Rules Of Writing

What rules do you follow when your write?

Some of what happens in EN 101 is "unlearning" unhelpful rules students have picked up (often erroneously) in previous writing situations. These rules can get in the way of their writing process. They will also have some good rules though (for me these are "think about your reader" or "read your writing aloud" or "make sure most everything in a final draft supports the main argument"). This exercise lets you help them distinguish the helpful rules from the unhelpful ones. It also allows you to articulate for them what you care about (and what you don't care about) as a reader.

I put them in pairs to list all the rules they have learned. Then I have the pairs report to the class. On the board I've written three columns: Useful guidelines or rules, Folklore, and Conventions

The first couple I'll put in the respective column. So if someone says "Never begin a sentence with 'and' or 'but'," I'll write that in folklore and explain that while these aren't the most sophisticated transitions and while they are overused by novice writers (which is probably why they've been told to avoid them), there is nothing incorrect about beginning a sentence with "And," something they'll see frequently in the published writing they read. I might write "put a thesis sentence at the end of your introductory paragraph" both in "Folklore" and "Conventions" because certainly thesis statements can go elsewhere (or even be implicit rather than ever explicitly stated) but readers do tend to look for the thesis at the end of the introductory section, and writers do tend to put their theses in that position. After the first couple, I have students guess which column the rule goes in. Things like begin a sentence with a capital letter go in conventions.

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