“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.” Malcolm Gladwell
There are few things that matter more to your success as a college student than good writing. More importantly, there are few things that will matter more to your success in the work place than good writing. Studies and statistics, as well as anecdotal evidence, substantiate this claim. Put simply, good writing of standard English is essential for your success.
By choosing to attend college and pursue a career, you have made the decision to embark upon a literate, educated, professional life. Good writing is the currency of the educated world. Your Mastercard may automatically calculate the exchange rate for lire during your study abroad in Italy, but if you chose to live in that country you would need to understand the currency in a very practical way. You are not here for the short run at Suffolk University; it’s time to put your writing skills “in your wallet” so you can make the most of your time here.
I am not an English professor, but I am very concerned about clear, grammatically correct, well organized writing. My ability to write has helped me in every job I have ever had. Personal experience has taught me that employers take particular notice of those who can write in a clear and organized fashion. Clear writing is usually a corollary to clear thinking.
Like most people who are concerned about writing, I have set of grammar bugaboos—certain aspects of writing to which I am particularly sensitive—that are common mistakes I encounter when grading papers. (They may be different from other professors’ bugaboos, so check the list!) I am not without writing weaknesses of my own; I am always learning and improving. I expect the same from you.
The papers you write for me will be graded for content first, but also for grammar, style, spelling, and usage. These are things that can be taught, but they must be practiced in order to be mastered. Once you decide that good writing is of value, you must consciously strive to improve your writing every day. Towards this end, it is my policy that you may rewrite any assignment for a better grade.
(A grade, by the way, is not a reward; it’s what you earn for the work you do. The reward is the respect you have for yourself for striving to be a better writer. Don’t worry about the grade; be particular about your work and the grade will take care of itself.)
I keep a writing handbook within easy reach at all times: I have them at home, at my office, and in my backpack and on my laptop. I suggest you do the same. Here are my recommendations:
A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker is the text adopted by Suffolk University as its basic handbook. There are stacks of them in the bookstore. Go buy one. Don’t leave home without it! Linked at left.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B.White is a slim, elegant volume known generally at “the Strunk and White” and has been an essential pocket guide to clear writing for decades. It’s now in its fourth edition, edited by Roger Angell. Linked at left.
Here is a link to an on-line version of the original 1918 edition of the book.
by Lynne Truss is not a handbook per se, and it is written with the British writer in mind, but it is probably the most enjoyable book about grammar you will ever read. Surprise your parents; ask for a copy for Christmas.
(Still my favorite.)