February 2010 Archives

My "I" wants to make a statement

"Some scholarly writers claim that they in particular should not use a first-person subject, because they must create an objective point of view...Contrary to that claim, academic and scientific writers use the active voice and the first-person I and we regularly." (51)

The above quote from Joseph M. Williams' book Style (specifically the 3rd edition) definitely would have made me go buggy eyed if I had read it before my first college semester. Admittedly, my high school was not the best in preparing me for the transition to college writing, but I did think they would have mentioned the little detail about being able to use "I" in a paper. Or at least instruct their high school students to only use it when specifically reacting to something that is being argued.

However, with my high school having failed me in this writing regard, it was quite the surprise when my first college writing professor took points off of my fledgling research paper for not including my personal response to the subject that I was arguing. Needless to say, I had to hurriedly (and rather messily) learn how to best incorporate my "I" points in papers. Even after a couple of years writing at the college level, I still experience a slight twinge at using "I," like it still isn't what I'm supposed to be doing. Despite my recommendation to possibly limit using "I" in writing academic papers, "I" is definitely used.

I think you should check out what my peers have to say.

Looking over my shoulder

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Most everyone likes to take a look over their shoulder everyone once in a while and rediscover just how far it is that they've come. Well, this particular blog will be doing just that in regards to my recent blogging activities.

Coverage: For a full list of my recent blogs, please see the list at the end of this entry.

Depth: I've listed here some of my entries discussing an idea in more detail than my other entries.

Interaction: I've listed here some of my responses to my peers on our current topics.

Discussion: Refer to some of my Interaction entries for my longer comments on other's blogs. Those I've listed below are my blogs that earned comments from my peers.

Timeliness: All of my blog entries have been written at least a day before our class met to discuss the topics we blogged about. If you'd like a few that were written early enough to earn a higher number of contents, refer to the Interaction and Discussion sections above.



Below is a list of my blogs, but I will point out a particular blog for each section (specified below) if I feel it particularly emphasizes that distinct characteristic. I will be starting with my most recent blogs.

Do words have power?

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Upon reading Johannes Trithemius' excerpt in Writing Material, I think that if you had asked him if words have power, he would have answered a rousing "Yes!" But if you had asked him if written words have more power than their spoken counterparts, then he would have answered with a long speech praising the more lasting benefits of writing and copying words and how they are so much better for preserving ideas.

Trithemius enthusiastically makes the argument that without the written word and those who write or copy them down into books, "...the Church would see faith weakened, love grown cold,hope confounded, justice lost, the law confused and the Gospel fallen into oblivion" (470). However, I do not wholly agree with this sentiment. Ancient cultures managed to create thriving societies before developing a strict form of writing. Several also worshipped a unique and complex religious structure. Ancient societies did not appear to have a difficulty with a loss of faith, no hope, no love an no form of justice. In my opinion, these ancient cultures used their powerful ability to memorize oral tales and used these in place of written texts that Trithemius is so fond of. The ancient peoples suffered no less for their not having a written word, but once they'd developed the ability to write, it opened their minds towards other opportunities.

Trithemius also lionizes the role of the scribe or monk, seeing it as a duty to God to copy books so as to better learn of God's will and work. Trithemius writes, "[The monks of old] knew that [copying] was particularly pleasing to almighty God who wishes that we learn his will and do it and carefully observe his instructions" (472). There is no doubt that without orders of religious monks dutifully copying Ancient Greek and Roman works of literature that they would not have survived for subsequent generations. But even though these diligent copiers preserved such important literary content, there were other works of prose that did not survive the Dark Ages for various reasons including, loss of original manuscript, natural disasters, and war/fighting. Despite the fact that there are perhaps thousands of works lost originating from ancient times, had the monks and scribes not copied down what they did, we definitely wouldn't be quoting Plato or reading Sophocles' plays.

