What Is Style Part 2

I have to admit, my definition of style has not changed dramatically over the semester. In my first post about style, I wrote the following:

“It seems that for me, style is an extension of the word voice when it comes to writing. It is a combination of many choices made by an author. From word choices, to sentence structure, to point of view- they all come together to become a writer’s style.”

I must admit, I think this still holds true. Style really is a combination of many seemingly minor choices that work together to make an author’s style.

However, over the semester, I have learned we can make our style better. For example, Williams suggested that putting the subject and verb together near the beginning of a sentence makes your writing style easier to read for others. I have been trying to keep this idea in mind when writing in all my classes now. It will take time, of course, but it’s nice to know I can make a big impact on my writing with a change like that. We can also improve our style by using words and phrases correctly. I was both fascinated and mildly annoyed by Strunk and White’s book about style because they devoted so much space to Misused Words and Phrases. But, I know when I see misused words, phrases, and other grammar errors in books, I am annoyed and it takes me out of the story. So, their advice was smart!

I learned some other lessons about style more inadvertently. For example, while reading Ong, I learned how style can make a work seem unreachable for the masses. His ideas were fascinating, but presented in a very intellectual way using difficult vocabulary. He could have changed his style and made the same impact using simpler words and his message would reach more people. However, he chose to use this style for some reason. Wesch, however, did the exact opposite. He presented his message in a colloquial way that could appeal to a much wider audience. I have no doubts that Wesch is an intelligent man; but, he did not present his arguments using technical jargon and in an over the top intellectual manner. His style is more approachable and inclusive to me and I like that.

Overall, I guess I have come to realize that style has a much bigger impact on how others receive our work than I would have thought. I knew that an author’s style impacts my enjoyment of the topic, but I did not think it was such a huge part of it. But, really, it is. Also, I’ve learned that I look forward to experimenting with technology in the classroom. After all, students need to be computer literate in order to function in today’s world. I can’t wait to see how technologies will impact my future lesson plans!

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Peer Review: The Final Recap

This round of peer review was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I had no problems using Google docs and I still enjoy reading and commenting on the papers I read. However, I was generally disappointed with the comments I received. In fact, one comment I received honestly didn’t make sense to me. I asked for clarification, but we never really came to a final agreement. In the end, I decided to go against what my peer stated, which is very rare for me. That’s not to say I didn’t fully evaluate the criticism, because I did, but I found myself in total disagreement with the suggestion. That was a new experience for me, for sure.

Personally, for me, the most useful aspect of peer review is seeing how my peers approach the same assignment. It usually reassures me that I am on the right track with my own thoughts. There’s nothing worse than pouring hours of blood, sweat, and tears into a paper only to find you have totally missed the mark! As for what is least useful… I just didn’t get as much out of the comments as usual. Well, one reviewer seemed to give me more in-depth criticisms than the other did and I was a little disappointed by that. Of course, it’s entirely possible the one reviewer was so thorough that the other didn’t have much to add, so I’m not going to hold it against them. However, I still felt a little disappointed all the same.

I’ve learned that I appreciate in-depth analysis of my work and therefore strive to provide useful criticisms to my peers. I’ve been labelled a harsh editor in the past by friends and peers, but I tried very hard to include positive comments with the bad. I think that will be an important lesson to remember when I begin teaching! In turn, I’ve learned to more thoroughly evaluate what my peers say to me. In the beginning of the semester, I was likely to follow the advice of my peer reviewer, even if I mildly disagreed with their assessment. However, as we’ve gone on, I began to question their comments more and make decisions against them.

My biggest concern about peer review is whether I will use it in the future. It can be difficult and unpleasant for the students involved. With the current bullying atmosphere in many schools, I don’t know that it’s worth using this technique. This is something I will have to really think about in the future.

Looking back, looking forward

Oh wow. It appears the latest and greatest “writing technology” is now YouTube videos and I didn’t even realize it until just now. Ong would notice how YouTube videos capture the oral tradition with a literate writer’s sensibility. Of course, Ong would also use amazingly big words to explain it and make it sound much fancier than I can. He would find a way to intellectually argue how we have internalized the technology of writing for a YouTube audience. Additionally, Manguel would have to say “The possibilities for YouTube videos is probably endless, yet few experimental videos survive” instead of talking about the shape of books. Nearly everything we’ve read for this class could be altered slightly and ultimately be applied to YouTube videos. Obviously, I’ll be looking over the ancient guide to style as well because our groups will inevitably use various ancient elements of style in our video and not even realize how well they connect to the thoughts of ancient rhetoricians while we’re filming.

