i The Tool Box of Mastered Skills: Writing Addition | COLLEGE WRITING: DEBATE(S) IN HIGHER EDCUATION

Isabel Detienne

My goal in life is to continue to grow and flourish until I become the best me possible. I want to achieve my greatest potential in every aspect of my life. In order to achieve this goal, I put in continuous hours of work in order to improve myself in as many ways possible. Despite my best efforts, I realize there are some things in life I might never master. One of these things is the subject of English and, more specifically, writing.

Before taking College Writing, at St. Norbert College (SNC), I never paid much attention to the extensive process of writing. I considered writing a simple tool that allowed me to express my ideas, knowledge, and opinions on a certain topic. One of the most important aspects of my lifestyle is self-expression, but throughout my life I have typically turned to art and music to aid me in the vocalization of my ideas. I see immense power in the use of art as an outlet for emotion and self-expression. I believe so strongly in the therapeutic use of art that I hope one day to make a career out of it. Because my beliefs have been so keenly rooted in art, I overlooked the importance of quality writing. I thought as long as I felt strongly enough about the topic at hand, my ideas would guide me to a successful paper. Little did I know ideas and messages are only powerful when the writing used to express them is equally as strong. Without being able to successfully express my opinions, they may never be heard. College Writing has taught me how to read and analyze arguments, accurately summarize and report others` ideas, acknowledge and respond to varying positions, state and defend a claim, select valid sources to support my ideas, and most importantly, to create a clear and fluid piece of writing.

The class offered many lessons focused on re-teaching the basic units of writing. Following the lessons and instruction in class, we were then asked to create a blog post for each unit that illustrated our ability to use the new concepts. In the first unit, we learned how important it is to create clear sentences that lead to fluent, well thought-out writing. In the beginning, I doubted the usefulness of working at such a minimal and beginner level. I thought to myself, only elementary students continue to learn how to write sentences and we should be on to harder tasks by now. Despite my skepticism, I quickly changed my viewpoint on the importance of creating fluent sentences. An example of an unclear sentence used in class was, “The task of throwing the ball to Spot was accomplished through the actions of Joe.” The lack of clarity resides in the fact the subject is not clearly stated. In order for a reader to quickly and efficiently read through one`s work, they must be able to distinguish who or what the sentence is about (subject), and then discern what the subject is doing (action). I am one who loves to milk my sentences and add a lot of prepositional phrases, essentially slowing my message down. College writing taught me to create the most efficient and easily comprehensible sentences possible. Here is an example of a clear sentence from my blog post #1, “Liberal art colleges strive to produce the most well-rounded individuals possible.” It is very easy to label the subject (Liberal art colleges) and the action in this sentence (strive to produce). As simple as this accomplishment may seem, it has lead me to be a more effective writer.

The second unit was focused on formulating the best argument possible. In order to do this, we learned what a true claim looks like, how to develop corresponding arguments, and how to correctly use viable evidence to support our ideas. This is something I practiced all throughout high school. We were taught that in order to write we must follow the MEAL (main idea, evidence, analysis, and link) outline. Although this was a good place to start, it taught me to add evidence only because it was part of the formula instead of encouraging me to find the best suited evidence and then developing a claim supported by it. College writing reiterated the importance of these four components to a solid paper, but in a more academically acceptable manner. I not only learned how to include solid evidence, but I also gained the ability to strengthen my overall claim by adding others’ similar beliefs. A great example of this occurred when I took evidence sublimation to a whole new level by directly quoting one of my peers who believes the same thing I do regarding education. Within my blog post 2, I state, “A peer of mine, named Zach Fritz, shared similar beliefs on this topic.” I provided the reader with a much stronger, overall claim by incorporating another person’s opinion, who also offers a believable standpoint.