But I was very much struck by Trithemius' notion towards the emerging printing press and it's impact on copying by hand: "The inspired scribe will always find something worth his trouble. He does not depend on the printer, he is free and as a scribe enjoys his freedom. He is by no means defeated by the printer; he must not cease copying just because the art of printing has been invented" (474). To me, Trithemius' statement epitomizes the argument most likely used by aficionados of "old technology" such as cassette tapes, calligraphy, and the like. If you enjoy creating a form of art or literature in an old school fashion, why not continue at it?

Check out what my peers have said on Trithemius and his excerpt.

My Handwriting Labels me a Chicken

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Have you ever heard someone say, "My writing's chicken scratch."? Well, after reading Naomi Baron's excerpt in Writing Material, I can safely say that an analysis of my quickly scribbled scrawl would label me a chicken because of my nearly illegible letters. And that tends to be on a good day.

I remember when I first learned handwriting in grade school and middle school and my teachers tried to drill it into our heads that by the time we'd progressed to high school, we would have to forego printing all together. Well, guess what? They kind of lied to us, because when high school finally came, the teachers said it didn't matter whether we wrote in print or handwriting. Thus did I lose my handwriting abilities in favor of a quicker (if still somewhat illegible) method of writing. Just like Baron writes, "Today, handwriting is no longer taken as a necessary alternative to print but rather a begrudged substitute...Not surprisingly, we no longer see handwriting as an expression of social standing, much less a mirror on our souls" (60).

My father still always uses handwriting, even if I have to stare at his notes for a minute, trying to remember what loopy part of a word equals a letter. But I'll admit, I do miss handwriting. Sometimes. In my mind, printing is a superior method of taking notes down quickly because it's easier to cut our letters and not worry about how they will be connected by a pen stroke. But when I'm writing for fun or (heaven forbid) bored in class, I like to test my mental and muscle memory by handwriting out short lines of interest. For someone without any artistic ability whatsoever, this is much easier. I definitely gain a sense of satisfaction from handwriting. Unfortunately, my current profession of a student would be inhibited if I constantly used it, so I just have to save it for when I do personal projects or need a distraction.

Nominalizing nominalizations to nominalize writing


Before reading Lesson 3 in Joseph M. Williams Style, I had never heard the term "nominalize." (Or if I had, I didn't remember.) But after reading the section devoted to clarifying writing by sparingly nominalizing verbs and adjectives, I can definitely say that I'm going to be looking out for them in my future writing.

After reading the several unclear sentences provided by Williams, I thought that they were all twisted up in their creation. And that's exactly what they were: twisted (and what can be considered "wrong"). Either that or extremely formal sounding. The first sentence below is an example provided from Williams. It sounds stuffy and mismatched.

"The agency conducted an investigation into the matter." pg. 34

Crazy huh? Doesn't the next sentence make a lot more sense?

"The agency investigated the matter." pg. 35

So as a special note, use them only when necessary. It's not necessary to throw words together to make ridiculously long sentences that drone on and on in order to sound smart. See? You kinda just come off as a dork.

Orality is big brother and writing is the teetering toddler

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"The special theory of Greek orality therefore requires the presumption of a long period of resistance to the use of the alphabet after its invention, with the corresponding presumptions that (1) the language and thought forms of primary orality considered as a storage technology lasted on long after the invention occurred... (2) the character of high classic Greek literature, its historical uniqueness, cannot be understood apart from this fact." Eric A. Havelock, pg. 90 of The Muse Learns to Write

This quote immediately reminded me of a previous reading titled "His Master's Voice: Tiro and the Rise of the Roman Secretarial Class" by Anthony Di Renzo, as published in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 30.2 (2000) 155-168. Di Renzo analyzes the creation of a Roman shorthand by a slave, Tiro, in order to better aid his master, Cicero. However, from the beginning, Di Renzo states that the Roman governing body still ruled by orality, with only a few items actually having been written down for records. But as the empire grew, so did the need for writing.

