Writing is hard.
That’s why improving the writing skills of our students across their four years is a cross-campus shared responsibility. Having UP students in all disciplines do much of their thinking on paper has dividends not only in their written expression but also in developing knowledge in their field.
Fortunately, both faculty and students have an enlightened resource – a common campus handbook – to help foster a shared vocabulary, writing strategies, and documentation expertise. The most recent update of this blazingly necessary resource offers faculty the chance to (re)familiarize ourselves with its holdings.
For almost a decade, our campus has required its students to have the same handbook for all their writing-embedded classes and beyond. This is Kirszner & Mandell’s spiral-bound Pocket Wadsworth Handbook, which has been re-named the Pocket Cengage Handbook in its latest edition (7th). Faculty should encourage students to keep (not rent) this reference, so that they can draw from it across their four years.
The presence of this book on our campus is the best argument for why students can’t plead ignorance in meeting our writing expectations. But they would benefit from the occasional nudge from us toward its value.
The latest edition offers students of any major a buzzing hive of resources. Color coding helps visually organize the bundle, and a series of indexes and tables of content make it easy to zoom-in on the information for the moment’s needs.
Here’s a quick overview of what we can find in the new Pocket Cengage Handbook:
-Its opening fold-out “Ten Habits of Successful Students” distills the most valuable habits to cultivate in our learners.
-The deeply useful Part 1 offers 40 pages of strategies and examples for interacting with texts and developing essays. The next section offers advice on accomplishing effective research and drafting papers (including ways of avoiding the nasty nets of plagiarism).
-A thick purple tab signals the next section: instructions and examples for in-text and end-text documentation in MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE styles. As students across their years here will need to become nimble in working with several of these modes of documentation, I find it useful to use the book to point to the differences between styles and also the logic behind those disciplinary differences (of why, for example, publication dates are foregrounded so prominently in the social sciences, while they’re shoved to the end of humanities documentation styles).
-A hundred-page chunk then gives students a refresher on writing grammatical sentences, effective paragraphs, appropriate punctuation, and proper spelling and mechanics. If you’re grading papers, you can inform students the direct pages to consult for learning how to: avoid run-on sentences (p.234), avoid sentence fragments (236), write unified paragraphs (264), write concisely (273), choose words wisely (285), use commas (295), know when to capitalize (324), etc. (And while these pages are of great use for filling in gaps in student knowledge, no doubt they help reboot our own writing skills as well.)
-A new section, “Composing in Various Genres,” offers students advice in using visuals in document design, writing for online contexts, thinking through workplace writing, and developing and delivering oral presentations in your classes.
-Students who are newer to English may find the last section (Part 9) helpful to review, with its refresh of basics in grammar and style.
-Finally, an excellent bird’s-eye chart to steer your students to during your course’s first week appears on p. 364-5. This offers a map of college knowledge: an overview of where your discipline fits within the spectrum of our campus, including the writing genres, styles, formats, documentation, and methods students can expect to employ. The chart helps students see the sometimes-confusing variety of writing genres, styles, and disciplinary expectations they’ll be held to in the heterogeneous mix of classes they take (e.g. needing to use active voice in humanities writing, but passive voice in natural science reports). Given the variety of writing students will do on the Bluff, our ultimate goal is not merely to make them experts in thinking-on-paper in their major; they also need to become elastic and flexible writers for the many future contexts of post-college writing, across a diverse life in an information economy.
Encouraging our students to use this learning resource early and often will help the next generation of Pilots become writers and communicators who are admirably precise, flexible, and humane.[Examination/Desk copies can be secured through Cengage using ISBN 9781305672888]
-Lars Erik Larson, UP English Dept.