When I first started college, I was frustrated by the fact that I was required to take so many “basic” courses—algebra, American history, and especially English. Like most incoming freshman, I had taken four years of these subjects in high school. I wanted to expand my knowledge, not just sit through a semester-long recap of what I’d already learned in high school.
English in particular frustrated me. I knew how to write; I could already put my thoughts on paper in a way that made sense. So why did I have to learn about nouns, verbs, sentences, and essays? But early in my first semester, I discovered something interesting. College writing is very different than high school English; it’s an art form.
How we learn to write in high school is sort of science-based. We learn to put words in noun-verb-object order. We plug in commas according to specific rules that we memorize; we structure essays in introduction-body-conclusion order. Like math, we write according to equations. This word + this word + this punctuation = this meaning. Think about it:
It + is + true +period = This is a fact.
Is + it + true + question mark = I’m not sure if this is a fact.
It’s like we have a list of formulas that we follow for each type of sentence or essay. We just plug words into these formulas.
College writing takes a whole new approach. It goes beyond simply making sense to teach you how to make things appealing for readers. Like regular art (painting, drawing, etc.), writing is about creating pictures, using words in such a way that other people can visualize what you write about. This type of writing is also comparable to music. Sound is very important; something can be grammatically correct but still not sound quite right or capture readers’ attention. Compare these sentences:
Eighty-seven years ago, the leaders of the United States formed a country in North America.
Fourscore and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation.
Abraham Lincoln understood the importance of art in writing, and college English will help you appreciate this as well.
In a way, writing can be compared to cooking. When I was in high school, I could successfully make Ramen noodles, mac and cheese, or a box cake about 80 percent of the time. The other twenty percent typically involved smoke alarms; I’m not the world’s best cook. Most of us can prepare basic meals, but on shows like MasterChef, contestants use more sophisticated ingredients and tools to make amazing three-course meals. Consider high school English like cooking mac and cheese and Ramen noodles; you learn the basic techniques of writing. College is where it becomes an art form, where you learn new techniques that make your writing more professional and sophisticated.
I’m proud to report that as my writing skills have developed, so have my cooking skills. I’m not a Gordon Ramsay or a Bobby Flay, but I cook a full meal when guests come to visit. Similarly, you may not become a Hemingway or a Faulkner, but the techniques you learn in college English will help you write a great résumé, lesson plan, sales report, or email entitled “Why I Deserve a Raise.”