Content Development

Is Everything a Story?

Stories are natural to human beings. Ask 1000 people to write something and 999 of them will write a "this is what happened to me" story. There’s a lot of good in this kind of writing, and I always begin my writing courses with at least one personal story assignment.

However, personal stories don’t work for everything

The point of all this

A skill you need to develop is critical thinking, the ability to the ability to move beyond events and to see the cause/effect inner workings.

Do not panic if you cannot tell stories. That’s not what you are being asked to do here.

Is It All About You?

I asked one class to read an article which argued that fast food jobs are bad for high school kids because they take time away from school, encourage frivolous spending, and do not teach workplace skills. The assignment was to discuss whether the argument was persuasive.

I asked another class to read an article which compared the work ethic of current students with the work ethic of students in the 1960s.

The problem here is that the students were trying to answer a question that the assignment didn’t ask. They thought they were supposed to write about "How did you feel when you were in those situations?" They were really asked to read the article, apply their thinking skills, and discuss whether the article worked—whether there was enough evidence, whether the evidence was persuasive, and whether the author’s conclusion was valid. That’s very different from "What was your experience working in a fast food restaurant?"

Two truths

There’s more to college than explaining what you already know.

There’s no point in being here if you limit yourself to the things you have experienced. We really do expect you to acquire new knowledge.

You don’t have to experience everything personally and directly

Astronomy, microbiology, and history (among others) deal with facts you cannot actually put your hands on.

This is why we invented reading. (A proper answer to those two students above is "Why didn’t you read the article about fast food? Why didn’t you read the article about college in the 1960s?")

One more truth

A little academic humility goes a long way

Yes, as scholars, we are asked to think critically and sometimes to pass judgment on ideas, but we do it from a position of principle: "This proposal is unfair to women" or "A new discovery clarifies this problem" or "This author is closer to the spirit of the First Amendment because…"

Do not set yourself up as the Judge of the Universe. Lose this kind of writing:

While you are at it, lose phrases that wrongly imply that you have done a mountain of research and are presenting your results (if you haven’t done so). I’m thinking of phrases such as:

And lose the bloated windbag daddy of them all:

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.

Revised 8/1/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: