Ok, grammar matters but it is not all that important in terms of developing your writing. Many students come in to the Writing Center with concerns about their grammar and want to focus solely on correcting their work. A tutoring session does not correct a student’s paper any more than it remedies bad writing. I want to write this blog post because there has been a flood of grammar related topics dominating this forum. Grammatical issues are very difficult to master and the article on this blog provide an excellent resource for refining your papers, but I want to let you all in a secret…grammar is the least of your worries. No really! If all that needs to be done to fine tune your paper is correct the grammar then you have done something that I—a graduate MFA-writing student in his final semester—has never been able to accomplish. You have written a perfect paper! Wait, don’t get excited. Alas, I fear that you may be celebrating prematurely because there is no such thing as a perfect paper. There can always be more and you can always write more.
My background is in film and I had a professor once who told me something about documentary filmmakers. He said, “documentaries don’t end, their directors give up.” I feel the same about academic papers and even short stories and novels. A writer is never truly done with his work when he is invested in it. There is always another connection to be made, another point of view to address, and another conclusion that can be drawn. At the Writing Center we help you find those connections and address those points of view and make those conclusions in order to help you become a better writer. That is the Writing Center’s main focus. We are not here to help produce better papers but better writers. If that was our goal then you would be able to hand us your work and we would rewrite it then hand it back. While this may sound appealing to someone struggling through a composition class, it would be an extreme hindrance to that student’s overall college experience. If you cannot intelligently express yourself through an academic paper you will not be able to excel in your college career. You will be able to coast through but you coasted through high school and now you are here to do something different and reinvent yourself as the student you have always wanted to be.
A typical tutoring session at the Writing Center would proceed thusly: a student comes in for help on his paper. He says he needs help starting and he has only his teacher’s instructions or he says he wants another set of eyes to look over his final draft. He could also say he needs a million other things from us. We sit down with him, just one tutor and one student—unless it is a group project—and we talk about his paper. We ask him about what he is trying to convey and how he could make his point of view stronger. We suggest structural changes and work with him to use our excellent resources such as grammar guides and APA handbooks. In the last ten minutes of the session we go through and discuss grammar-related issues we have noticed throughout his work and make certain that he not only corrects the grammatical problems but that he understands why they are problems so that he will not make the same mistakes again. Think about getting ready in the morning. Let’s say that grammar is like brushing your teeth. It’s more important to take a shower, shave, have coffee—always coffee—get your homework together, feed your cat, get all your belongings that you need for the day and then you brush your teeth and leave. You have to brush your teeth. You don’t want coffee breath…or Spanish omelet breath or whatever. But, if you had to skip something…well, it’s more important to put on your pants than to freshen your breath. Sorry for the extended metaphor…here’s a picture of some cute kittens. And remember, content is everything! (and so is coffee!)
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-Dustin M. Flickinger
PS. The subject of this post is intentionally grammatically incorrect.