Crafting the College Essay: Method and Motivation
This is an examination of the more common writing challenges faced by many college students. The first section covers the problems students encounter and suggests ways to eliminate them. The second section gives a set of options for composing an essay.
“What the learner needs to do is not only to learn from the teacher or role model how to understand what she has to do and the way to do it, but to become able to acquire for herself the skill that the teacher has, rather than acquiring it as a matter of routine.” (Intelligent Virtue, Julia Annas)
There are plenty of ways to enhance the learning experience through writing. Initially, the readings should provide an ample source of information to begin thinking constructively about the topic in particular and the world in general. The college campus is the best place to explore since it provides resources such as libraries and professionals in their field. Next, the courses will guide your thinking into the direction of intellectual growth and can serve as a starting point for finding creative ways to develop clear and thought-provoking analysis in written form. Lastly, fellow classmates will, to varying degrees, instill a passion for discovery and intuition that will resound in your writing.
Matter 1: “I am not entirely clear on what the question is asking”
The main obstacle to completing a writing assignment is being unfamiliar with the subject or relating to the material. In addition, students are primarily inexperienced writers. The most practical approach for clarifying and simplifying the question is to check the meaning or background of the topic being questioned. The best way to accomplish this is by using a standard dictionary or an extensive encyclopedia. This should eliminate any lingering doubt or minimize the complexity of the requirement.
Once momentum has been achieved, there are likely to be times when the pace slows due to repetitiveness or disorientation. This is when another reference text can help to spur a new idea or expression. A thesaurus contains terms that mean the same thing as the word you are using but in a different context. At the very least, it can help you reconsider your current stance in a way that may steer your writing closer to completion.
These reference books are necessary at the beginning of the writing assignment. They enable the student to explore an unfamiliar or complex question, to gather information to include in the final draft, and to arrange categories of discussion in written form.
Matter 2: “I don’t know where to find the information”
As a starting point, the section above provides direction on establishing patterns or revealing gaps in the student’s knowledge about a given field of study. A student usually attempts to write a report, an essay, or a research manuscript with little more than his desk, some paper, the course textbook, and a pencil. Although it is often more than others have to start with, it is still only about a third of what is used by top performing students.
An experienced teacher will suggest that the students read all types of publications in order to become knowledgeable with their writing assignment. A good source of information or detail are newspapers, magazines, and novels. The reason periodicals are a good source of knowledge is that they provide the essentials in a concise format, often with a graphical representation of more complicated theories and facts, often adding commentary by credible sources in the profession. A novel by a prolific author or expert is another way to understand the overall structure of the topic you are going to write about in a more insightful and congenial manner.
The reference books listed earlier are vital for understanding the terms and concepts that will inevitably arise in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals. The novel can be useful in showing the student the various styles that are used for effectively relating information to an audience, in one form or another. Of course, the student will not immediately know to turn to these sources without having first been reminded to do so by a parent, teacher, or coach. In the absence of such, the student is left to seek the advice from peers or role models portrayed in the media or those they encounter throughout the daily routine. For the reluctant student, there are people and places they can turn to help meet the deadline.
Matter 3: “I don’t know who can check my writing”
After the writing is stable it is advisable to review, examine, and question the content, the structure, and the accuracy of the material. The student can more than likely spot obvious errors of grammar, vague phrasing, or inadequate content. At times, the teacher can provide some level of support but will not cover the entire assignment due to time constraint. Still, some students are left to rely on other school administrators that may be more willing to take a closer look; among them, a different teacher, a librarian, a coach, a senior student, or other members of an academic community.
Once the initial difficulty has been addressed, there are still many more hurdles to confront. At this point, the writing can be completed by using any number of strategies. The following section covers several ways to make progress when all other methods have faltered. Over time, some will prove more useful than others and may not be required as the writer matures or as alternative means of writing present themselves.
Hint 1: Pondering
Once all of these factors have been set in motion, the student is ready to begin the actual writing assignment. Begin by interpreting the question to the point where a sensible attempt can be made at: setting your stance on the matter, supplying examples from reliable sources, and including opposing viewpoints in order to make a well-rounded and less narrow argument.
The best way to go about this is to closely examine the question in its entirety. Then begin to read (or re-read) the text, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph until there is a viable connection between the question, reading material, and your own interpretation. Somewhere within the pages of text and the wording of the inquiry is one, if not more, related themes upon which to form the basis of a thesis along with corresponding topics and subtopics. Once this is under way, you can begin to write.
Hint 2: Outlining
Another part of the process is to sketch an outline of your position within the question: the claims you will make to convince the audience that your view is relevant, and how you intend to incorporate the counterargument into your conclusion. The outline will serve to organize the information you will use in the body paragraphs. A thorough outline will facilitate the writing of the assignment because it is an efficient instrument for maintaining relevant information and for managing the flow of reasoning and analysis within the writing.
This is necessary for generating ideas and connections between the question and the reading in an orderly but concise manner. The outline serves as a mechanism for preserving the draft in all phases of composition and revision. The planning supported by an outline will save time, boost your grade, and when done carefully will prove valuable in other disciplines. It is the instrument that propels the writing forward by keeping thoughts clear and organized. In essence, the outline exists as a framework that lends itself to translating the writer’s perspective and comprehension. It is an apparatus no different than a wireframe used as a basis for the design of a consumer product, per se. In complementary disciplines it goes by another moniker—that is—stenciling. Thereto, as in the writing profession, it is practical for tracing the pattern behind the finished product without being burdened by the intricacies of the full development or production cycle.
