
Some instructors may say they have no particular expectations for student papers.
College instructors do not usually have one right answer in mind or one right approach to take when they assign a paper topic. They expect you to engage in critical thinking and decide for yourself what you are saying and how to say it.
In some ways college instructors do have expectations, and it is important to understand them.
Some expectations involve mastering the material or demonstrating critical thinking. Other expectations involve specific writing skills.
Most college instructors expect certain characteristics in student writing.
Students are usually required to take at least one writing course in their first year of college. That course is often crucial for your success in college.
But a writing course can help you only if you recognize how it connects to your other work in college. If you approach your writing course merely as another hoop you need to jump through, you may miss out on the main message:
writing is vital to your academic success at every step toward your degree.
Some instructors accept or even prefer digital papers, but do not assume this. Most instructors want a paper copy and most definitely do not want to do the printing themselves.
Present your paper in a professional way, using a staple or paper clip on the left top to hold the pages together (unless the instructor specifies otherwise).
Never bring your paper to class and ask the instructor, “Do you have a stapler?”
Similarly, do not put your paper in a plastic binder unless the instructor asks you to.
Writing instructors distinguish between process and product. The expectations all involve the “product” you turn in on the due date.
Although you should keep in mind what your product will look like, (formatting, font, style and graphics) writing is more involved with how you get to that goal.
Thinking of writing as a process is important because writing is actually a complex activity.
Even professional writers rarely sit down at a keyboard and write out an article beginning to end without stopping along the way to revise portions they have drafted, to move ideas around, or to revise their opening and thesis.
Professionals and students alike often say they only realized what they wanted to say after they started to write. This is why many instructors see writing as a way to learn.
Many writing instructors ask you to submit a draft for review before submitting a final paper. A draft helps you to focus on the main content and the flow of information in your paper.
General Essay Writing Principles
Title the paper to identify your topic. This may sound obvious, but it needs to be said. Your title should prepare your reader for what your paper is about.
Address the terms of the assignment. Again, pay particular attention to words in the assignment that signal a preferred approach.
In your introduction, define your topic. Instructors appreciate feeling oriented by a clear opening. They appreciate knowing that you have a purpose for your topic.
Build from a thesis or a clearly stated sense of purpose. Many college assignments require you to make some form of an argument. To do that, you generally start with a statement that needs to be supported and build from there.
Develop ideas. Remember, grand generalizations actually don’t mean much at all until we develop the idea in specifics.
Link one idea to another. A good paper is more than a list of good ideas. It should also show how the ideas fit together.
Document your sources. If your paper involves research of any kind, indicate clearly the use you make of outside sources.
Edit your paper. College instructors assume you will take the time to edit and proofread your essay.
It may not seem fair to make a harsh judgment about your seriousness based on little errors, but in all writing, impressions count.
Since it is often hard to find small errors in our own writing, always print out a draft well before you need to turn it in. Review it and mark any word or sentence that seems off in any way. Although you should certainly use a spell-checker, don’t assume it can catch everything.
A spell-checker cannot tell if you have the right word.
For example, these words are commonly misused or mixed up:
there, their, they’re
Your spell-checker can’t help with these.
You also can’t trust what a “grammar checker” (like the one built into the Microsoft Word spell-checker) tells you.
Computers are still a long way from being able to fix your writing for you!
Ask a classmate or a friend to review your paper for any inconsistencies in spelling or grammar and also to get feedback on your content.
When you revise…
Check the assignment: does your paper do what it’s supposed to do?
Check the title: does it clearly identify the overall topic or position?
Check the introduction: does it set the stage and establish the purpose?
Check each paragraph in the body: does each begin with a transition from the preceding?
Check organization: does it make sense why each topic precedes or follows another?
Check development: is each topic fully explained, detailed, supported, and exemplified?
Check the conclusion: does it restate the thesis and pull key ideas together?
When you edit…
Read the paper aloud, listening for flow and natural word style.
Check for any lapses into slang, colloquialisms, or nonstandard English phrasing.
Check sentence-level mechanics: grammar and punctuation (pay special attention to past writing problems).
When everything seems done, run the spell-checker again and do a final proofread.
Check physical layout and mechanics against instructor’s expectations: Title page? Font and margins? End notes?
Writing in college is not limited to the kinds of assignments commonly required in high school English classes.
Writers in college must pay close attention to the terms of an assignment.
If an assignment is not clear, seek clarification from the instructor.
Writing is a process that involves a number of steps; the product will not be good if one does not allow time for the process.
Seek feedback from classmates, tutors, and instructors during the writing process.
Revision is not the same thing as editing.
Many resources are available to college writers.
Words and ideas from sources must be documented in a form recommended by the instructor.
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