After reading Havelock's section concerning the transition from oral communication to writing and there being a resistance rather than a stampede towards literacy, I am reminded of Rome's desire to keep important decisions and events entrusted to orality. Even though both the Greeks and Romans inevitably made a transition from pure oral communication to writing, both allowed for spoken speech to retain a higher standing over their fledgling literacy by both entertaining and supporting their respective societies. Written words had to be composed in a way that the audiences could remember specific lines of a speech, play, song, or reading so that they could retell parts of these events afterwards. If writing had enabled only the more well read to understand them, then the authors would have not been successful by any means in either society.

Then again, my coursemates may have made another connection or have a differing interpretation on important subjects within this reading.

Mother Goose and scary stories for kids


As a kid, I loved to hear again and again my parents reading me Mother Goose rhymes and listening to Raffi or scary supernatural stories on cassette tape. Such is a point that Eric A. Havelock makes in chapter 8 of his book The Muse Learns to Write. This chapter focuses on the personal transition from pure oral communication, like children, to creating a separate language that includes words and compositions (mostly) only present in written documents.

Havelock makes the observation that children use only one language for their communication, speech. Such young beings learn from auditory stimulus and mimicking what they hear in order to build their ability as speakers. But what I think is most interesting is the common phenomena of grown adults "dumbing down" the words they use in speech when speaking to children. This happening ties in with Havelock's writing "Until we are five to seven years old we ourselves are oralists, pure and simple, albeit children dealing orally with a world controlled by literate adults. What sort of language do we use, or better, what sort do we prefer and enjoy during this period?" (67). So, do even as literate adults we instinctively revert back to a simpler, easier spoken language instead of consistently utilizing the separate, yet combined languages we've picked up from reading texts?

"Baby talk" or any of the other numerous names that such speech is called may essentially set children up for their introduction to our first primary method of communication: speech. However, I just wonder if this natural, if not instinctive, primary communication will continue in the future due to a trend of introducing children to literature as soon as possible. It may create a combined language earlier in life, or it could just make kids hate reading earlier than first grade.

Can you hear the written word?

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No, I'm not talking about the word of Christianity's God, but I am talking about the numerous transcriptions, publications, and translations of the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, and all of the other books now in the world. Each of these works are texts that are separate from the verbal teachings and interactions that preceded them. Eric A. Havelock covers this issue, orality giving way to written words, in chapter 6 of his book The Muse Learns to Write.

"Jaques Derrida (1967) in effect poses the question: Can a (printed) text speak? and answers No!" (50). This quote, as well as the entire chapter, raised again in my mind the significant differences between printed text and oral communication. It also raised the question that has been driving the first section of my current class: What impacts did writing have on oral communication and how are both lines of communication interacting today. Some of my peers are strongly for one medium or the other, but I like to think that I can appreciate both pretty evenly.

I absolutely love to hear oral stories told to me, but Havelock addresses the problem that many cultures that once wholly relied on oral traditions to tell stories of their cultures were forgotten or became fuzzy due to the introduction of literate societies around them. So some of the stories I love most to hear, might not be anything close to their original form. However, even if I don't read to myself aloud like readers in the Middle Ages did, I still have a voice, my voice (that sometimes changes to fit different characters), is speaking the words that I'm reading in my head. So, I think texts can speak, whether or not it's your own voice reading them or not. And even though my favorite stories may not be exactly as they were upon their conception, I don't experience any less joy from hearing them now.

Then again, I definitely recommend looking at what my peers have written on this particular section and seeing if the words "speak" to you.

Battling throughout the ages: Grammarians versus Writers


After reading Lesson 2 of Joseph WIlliams book, Style (3rd Edition), I can officially say that I feel both vindicated and properly schooled. I love to write, to read, and to hone my personal ability to spin words into sentences. However, for all of my love of these practices, I never truly caught on to grammar. In 8th grade (where grammar fell into the curriculum) I tried my absolute best to memorize what rule dictated this and that sentence. But I could never make my brain understand (or remember) all of the reasons why I shouldn't write something in a particular. So I devised a system of editing the sentences with my mental ear, following whatever sounded right. Needless to say, I scored average or marginal marks in the grammar section.