I must admit, this revelation about YouTube videos depresses me just a little; but, I can’t help but find it fascinating. It depresses me as a future teacher more than anything because I enjoy language, literature, and writing so much that I made it my minor. I don’t know that I want to teach language, literature, and video-making. Although, since I’m beginning to see the connections between video-making and writing, I suppose it isn’t all bad. To make a good video, one must apply a lot of knowledge about good writing first. Keeping that in mind should definitely help me in the future.

Overall, it’s surprising how much the material we’ve covered is relevant to our movie making adventures. I think Ong, Manguel, and Crowley and Hawhee will find their way easily into my next paper. I can already see glimmers of how their arguments can be applied to movie making.

Is it writing?

At first, I was confounded by the assignment to make a collaborative video for a writing class. I didn’t see a connection between the two. I thought, perhaps, the video assignment was going to connect to the “technology” aspect of the course. But, now, I can definitely see a connection that I didn’t see before.

Originally, I wasn’t quite sure I was on board with what Anderson was saying in his article “The Low Bridge to High Benefits: Entry-Level Multimedia, Literacies, and Motivation”. Then, I came to the section on using playlists and suddenly it all made sense. What a great idea! I could clearly see the connection between writing and music, and then I was able to see the connection between making videos and writing. Originally, however, I was not really seeing the connection between making a video and writing as we’ve studied it in this class.

Now I admit, I think our movie group has a solid idea for our video. I feel like the script is going to more or less write itself and that was making it difficult for me to see the connection to writing as we’ve been studying it. If we’re going to discuss movie making as writing, shouldn’t writing be an essential component? But, after reading this article, I understand that it isn’t writing itself. The script and visual elements are going to require a lot of high level thinking and work. I could see how motivation was a factor, as well. I am motivated to try my hand at this video making thing and it’s sort of blinding me from the high level thinking and work load is requires.

I can see myself using ideas like this in my classroom in the future. I’m particularly drawn to the playlists storytelling idea, but making videos could be a lot of fun and educational, too. I love that using technology can increase motivation for students, too. I’m pretty excited to see how our video turns out and I look forward to seeing how I can use ideas like this in the future.

Peer Review 3

I could definitely feel a difference with the peer review process this time around. I felt more comfortable with Google docs, with saying positive and negative things, and just diving into the process with more abandon. I enjoyed asking questions and trying to point out areas that I thought needed clarification and I looked forward to receiving feedback from my reviewers. This time around, I engaged in more dialogue-like conversations with my peer review group. For example, I asked a question about an area of Megan’s guide that I didn’t understand. She explained what she meant and asked how she could make it more clear to me. So, I went back into her document and offered additional thoughts. Other times, all 3 members of my group commented on the same element and had a conversation about it. It just felt more natural in a way.

Most of the comments I received were positive. My reviewers particularly liked my intro and I was surprised. I felt like it was my least focused area when I posted the link, but, their encouraging comments made me think I was being too hard on myself. So, I may make a few small changes for myself, but it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it was. The criticisms I received were similar to previous peer reviews in that they didn’t have a lot of straight up negative comments. It was different because I received more praise and positive comments than before. Which, I think I said a few more positive things than before, too. Which makes sense because these ladies worked hard on their guides and had great concepts, strong examples, and generally very clean writing. I wasn’t able to point out a lot of negative things because they weren’t present.

Overall, I liked this peer review process the most. The “fun” assignment, the high quality of the work of my peers, and an increased comfort level all contributed to making it a more positive experience than before.

What others are saying

It is surprising how many of my classmates felt similarly about these two very different guides to style. Most of us discussed very different aspects of the books, but reached the same conclusion that the book by Williams had a bigger impact.

Specifically, I like what Ana had to say on her blog about comparing S&W to Williams. In her blog, she said that the style guide by Williams “may be better suited for truly understanding concepts of style while S&W are a better go to guide for quick questions about punctuation or word order”. That is an excellent point! The biggest strengths to Strunk and White’s guide are the clear and concise explanations of punctuation and other areas of language often misunderstood or misused. However, are they impacting my writing the way Williams is? No. Of course, I love the handy guide they wrote and how useful it is for looking up certain rules of grammar and punctuation; but, like Ana said, Williams helps me to understand the bigger concepts behind style. Ultimately, for me, that makes the guide by Williams more useful.

