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In this essay, Baker (an aspiring physicist) shares how ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing helped them to break out of formulaic writing, and find new ways to express their ideas. Overcoming each writing challenge brought new realizations about their personal writing practices, and ways in which existing practices could be improved for effective communication. The journey that started with “dreading” the writing class concludes with seeing writing as a tool that even a physics major must learn to wield.
Sasha Marie Bakker
ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing
Day Month Year
Dreading a required writing course during class sign-ups, I left it for the spring semester. “It’s easier to take in the fall,” my friends teased. “Gee, thanks,” I thought, “either way it won’t be more enjoyable.” Because my high school English teacher instructed at a community college, I assumed my writing was already at college level. My idea of ‘good’ writing was following a formulaic response, which held two quotes in each body paragraph, a thesis, and, occasionally, counter arguments. I came to the first English 112 class already exhausted, realizing we had to write about ourselves. Yuck. I couldn’t follow my formula with that rubric! Sharing my feelings seemed like a useless task for an aspiring physicist, whose future will be filled with lab reports: writing from fact, not the heart. Nevertheless, I wrote with maximum effort, as I didn’t want my grade to suffer from these judgments.
Unit 1. My essay, “American With a Dutch Family,” gave context to my shared identity as a New Hampshirite with Dutch heritage. Due to my draft’s non-assertive voice, I was clearly uncomfortable sharing experiences. My roommate suggested stating my feelings as claims to create a convincing argument. Initially, I meekly addressed, “I seem influenced by my dad’s side of the family.” To take hold of the claim’s impact on my life, I modified the sentence to “This is my world view, and it has been influenced by my context of having family in a country apart from my own.” However, my claims lacked support, as I wasn’t fulfilling the unit’s task of giving insight to the reader. Therefore, for example, to show why I felt a connection to Rembrandt’s Night Watch versus other paintings, I expressed, “I vividly recalled its grandness at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.” In another instance, I revealed my thoughts about an emotionally intimate incident, in which I was laughed at for being an American who is sub-par at riding a bicycle. Expressing myself confidently showed me the necessity of making strong claims, a lesson not limited to the writing world of Humanities majors.
Throughout the semester, I found my papers held a focus for revisions. In my Unit 2 paper, “Duality in Assessing English as a Possible Language of the Future,” I used literary examples of how the author Henry Hitchings “weighs the pros and cons of the argument of whether English is the top contender for the language of the future.” I immediately reverted to my formulaic response by strenuously organizing a pattern of providing Hitching’s statements, then extrapolating the information. For each body paragraph, 1.) I stated the purpose, 2.) Entered two quotes with lead-ins and explanations, and 3.) Signified its relation to my thesis with a transitional thought. This covered all necessary information for a response paper. Quote lead-ins, such as “For example, Hitchings states” or “Henry Hitchings notes”, I discovered, explicitly clarify the author’s ideas as opposed to my own. I applied these in revisions. Yet, unfortunately, this lack of paraphrasing disrupted the flow of my paper. I also found its predictability boring to read, as it did not consider the audience beyond which thought belonged to whom. Playing it safe in my writing made me realize accommodating the audience needed to be taken up in the following units.
My Unit 3 research piece, “Female Stereotypes and the Physics GRE,” explores a possible cause and solution for the Physics Graduate Record Examination gender score imbalance. This time, I was sure to implement paraphrasing. Quotes were not the core medium of the arguments, but rather, argument supports. For example, the quote “is implicitly ascribed to men” (Polkowska) describes the word ‘entrepreneur’ better than in my own words. Considering the audience brought power to my writing. By choosing my voice over an author’s, it became fluent and coherent for the audience’s consumption, thereby satisfying a research paper’s purpose of informing the public. To further engage with my paper, I applied ethos, pathos, and logos. For instance, by saying, “We need to make women know they have the potential to become scientists”, pathos introduces the issue’s relevance to the audience by suggesting it is also their duty to help the cause (“Female Stereotypes and the Physics GRE”). To appeal further, I introduced the class’s collected opinions about standardized testing in my paper, so anyone who reads it will feel their voice is heard. This brings a sense of trustworthiness to me as an author.
Unit 4. “The Inside Experience of Belly Dancing”, is an autoethnographic work, which aims to break misconceptions of hypersexual belly dancing, and substantiate how the subculture empowers women. To resonate with the audience, I needed a clearly defined purpose throughout, such as by reiterating my intended lesson. I found difficulty in this, so I considered my own place in belly dancing. My realization, “I partook in the stereotype of a sexualized belly dancing”, portrayed the commonality of its misconceptions within society. Due to this, I became confident in adding my experiences as supports, which built ethos, and contrasted my Unit 1 writing process. An anecdote of a common dance move, “The hand motion is a means of hiding our chest”, strengthened my claims of belly dancing as art rather than seduction. To push my purpose, I laced in experiences such as this, along with what I learned as the misconception was broken for me. I was writing from the heart, knowing I wanted to be represented well within my subculture. Through clarity of purpose and newfound passion, I illustrated the belly dancing subculture. For me, this illuminated that emotionally driven writing can be as strong as convincing the audience by fact.
Before English 112, I didn’t think I could enjoy or find use in interest or experience-based writing. However, I realized my judgments were wrong. Rather than a formulaic response, there is a need for dynamic writing. It is easily consumable and meant to draw the reader in and inspire action or thought, by feeding passion, an outlook unforeseen, a trustworthy source, and agreeable terms to the audience. Strong claims are possible through these methods, especially if the author cares about the topic and its purpose, making drafting painless. I wish to someday impact the world of science, and reach a broader audience while doing so. Therefore, techniques I learned though my revisions can be upheld in all future writing, such as by sharing my interest in physics through publications apart from expected reports. As tough as writing lab reports will be, they will also be tough to read. After English 112, I now realize the need for truly ‘good’ writing in all majors. And no good writing comes without a willingness to improve.
Bakker, Sasha. “American With a Dutch Family.” Assignment, U of Massachusetts Amherst, 2018.
—. “Duality in Assessing English as a Possible Language of the Future.” Assignment, U of Massachusetts Amherst, 2018.
—. “Female Stereotypes and the Physics GRE.” Assignment, U of Massachusetts Amherst, 2018.
—. “The Inside Experience of Belly Dancing.” Assignment, U of Massachusetts Amherst, 2018.
Polkowska, Dominika. “Women Scientists in the Leaking Pipeline: Barriers to the
Commercialisation of Scientific Knowledge by Women.” Journal of Technology Management & Innovation, volume 8, no.2, 26 Apr, 2013.