One of Williams' grammarian rules mentioned in Lesson 2 that directly runs against mental (or physically listening) ears is the second Hobgoblin rule: "Don't use hopefully to mean "I hope.'" (pg. 20) Seriously, who says "I hope I won't be late." more than "Hopefully, I won't be late."? This rule was devised in the middle of the 20th century, and I've no doubt that their are grammarians out there who will criticize this blog for my improper usage of it, but I'm going to side with the Writers on this Hobgoblin.

The above represents my vindication, while I was properly schooled in having to review all of the grammar rules within Lesson 2. My proper punishment will have been to read these rules, actually try to remember them, and then later (when I'm revising) have to decide which rules I'll follow and which ones I'll break. Then again, I'll probably tail after my inner ear for the most part.

However, my colleagues may adhere to the rules or have another editing system in general.

Begin at the beginning before beginning to begin

"It's hard to begin a sentence well. Readers want to get to topic/subjects quickly, but too often, we begin sentences in ways that keep readers from getting there. It's called throat-clearing. Throat-clearing typically begins with metadiscourse (pp. 51-53) that connects a sentence to the previous one. These include common transitions such as and, but, therefore, etc. - Williams Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace

I am currently a junior in college who's also a Journalism and Creative Writing double major. In short, I write a lot. I've had a lot of experience writing and I've written numerous academic papers throughout my education. Looking back on the long (and some not so long) papers I've had to write in order to pass a class and comparing it to the quote above, I think "School is why we put all that extra crap in!" As students we are typically assigned a minimum page length that we are required to meet. So it makes the brilliant amount of sense to us to throw as many obstacles as possible in a sentence to make it longer, filling up our pages with words.

Thus does a sentence like:

"Today the world was brought to a standstill by the theatre department's melodrama."


"It is important to note that on January 10, 2010, the entire world, with all of its seven billion inhabitants, was wrenched to an absolute standstill by the theatre department's extravagant melodrama. And therefore, at Blaggsdrole Univeristy, police officials have cordoned off the surrounding college campus in efforts to reduce public interaction, such as witnessing or hearing theatre students dramatic performances, so as to corral the upset students."

Don't worry, we hate to write like the above as much as others like to read it. Well, maybe some like to write like that, but I'd wager it's for entertainment value more than anything else. Even as I write some poor student out there is attempting to hit a minimum page length and trying to make their sentences as long as possible with wordy speed bumps. (That is if they haven't just decided to make their font bigger or increase the spacing of the lines.)

Honey, I've 10 slides to a better family!

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"Instead of human contact, we a given human display...people have become unaccustomed to having real conversations with each other where we actually give and take to arrive at a new answer." - Ian Parker, page 355 of Writing Material

The moment I read these sentences I thought, "Oh God, someone's finally found out that us shy people use PowerPoint as a shield and they're going to take it away!!" Well, after my little panic attack, I finished reading and sat down to write this in a calm, rational state of mind. (Or as near as I can get.) But the above quote really got me thinking on how I used PowerPoint presentations and how I viewed them in relation to oral, written, and digital communication. Quite often I am a shy person when actually speaking to someone, so standing before a group of people and briefing them on a project or subject of mine tends to make me stutter, gurgle, and go beat red in the face. I hide behind my PowerPoint slides so that my audience sees them and not me.

However, I have noticed that while such actions as mine above can give me a boost of confidence in imagined anonymity, it can negatively impact the natural give and take of oral communication. This is reflected in another quote that Parker uses in his excerpt: "'Last week I caught myself planning out (in my head) the slides I would need to explain to my wife why we couldn't afford a vacation this year'" (354). PowerPoint has enabled the restructuring of our minds when attempting to win an audience over (like in an argument or business meeting), but I think it may have compromised our ability to comprise such ordered arguments on the fly. Then again, I also believe that if you know as much as possible on the subject that you're arguing, then you already have slides of information in your head, you only need to order them.

