Diagnosis: Living up to college level writing expectations: Stuff to address!
Overview: • The following presentation covers multiple common mistakes. Correcting these mistakes will help next year. • Next year: As well as experts in their discipline, college instructors are also writers. Don’t try and fool them. They will see through you. • The following examples are from 12th-grade essays on Oedipus Rex. Overview: Oedipus unwittingly kills his father and marries mother. Mom and son have four children. Gross! The essays address the question of fate.
Rhetorical Questions are bad: • Example: “Ever wonder what makes people do certain things?” You may as well draw a unicorn on your essay. • Unless it is intellectual and or witty, don’t use it. If the rhetorical question sets up a theme that will run throughout the essay, you may use it. Again, if it doesn’t, avoid the rhetorical question. • Most academic writing does not call for attention grabbing devices. Clear and concise writing is far more effective:Getting to the point, setting up the organization of the essay, and answering the question is the stuff of an academic essay’s introduction.
Rhetorical Questions • Example: • “Is it possible to change your fate? In our world people would like to believe that the choices they make can change their lives.” Poor. Word count 24. Addresses the reader. Asks a rhetorical questions. Makes an obvious statement concerning “our world.” • Fate, by definition, is inescapable if it exists. And therein lies the rub: Does it exist? Better. Word count 16. Does ask a question, but implies that it will be answered. Uses a cliché, but it’s literary (Shakespeare). Uses fewer words. Reads more intellectually.
Avoid Negative Statements: • Oedipus does not respect the gods. Poor. • Oedipus disrespects the gods. Better. • Negative statements force the reader to think twice. It can also lead to confusing sentences. Negative thoughts are often more wordy. Positive thoughts are more direct and elegant. • This is an important style rule. Give it respect and attention.
Literature occurs in the present tense: • When referencing the events of a story, cast them in the present tense. • Example: In Act II Macbeth killed Duncan = poor. • Example: In Act II Macbeth kills Duncan = better. • Exception: There are instances wherein the essayist compares two plot events in sequence. The writer may refer to the former instance in the past tense.
Word Choice “WC” • The note “WC” may mean that you chose the wrong word or a confusing word. It more often means that you could have chosen a better word. • Remedy: When editing later drafts, consider each word that you use. Focus especially on verbs. • Remedy: Make certain, make certain, make certain that the thought on paper reflects the thought in your mind. Don’t be lazy about this.
Example WC Verb • In Walton in Continuation, Frankenstein and the monster define their sin / obsession / vice while stating the motivations behind their actions. • In this section, Frankenstein and the monster review their sins / obsessions / vices while stating their motivations behind their actions.
Word Choice • Example: “[The characters] take their free will for granted.” Poor. • Problem: Although the characters use their free will poorly, they in fact do not take it “for granted.” I can think of no examples from the text wherein they do. The author offered no examples to illustrate this point. • Example: “Free will is the result of misconceptions about each character’s subjective reality . . . .” • Problem: Whose misconceptions? How does this create free will? This sentence sounds good, but it means nothing.
Word Choice • Example: “He could have married who he wanted, the gods did not make him marry her, but just as they had planned, he did marry his mother.” • Problem: He in fact did marry who he wanted. • Example: “Because of the destiny the gods placed on him, he tries to outsmart them.” • Problems: “Outsmart” isn’t exactly what he tries to do. “Avoid his fate” may be a better thought. Also, is Oedipus motivated by the gods’ actions or by his own pride?
Arguments must be accurate, logical and meaningful: • Example: “Finally, after losing the love of his life at the hands of his own creation, Frankenstein chooses to lay down and die.” • Response: He may have been depressed over the murder, but he did not give up. He in fact chased the monster until he died. • Remedy: Choose words and expressions wisely. The phrase “chooses to lay down and die” causes the problem.
Arguments cont. • Example: “ If Frankenstein simply would have avoided creating the monster in the first place, all would have ended well.” • Response: Although accurate and logical, this example lacks insight and meaning.
Clear and definitive thesis statement: • Example: “In the Oedipus plays, the characters face difficult decisions which are affected by both fate and free will.” • Response: Too vague. Problematic words “decisions,” “affected.” What decisions? How are they affected? The essay that follows does not offer meaningful “decisions” nor does it prove how fate and free will “affects” those decisions. • Remedy: Think about your theory in advance. Test the theory. Adapt the theory as you write and rewrite.
Thesis cont. • Good example: “Oedipus had the illusion of free will, but all along it was only the ignorance of his predetermined fate set by the gods that gave him this false mentality.” • Response: Even though ‘mentality’ is a poor WC and the thought is somewhat wordy, the sentence clearly states the paper’s theory. The theory is plausible and intelligent. It appears that this thesis was formulated as the paper was written. That’s a good thing.
