I actually think that I improved on my writing in a few key ways this quarter. Most importantly, I know to focus more on the clarity of my thoughts. My essay on Julius Caesar was case-in-point. My paragraphs were bloated and disorganized. They read more like intellectual streams-of-consciousness than academic writing. I had been taught in high school that every body paragraph should be approximately the same length. Though I knew coming into class that this just isn’t true, the habit of trying to force paragraphs to conform to a certain length stuck. I ended up writing some long paragraphs that were focused because of their content and other equally long ones that had a variety of content thrown in to make up for discrepancies in length. Fortunately, the criticism that I received on that paper (as well as my first paper for ENGL 20, which I am also taking) helped me to work on consciously focusing my paragraphs. I think that I did significantly better on my Hamlet paper and better still on my Othello paper. I have written four papers in the past week, all of which have focused paragraphs thanks to the criticism that I have received in this class. This is something I will try to remain conscious about in my writing because I think that the tendency to lose organization is somewhat natural to my writing style.
Another thing that I focused on was sentence clarity. I realized that I frequently write in syntactically frustrating sentences. After reading enough edits and going back over my work, it became apparent that this was an issue. A major part of my goal in revising was to make sure each sentence was easy to read through. In particular, my first two essays had a number of sentences that had awkward clauses or strange sentence construction. I even found a number of sentences which, despite not being marked as syntactically incorrect or awkward, still seemed to have the potential for significant improvement. Most often this involves cutting a long sentence into two or even three shorter sentences. This makes the logical progression of each clause much easier to follow. There are obviously times in which a bunch of short clauses are not ideal, but I’m generally not one to write short sentences. Therefore, paring down a few sentences for clarity can provide a refreshing rhythm in a paragraph that contrasts with the heavy and cumbersome writing that often comes from trying to put too much into one sentence.
I also used the conclusion handout to look at my concluding paragraphs. I often do exactly what the handout warns against in simply summarizing the paper. That was certainly the case with my paper on Julius Caesar and to a lesser extent with my Hamlet paper. I tried to make the conclusions a bit more interesting in those two papers by stressing implications and unresolved questions. I think that the conclusions have improved from their original state, but there is still a lot of room for me to improve in forming interesting, engaging conclusions.
The biggest thing that I still need to improve on is the clarity of ideas. This was particularly true in my Othello paper. I like to try out difficult ideas or arguments because they are more interesting to think and write about. As a result, though, I often write things that are confusing or misleading. The original draft of my Othello paper was definitely a bit difficult to follow. Even after the revision, I think that the formation of the argument might still need some tweaking. But I do think that there is an interesting, arguable thesis. Articulating that into clear terms is my challenge. I think that one significant way to improve is to use more examples to illustrate points. I don’t mean provide more evidence, but rather, give arbitrary examples as a rhetorical device. For instance, I think that the difference in what I mean by incidental symbolic meaning is much easier to understand when I mention replacing Desdemona’s handkerchief with a watch.
My future goal is to be able to write short, very clear paragraphs that will make my writing easier to read and my arguments easier to follow. I think focusing at the sentence level, then at the paragraph level, and finally on the level of my thesis will provide the most significant improvement to my writing.