Essay #5: Critique (Engfish)
The Writing Assignment
Macrorie, Clark, and Colson argue that Engfish, "the official language of the school," has been systematically taught by both teachers and textbooks, and that in this lifeless writing style, "the student cannot express truths that count for him."
In this final essay for English 101, write a critique of this basic idea of Macrorie, Clark, and Colson. Were you taught this institutional style by teachers and textbooks? If so, was that a bad thing? And (perhaps the most important question here) is "Engfish" really that far from the students' real voice? Perhaps their real voice is "pretentious, phony, and private," attempting to shut others out and provide as few details as possible.
Hints for Success
In your academic career you will need to write a number of critiques. They are often assigned in courses where you must read journal articles and scientific papers, then give your professional appraisal of the reading. (Yes, you are a member of the professional academic community now, and this sort of work is your daily meat and drink.)
If you search online, you can find several tutorials which aim at helping you write a good critique; often the articles they are discussing are more scientific or technical than the one we are working on, but several key pieces of advice still apply:
- Read the source article carefully and thoroughly. If you don't understand the original article, its main point and the way the sub-points and support work, how can you possibly write a critique of it?
- Don't get distracted by small details. The third-grader's misspelling of "Hawaiian" is probably not the main point of the article. If you don't know what Sangren Hall is, does that matter? (If you had been really curious, you could have used Google to learn that it's a building at Western Michigan University.) A valid critique is not "he used words that I didn't understand and I was too lazy to figure out what he was talking about."
- Make a point of your own. You need to have a thesis which presents your overall view of the source document, with reasons. As far as I can see, you have five possible routes. Of these, "b" and "d" seem like the most interesting and fun to write.
- This essay is terrible; everything about it is pointless
- It's got a lot of problems, but …
- Six of one, half dozen of the other. Some say one thing and some say another, and I don't have the nerve to take a position.
- This is really a great piece, but …
- This is totally the greatest thing that ever got written.
- Support your point. Good academic support does not include comments such as "I liked this because …" or "To mean this means …" nor does good support include an appeal to an invisible, anonymous cloud of witnesses ("Most people think …" "It is generally agreed that …") Your emotions are not support for an academic critique.
- Don't try to be a mind-reader. Just lose the favorite student phrase, "what the author was trying to say was …" All you have to go on is what the author actually said. You do not know more than the author about the point that was in the author's mind, so lose the arrogance.
- Try to remain objective. If you feel insulted that the author used the masculine pronoun as a stand-in for "people in general," you should realize that in 1970, gender-neutral pronoun usage just wasn't the big deal that it is now. Don't turn your paper into a rant against gender discrimination—that's not the point of "Engfish."
- Some students have the idea that humor is an automatic disqualifier—any essay which has the slightest hint of a smile or a light approach cannot (in their eyes) be worthwhile. That's a very narrow-minded approach. Not counting the humor, is this essay making a valid point?
Difference between a response paper and a critique
Earlier in this course you were assigned a response essay. The two papers have a lot of similarities, but the basic question they are attempting to answer is different. The response paper asks very subjective questions: "How does this fit in with other academic studies?" "How does this square with what else I know about the world?" "What is the possible application of this material?" The critique is much more focused on whether the piece did what it was attempting to do: "Did this work the way the author intended?"
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Revised 8/1/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.