Write about literature not history. • Example: “During Oedipus’s time the gods reigned and controlled over the peoples’ every action. The gods were the supreme rulers . . . .” • Response: No they weren’t. • Remedy: Unless the essay is making a clear and accurate connection between the text and its time period (i.e. Macbeth and Elizabethan order) avoid references to history. Stick to literature.
Retell as little as possible: • Academic essays are never book reports. • Remedy: Take on the following point of view: Your audience is your instructor. Your instructor knows all of the events of the text. Summarizing those events is a waste of time and words. • Remedy: Rather than summarizing events, simply refer to them in as few words as possible and then connect the event to your thesis or subtopic.
Avoid retelling cont. • Good example: “Their fates are somewhat predestined because the gods know in advance what they will be. For instance, the gods already know that Oedipus’ fate will be to kill his father and marry his mother because they know that he will find out about his destiny.” • Response: Rather than summarizing what the reader (the instructor) already knows (the entire story of Oedipus), the writer simply refers to two details. These details cover a total of 8 words.
Parallel Structure • Style rule concerning items in a series: • When listing items in a series, each item must follow the same grammatical pattern. • Example: • “Oedipus would marry his mother and be the brother to his children.” Poor. • “Oedipus would marry his mother and father his siblings.” Better. • The better example uses fewer words. It is easier to read. It is clear. • You will apply this rule to every essay that you write.
Use Active Voice • Cast your thoughts so the subject is doing the action. • As with the positive versus negative rule, the active voices asks the reader to think once rather than twice: • Example: The boy hits the ball. (The subject verbs the object.) Five words. • Whereas the passive voice asks the reader to think in a circle: • The ball is hit by the boy. (The subject is verbed by the object of a preposition.) Seven words.
Active Voice Cont. • Examples: • “Creon was destined for his loved ones to die because he went against the wishes of the gods and he thought that he had equal power to them.” Poor. Word count = 28. Run-on sentence. • Because Creon arrogantly disobeyed them, the gods killed his loved ones.” Better. Word count = 10. • “Oedipus was not just forced to act by free will or predestination . . . .” Poor. Passive voice and negative. • “Beyond free will and predestination, _______ forced Oedipus . . . .” Better. Active voice and positive.
Active Voice Cont. • “Oedipus was informed of his fate.” Poor. Word count = 6. Ask ‘Who or what did the informing?’ • Oedipus learned his fate. Better. Word count = 4. • Summary: The active voice is easier to read. It uses less words. It is direct. It is clear. • Last comment: Using the active voice will clear up several style problems: Voice, wordiness, and clarity. This rule applies to every essay that you will write.
Wordiness • Eliminate all unnecessary phrases and words. • This is a keystone style rule. Most other style problems are addressed when wordiness is addressed. • When editing later drafts, focus on this rule. • For the mature, academic writer, this rule is a way of life.
Wordiness • Examples: • “Throughout the play, the main character, Oedipus, concerns his time with trying to change his fate that he would marry his mother and kill his father.” Poor. Word count = 26. • Throughout the play, Oedipus attempts to avoid his fate. Better. Word count = 9.
Wordiness • “In the Oedipus plays it’s impossible to change the fate the gods have given you, and the more you try to avoid them, the more you end up running towards them.” Poor. Word count = 31. • Response: Wow! • Where to start . . . The sentence is wordy, confusing (who or what is ‘them’), and addresses the reader. But the thought itself is solid. • Address wordiness, and it can be fixed! • Throughout the Oedipus trilogy, fate isunavoidable: When running from fate, characters in fact run toward it. Better. Word count 17.
‘You’ is a horrible word. • In academic writing, never address the reader. Beyond creating patently false statements such as, “When you disobey the Greek gods, you will pay dearly for it” (No I won’t because Greek gods do not in fact exist), the word ‘you’ creates wordy and at times clunky sentences. • Remedy: Never use the word within an academic essay again. Doing so screams “I’m still in high school. Please give me a C!”
You! • Examples: • “Sometimes you may wonder if events that occur in your life happen because of actions made by your free will or a predestined fate was already chosen for you.” Poor. Again, wow! Word count 29. A rhetorical question addressing the reader. • Either free will or predestination creates life’s events. Better. Word count 8. • “If you fancy yourself better than a god, you will get what’s coming to you.” Poor. Word count = 15. • Cut the entire sentence. Better. Word count = 0.
Adverbs are bad. • Adverbs add little to a sentence’s meaning. Most adverbs are unnecessary and should be cut. • Simple example: Note from boy to girl friend, “I really love you.” Poor. • “I love you.” Better. No difference in meaning. • Example: “His imperfection of being very proud brought him to a tragic end . . . .” Poor. Adverb. Wordy. • His hubris led to a tragic end . . . . Better.
