Presentation on theme: "Effective Formal Writing University of New Brunswick."— Presentation transcript:
Effective Formal Writing University of New Brunswick
Topics 1. Grammatical Bugbears 2. Diction: Clarity vs. Clichés 3. Sentence Length: Coherence and Purpose 4. Argument and Evidence 5. Logic 6. Thesis Statements and Essay Structure
Bugbears (illus. Sir John Tenniel, Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.)
What Are Bugbears? O Grammatical howlers, frequently merely conventional or formal errors O Many do not impair the effectiveness of the communication O Do we have to judge them? O Consider:
Hamlet was suppose to chastise his mother and kill his uncle, but his essentially contemplative nature prevented him from taking effective action until events outpaced him. suppose to
A Sad History of Prejudice O Some bugbears are artificial— beginning a sentence with “because” “splitting the infinitive” O Language is constantly changing O HOWEVER, a minimal level of competence is necessary to ensure a fair hearing for your work O “Status markers” will overshadow a writer’s accomplishment...
Where Writing Places You On a porch playing the banjo... ? In an office making decisions... ?
Grammatical Bugbears O Cannot be ignored (“use to,” “should of,” “with regards to”) O Will always overshadow genuine achievement to some degree O Technology cannot yet save us--
2. Diction O By this point, writers have completed an apprenticeship during which expansiveness and dilation have been emphasized over precision and economy O It is time to require them to choose O The right words and O Words they know and can use well.
Clichés At the end of the day Fairly unique I personally At this moment in time With all due respect It comes down to Absolutely It’s a nightmare Shouldn’t of 24/7 It’s not rocket science The bigger picture “The bigger picture”
Vague Phrasal Verbs “ Of course, the heartbreaking lyrics of dying love are something to which almost everyone can relate.” O “relate to” O What can it mean?
Novelty & Vocabulary O “make it new” is not the always best advice for selecting words O Accuracy and familiarity (of individual words, not phrases) are crucial O The evil comes from overly familiar phrases and unnecessarily obscure words
Complex Diction O What do people REALLY think of overly complex diction? O D. Oppenheimer, Stanford U (2003): O people who use unnecessarily complicated language are viewed as less intelligent than people who use more familiar language Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems With Using Long Words Needlessly
Effective Diction Diction should be... O As simple as the subject permits (but no simpler!) O As fresh as possible O Exact and concrete O Appropriate to the audience and the writer The aforementioned contretemps makes Cordelia feel really bad about things.
Ready ‑ Made Phrases O Like Frankenstein's monster, "ready ‑ made" writing is stitched together out of dead parts. O Avoid phrases that “sound appropriate” O Use only words you need—and your audience understands
Basic Inflation Based on the fact that Due to the fact that Exhibit a tendency to For the purpose of For the reason that In spite of the fact that Because Tend to For Because Although
Ready-mades O to the extent that O plays a leading role in O on a daily basis O the fact that O in the event that
Other Types of Repetition Pointless bifurcation: O basic and fundamental O last and final O issues and concerns O full and complete
Other Types of Repetition Redundant Phrasal Verbs: O erode away O continue on O circulate around O enter into
Other Types of Repetition Redundant Adjectives/Adverbs O future plans O consensus of opinion O especially unique O potential hazard O final outcome
Why Wordiness? O Most of these choices are the result of “length anxiety” O From early grades, length is the measure of achievement O Students learn to pad—to be honest, we teach them to do it
3. Length & Coherence O Students are urged to vary the form and length of their sentences O Length in the wrong place is dangerous O Proceed with caution O Selecting length with a clear purpose is one challenge O Coherence is another
Why Variety? O There should be a relationship between the length of a sentence and its purpose O Variety for its own sake is not enough O A long sentence should be long for a reason....
Length: Accumulatio Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend Vice, that grey Iniquity, that father Ruffian, that Vanity in years? 1 Henry IV, 2.5.409-14
Accumulatio—and Contrast Falstaff is not evil because of his ambition, but because of his gluttony, his sloth, his skill at concealing the truth, his reluctance to recognize his vice, his inability to reform himself, and his ability to make all of this seem humorous and attractive. He makes a bad companion for Hal.
Contrasting Brevity Macbeth seeks out the Weird Sisters, hoping for certainty in the face of the growing chaos that threatens to destroy his tumultuous newly-stolen kingdom. He does not find it. Sentence 1 is sentence 2 squared (25 versus 5 words)
Variety in Length O More gradual variations in length are possible O A number of short sentences in succession can create a feeling of urgency in a narrative or passion in an argument O Increasing length of successive sentences can build to the climax of an argument O At the higher levels, variations in length should always reflect the rhetorical goal
Long, Graceful Sentences O A long sentence should still be readable O Key tactic: Move from subject to verb quickly O Avoid delaying the subject-verb progression with long intervening elements O A sentence which moves from subject to verb rapidly will still be readable even when it is quite long
Too Long Subject Explaining why Shakespeare decided to have Lady Macbeth die offstage rather than letting the audience see her die has to do with understanding the audience’s reactions to Macbeth’s death.
