Different Problems

Historically, one of the biggest struggles of the first-year writing students I’ve worked with is their adherence to the “rules” of writing they’ve either been explicitly taught or implicitly internalized. The five-paragraph structure, which includes a thesis at the end of the first paragraph, and a concluding paragraph which starts with “In conclusion…” are two of the most common moves in evidence.

God, I would kill to get this person’s students for a change. It would be fantastic to struggle with these kinds of issues instead of discovering anew each semester that nobody has ever introduced students to the idea that a text should have a beginning and an end.

5 thoughts on “Different Problems

  1. 😀 Do they each hand in a mobius strip with an ouroboros of text on it? That’d be pretty awesome.


  2. My students are convinced that if they put a thesis in the first paragraph they’ll spoil the surprise ending.


  3. The five paragraph structure is the college-essay structure. I don’t know about SAT/ACT, but for the TOEFL writing portion that’s explicitly the form that prospective graduate students (i.e., those who’ve already received a Bachelor’s) are supposed to produce.

    I mean, any essay will have the structure of a central premise, supported by evidence, and wrapped up with a conclusion. A skilled writer can reveal the premise bit by bit or whatever, but that’s an essay: thesis, evidence, conclusion. If you want students to write a poem or narrative nonfiction or flash fiction or a short story or a novella, these will all have different structures and different meanings of what’s a beginning, middle, end.

    These are not that hard to learn but I find that even people who’re supposed to be professionals are often sloppier than they would have to be about delineating differences between forms. You teach first-year composition or something? Teach the students about the forms they are expected to be able to write in. So they know about the college essay already; great! Better than nothing. Now build on it. Yes I know the boundaries are fuzzy. That’s higher-level knowledge. Give freshmen reasonable boundaries between forms. The few who have talent for writing will learn to break them anyway, so don’t worry.

    (I am a little disappointed after some online interaction where a writer of short fiction asked poets about how to go about writing poetry (what’s different from prose) and several accomplished poets basically hand-waved or didn’t try very hard to succinctly state a difference between an ultrashort piece of fiction and a poem. The difference is very clear in my mind, so I wrote something, but then deleted it. I’m an intruder in those fields and should keep my mouth shut, but I wish more people applied their analytical skills to their art.)


  4. If all my blog posts had a specific beginning and end I wouldn’t always be accurately expressing myself, my character, or my perspectives accurately
    …some subjects are just too idiomatic and inconclusive to be that resolute about.

    After one’s been writing for so long “formula” goes out the window and persona and character take over.
    …just saying …


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