Just as a side note, PowerPoint was also used in the movie "Couples Retreat" in order to convince all of the couples to go to a fabulous retreat.

Check out what other singles are writing on this subject!

Do NOT Kill the Audience

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Repeat after me: Do NOT kill the audience...with crammed PowerPoint slideshows that inspire boredom and ADD. McMillan's video on YouTube presents a perfect example of how not to use PowerPoint, or use it if you want to fail a grade or put your audience to sleep. (For those of you who may not know, putting the audience to sleep is the same as killing them.)

However, McMillan's video also directly relates to the transition from oral speech to writing, and later into the digital age. McMillan argues that a presenter needs to have part of his/her speech memorized to not crowd information on slides. This is a skill that was extremely important in oral communication, because everyone used their memory as a storage facility without having to clear out random bits of song first. Writing is shown on the slides of the presentation for the audience to read and (hopefully) better understand what is being presented. So now we've tied in the first two phases of human communication, the third is probably the most obvious: digital computer graphics and communication = the Digital Age! Essentially by using the PowerPoint program in the first place, a presenter is utilizing the most latest form of communication, though I would argue that heavily using it would still kill your audience. It's best to synthesize each of these forms of discourse in order to best capture an audience. Then again, I would also say that you need to have a steadier stand on the oral bit, because that is what will ultimately call attention to all that you have previously written on carefully crafted slides. Plato's Socrates may have argued against the writing things down, but simply try to think that after you hook an audience with your voice, they'll be distracted by the absolutely amazing PowerPoint presentation that you put together!

Pretty versus democratic writing

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"And no other writing system restructures the human lifeworld so drastically as alphabetic writing, Or so democratically, for the alphabet is relatively easy to learn. By contrast, Chinese character writing, though more aesthetically and semantically rich than alphabetic writing can ever hope to be, is elitist, despite heroic efforts to democratize its use...If and when [the citizens of the People's Republic of China] can speak Mandarin,...the alphabet will be introduced--with incalculable losses to literature but massive operational gains elsewhere" (Walter Ong 325).

The above quote, taken from Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age, describes writer Walter Ong's thoughts on how speech and writing may develop in the future People's Republic of China. Despite the fact that the people living in present day China are grouped as simply Chinese-speakers, these individuals actually speak a number of differing Chinese-related languages. Ong's statement regarding Mandarin Chinese stems from the Chinese government's attempt to standardize a universal Chinese language. This would probably aid general operations in some diverse areas, but it could eventually cost such areas their unique diversity.

The same principle applies to Ong's sentiment concerning Chinese character writing. An alphabetic writing system might be helpful with more people being able to understand and readily use it, but the art and beauty of the unique Chinese characters would inevitably be lost. This loss of art strongly reminded me of the art of calligraphy. Calligraphy seems to nearly be a lost art that is now mainly reserved for ceremonial purposes and artistic inscriptions, when once it was readily used in documents both personal and important. And even though this art tremendously assisted in the development of our modern writing skills, I think we've overthrown what is potently visually stimulating in favor of simplistic practicality. I'm certainly all for accomplishing task quickly via writing, but I do sometimes wish that more time and care might be poured into a written document or note with an individualistic flair.

If you'd like to read what my classmates have written on this or similar subjects, simply click the almost lost art below.

Thumbnail image for calligraphy.jpg

Forget wordy airs


If you want to write to be understood, then keeping in mind some of Joseph M. Williams' advice by reading Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (This book has several additions. I'm referencing the 3rd edition).

The first lesson within this book made me recognize that I often write for myself to understand a concept, rather than anyone else to understand it. I forget that words I see as commonplace in my vocabulary aren't words that other people might use, or even know. This practice then just serves to confuse my readers and likely think I live in my own crazy world. (Which I do, but that's not the point.) So if I want everyone to understand what I write, I need to write (which can be harder than it seems sometimes) and then revise, revise, revise.

