Thursday, October 14, 2010

An International Student's Perspective: Learning to Write in a Straight Line

by Tala Abu Rahmeh

"You write in zigzag.  In America, we write in straight lines."

That was the comment my professor made on my first paper of the semester.  Sixteen years of education on the other side of the Atlantic taught me a "zigzag" style of writing, but now, as a graduate student in America, I must follow a straight line.  That argument almost drove me mad.

After reading many articles on writing in the American academic world, and attending a few sessions at the Writing Center, I could begin to imagine a linear style of writing.

What is a linear style?  To really figure it out, I started writing an extensive outline for every paper.  My outlines were crazy paintings filled with information in the margins, and circles connecting related topics.  This was my magical key to unfolding my thoughts into fully articulated paragraphs.

I also started splitting my paper into sections.  I would subtitle every portion of my paper and fill it with one concentrated thought.  These subtitles were my promise to the reader, so I would dwell on the title for a while and then make sure that I fulfilled my promise in the content that followed.

Not only was this a fantastic way to organize the paper, but dedicating a title for each idea forced me to analyze it from every angle.  I couldn't move on to the next idea until I examined the previous thought from every possible perspective.

I realized that the problem was not my zigzag, but my rush to write every thought that creeps into my head without any organization, which includes strategic structuring, line breaks, topic sentences, and linking endings.

It was like well-crafted, labored magic.  In the course of a few months I had acquired a new skill, and a new method of analysis.  It is very important to learn new techniques, because they don't erase our previous education, merely enrich it.  So I encourage you to come to the Writing Center, strap on your boots, and venture into all those zigzags, curls, and lines with us!

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