Students who forget they are writing

Some high school teachers tell students, "Just write the way you talk."

If a student is paralyzed by writer's block, this may get things rolling again.

If a student has swallowed a thesaurus and spews forth language that is designed to impress rather than communicate, this is good advice too. Student writing like this just doesn't work:

Unarguably we all crave representation of something honorable with the authentic corollary of its quiddity whether we have what it takes to live up to so or not. Ab initio, and naturally people want to do good, even if they're later engagements result otherwise promoting a vitiate version of them.*

On the other hand, if a student's writing is just a recording of speech noises, a lot of trouble (and some humor) results.

Speech habits that don't work in writing

"By the way, I forgot to tell you"

If two people are having a spoken conversation and one remembers a comment that should have gone earlier, it's impossible to go back and edit. Paper-writing does not work that way. You can move up to an earlier paragraph and insert the missing material.

The "I forgot to tell you" might be appropriate if you are writing a timed essay test or pounding out your final copy two minutes before class starts (a really bad idea, by the way), but for most normal writing, remember that you can edit what you have already written.

"You know what I mean?"

When I receive your paper, I don't get a microphone with it. There's no way I can verbally respond to your questions, and if I don't know what you mean, there's no way you can fix it "on the fly."

If we are having a conversation over lunch and I don't understand your point, I can ask clarifying questions and you can answer, but a written piece needs to be clear enough for me to understand it. Questions addressed to the reader and inviting a response don't work in writing.

Spelling by ear

English has a lot of homophones ("sound alike" words), and if you have not spent much time reading, you will write some ridiculous things.

The cure? Read a lot so you learn the language. Take your papers to the Writing Center and work through them with a tutor. Ask a friend (preferably a smart one) to read through your papers. Pay attention to what words are actually saying.

What you can take away

Written English and spoken English are different languages. Spoken English cannot be edited, but you can ask your listener for feedback. On the other hand, you can edit written English, but your audience is not normally available for a two-way conversation. Written English has a lot of words that have distinct meanings and spellings, even though they might sound the same.

You need to take a deep breath and learn both languages.

*By the way, if you do want to flood the reader with impossible words the way this student did, at least learn the difference between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. One reason this sample makes little sense is that vitiate is a verb, but the student used it as an adjective. And you are not too impressive with your fantastic vocabulary if you do not remember the difference between their and they're.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 8/9/17 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: