Thursday, June 17, 2010

Discipline and Writing

When it comes to most pursuits at which we want to improve, people understand that incorporating that activity into our regular life is vital. Even more, performing it with a real effort to meet the requirements of that pursuit is something we accept, though children learning to play an instrument, for example, may well resist and resent that discipline.

Without an effort to learn the nuances and work within the stylistic bounds, a student is only banging on the piano, perhaps playing a single song loudly and repeatedly. Everyone has heard this, no doubt. The lack of grace, subtlety, and accuracy in the execution is usually not apparent to the child who is "playing" but, without a doubt, can be heard by the child's audience. Indeed, it is only when the child begins to take on the many skills required--through learning scales, understanding terminology, a growing awareness of a composer's intent with regard to mood, efforts at modulation, so many aspects--that the student can begin to become the pianist he or she has the potential to become. Adhering to these learned expectations is part of the discipline of playing an instrument well.

For effective essay writing, the concept of discipline applies when we consider the value of dedicated, focused effort to make the words and sentences grammatically correct, to choose the right forms of punctuation, to perform several straightforward and consistent tests that help ensure a smooth, undistracting piece of writing.

Many young writers resist the requirements of proofreading because they home in on the content and are far more committed to their ideas than to the technicalities of the way they express them. Effective content is a worthy goal! However, mechanics is equally important, and ignoring or skipping half-heartedly through a check for correctness is doing a disservice to those very ideas.

Taek these section for example When i write stuff with out cheking it for for the teknikalities, the Reader bcomes focussed on the rong thing.

Rather than torture you, here are my four suggestions for the basic proofreading exercises to perform on all formal writing, step by step. Because you are typing your paper using Word or a similar program, familiarize yourself with and use the proofing features of the software to make this go quickly.

1. Check for words you should avoid (remove!) Use the edit/find mode to quickly type through this list of words that make writing vague, weak, or casual. As for the fix, note that in some cases, the word merely needs removal. Other times, you will need to say it more formally, change that part of your sentence, or fix a contraction. A few of the No-No's are punctuation forms that are not suited to the essay. Changing them to what is acceptable is usually easy; instead of an exclamation point, use a period. Instead of dashes, use parentheses.

2. Read it aloud to yourself . . . slowly! The value of reading out loud is difficult to convince students of. Yet every single time one of them reads his or her work to a group or to the class, the student must stop and correct mistakes and the value of the step immediately becomes obvious--now the student can "see" a missing word or reversed phrase, a repetitive word choice or lack of punctuation.

Take a deep breath. Read it aloud to yourself slowly. Rather than decode for meaning, as we usually do when we read, instead revert to reading as a young child does, word by word. Only in this way can most of us disengage our brains from the meaning and focus on the execution.

(When it is just not possible or reasonable to read it aloud, I recommend reading it aloud in your head slowly and in a strange accent--robotic, or upper-crust British, or like your grandpa from Kentucky.)

PS: Anyone on Facebook knows how often we type the wrong word or leave out a word and render our posting incomprehensible. If we read it aloud, we could avoid some embarrassment!

3. Follow MLA format. This means 1" margins all around, a running head with your last name and the page number on the upper right, and a heading that needs to be in a specific order. Since all English essays are going to be written in the Modern Language Association's required format, the easiest thing you can do is set up your normal template in the MLA format.

This is possible on Word 2010 (PC) by completing these steps:

File / new (the word "new," not the folder icon) / more templates (folder is at the very bottom) / papers / MLA research. Now choose this template and open it (double click).

With the template doc open on your desktop, now go to the page layout ribbon and click the little arrow in the bottom right of "page setup." When it opens, at the bottom on the left is a "set as default" option; click this and say "yes" when it wants to know if you want this to be your default. Now your baseline document is always in MLA format.

4. Do spell check / grammar check. Spell check is a feature most of us already rely on. Also learn how to use your Autocorrect feature (though with care!) because this tool makes simple, common corrections instantly, such as, your "teh" becomes "the." You can improve Autocorrect by adding to your dictionary carefully when asked during a spell check, especially your name(s) and those of proper nouns you will frequently include in your writing.

Grammar check is another kettle of fish, but here are some fine-tunings you can employ that will help you make grammar check more effective for you, as well as a few helpful hints.
  •  Choose options in grammar check that set the filters at the highest (formal) level. Go to: File / options / proofing / Click on the following boxes:
  • Note that here the setting for "Writing Style" is "Grammar and Style." This means you will be notified of more possible errors.
  •  It's important to understand that Grammar Check is extremely limited in its ability to give your prose correct structure. All it can do in many cases is note that you have used problematic words or phrases, and then it alerts you: "Consider accept" it may say, when you used "except." But the point is to consider switching it. The grammar check doesn't know which is right in this instance and relies on you to verify your choice. A similar message uses the term "Suggestion" but is no more precise about what you should or should not do. In fact, it is not uncommon for a message to imply your writing is incorrect when it most definitely is not.
  •  Thus, when the grammar check message indicates something you doubt, or which you do not understand, you have two choices. First, you can look it up online at a place such as to find out what rule to follow or ask someone who's confident at grammar and writes a lot. Or you can ignore it and hope for the best. As I mentioned above, grammar check is often wrong. 
After you reset your grammar filters, try downloading this document and running grammar check (the icon for spell/grammar check in Word 2010 is found on the "Review" ribbon). It will NOT catch many obvious errors, it will helpfully suggest you correct several real errors, and it will indicate that some parts have errors that are in fact correct. For now, use grammar check, but use it very cautiously. (Note: This passage demonstrates that a thorough read-aloud can be as effective in catching errors, if not more so, than running grammar check.)

Though these steps all require familiarizing yourself and doing some background setup work, once you have the routine in place, you can work through the steps rather quickly--in less than five minutes for a timed writing of 45 minutes. As it becomes second nature to you, you gradually use the empty words less often, catch yourself on punctuation mistakes you used to make, and become more aware of the value of reading your work aloud to catch other errors.
So discipline becomes a matter of training yourself to maintain your standards in a given pursuit, with the goal of becoming better and better in your execution of that activity.