This semester, I'm teaching a third-year Communication Ethics course in which students complete written responses to questions relative to a specific case study each week. My faculty/department doesn't have writing-intensive courses, which makes me wild with rage. My friends, this is a hill that I'm willing to die on. Therefore, each week I post a discussion question for students with the self-imposed requirement that it is both fun and academic. I grade them all and provide detailed feedback within a few days (note: I don't have a TA). I've found a series of common issues this term, so here begins a Dr. ABG blog series on Fierce Writing.
It's important for students to realize that writing is not talking. I'm all about making writing accessible, simple, and easy to read. However, writing takes on a different tone than speaking. For example, a few students this week wrote, "Majority of the time, reality television does not reflect reality." The word "majority" needs "the" before it, hence this sentence should read, "The majority of the time..." I always tell students that writing and speaking are different. While it might feel awkward to say, "The majority of the time", it ought to be written that way.
I'm the course instructor. I grade all of the assignments. I give consistently detailed feedback to students. Therefore, the last thing I want to read about is myself. That is, students often write, "When you consider Kant's argument in context of..." In this case, "you" is actually me, Dr. ABG, the reader of this important piece of academic work. "You" is something that English speakers might say in casual conversation, such as, "When you go outside without a coat on in Canada, you freeze your butt off." That "you" doesn't have a place in academic writing. To be a fierce writer, recast to, "If Kant's argument is considered in context of..." or better yet, "I considered Kant's argument in context of..." To take our lovely Canadian example and make it into something writing-approved, recast to, "I went outside without a coat on here in Canada, and I froze my butt off."
When we talk, we just let our sentences roll into each other, and we keep carrying on, with sometimes our inflection not really ending a sentence, they all just run on into each other, we keep talking, sometimes until someone interrupts us. Like that. I tell students that writing is not a monologue. Let sentences end. Let the reader take a break, pause, and move on to the next sentence. Be aware of run-on sentences (such as the first sentence here). These run-ons are actually multiple sentences connected with commas. Proofread like a writer, not a speaker.
My next Fierce Writing blog post will be about how writing is often how people make a first impression. Watch my Twitter account via @AcademicBatgirl for links.