Periodically, after completing a college course, I will publish some of my thoughts on the course. Hopefully, somehow, somewhere, they will help another undergraduate. This is one of those posts.
To tell you the truth, when I registered for this course at my college, I didn’t expect to learn a lot from it. I considered myself a fairly good writer already, and no “beginner” writing course could possibly improve that. Could it? I registered for the course because it is a required undergraduate course for my school. Furthermore, it seemed like it would be an easy course–the perfect way to ease myself into college studies.
ENC 1101 focuses on grammar, MLA, and essay writing. The three required essays probably gives most college students the shivers, but with my enjoyment of writing, I approached them with little trepidation. It did turn out to be a pretty easy course for me; however, contrary to my initial thoughts, I learned quite a bit from it.
The most valuable thing I learned from this course is that commas are not to be sprinkled willy-nilly among the words. I had always approached comma usage at an intuitive level. To judge whether or not a comma was needed, I would simply insert it to see if it sounds right–clauses be damned. What I learned is that even something as seemingly nebulous as grammar, a subject with which I tended to rely solely on intuition, is governed by rules. To excel at grammar, those rules simply need to be learned.
By learning about the different types of clauses and the proper construction of compound and complex sentences, I now proof my essays in a much more systematic manner. Instead of simply reading it and trying to figure out if it sounds right, I now pick the clauses apart. Instead of making essay-writing more complicated, it’s actually made it easier. No more vacillating on whether or not a sentence needs a comma–just identify the clauses and apply the rules.
ENC 1101 was also my first exposure to the vast array of written resources available to college students. Prior to this, if I wanted to read a research paper, I was usually hit with a pay-wall. Now, I simply log in to my college’s library and access the paper through one of the hundreds of academic databases that my school is subscribed to. It’s amazing!
Learning how to properly document and cite (MLA) research sources is another important aspect of this course. I’ve learned that many professors are quite strict (read anal) about proper documentation. Not that it’s unimportant. It really is important. Plagiarism is despicable even if professors uses scare tactics to drill it into you.
So, here are some tips that oozed out of the goo within my skull while I was taking ENC 1101:
Essay writing, particularly if you’re being scored by a college professor in a low-level writing course, is not art. This is not the time to be too experimental with your writing. It is commonly accepted by such professors that an essay requires three parts; introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Furthermore, the introduction must contain an obvious thesis sentence, and all body paragraphs must have obvious topic sentences. Deviation from this structure is punishable by B’s and C’s. It gets worse. Sentences must be complete, and they may not be run on to each other. All of these rules may seem arbitrary but if you follow them, your professor will smile lovingly upon you. The good news is that all these rules can actually make it easier to write essays. Instead of blindly following your intuition, you now have checklists and precise recipes to follow. Personally, I feel that a carefully constructed essay reads contrived. My professor probably didn’t care what it made me feel like.
Improve your writing by writing a lot and striving to always use impeccable grammar.
How to analyze your own essay:
- Take a mental step back when you’re reading it. Pretend that someone else wrote it. How would you grade it? Why?
- Read it quickly. Does it flow? Is it alive? (If it’s alive, forward it to scientists. A living essay must surely be an unusual and wondrous species.)
- Read it slowly and analyze it–first by paragraph, then by sentence, and then by clause.
Sometimes when I write, I feel what I want to say, but the words just don’t flow from my head. In those cases, it often helps me to make it more personal. What words would I use if I was actually experiencing these things that I am trying to write about? Sometimes, it helps to change the setting. By picking the theme/subject out of the paragraph and throwing it into the midst of fighting spider-people on some alien planet, the right words might suddenly come to me.
Those, in an ordinary-sized nutshell, are my thoughts on ENC 1101.
Image credit: Pen image copyright (c) 2007 Fabio and made available under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)