Monday, February 22, 2010

The 10 Things Your Teacher Hates About Your Writing

You need to understand something, teachers are an old-fashioned bunch. They love working with young people, but they want to make them into responsible old people. Most of them liked school and did well, and they think fondly of the good ol' days.

Students, on the other hand, like progress. They communicate in a different, and some might argue more efficient, way using new technologies, but students need to have a different, old-fashioned voice when writing for class.

Be sure to avoid the following:

  1. Text Message Speak. Using abbreviations, single letters (U, R, B), and symbols are great when texting quickly, but they drive your teacher crazy. When you are writing for class, you are not in a hurry, so write out all of the words. These abbreviations, though, are great for note-taking.
  2. all lower case. Since the ubiquity of email, it has become common to write in all lower case letters. Your teacher still wants you to capitalize proper nouns and the first letter of each sentence. Using ALL CAPS? Don't even get me started.
  3. Run-On Sentences. Students who do much of their communicating by telephone often speak in one long stream-of-consciousness-fire-hose of words, but this makes reading very difficult. Keep it to one thought per sentence. If you join two complete sentences, do it with a semicolon (;), a comma and a conjunction (, and), or a subordinating conjunction (because, since, after).
  4. Incomplete Sentences. Students who do much of their communicating by text message often write in short fragments. Ya know. Like this. Quick as possible. A sentence must be an independent clause - a group of words that contain a subject, a verb, and can stand on its own. Make sure that each of your sentences can be said aloud by itself and still make sense.
  5. Homophones. A homophone is a word that sounds the same as another word but is spelled differently. Mixing up homophones shows that someone receives more language through the ears (chatting, telephone, TV) than through the eyes (reading). After spell check catches the true spelling errors, it is up to you to catch the homophone errors. Be careful with their/there/they're, you're/your, it's/its, affect/effect, a lot/allot.
  6. I vs. Me. For the first person singular, I is a subject while me is an object. I do things. Things are done to me while I sit there and let them happen. The most egregious error is, "Me and my friends went to practice." If you split the two subjects into two sentences, it would be obvious that me should be changed to I. However, any pronoun that comes after a linking verb (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been) must be the subject pronoun. "It is I." "The winner is she." "If I could only be he for just one day." It may sound strange, but that is because this rule is broken so often in common conversation. Most teachers will appreciate it done correctly, though.
  7. Or Beginning Sentences With Conjunctions. Just like glue, conjunctions join things, but you need to put them between two things that must be joined. Beginning a sentence with a conjunction is like putting glue on one side of a single piece of paper. 
  8. Sloppy Use of He, She, They. In the bad old days, when one wanted to give an example using a hypothetical person, the writer used male pronouns. For example, "The student must bring his book to class." Most students today know that this is gender-biased language, but they use poor grammar when they use gender-neutral pronouns like, "The student must bring their book to class." The pronoun does not agree with the antecedent, the subject. The proper way is to make them both singular or both plural. "The students must bring their books to class." or "The student must bring his or her book to class."
  9. Could Of, Would Of, Should Of. Could have sounds like could of when it is spoken, but it does not make any sense.
  10. !   Perhaps it is just my peeve, but save the exclamations points for the notes you pass to your friends. ("I think he likes you!!!!!!!) If you want to show that a sentence is important, use emphatically expressive language.

All of these suggestions apply to emails to your teacher as well as essays.

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