A Letter to Future English 101 Students

Hi. You are probably one of two things right now. You are either looking forward to English because you like writing and are looking forward to gaining techniques, or you are like I was, dreading having to write essays because they scare you. If you’re like me, don’t worry. I thought I would hate English and I was kind of upset because I had to take it. But now, I am glad I had to take it and I now understand the purpose of the class. The difference between essays I wrote before I took this class and essays that I can now produce is astounding. Before, my essays were very dull and basically just ideas that I knew my grader was looking for. I’d meet the requirements and be done with it. There was hardly any depth. Now, I can honestly say that I think my essays are really strong. In the course, we learn very key concepts that improve writing a huge amount. If you understand why you are learning these things and what they can do for your writing before you actually learn them, it will be much easier for you to achieve mastery of these techniques very quickly. For this, I will briefly go over a few of the key concepts we learned this quarter. These things are Cohesion, Inquiry, and Deep Mapping.

What is cohesion? There is no real solid one-line definition, but basically it is the way that sentences and paragraphs work together to create common themes in a piece of writing. There are four different types of cohesion. Lexical, which is using words, semantic, which is using sentence structure, transitional, and meta-discursive, which is speaking directly to the reader to guide them. At first, these concepts seem vague and complicated, but the reality is that most of the time I just did it without even thinking about it! If you can effectively create cohesion throughout your paper, it will be stronger than ever. In my presentation essay, I used meta-discursive cohesion to keep the reader and I on the same page. “So if the Bay View Station (I’ll use the term dock from now on) has its own genre…” (Essay 3). In this example, I felt as though it was annoying to have to say the full name of the bay view station every time I wanted to reference it. It’s pretty much just like a dock, so I figured why not just call it a dock. If I hadn’t explained that “I’ll use the term dock from now on” then the reader may not have known what I was talking about. When I had done this, I was unsure about whether or not that was too formal, and I was very happy when I got a good comment on it. We were told to use the authoritative I as much as we could to get used to it, and I now see what Eli, the instructor, meant when he told us to take risks. Once I have established my personal commentary to the reader, the cohesion is shown any time I do that in the rest of my essay. For example, later on I change the focus of my essay back to the dock by very simply stating “Ok, let’s look back at the dock.” Nothing special there, I am literally telling the reader what’s going on so they don’t get mixed up. Also, continually making moves between subjects of an essay with meta-discursive sentences creates transitional cohesion that adds so much more to the essay, most importantly a connection between my thought process and the readers picture of what’s happening and where my essay is going. These little things that constantly recur and create a common theme or mood is the intended result of being cohesive and can really boost the quality of your work.

Next, we will look at the concept of Inquiry. Inquiry is pretty much the basis of the entire class, and probably one of most important concepts of English 101. It is the one thing you need to master in order to get a perfect score on your presentation essay. Inquiry isn’t quite so complicated, but its usefulness has no boundary. Inquiry is simply asking questions. But it’s not JUST asking questions. It’s using observations and details to ask critical questions that will lead you down a path to some completely new idea. It’s the number one tool when you are stuck on where to go next. When I was writing my essay for the first time, I had no idea what I was going to write about. I thought I was going to turn in a bland essay and get a poor score. This whole idea of inquiry was still new to me and I didn’t realize how important Inquiry is and how it can really make a difference in an essay. But, by making a lot of observations and one or two speculations, my mind began to wander. After framing my spot in terms of Heilker (our source) I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I asked myself the question, “If there is a genre, who or what defines it?”(Essay 3). This question has no concrete answer, and that’s why it’s perfect! I was able to think about many different possibilities and weigh them out to figure out the most reasonable. It lead me into investigation that fueled the rest of my essay. Another inquiry I made was a bit later in the paper. After discussing the details of my space, I had to get somewhere that was an argument to possibly answer my original inquiry. Using observations that I had made, “… it hits me. Could Western, a school known for being healthy and environmentally friendly, intentionally neglect a spot like the bay view station?”(Essay 3) Again, this is not a question that has an answer in a book somewhere. Inquiries usually don’t have answers, that’s why you can write so much using them. The content never ends, you keep finding new ways to discuss your subject and new questions to investigate. All that you can really do is speculate, and speculation is the backbone of the essay.

The last of the techniques I will preview to you is Deep Mapping. Deep mapping is no more than very deep and critical observations. We were first exposed to this the day Eli (our TA) took us around campus to many different spots, and showed us what deep mapping is. Just by walking around and looking at He picked up on tons of details that we walk right past every day and don’t think twice about and was able to speculate about whatever those details were to provide possible explanations. It’s about more than just physical things, which is what makes it deep mapping. You look at the atmosphere, the people or things that are there, you look at the original purpose, if there is one, of that space. Then, after you make observations, you interpret things to come up with explanations for certain aspects of the space. It really makes you realize how much information is everywhere all of the time, and most gets ignored. Deep mapping was really helpful for us because we had physical spaces that we needed to know very well in order to form good inquiry. If I didn’t deep map, I wouldn’t have even known where to start with my essay. I just went in started talking about aesthetics of my space, so that the reader has a pretty good idea of what my space is like. “I notice that the steel supports of the dock are rusted, the vegetation is overgrown, and there is noticeable trash under and around the structure”. While these seem obvious, it’s how I interpret them that makes the difference. “…it seems that this sculpture is very poorly, if ever, maintained” (Essay 3). When I established this, I was able to go on and start talking about why this may be, which was what really drove my essay. Deep mapping is all about taking observations and thinking about them deeper and trying to use them to bring about something that isn’t initially there.

These concepts, at first, seem difficult and a little obscure. When you begin to learn them, they seem like just another writing strategy like the ones you’ve learned in 4 years of high school English. There is nothing that I have learned in a high school class helped my critical thinking skills as much as these three concepts that I learned in one quarter have. I have disliked the majority of the essays I have written in my academic career because either the topic is not relevant to my interests, or because it was written in such a bland way that I’m not even happy with what I’ve written. Essays were always the worst thing that could be assigned, at least to me. At this point, I feel as though I’ll be more prepared than ever for any essays that I have to write in the future. Originally, like I said before, I was dreading this class. I was mad that I had to take 101 as a requirement class even though I am a geology major. Now, as I am pretty much done with the class, I see why it’s a required class and that it’s highly recommended to take freshman year. The skills you learn are necessary to write at the college level. If you don’t think you are at that level yet, just stay open-minded and really try to take in the things you learn in English 101, and you will be fine.

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