Thursday, September 28, 2006

How to Write for College

My recent cleaning frenzy unearthed a bunch of old books, most not worth keeping. But I’ve saved one called “Words and Ideas: a Handbook for College Writing” published in 1959 and authored by Hans P. Guth, San Jose State College. The passage quoted below is from Chapter One: Writing from observation and Experience, Section 3 “Opinion”.

“1. Developing Opinions of Your Own
When asked for their opinions on college life or on democracy or on freedom of the press, students sometimes have a dim feeling that they are for it. Otherwise their minds are somewhat of a blank. When writing a paper on one of these subjects, they will put down a number of sentences to the effect that college life or democracy or freedom of the press is a very important subject. They will point out that it is a very important part of the democratic way of life, and that everybody should be aware of this fact. After that, there doesn’t seem to be much else that could be said. In order to stay in college, many students develop the ability to keep talking after they have run out of things to say. They learn to pad their papers with ‘platitudes.’ They tell the reader things that he has known since he entered the fifth grade, that he has heard repeated many times since, and that he has no need or desire to hear repeated once more. A writer relies on platitudes when he solemnly informs his readers that baseball is a popular sport, that the automobile is here to stay, or that ours is a complex and fast-moving age. Needless to say, the habit of relying on such space-fillers produces vague, pointless, and spineless prose.”

I too, prefer prose that is specific, pointy and spine-filled. To be even more specific, I too, find it insulting when people continue to talk after they have run out of things to say. What especially galls me is talking in which nothing is said, and which continues for a while. And I mean nothing, in the sense that the talking is virtually content-free. And continuing in the sense that it goes on and on. That, to me is the worst kind of talking, or writing, for that matter. Written communication can, of course, also be content-free. Well, not to be vague or anything, but such platitude-filled talking will use actual words, but they (the words) will be employed to repeat, over and over, the same things, repeated again and again. And the things are redundant too. Not to mention, repeating the kinds of things that most of us have known since, let’s say, fifth grade. Or eighth grade, if you went to public school. Things like the Internet is here to stay, along with baseball and the automobile. Now, those are just platitudes, ok?

And I especially think that freedom and democracy go hand in hand and together they combine to make our way of life a very good lifestyle. Without freedom of the press, we would lose a very important factor of our democracy. Or of our freedom. It’s been so long since I was in fifth grade, I’m not sure exactly, and I’m not allowed to use Wikipedia. But I do know it’s important not to repeat myself again and again. I’m sure it’s no platitude to reinforce how redundant repetition can be if it’s said over and over. That’s my own personal opinion anyway.

1 comment:

Frances Goodman فرانسيس said...

Oh, that's gold. you forgot the all important, "The Dictionary defines [noun] as..."

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