Williams' approach to the revising process is a wise one in my opinion: "If you think about these principles as you draft, you may never finish drafting anything. Most experienced writers get something down on paper or up on the screen as fast as they can. Then as they rewrite that first draft into something clearer, they understand their ideas better."

So my own new advice to follow is "Write for me to understand, then revise and revise for everyone to understand it. 'Cause no one likes to read what they don't understand!"

A good question is, did you understand this blog, or would you like some additional views on the subject?

Reviving the ear and reinforcing the eye

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A part of chapter 5 in Eric A. Havelock's book The Muse Learns to Write really connected to me when the author relates hearing Hitler speak via an open air radio broadcast in 1939.

"The strident, vehement, staccato sentences clanged out and reverberated and chased each other along, series after series, flooding over us, battering us, half drowning us, and yet kept us rooted there listening to a foreign tongue which we somehow could nevertheless imagine that we understood" (32).

Numerous people around the world have watched videos and listened to snippets of Hitler's speeches, because despite how he used his power, the man was a gifted orator. Hitler could incite crowds to follow his plans and inspired thousands to fight for him. But one of the most notable analyses of Hitler's radio broadcasts that Havelock perceives is the interconnectedness of both written and oral communication. The basis of Hitler's speeches were sketched out beforehand, but then spoken aloud. It was writing that was "translated" into rhetoric, which was later recorded and made available as a radio broadcast for millions to listen to. This analysis led Havelock to write, "...a case could be made for the proposition that the technology which has revived the use of the ear has at the same time reinforced the power of the eye and of the written word as it is seen and read" (33). This line made me think back on recent advances in technology that might have accomplished the same unification of eye and ear.

The new iPad, Kindle, and eNook are three items that immediately come to mind because now you can both read materials, but you can have them read to you as well. Online chatting via a webcam also adds another element to communication of the eye, as opposed to reading text on a screen. There are even word processors that allow you to dictate a letter, manuscript, etc. to them. It's my opinion that these forms of technology have given us the chance to realize how significant both writing and speaking truly is. As technology grows, I think that it is integrating itself more into both writing and speech, not just text on a screen anymore.

My classmates will have opinions on writings of this same book as well.

Scribbling furiously for master

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I found Anthony Di Renzo's excerpt from his work "His Master's Voice: Tiro and the Rise of the Roman Secretarial Class" to be an interesting translation of history about how shorthand was first developed in ancient Rome. Cicero's slave, Tiro, is credited as the inventor of this unique Latin shorthand that gave fame both to his master as well as himself.

Before Tiro's creation, scribes and secretaries would have been furiously scribbling, possible making mistakes, missing important conjecture, or simply holding back whomever they were scribing for. But Tiro's shorthand created a code, almost like the first secret code that could be hidden in plain sight and no one would have a clue what was being recorded. So when Di Renzo writes, "Writing was Cicero's way of legitimizing his speaking; and Tiro, in a sense, became his master's voice," Cicero used shorthand to carefully plan out his speeches to outmatch his enemies because Tiro gave him the perfect tool with which to succeed.

However, the most ironic part of Cicero's use of shorthand was when Marc Antony seized Julius Caesar's plans for his future government and used them as evidence that Antony could carry on Caesar's vision, documents written in shorthand. This event truly shows me how important the written word had come to be in Ancient Rome. Not only was it recording government happenings, but had given orators a better means of planning out their speeches so as to be the most influential. Its just like people having notecards that have printed reminders concerning key points in their presentation today. This technique has especially carried into today's courtrooms and literary sectors with professional stenographers. Granted, these people aren't slaves to those they notate for, but they are using a sophisticated, standardized system of shorthand; something that might have been impossible were it not for shorthand's humble beginnings in Ancient Rome.

Students also tend to use shorthand, but my colleagues have most likely spelled out full words for your reading ease.