Last Week’s Blog: Bow to My Lady
The Victory Goes to My Lady
One thing was certain, she had my attention, however, I really couldn’t understand how I could have gotten so far in my academic career writing such rubbish – if it was indeed rubbish. I needed to understand what I was doing wrong because I really didn’t get it but Lady Holmes-Peters patiently walked me through it.
“You like to cook, right?” I nodded my head in agreement.
“Let’s imagine for a moment that you have no experience of cooking whatsoever.”
“Alright, let’s suspend belief for a moment – but for the record, I am a really, really, really good cook – really.”
“Okay, so I ask you to take some slices of bacon and cook it in a pan until it is crisp. You go over to the cupboard and you take out a saucepan, which is a particular type of pan, and you put the bacon in the bottom of it and cook the bacon on the stove. Unfortunately, the sides of a saucepan are very high and because you don’t know any better you also put the lid on it. The high sides and the lid keep the moisture in pan and so the bacon doesn’t get crispy, and instead it kind of boils. In theory, however, you have followed my directions.”
“Now what you really needed to do, was to get a frying pan, however, I didn’t actually specify that you should take a frying pan. I only told you to get a pan. I might have hoped or expected that you would choose the right pan, but given that you don’t have much experience with food, it was wrong for me to make that assumption. A frying pan, as you know, is shallow and allows more moisture escape helping crisp the bacon.”
“Okay, I’m following.”
The communication failed because I did not go far enough to specify which pan. Similarly, in your writing, you leave your reader with only vague directions.
“So, although I may be correct in what I am saying, I am not directing the reader enough for them to follow my train of thought?”
“That’s it, now, you’re beginning to get it. Here is the difference between writing and speaking in the same situation. Let’s say I was in the kitchen with you, I would have been able to stop and say, no, no, I want you to use a frying pan – I might have even been able to show the exact pan – because you can do that in live situations -you can clarify when you have reason to believe your direction is unclear. A person reading my directions, however, wouldn’t have that luxury. Writing needs to be clear, otherwise people get lost. You write like a politician talks – with caveats that pretty much mean you say nothing and seemingly everything at the same time – and that doesn’t make for good crisp bacon ”
“Too little information confuses the audience then?”
“But be careful, too much information can also confuse: you need to strike a balance.”
“So I need to direct people with clarity in order for them to get ‘crisp bacon’?”
She nodded. Then she took me through several more sections of what I had written using other helpful kitchen based anaologies that could be stretched to breaking point. She went from strength to strength (in reality from one of my weaknesses to another) with the errors in my reasoning, ‘but you didn’t write that, or you wrote this, but it could mean this or that…’ and she was right. I gave explanation after explanation and she countered me with simplicity and clarity – things I admired those in other people – but as yet hadn’t learned. By the end of it, even I wasn’t sure what I meant to say in the paper. She was right – I was not a good writer.
I was beginning to panic as I realized I had lost. I got more and more nervous as my position got weaker and weaker, but Lady Homes-Peters wasn’t trying to exploit my weakness she was actually try to help me overcome it. Was she really the altruistic genuine teacher she seemed? My estimation was – yes – and she had won me over. At that moment, the F was no longer my main concern. I need to know how to fix my problem. And thankfully she was about to offer me that help too.
“Although, I am convinced of your intellect and that you know how to structure and argue a point orally when you can explain yourself, it is clear that your written word is not on par with your oral skills.”
“So, no A then?” I asked rhetorically having already accepted it as fact in my head. I picked up the paper as a sign of resignation and flipped through it once more to solidify my own opinion of how crap it was.
“No, no A then. However, I am prepared to make a deal with you.”
“Hmm, a deal, I am a deal kind of guy. What kind of deal???” I suddenly perked up.
“Perran, I actually took the time to read what you have written from beginning to end, and you should be grateful, because if I didn’t say anything you would graduate none the wiser. But believe me it would eventually catch up with you, either in university, or in the work place.”
“Now, I’m prepared to invest the time to teach you how to write effectively. Are you willing to make the effort to learn? If you are willing to work with me to improve your writing, I will then give you the opportunity to rewrite this paper. Afterwards I will grade it and then give you the average of the two grades.”
“On the other hand, if you chose not to take advantage of this offer, then the F stands and I wish you ‘luck’ on your next assignments” (she actually pantomimed the quotations marks around ‘luck’ with her fingers).”
“Now, can you open your mind long enough to learn from me, or are you just going to run to your friend the Vice Principal and ask him to re-grade your paper and then change classes?”
“Well, given that Larry seems to be in on this with you, that option suddenly seems to be unavailable to me.”
*Photo courtesy of: JODI YOUNG