WRD 103: Composition & Rhetoric I: Autumn Quarter 2014 Rotating Header Image

Writing with precision, clarity, and grace

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceeded you and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already  begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for  you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you  have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. . . . The discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, and you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.” — Kenneth Burke

The story language philosopher and rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke tells is one that is no doubt  familiar to you: it describes what most of us feel like when we go to college, begin a major, take  on a new job, or enter into any new field. We have to listen hard and then slowly, slowly we  begin to understand the conversation going on around us. And eventually we begin to  participate—what Burke calls dipping our own oars into the conversation. Learning to write in  college is just like that: at first academic writing can seem foreign—stilted and hard to read,  even harder to write. Yet paying close attention to how that writing works—to its conventional  structures and styles, to its uses of support, to its typical genres and media—will  eventually begin to make sense. And with careful instruction and practice, you will enter the  “parlor” of academic writing and grow more and more comfortable participating in it.

Practicing writing with precision, clarity, and grace at the same time that you learn how to write most appropriately for different audiences and situations will serve you well in your academic writing and in other areas of your life.

Adapted from Andrea Lunsford.