How often do we go through a day completely agreeing with every opinion or idea we hear? Never is the answer. Every individual has their own set of virtues and values that make up their overall opinion and outlook on life. Unit 3 was created to teach us how to appropriately respond to another individual`s opinion, while staking our own claim at the same time. We learned how to acknowledge and respond to arguments, raise objectives, offer alternatives, and introduce our idea of a better claim regarding the subject at hand. We were assigned to create a blog post that explores other claims previously stated about college athletics and respond to them in an intellectual manner. I chose to write my blog post on the endless benefits acquired by collegian athletes competing in sports. While my opinion rests primarily in the idea that the skills and virtues athletes walk away with are enough to override the extensive time commitments, I do acknowledge varying beliefs. An author, named Devoe, talks about how college athletes do so much for the institutions they play for by generating endless revenue, accolades and positive press that the athletes deserve to obtain compensation for their hard work. However, I state, “What Devoe doesn`t talk about is the lifelong skills and benefits college athletes are “paid” with.” I introduce my paper by acknowledging Devoe`s claim, and then continue to write my paper defending and strengthening my own viewpoint. Using a claim that was completely opposite of my own was rather hard for me. I hated the idea of acknowledging someone else’s belief, a belief that disagreed so completely with my own thoughts and views. Because of my hardheaded opinion regarding the use of counter- arguments, I never even attempted to add them to my argumentative writing in the past. Instead, I chose to use evidence that solely supported my claims. After seeing how beneficial it can be to use opposing beliefs, not to hinder, but to strengthen my argument, I think I found my new favorite form of writing- acknowledgment and response.

Unit 4 is all about navigating different values with well-informed research. In this section of the class, we learned about how important it is to cater to your audience. In order for your opinion and claims to be understood and valued, it’s important to know who you`re talking to. Although the idea of learning about your audience before trying to sell them a claim may seem to be common sense, I never bothered to do it before. For some reason, I was so focused on creating a well-rounded argument that anyone would agree with, that I missed a key component by not gaining followers. I overlooked the importance of researching others’ beliefs and values that lead them to think a certain way. I can be more successful in my argumentative writing by having a better understanding of how my readers may look at my argument. Subsequently, I will be more successful in persuading my readers to agree with me when they identify with the topic on a personal level. Along with gaining acceptance, by being mindful of my readers I will also gain a sense of respect and appreciation for others. This concept of respect and consideration is a great value to have in life today. It can be said that in order to be considered a good citizen one needs to practice understanding and tolerance. A fellow community member here at St. Norbert College, Dr.David Weege, talks about this in his article, Toward a More Civil Discourse. He states, “Be inclusive. Listen to, and be open to, all points of view. In our multicultural world we can learn much from those with differing cultural backgrounds.” While his ideas are meant to benefit the community as a whole, they can also be applied to the theme of writing. The importance of respecting individuals and their opinions applies to every aspect of life, big or small, life setting or writing class.

Over the course of this semester, I have learned not only the basics behind quality writing, but also the most beneficial steps towards improving my work. I like to think that I have gained a great understanding of why we must include certain aspects and steps in our writing. I no longer look at an assignment description as a check list, but more of a detailed instructional handout to success. I take each part of my writing very seriously, hoping to develop the best piece of writing possible. My instructor has commented many times on my growing ambition and skillset in this subject. In one of the four sets of revisions he supplied us with, he gave me one of the most rewarding and satisfying compliment ever, “I’m extraordinarily impressed with the improvements I’ve seen in your writing. You’ve clearly mastered some of the basic principles, and can format your work in the ways I’ve advised; more importantly, you have a clear command of why I’m advising the strategies that I am. As a result, your written voice has become much more lucid and engaging.”

“Finally,” I thought to myself. I have finally reached a new level in my journey to master writing. However, despite my current rate of improvement, I know some days will not be as rewarding. Writing is an extremely challenging and frustrating task for me. There is always room for improvement and there is always another writing task that needs completing; because of this, my job as a growing writer will never be complete. Although many individuals may look at my previous statement and question why I continue to try to attain something which I myself admit is unattainable, my response is simple: my goal in life is to be the best me possible in every aspect of my life- no matter how long it takes.

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