Long Subject Explaining why Shakespeare decided to have Lady Macbeth die offstage rather than letting the audience see her die Explaining why Shakespeare decided to have Lady Macbeth die offstage rather than letting the audience see her die has to do with understanding the audience’s reactions to Macbeth’s death. 18-word subject—in a 29-word sentence !
To the Subject and Beyond Because Shakespeare wanted the audience to focus on Macbeth’s death, Because Shakespeare wanted the audience to focus on Macbeth’s death, he decided to have Lady Macbeth die offstage. 1.Turn a long subject into an introductory clause 2.You do not have to state “explaining why” Just because you ARE explaining why! 3.Don’t waste time telling the reader that you WILL say something— later.
Improving a Long Sentence Evidence in the dialogue between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, for his incestuous feelings Evidence in the dialogue between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, for his incestuous feelings included the authority he assumes over her, the bitterness of his manner, and his focus on her sexual relations with his uncle. Not extreme—14/36— but awkward The list itself is fine— good, parallel items.
Improving a Long Sentence Evidence in the dialogue between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, for his incestuous feelings Evidence in the dialogue between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, for his incestuous feelings included the authority he assumes over her, the bitterness of his manner, and his focus on her sexual relations with his uncle. Some unnecessary overhead—”evidence in the dialogue”—and a weak verb (“included”)
Trimming between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, for his incestuous feelings between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, for his incestuous feelings the authority he assumed over her, the bitterness of his manner, and his focus on her sexual relations with his uncle. Now make Hamlet and Gertrude ACTORS in the sentence....
Making Hamlet Act Hamlet Hamlet shows his incestuous feelings for Gertrude through the authority he assumes over her, the bitterness of his manner, and his focus on her sexual relations with his uncle. Now make Hamlet and Gertrude ACTORS in the sentence....
Good and Long O Long sentences can be highly readable— especially if the subject of the main clause is brief and clear O Get the reader to the verb quickly O Coordination and subordination can extend the readable length O Skilful parallelism uses the reader’s expectations to extend the sentence intelligibly
How to Ruin a Sentence O Counterintuitive exercise O Take a good, clear sentence—and ruin it by relying on nominalizations O Nominalizations are nouns created from verbs
A Good Start Hagar first fails her father, Jason Curry. ACTOR as SUBJECT STRONG VERB
A Good Start Hagar fails her father, Jason Curry. NOMINALIZATION failure Rebuild the sentence around “failure”
... Turned Bad The first failure that Hagar experiences is in regard to her father, Jason Curry. failure Six-word subject before weak verb “is” Clumsy “in regard to” link
How Bad Is It? O Turning 7 words into 14 words is not the end of the world, BUT O habitual nominalization destroys good, clear writing O DOUBLING the length without increasing the content is unforgiveable O Remember George Orwell’s old joke....
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Passage 1: 38 words of 90 syllables vocabulary: educated (18 from Latin roots, 1 from Greek) no clear images Passage 2: 49 words with 60 syllables vocabulary: everyday life 6 simple, vivid images
4. Argument & Evidence (in essays) Close work with the text is crucial Three basic techniques: 1. Block quotations 2. Embedded quotations 3. Paraphrase
Block Quotations As this passage reveals, the description of the setting of "The Lottery" is deceptively pleasant: The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner. (782) There is no indication of the dark meaning of this gathering. 144 words— my goodness!
Bulk Quotation O Not only is this overkill, but it fails to emphasize the key details O All we know is that something is missing from the passage: an explanation of what is going on O Need we read the whole passage for this?
Embedded Quotation/Paraphrase The setting of "The Lottery," evocative of flowers, green grass, and "the fresh warmth of a full-summer day," is deceptively pleasant. A small crowd forms in the square, amiably confident that their business will soon be finished, allowing them "to get home for noon dinner" (782); there is no indication of the dark purpose of this gathering. 57 words— And more analysis!
Less Is More O The specific details are highlighted by being separated from the original passage O The passage is shorter and contains more editorial comment O There is no interruption in the flow of the argument O Advantages over “pure paraphrase”?
Pure Paraphrase The opening description of the gathering of the villagers in Jackson's "The Lottery" is filled with references to summer growth and minor details of the small town setting (783) that effectively conceal its dark purpose. 35 words— But a little flat!
A Choice of Tools O It uses the same evidence, but the absence of direct quotation makes it less colourful, convincing, and emphatic O Some paraphrase/citation work is necessary for a long work O Students should be adept in all three forms (though quotation is rare in APA reports) O They should also recognize weak approaches....
Larry seemed to enjoy having his father appear only at long intervals, leaving him to monopolize his mother's affections. "The war was the most peaceful period of my life" ("My Oedipus Complex" 1322). His world changed when his father came home. "Life without my early morning conferences was unthinkable" (1325). Jump: The loss of the “early morning conferences” Weak implied link Ungoverned Quotation!
