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In his great article ‘What Is Academic Writing?’ L. Lennie Irvin explains readers how to write an essay. He starts out with an introduction to explain for us the academic writing task, and here in the 2nd body paragraph, he gives us the secret. And he tells us it’s the secret. He says, ‘So here’s the secret. Your success with academic writing depends upon how well you understand what you are doing as you write and then how you approach the writing task.’ And this idea of understanding what we are doing as we write is going to inform a lot of the information in the article. We have to understand what we’re doing in order to do it well. So when we move to the next page, page 4, Irvin is going to go into myths about writing, and myths are really interesting. A lot of us believe these myths about how to write an essay as if they are true, so let’s look at each one of these myths one by one.
Myth number 1 is the paint by numbers myth. Some of you might not be that familiar with the paint by numbers. Paint by numbers is something that we do when basically we’re told specifically where every single color goes. Most of us would paint the sky blue and the grass green and a tree brown. And that’s basically what paint by numbers picture is where someone tells us exactly what to do and for something like the sky and the grass and a tree, it’s pretty easy to understand. So Irvin goes on to say that paint by numbers for essay is in fact a myth, and he says here that ‘some writers believe that they must perform certain steps in a particular order.’ He’s talking about paint by numbers as order that there is in fact a specific way how to write essay in terms. Then we have to do to hook. Then we have to do the thesis. And this is, in fact, not true.
Writing is, in fact, recursive and that’s what he’s trying to say. We have to get over the idea that there is one way, one path, one the linear way to do this because it’s just not true.
The next myth that he goes into is myth number 2, and that is writers only start writing the essay when they have everything figured out, and that is a huge myth because writing, in fact, leads to figuring everything out. Most of us get ideas when we write, and the more. Irvin says here, ‘Writers figure out much of what they want to write as they write it.’ He goes on to say, ‘you can come back to patch up the rough spots.’ This is why writing is, in fact, recursive.
So myth number 1 and number 2 ties in together. Rarely do we sit down and have everything just boom from start to finish. That is, in fact, a myth.
Then we go on to myth number 3, which is perfect from myth number 2 and that’s perfect first drafts. There’s no such thing. Non-writers have this idea that people sit down at the keyboard and words just flow from writers’ fingertips, and it’s all perfect, and the grammar is perfect, and everything is wonderful. That is just simply not true. Now of course, sometimes grammar is better.
Irvin goes on to say that we focus too much on the ‘impossible task’ of making first drafts’ perfect, or when we turn the page, we spend too little time and make them not good enough before we have people read them. It’s a very tricky balance. Your work has to be understandable enough so that someone can read it to help you to give you feedback. For a first draft day, for peer review day it has to be understandable, but it’s not going to be perfect.
Myth number 4 is a great myth is the genius fallacy. And we think students apply this myth not only to writing but language use as well. Anyone can improve as a writer. Anyone can improve as a language user. Irwin says, ‘With effort and study you can improve as a writer.’
Myth number 5 is ‘good grammar is good writing’. He says, ‘When people say I can’t write what they often mean is that they have problems with grammatical correctness. Writing, however, is about more than just grammatical correctness. .Now that’s true. However, what it doesn’t mean is that writing is not about grammatical correctness. It’s very important that we read this. It says, ‘Writing, however, is about more than just grammatical correctness, and the keywords in the sentence are more than just grammatical correctness – more than just grammatical correctness – so you need to have grammatical correctness. Grammatical correctness is a baseline. It’s the basic foundation of writing, so we start with good grammar and once you have good grammar we build from there.
The next myth is about the 5 paragraph essay and this is something that people are arguing about right now – and doesn’t affect you quite as much, and he goes on to say that ‘some people say to avoid it at all cost’.
Another myth that is no.6 involves what we learn to do is we learn to how to write an essay upon building blocks. And so we’re building our essay as something that can scale up, and so a small essay like a 3 paragraph essay has a particular format that we want to be able to scale up that can build into a 6 paragraph
The next myth, myth number 7 is a really important myth. And you will encounter that in the different writing classes that you take, and that’s never use I. Now it’s really tricky because here he talks about the formal stance of objectivity and he says it implies a ‘distrust of informality’. So look at what he says next. ‘Although some writing situations will call on you to avoid using I, much college writing can be done in a middle semi-formal style where it is alright to use ‘I’.’ So the key is that we use I when it’s appropriate to use I and we don’t use a I when we don’t use I. So the kind of essay is what dictates the point of view that we use.
So all these rules are absolute and we think that’s the point of all of these myths. We can’t just say this is a rule. This is an absolute, but we have to think and apply critical thinking to the ideas. And that is how we can decide whether or not this general rule is a good rule or it is in fact a myth. And so that’s Irvin’s 7 writing myths. So all these myths that many people have accepted over the years.
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