Hint 3: Drafting
The next part of the procedure requires creating a rough draft of how the writing will be presented. Oddly enough, this means writing without regard to many of the standard grammatical rules nor the actual requirement of the question by gathering thoughts and arranging them in a less stringent format. When the student needs to make progress, this method of free-writing helps to focus on the main idea as well as a preliminary order of subtopics that must be addressed, without being burdened by the intricacies of grammar or conventions, at least initially. Of course, the drafting process will involve many cycles of success or failure, but the end result is always clear and consistent writing in a more forgiving manner. Be aware that leaving out the drafting portion will be reflected in the final grade.
After several iterations, the outline will stabilize to the point where external sources will be required in order to develop and expand the writing beyond the limitations of the course or the student. The first place to look for information is in the course itself and the discussion that emanates from class. It is the main place where crucial judgments can be made regarding what to include and what to omit in the final draft. During this phase, make good use of your campus or public library; it is replete with a variety of publications and librarians who can offer useful advice on how to navigate the seemingly endless supply of research articles, publications, and textbooks.
Hint 4: Proofreading
Once all primary and intermediary drafting portions have been completed, it is beneficial to read the draft again in order to check for errors that have been overlooked; if possible, by a person other than the student. What makes sense to the author may not be readily apparent or compelling to another person.
As a final step in the drafting process, it may be worthwhile to read the assigned text once again, followed by reading the written response to the text soon thereafter. Although tedious and time-consuming, it could serve a dual purpose. First, to realign the student’s work with the textual source and, secondly, to force a proofreading phase which may provide further motivation to identify and eliminate any lingering syntactical, grammatical, or thematic inconsistencies. The greater the number of intermediary steps preceding the final draft, the stronger and more transparent the conveyance of argument.
In all, it’s important to examine the question closely and establish connections between it and the required reading while you are reading (and re-reading) the text. Next, it’s necessary to build an outline to organize your ideas and keep yourself focused on the prompt. This is an especially important skill that will carry over into other courses.
The researching of additional material is another essential aspect of your writing, in all college courses. Make use of the resources available to you; specifically, a database or a librarian, to make this a much less daunting experience. Always leave time for editing and redrafting, to make sure that the final result is polished and cogent.
Hint 5: Composing
Aside from all the previous recommendations, there are other minor details that are indispensable for most written assignments. The introduction paragraph is the best place to capture the attention and interest of the audience. It is usually the place where the main argument of the essay can be found as well as a map of the entire essay. The body paragraphs are used to describe all the relevant information in an organized and thorough manner in order to guide the reader along from the minor points to all the pertinent facts, through to any potential implications stemming from the analysis. The conclusion paragraph can typically perform three functions: review the important claims of the essay in a more confident tone, reiterate one of the many points made in the preceding paragraphs to greater effect, or launch a unique theme arising from the preceding discussion that the reader can explore to further their curiosity or knowledge.
The Finish Line
The majority of students who enroll in a college English course are under pressure to comprehend a reading, interpret a related inquiry to that reading, and produce an individually written response in return for a grade. This alone may not seem sufficient cause for sudden and inexplicable hesitance, but when we consider that students often have math, science, history, and other course requirements to deal with simultaneously, taking the time to read critically and write a coherent essay seems justifiably difficult, if not impossible. Aside from finding time to complete assignments, the reading is often obscure in both content and author. Another challenge is becoming accustomed to a professor’s unique teaching style. It is much more likely that time constraints, content difficulty, and issues with class structure or instruction style are the real obstacles to performing well in English courses than any sort of personal inadequacy.
“When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power.”—Mark Zuckerberg
There are many disruptions and distractions standing in the way of completing a college degree and the ensuing career. There are people that will impact decisions, books that will shape and reshape thinking, and events marking the ups and downs of education. This is most apparent in the English courses taken and the writing assignments that must be completed through the school years. The textbook may not be the most entertaining or inspiring ever read or studied. The vast majority of the time, the professor is a knowledgeable source for the course material but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your experience will be optimal. Of course, people inside and outside the classroom will place unreasonable burdens and overwhelming demands upon even the most resilient students.
So, visit the libraries and read additional books related to the writing topic. Consider making an appointment with the professor or counselor to seek their advice about ways to excel in the course and throughout college. Make it a point to study together with as many classmates as time and commitments will allow in order to have a place to present ideas or to test your thesis or to kindle an early literary voice. There is no better time than the present to retrace the successful path of a famous writer that you always admired as a child in order to help you overcome any personal struggles or obstacles with the writing course.
In brief, it takes an entire array of people, places, and provisions to start and end a writing assignment and to verify that the writing is worthy of a high score or of any attention at all. As demonstrated throughout, an excellent essay goes through a lengthy process of prewriting, writing, and rewriting. Adhering to this results in flawless writing which, in turn, is often indicative of clear thinking achieved through extensive, rigorous, and laborious effort. The strongest writers know how to communicate a topic and how to convey related information to the intended audience. Through effective use of topic insight, they make things easy to understand: in layman terms, so to speak. These are the distinctive qualities of a competent writer. The person who remains focused on this approach will be rewarded with the ability to implement their writing technique independently, precisely, or eventually at will.
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