Thursday, April 12, 2018

“Rules”/lore/myths about writing that students bring to college with them

This was published on a college instructor listserv today. What do you think?

Susan Schorn, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, worked with college composition instructors around the country to create a list of “rules”/lore/myths about writing that students bring to college with them, but which don’t necessarily serve them well in college. Sometimes these are edicts handed down from teachers, sometimes they are survival strategies students devise to keep themselves from violating obscure expectations they don’t understand. Here is Professor Schorn's list, as well as some resources she offered to counter the myths that don’t serve students well in college writing:

Myths about student orientation to authority/audience:
Just figure out what the teacher wants and do it.
There are three audiences in the world: Teacher, Peers, Everybody (aka, the "general audience")
The way I speak or write is not proper English.

Myths about word hygiene:
Never start a sentence with "because." 
Never start a sentence with 'but,' 'and,' or 'or.'
Never start a sentence with a conjunction!
Never split an infinitive.
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Never say “you.”
Never use first person.

Avoid using "that."
Don't use be verbs (in some cases, not even for conjugations like present progressive that require them but aren't truly the linking verb.)
Circle all be-verbs (be, been, being, am, is, was, were, etc.) and replace them with lexical verbs or some other linking verb. 
Some students report a number of be-verbs that are "allowed" (like two per essay). 

Myths about number and order:
A paragraph is 3-5 sentences. 
Paragraphs shouldn't be more than five sentences. 
All long sentences are run-ons, and all short sentences are to be avoided.
A one-sentence paragraph isn’t a thing.
A fragment is never appropriate. Ever.
Always use three examples (i.e., five-paragraph format)
Mention a key point from the prior paragraph in the next one they're working on to connect them.
Use "transition words" to show how one sentence connects with another, and how paragraphs connect.
The thesis MUST be the last sentence of the introduction (possibly underlined) and/or should "list" three things (which then correspond to three body paragraphs).
The introduction has three sentences, and the conclusion mirrors it.
Repeat the thesis in the conclusion but use different words, or summarize the essay in the conclusion. 
Always signal your conclusion: In conclusion... 

Myths about commas, the Schrödinger's cat of punctuation:
Put a comma whenever you take a breath. 
Use a comma after every eighth word.
Put a comma after and, regardless of what it joins.
A sentence should never have more than one comma in it

Myths about using sources/avoiding plagiarism:
Find the quotes you want to use and build the paper around them. 
If you change every third word, it’s not plagiarism.
To avoid plagiarism, write your paper first, then go find sources that fit into it.
The most effective way to begin a paper is by quoting Webster’s Dictionary. 

Professor Schorn recommends these resources and links:

Bad Ideas About Writing:
"Contradictory Perceptions of Rules of Writing." College Composition and Communication, vol. 30, no. 2, 1979, pp. 218-20.
Invention and Craft: A Guide to College Writing (McGraw-Hill 2016), Ronda L. Dively
The "E-prime" model, proposed by D. David Bourland, Jr.