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Carl A. Adkins

Introduction

Never did writing a book about writing occur to me while teaching writing. My time then was spent preparing assignments and grading papers. Ah, yes, grading papers. After two years as a graduate teaching assistant and two more as a high school English teacher, plus thirty-two years teaching students to write at an undergraduate level, I found what I call a few “worthy suggestions” to help students fine tune their writing. Oh, many students often referred to them as “Adkins’ eccentricities,” but I like to think of them as helpful writing hints. After I retired from full-time teaching, I continued to employ these same suggestions while teaching two classes of community college composition and working ten years with graduate students in a writing center I founded. In the i


A Compact Comp Book

latter situation, I not only met with students for one-to-one instruction, but I also provided assistance via e-mail. Currently, I am a writing coach, still using the same tactics in person and online to help student athletes with their writing. Interestingly, wherever I found myself teaching writing, a set of common difficulties seemed to appear. From lack of appropriate organization to faulty word selection and phrasing, freshmen through graduate students always seemed to need help with many of the same writing problems. As a result of my teaching experiences with writers, I recently came to the conclusion that I might be able to offer a small bit of advice to future writers by compiling a few of my fine-tuning suggestions. I hope you can use them. --Carl A. Adkins Asheville, NC, 2012

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Carl A. Adkins

Chapter I Start wi th a Purpose

Most often, students write because they have an assignment handed to them by a teacher. In these cases, the purpose for writing is to fulfill the assignment. Sometimes, the assignment is what might be called “openended,� i.e., the student has a great deal of flexibility in choosing a topic and a purpose for the writing task. Other times, the assignment is more or less specific about the intended purpose of the writing challenge. For example, the assignment may require that the paper (1) describe the interior of a dorm room, (2) include three or more items of particular interest, and (3) be at least two but no more than three pages, double-spaced. Now, at first glance, the above assignment appears to not include the purpose for the essay to be written. 9


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However, a closer look at the three requirements reveals that the essay is to be a piece of description rather than an exposition, narration, or persuasion paper. Hence, the implied purpose for this essay is to provide a description of a dorm room that informs the reader of the physical dimensions and furnishings of that room by focusing on three outstanding characteristics, or “items of particular interest.” While all this discussion of a relatively common firstyear composition class assignment may seem obvious, the real point is that the student writer is not required to “find a purpose,” but simply to identify the purpose as a piece of description and proceed to write. The work of establishing the purpose has been done for the student by the teacher. On the other hand, if the assignment has been less prescriptive and has, for instance, asked only that the student “write about a dorm room,” then students must select their own purpose for the assignment. They must brainstorm for a specific purpose. A description may still work here, or perhaps a persuasive essay arguing the inadequacy of a dorm room designed for one person but 10


Carl A. Adkins

currently housing two students could be selected in order to fulfill the assignment. If a persuasive paper is written, the purpose obviously would be to convince the reader that the room is too small for two people, and the focus would be on listing three or four examples to prove the validity of the claim rather than simply describing the interior of the room as required in the more prescriptive assignment. Other purposes could also be selected to fulfill the less prescriptive assignment, but in any case the student should first settle on the specific purpose to be used before attempting to write a first draft. To begin a paper before determining the purpose for that paper can be a significant reason why the paper is unsuccessful, regardless of whether the author is a student or a professional writer. In other words, before beginning to write, most authors have either a clearly imagined or vaguely determined intention for their paper. If the intention, or purpose, is clear to the author, the resulting paper will more than likely be understood by the readers according to the manner in which the author intended. On the other hand, if the purpose is vague or unclear to the author before the paper 11


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is begun, the audience may well have difficulty responding as the author intended. For the above reasons, then, the best way to begin a paper is with a clearly articulated purpose. Writing a simple statement or two of that proposed purpose will often provide a writer with a neat springboard to the next step in producing the paper. Simply “thinking about the purpose” or “saying the purpose out loud” is not nearly as effective a way of clearly visualizing and then articulating that purpose. Write the purpose in a statement and the purpose will become clear. Finally, determining the audience for the paper, or the person(s) who will read it, must happen before the next step is taken in the process of producing the paper. Both voice and audience are discussed in the next chapter. In addition, references back to the “purpose” will also be included, as these three indispensable elements in the writing process are discussed.

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