What I’m Learning from the SRTOL Essays: FA2010

  • I want students to get away from the idea of correct or incorrect grammar. This thinking indicates a prescriptive rather than descriptive definition of grammar – and runs counter to the goal of the assignment; however, if someone really wants to go there – plan on defining grammar in detail.
  • So many thesis statements ended up on the last page. I specifically asked for them in the first paragraph, and in 85% or more of published essays that’s where you find them. It makes reading easier and more predictable. Someone this semester asked if they could put the thesis on the last page. I said they could, but that doesn’t mean one should. In every case so far where I find the thesis after the first 2 paragraphs it looks like the author wrote until they discovered the thesis then quit when they hit minimum length requirements: typical first draft stuff. They generally should have then moved the thesis to the first paragraph, and then pruned the essay down to just what is relevant or implied by the thesis. Then add support and detail to what’s left.
  • I’m seeing too “many” superfluous quotes. Wikipedia calls this Scare Quotes. Avoid this. I don’t like irony conveyed through quotation marks. Use words. And they don’t work for emphasis. Serious explanation here. Check out the blog dedicated to unnecessary quotes here – or the Facebook group – seriously.
  • Cliche alert – avoid “in today’s society.”
  • Regarding format specifications. Ignoring format requests is antisocial and passive aggressive.
  • Overly wordy introductions to quotes – transitions are needed – but empty and redundant information isn’t. I repeatedly see, “In the journal article __________ published in ______ by the author _______ it says…” All this information is on the works consulted page – right? So a shorter reference will work. The wordy version makes it almost an appeal to authority. “Smith argues, “Blah, blah, blah” will work just as well. Or “Blah, blah, blah”(Smith 45).
  • EVERY SOURCE USED OR MENTIONED SHOWS UP ON THE WORKS PAGE! This is a big deal. Just because I may know of the article, doesn’t mean you’re excused from citing the source. We need to demonstrate the ability to work with sources. That’s a huge objective of this class.
  • “some people say” is a red flag for a specious argument and a need for more research and support.