My classmate Tony, however, felt a little differently about the usefulness of the books. He said, “Overall, I don’t think one is more valuable than the other. I think they both offer great information…” I agree with him that they both offer great information, but I do feel one is more useful for me than the other. Of course, Tony says later, “But if I had to pick one, I’d probably pick Williams because it discusses more about writing, and, I thought, was more timely”. Although he felt a little differently, there is still a stronger sense of agreement than disagreement. But, his thoughts did lead to some interesting realizations for me. For example, I realized that I see myself picking up the S&W book more frequently in the future, even though the book by Williams left a much bigger impression. This is rather ironic to me. Perhaps even more ironic is the realization that I would be more likely to have a copy of Strunk and White’s book in my future classroom. (Of course, that is largely because I feel it is more age and grade level appropriate). Normally, when I find a book I like that leaves a big impression like the book by Williams, I tell people and share it with them. But, I don’t see myself doing that this time around and it seems odd. Perhaps I agree with Tony’s original assessment more than I realized! If I’m more likely to share the S&W book, then I must recognize how useful it will be for others. I must value it more than I indicate in my original comparison of the books. I must say, I find this rather surprising.

Also, I wondered how different the blog posts may have been if we had read the books in reverse order. Would we have reached the same conclusions about them? I think there’s a strong chance that if we had read the book by Williams first, we would have ended up praising the Strunk and White book over it. I could be wrong, of course, but it was an interesting thought for me.

Comparing S&W to Williams

Strunk and White and Williams wrote 2 very different guides to style! Strunk and White provide a short, concise guide to style that gives a lot of very useful advice in the most succinct way possible. It is a handy book to have and easy to read. Generally speaking, it is the kind of style guide I expect to encounter in a freshman level writing class. I will definitely hang on to this little book and refer to it in the future. In fact, I’ve used it about half a dozen times since reading it already. It definitely gets a big thumbs up for conciseness and helpfulness.

Williams, however, provides a style guide of a different sort. To begin, it approaches writing from a more philosophical arena than S&W. Williams says from the beginning that he is not going to give us advice like “Be clear”. Instead, Williams discusses every aspect of writing from a higher level. The book is not one you can sit and read in one sitting. In fact, it took me about 5 sittings to get through just the preface and first chapter. What really amazed me, however, was how easy it was to integrate the information. I immediately wanted to look through some of my writing and look for subject and verb locations. This little fix could have a huge impact for my readers. Amazing. If I’d been given this book as a freshman, I probably would have felt pretty intimidated by it. But, it has proven to be a surprise hit for me. S&W got a big thumbs up, but the book by Williams gets two big thumbs up and gold star. At times I wish it had been an easier read, but the information has been amazingly helpful and I can appreciate this book even more than the handy guide by Strunk and White.

Looking back at what I wrote about S&W a few posts ago, I can see the differences between the books even more. Strunk and White left a big impression on me, but it is nothing like what I’ve learned from Williams. S&W taught me about pet peeves and relatively random things to look for in my writing that should improve it. Williams taught me the bigger picture things I can change in my writing to make it better. Williams explained what readers look for and how to play to them while still maintaining my own thoughts and voice. I feel like Williams will impact how I approach writing and revision. In fact, I think I enjoyed the revision process more than I ever have when I used some of the advice I learned from Williams. I never thought I’d say that!

Revising with Williams

I found this example of writing in EMU’s catalog:

“Students should be aware that for some scholarships offered by the University pass/fail courses are not considered part of the minimum required load for scholarship. Students also should be fully aware of the possible implications of this option for acceptance into graduate schools and competition for financial aid. It has been ascertained that most graduate schools will accept students who have elected to take some courses on a pass/fail basis, but that if courses taken on this basis are sufficient in number on the transcript, Graduate School Examinations may be utilized to determine the student’s acceptability. Graduate schools, in general, do tend to favor those applicants who have good letter grades on their transcripts.”

If Williams were to revise this entry, it might look more like this:

You may be disqualified from some University scholarships if you take the pass/fail option for courses. Also, pass/fail courses may disqualify you from merit based financial aid and impact graduate school acceptance. Most graduate schools accept students who have taken some pass/fail courses. However, Graduate School Examinations may be given if you have a high number of pass/fail courses on your transcript. Generally speaking, graduate schools prefer to see good letter grades over pass/fail courses on your transcript.

