The Point of Writing

2902804642_1721297c56My lead teacher showed me an article that another lead teacher had handed out to her academic writing class on the first day. She and I agreed it was pretty awesome. I’ve Googled around and can’t find it, but it was about the idea of “messy writing” and how there’s a place for writing badly.

The author’s point was that the real reason anybody writes is to communicate something. Grammar, structure, spelling, etc. all serve that communication.

But sometimes it seems that these mechanics become our focus to the exclusion of the actual purpose of writing.

I don’t think anyone would argue that written communication could happen with unrecognizable grammar. That is certainly not what I mean.

I mean that writing is more than just an extended grammar exercise.

How can we keep ourselves and our students focused on the meaning of their writing, even as we insist on a certain citation style and adjust endless grammar aberrations?

  • Outlining?
    This seems like a strong argument in favor of outlining first – skip the grammar entirely to focus on ideas. Ironically, I didn’t realize this until I’d written it out.
  • L1?
    Making more use of the students’ first language would be another way to sidestep a lot of the word- and syntax- level distractions of writing in English. I note this fully realizing there’s a lot of ambivalence about what the role of the L1 should be in an L2 classroom, and that general consensus seems to be that it might be OK sometimes at the lower levels but is best eliminated in the upper levels.
  • Process Writing?
    Re-imagine process writing: skip the controversial outline step, and instead have the first draft be about deliberately crafting drafts with “terrible” grammar, in order to develop the ideas. As long as the student can piece together what s/he meant, the grammar is good enough for the draft. Grammar is to be thought about at a later stage of the process.
  • Rubric?
    Make sure that there’s a place on the grading rubric for the quality of ideas. This can be a little nerve-wracking for me because it’s a lot more subjective than the writing mechanics are. But the rubric is a list of what’s important enough to grade, so the meaning of what they’ve written needs to be represented there.

Please use the comments to toss some ideas into the brainstorm!


Photo Credit: lucyfrench123 on Flickr

You’re reading The Point of Writing, originally posted at

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