Essays Through The Eyes Of An Object

One is the skill of giving specific concrete examples in an essay. Put physical objects in your essay."As I recounted in a recent article for the National Association of Scholars, when I try to talk to other freshman comp teachers about object-based writing, I usually see their eyes glaze over.One might naturally assume that giving good concrete examples is unteachable, that it's just an aspect of a student's thinking, and that a student with good mind will use good examples in his or her essays. I'm obsessed with the importance of writing with objects, and know it works, but it's hard to get the idea across.I wanted to remind her what she knew but had forgotten: that abstractions are what you get when you pull back from (or abstract from) concrete reality -- from the world of things.

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Yet the writing textbooks on the whole say nothing about abstractitis, mentioning it at most only in passing.

And instructors do not focus on over-abstraction, even though that's the major problem young writers have.

But I knew where she was coming from, and I wanted to say: When you boil it down, Bernadette, all abstract ideas derive from objects.

You can approach them in that concrete way and teach students to do the same.

Few will notice that the terms relationship, wealth, productivity and market society need definition or examples.

They will just move those vague terms around like checkers on a board, repeating them, and hoping that through repetition something will be said. The classic writers on style have talked about this abstraction problem going on a hundred years.

Abstract words multiply on the page in unpleasant clusters.

If you ask freshmen to write about, say, The relationship between wealth and productivity in a market society, watch out.

Orwell went a step further than Fowler, actually advising writers to start wordlessly, to think of a visual thing, and then to try to find words that fit it.

If the professional writers whom Fowler and Orwell addressed had to be warned away from over-abstraction, how much more do our students need that advice?


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