“I” avoid it. • The personal pronoun “I” is traditionally unacceptable in formal, academic writing. Over time it is becoming more acceptable. Beyond the formal / informal debate, “I” often leads to wordy sentences. • Recommendation: Avoid it. • Example: “. . . I feel as though free will powered over predestination in the Oedipus plays.” Poor. Word count 13. Uses “I.” No one cares how you feel. Wordy. • In Oedipus, free will overpowers predestination. Better. Word count 6.
Use meaningful transitions • Transitions between paragraphs must show the connection between paragraphs. The new paragraph may add information to the preceding paragraph, it may refute information from the preceding paragraph, or it may move to an entirely new subtopic. (Red = parallel structure.) • Problem: If you use a transition such as “Furthermore,” the new paragraph must further information introduced in the preceding paragraph. • Problem: Avoid simplistic transitions such as: First(ly), last(ly), next, and in conclusion.
Meaningful Transitions • Problem: No longer think of transitions as a box to be checked off on awriting rubric. Don’t ‘phone in’ your transitions. • Remedy: While writing drafts, google ‘transitions.’ Find a good list organized by type. Use them. • Remedy: Go to Owl Online Writing Lab at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/
Avoid Clichés • Clichés are not only sayings but also 4 to 7 word phrases that are too easily and quickly formulated. • Examples: • “When I think about it, Oedipus was wrong.” Poor. Word count 8. Cliché. Wordy. No one cares what you think. • Oedipus was wrong. Better. Word count 3.
Avoid Clichés • “This goes to show that Oedipus and other characters had all the free will to do as they wished, but the results of their actions were controlled by destiny.” Poor. Word count 29. Cliché. Wordy. Redundant phrase. • Although the characters have free will, it only leads them to a predestined fate. Better. Word count 14. Added an adverb but did so for clarity’s sake. • Problem: It is difficult to identify them during later drafts. • Remedy: Identify them while writing the first draft. Underline them to be revised out later.
Possessive Case • Don’t forget the apostrophe. • Problem: The rule is easy, but the possessive case is easy to miss during proofreading. • Remedy: If this is a problem for you, when proof reading, specifically check for the possessive case. Ask someone to proof the possessive case for you.
Complete Sentences • Run-on sentences and fragments are inexcusable mistakes. • Remedy: Proofread specifically for them. • Remedy: If these are a problem for you, have someone proof for complete sentences. • Remedy: If you are unsure of the rule, google it. Owl offers a solid summary. • Remedy: When in doubt, write two sentences.
ROL • Read out loud means one of two things: • The sentence is beyond repair. Its problem can not be diagnosed. However, if the writer simply reads the sentence out loud, he or she will realize the pain that he or she is inflicting on the reader. The writer should momentarily feel shame, scrap the sentence, and start over. • The problem is too easily solved to waste time explaining it. The writer should simply read the sentence out loud, feel no shame, and fix the problem.
ROL • Remedy: During later drafts, read the essay aloud. Every time that you flinch, pause, stumble, re-read a phrase or a word, stop and rewrite. Be disciplined. • Remember: If you pause, the reader will stumble. If the reader stumbles, the reader will grow angry. Angry readers give low grades! • Example: “Oedipus felt as though he did not deserve to see another day, and as though it was the end of his life.” Poor. Word count 22. ROL. Negative. Cliché. Wordy. • Oedipus felt that his life was ending and that he deserved to die. Better. Word count 13.
Story Examples: • Quick note: Use any given story example once and only once in an essay.
Ending sentences with prepositions. • Don’t do that.
Because is not a coordinating conjunction • Do not combine a compound sentence with the word “because.” • Example: I like to run races and enjoy myself as much as possible, because the race is on Sunday, I’ll take Saturday off. • Solutions: Use a semicolon or add a “small” aka coordinating conjunction: And, but , for, nor . . . .
Attributive Adjectives • Separate adjectives with a comma that fall before a noun when those adjectives could be separated with the word ‘and.’ These are called attributive adjectives. • Example: The old lonely man waited for the bus. Poor. • The old, lonely man waited for the bus. Better.
Avoid informal style • Academic papers should not read like a gossip column. Avoid writing in a conversational style. • Examples: “Oedipus and his family just happen to be one of those unfortunate ones . . . .” • Problem: This sentence evokes a “so what” response from the reader. • Example: “One day, while Oedipus was residing with his foster parents, he caught wind of his [fate].” Word count = 16 • Fix: Try this, “Oedipus discovers his fate.” Word count = 4
Every, Each, Always • Choose accuracy over exaggeration. More often than not, these words are not accurate. • Example: Each character ends up miserable in every Greek tragedy. • Problem: Since you have only read three Greek tragedies, you don’t know this.
Avoid Phoning it in • Phoning it in = Answering the question with as little thought as possible. Living up to the basics of the rubric only. Making few mistakes grammatically and stylistically while taking no risks. • Phoning it in = Automatic E.