10H – 3 November 2014 – Writing Day

Today is a writing day and in terms of direct instruction, we need to look at LANGUAGE and STRUCTURE

ON STRUCTURE

Just because you’re writing a letter doesn’t mean you can write sloppy paragraphs. In a persuasive letter like this, you still need to use a topic sentence that gives your reader a clear sense of what the paragraph is arguing for. Some examples of topic sentences:

  • First, we should continue to read To Kill a Mockingbird in school because it is a literary masterpiece.
  • Of Mice and Men needs to stay in our curriculum because it provides a model of true friendship.
  • No more students should be forced to read Lord of the Flies because it is a morbid, depressing book.

Then you need to SUPPORT THAT TOPIC SENTENCE just like you would in any paragraph. This means offering  specific details from the book that help us see your point of view. So for example, if I was writing the OMM paragraph from above, I might add these details:

  • George stays with Lennie even though he admits his life might be easier without Lennie tagging along.
  • At various points, George leaves his job in Weed to rescue Lennie, hides in an irrigation ditch all day, and then helps Lennie to find new employment bucking barley at the ranch.
  • Even when Lennie accidentally kills a Curley’s wife, George comforts him and treats him with compassion.

And I’d write them just like that. I don’t need to dress it up, I need to prove my point.

Lastly, you need to offer a CLOSER for the argument. This is where you state how the point you just proved translates into making it a book students should or should not read.

ON LANGUAGE:

One thing I’m still most worried about is the use of language. Lots of folks are handing in essays that have a “dear” and a “sincerely” attached.

Like we discussed in class on last Monday, you need more patter/language to cushion this so it doesn’t sound like an essay. Transitional language can help (meaning words that connect your ideas and paragraphs e.g. in addition, also, another reason, etc), and so can contextual language (meaning words that connect your argument to the situation or the audience e.g. should stay in the curriculum, is valuable to ninth graders, matters for our schools)

First, there’s the issue of ethos–how you establish you’re trustworthy and credible. There are some helpful before & after examples of this here.

On the other hand, some of you may just need some more general letter patter, cushioning your transitions and paragraphs to sound less like an essay. There are some examples of that here.

ON LANGUAGE, Part II

Some of you, however, are using really elevated diction that’s inappropriate for this letter/audience, and to be frank, perhaps inappropriate more generally. It might FEEL better to you or SOUND better to an inexperienced writer, but if it clogs up your message, it’s not doing any good.

No matter what you THINK sounds good, the reality is simple: writing is meant to communicate. Being succinct and direct will ALMOST ALWAYS communicate more effectively than being verbose. I know it’s tough. It was a very difficult lesson for me as a sophomore in college (“My first C! On a paper! I don’t EARN Cs on papers, darn it!” and then “Fine, I’ll take all the interesting parts out! That’s what she wants, I’ll give it to her!” and then “Whoa. She was so right. There wasn’t much there besides language. What do I actually *think* about this topic?” and then “THIS is a paper I can be proud of”).

The lesson has ultimately served me well both as a teacher and as a professional writer (Thank you, Professor Victoria Brown). The same (I hope) will be true for you, even if you’re inwardly rebelling now.

BTW, If you’re looking for a useful tool to help you strip your prose down a bit, I’d recommend trying the Hemingway App online–simply delete the text that’s there and paste in your text. Then, follow the instructions to help you move your writing toward  CLARITY.

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