In Style Toward Clarity and Grace, Williams acknowledges you should know your audience when writing. A University catalog should be written with a 12th grade reading level in mind. According to an online calculator, the University’s passage has a grade level of 18. With just a few small changes, my passage has a grade level of 12, according to the same calculator. A 12th grade reading level is acceptable for a University catalog, whereas anything higher is not.

I tried to put subjects close to their verbs, as Williams suggests in his book. Williams says this clarifies my writing for the reader. Additionally, I tried to make the sentences as active as possible, instead of passive. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds in the book to do so! Some of the information requires words like “may” for legal reasons, so I kept a little legal wiggle room in my revision. If I didn’t think some legal wiggle room was necessary, I could have made additional verb changes.

For cohesion purposes, I tried to move from the known to the unknown as best as possible. Also, I tried to take the last thought from my previous sentence to start the following sentence, at least when appropriate. I moved some words and phrases around to try to give emphasis to what I think are the important details, as well. Finally, I tried to maintain coherence by thinking about the overall topic string while revising.

I admit, however, I could have spent hours trying to revise the four sentences using the advice of Williams. He has a lot of good and practical advice, but it is NOT easy yet to integrate all of them into the revision process. Perhaps I should have focused on one or two areas of revision instead? I guess I thought it wouldn’t be that hard to try and use a little bit of everything I’ve read by him with just a 4 sentence selection. But, it was still quite challenging. I realize now it will take time for me to feel comfortable applying the knowledge I am gaining from Williams. But, that’s okay. I’ll get there some day.

Peer Review Process Part 2

Generally speaking, I am still not a fan of the google docs approach to peer review. It is weird to see physical changes made to my paper by others. Also, I have struggled to figure out what exactly someone is pointing out at first. Overall, I’d rather read a separate sheet of paper with comments or personal interaction for peer reviews.

Most of the comments I received seem to be about minor grammar issues. I know I can be wordy, and my peers seem to notice that, too. 🙂  But, most of the comments were nice to see.

As for the comments I leave, I try to give some general advice and a few specific ideas. I do NOT expect my peers to use my ideas at all. I recognize the comments I leave are my opinions and words and that it’s normal for someone else to think they don’t sound like them. Clearly we all have unique papers and writing style already, at least to a degree, and any advice we give is from our perspective.

Oh and I thought we would get the results from the surveys BEFORE completing this blog post. So, it feels a little out of place to comment about the entire process when there is an aspect that feels unfinished yet.

Strunk and White

I admit, there are parts of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style that I am very happy to see written in simple terms that are easy to understand. The chapter covering misused words and expressions had some of my favorite entries. I have known for ages that there is a difference between the words nauseous and nauseated. However, I have struggled at times to remember which word to use at which times. Almost always, I say, “I feel nauseated” because it felt right to me. Now, I can look to page 53 if I am ever in doubt and double check. Also, in that chapter, I saw one of my biggest pet peeves covered by the authors. I have been on a crusade of sorts to get people I know to stop using the phrase “I could care less” incorrectly. It is one thing if that is what they mean to say, but rarely is this the case. I’ve had many debates with friends and acquaintances over this phrase. Part of me wants to photocopy page 42 of the book and keep it in my wallet to show to people when I hear them use it incorrectly! It is very annoying to me!

However, this ties directly into what I didn’t like about this book. Mainly, I did not like that so many pet peeves were in a style guide. Language is constantly evolving. Some words and “rules” get changed or fall out of favor over time. This book has been around long enough to seem out of date. Shall vs will? Truthfully, how often does anyone say shall today? Even if it is being used in a grammatically correct way, it is not a popular word anymore. The Oxford comma, referred to as the serial comma by Strunk and White, has been the subject of debate for some time now. The Wikipedia page for the serial comma lists 10 style guides that say it is mandatory to use the serial comma and 8 style guides that say the exact opposite. It is confusing!

Now, how will I apply some of what I read in this book? Well, I will work on writing in the active voice and with concrete language. I swear I am one of the few college students that has been slammed for writing in the passive voice on papers. It annoys me because I don’t even realize I am doing it! I have changed at least 3 sentences that were in the passive voice already in this blog entry! (Sadly, I probably missed a few as well). Also, I find myself wanting to check my writing for possible misuses of the words that and which. I have not heard the difference between these two words before in quite the way the authors discussed it. The authors said, “Careful writers, watchful for small conveniences, go which-hunting, remove the defining whiches, and by so doing improve their work” (59). More than anything, however, I am sure I will use this book as the reference guide it is. It will not become my style Bible, but another useful reference tool to use when I want to be as clear as possible in my writing.