University students & the problem of writing essays

How to write an essay! It is obvious, given the complaints in this column that university professors are having to teach or re-teach their students how to write. What that seems to suggest is that our secondary schools are not preparing students for the expectations of university rigor.

The problem, I believe, is that high school teachers are using rather simplistic templates (such as the “hamburger mode“) with the result that sentences and paragraphs tend to be short, padded and disconnected to the argument or description — perhaps not even defining a problem or answering the “so what” question.

As a result, I am working on a multi-sensory written language model (based on my book) that I used when I was in private practice, as well as with my university students. 

That model is based on writing protocol research done in the 1980’s by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, still relevant today and involves: (1) pre-planning, (2) translating (writing), and (3) reviewing/editing. See, for instance, the sources on this Google site, as well as on this Illinois Weslayan University page.

However, where my model differs is when the pre-planning and organizing of research sources and ideas are finished — which, by the way, can really be expedited by a software program called Inspiration — the translating part begins with tape-recording, as opposed to jumping right into writing. 

For example, with the pre-planning information in hand, the student simply “talks” the information into a tape-recorder, as though they were giving a speech. While it may take more than one go-round, once completed the student simply has to transcribe (with ear buds) their verbal version into a written format which becomes the “body” of the paper. They then add an introduction and conclusion and edit and revise so that everything is connected from start to finish.

One thought on “University students & the problem of writing essays

  1. I have just e-mailed Brock for a “demo” so that I might review it here at COTM. In that way, I could reach many university students via the search engines.


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