Ungoverned Quotations O The reader is forced to supply connections between the writer's comments and the quoted material. O While encouraging the reader' s active participation, this abrupt, associative style quickly becomes annoying. O It should be used only to emphasize unusually clear relationships
The war was "the most peaceful period of [Larry’s] life" ("My Oedipus Complex" 1322) because his father's absence let him monopolize his mother's affections. When his father returned and tried to end Larry's "early morning conferences" with her, the boy found the change "unthinkable" (1325)! Embedded quotation/ Paraphrase
Introducing Quotations O There is something jarring about “as the following suggests,” “as this passage shows” O Explicit introductions are usually unnecessary O The syntactic relationship is often enough
The townspeople make a grotesque discovery after Emily's death, as this passage shows: What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust. Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron gray hair. (472-73) Earlier the graying of Emily's hair is associated with Homer Barron's disappearance; therefore, the hair on the pillow indicates that Emily lay with his corpse.
Use What You Choose O This quotation is too long and is introduced awkwardly by the phrase "as this passage shows” O Shift the emphasis to the interpretation by using brief extracts
The implications of the final scene are grotesque: the pillow beside Homer Barron's rotted body bears the imprint of a head, and here the townspeople find "a long strand of iron-gray hair" (473). Because Emily's hair became gray only after Homer Barron's disappearance (471), she must have lain beside his corpse. 51 words doing the work of 125
At the end of "Great Falls," Jackie explains the destruction of his family this way: "it is just low-life, some coldness in us all, some helplessness that causes us to misunderstand life when it is pure and plain" (636). Another Laboured introduction: HUGE pause created by “this way”
At the end of "Great Falls" Jackie explains that his family was destroyed by "some coldness in us all, some helplessness that causes us to misunderstand life when it is pure and plain" (636). Well- integrated embedded quotation
5. Logic O Students are urged to judge whether their evidence “logically supports their conclusion” O What logic should they use? O Some models are more useful than others
Toulmin’s Model of Argumentation O Uses of Argument, 1958 O Major elements: claim, grounds, and warrant O Minor elements: backing, rebuttal, and qualifiers O Special contribution: warrant
Major Elements in Brief O Claim: what the person is trying to prove O Grounds: also called evidence, proof, support, or data O Warrant: Unstated assumptions or presuppositions connecting claim to grounds
Ophelia obeys Polonius without voicing objections, reflecting the play’s sexist theme
WARRANT: A play that depicts women obeying their fathers is sexist. GROUNDS: Ophelia obeys Polonius CLAIM: Hamlet is a sexist play. BACKING: The depiction of an action implies the encouragement of it. QUALIFIER: without voicing objections, CONDITIONS OF REBUTTAL: The results of obedience are depicted as negative.
6. Thesis Statements O A clear, succinctly-presented judgment O Must be open to debate (e.g., not merely factual or opinion) O Supported by evidence
6. Qualifying Thesis Statements O Indirect Hedging: O Possibly, O It seems that, O Perhaps.... O Intensifying: O Obviously, O Clearly, O This passage proves that...
Metadiscourse and Theses In this paper, I will analyze Atwood’s use of season imagery in her more recent poems. Once forbidden, “I” has experienced a renaissance... But be careful. It can STILL stifle argument....
Metadiscourse and Theses Atwood’s use of season imagery in her more recent poems.... Eliminating metadiscourse forces the writer to create a more complete thesis statement.
Full Revision In her more recent poems, Atwood uses season imagery to represent her maturation as an artist. Remove the nominalization, join subject to verb, and complete the thought....
Common Thesis Errors Blanket statements O “Poverty hurts everyone.” Pretentious language O “In terms of its impact on society, poverty has many negative aspects.” Vague promises O “This essay will be about poverty.” Subjectivity O In my opinion …, I think …, I believe …, I feel …
Writing a Thesis Know your subject Know your general topic Restrict or narrow your topic Know your purpose
Poor Theses “In this author’s opinion, Beowulf is a great Anglo-Saxon poem about a hero who kills monsters.” “The following paper will offer an exposition and analysis of the epic heroic characteristics displayed by Beowulf, the eponymous protagonist of the poem in which he appears.”
A Better Thesis “Like many other epic heroes, Beowulf is not only heroic but also monstrous.” Subject: epic heroes General topic: Beowulf Restricted topic: Beowulf’s heroic and monstrous attributes Purpose: to identify an apparent conflict
Body Topic sentence Support O Evidence O Discussion
Topic Sentence First sentence Thesis for paragraph Single idea, clearly expressed Support for thesis statement
Supporting Your Position Primary sources Secondary sources O Informed opinion O Alternate points of view Tone/diction: neutral, formal, unpretentious Honesty Logic
Use of Evidence Be sure it is based in truth (i.e., be critical of your sources) Avoid biased sampling Do not construct an argument or slant evidence in favour of your own biases Beware groupthink (seek contradictory evidence)
Conclusion Reiterate your argument Reply to your opponents Recommend a course of action Reflect upon the implications of your argument
Outlining Why make an outline? Memory Organization Test of argument Types of outline Topic outline Sentence outline
Final Notes O Every change affects clarity and conciseness O Reducing waste makes room for more real content—without wearying the reader O Bugbears can seriously weaken a paper—but real value comes from skilful use of evidence and carefully observed logic O Following a rubric can never guarantee excellence—but it can curtail vices