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The 10th English Essay Contest

<Closing Remarks>

By John J. Sheridan

Turning a blank piece of paper into a lucid essay is a daunting task, something that the participants in the 10th English Essay Contest have accomplished.  A proficiency in writing also is necessary for those students who want to have a leg up on the competition in today's fiercely competitive job market.  And even though the writing process is a personal, solitary endeavor, I try my best to impart some insight into this process to students in my English Composition class. 
I begin by reminding them that someone is going to read what they write.  That is obvious, but often forgotten.  If the writer's thoughts are not presented clearly to the reader, even though they are crystal clear in the writer's own mind, then the writer has failed the reader.
Writing is not like speaking; there is no body language to assist the writer, nor can the writer alter his thoughts, as a speaker can, once they are put on paper by saying  "I mean this"  or  "I mean that"  to a reader who may be halfway around the world from the writer at the time of the reading.  One's writing must clearly state what it is intended to mean.
It is a given that all good writers were voracious readers before they took up the craft of writing.  Reading, after all, is as essential to the writing process as listening is to speaking. As to what students should be reading in preparation for composing in English, I always direct my students to the lucid prose of "Reader's Digest" and away from the laborious vocabulary of TIME.  It pains me to see students belabor a TIME essay, turning what should be an exercise in reading into an exercise in using a dictionary, as if they need more of that.
Actually, most students communicate their thoughts quite well in their compositions. A better understanding of the three Ps (pronouns, prepositions, and punctuation), however, would go a long way to improving their fractured syntax.  This is where reading comes in.  And I do mean reading, not studying.  Because when it comes right down to it, most native speakers' knowledge of grammar is in the ear -- something sounds right or wrong. Whether they know why is another question.  Choosing the proper preposition to help develop a thought, or knowing when and where to use punctuation becomes second nature to those who read.
A well-known British writer said that he could not even write a simple note to the milkman without revising it.  I even revise a simple postcard.  Which is why I tell my students that a finished composition should be a 3rd draft.  If you are serious about your writing, you revise.  And if you don't revise, your writing shows it.
My old choir master told us choirboys that every musical note was important.  This applies to written words as well.  If anything, students write too much, not too little.  When correcting their compositions, I often remove chunks of syntax from a single sentence to get at its intended meaning, or delete a complete sentence from a paragraph because it only repeated what had just been stated in the previous sentence.  As I tell my students, one well-crafted sentence is much, much better than a poorly-constructed paragraph.  For once you have mastered how to write a lucid sentence, writing a lucid paragraph will follow.  In sum: quality not quantity.
Since it is next to impossible to wean students from their dependence on inserting borrowed syntax from dictionaries into their sentences, I recommend the CAMBRIDGE INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY of ENGLISH, my source when I need a precise example of how to use a particular word -- and the corresponding preposition to use to articulate this word -- in a sentence.  I refer frequently to this dictionary when editing an esoteric paper written by a DU philosophy professor.  During a recent session, he said,   "I've got to buy this dictionary."
Mark Twain gave succinct advice to aspiring writers: "If you want to be a writer, write."

Sherbo  feeling9@dongguk.edu

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