My friends had a running joke about our high school English classes. “With J.D.S. [my high school] English you just get really good at writing the same essay over and over again.” I thought the joke was amusing but did not really understand it until last semester in my composition one class, when we wrote a research paper using the Young Scholars in Writing journal as a genre. I modeled my paper after an author who, for her essay, examined environmentalist rhetoric through the lens of an established framework. I basically wrote the same essay, and even used the same framework that this author had used. Yet I analyzed a different artifact and somehow my essay managed to have enough differences to make it unique. Then I used this same structure to write a research paper in my composition two class, this time building my own framework and analyzing yet another artifact. It was at this moment that I fully understood my friends’ joke: I had, as the joke dictated, gotten really good at writing the same essay. But this was not all that I learned to do as a writer. Over the past semester I learned more than simply how to cleverly guise writing the same essay for different assignments.
Learning about writing has changed how I think about and how I interact with my surroundings. One of the most important skills I will take away involves understanding my own writing process and applying it to novel situations. No longer will I tell myself that an assignment is impossible because I am struggling to complete it on day one. I will no longer try writing to reinvent the wheel with every paper I write, now that I understand writing as entering a conversation. Today I know how to use social media more intelligently: for example I used twitter to find out when there would be girl scout cookies for sale in front of the student union. Additionally I now almost automatically think about the social context of a Facebook post before commenting on it. Analyzing Social context is a skill applicable to more than just Facebook. Thinking about the surrounding context of a question on my calculus final examination would make the solution easy to see. Often times the hardest part of solving a math problem is figuring out where to start. Thanks to my writing knowledge I would think about what topic the question was testing, a.k.a. the social context, and it was near smooth sailing from there (minus some bumps in the road with actually performing complex mathematical calculations). These are just some of many examples that demonstrate the new me: more aware, articulate, and intentional with my writing.
Today I am not the writer I was even last year. I am now able to develop more complex ideas in my head through writing. For example, with my recent development as a writer I have been able to say something meaningful and insightful about the concept of identity. The conclusion from my academic synthesis paper reads:
“Although none of the sources explicitly state it, a synthesis of the sources illustrate identity as something that is neither completely internal and belonging to an individual, nor completely external and belonging to a culture. Individual identity is formed during the sometimes active and sometimes passive process of mediating and synthesizing between cultural and personal perspectives.”
This thesis has, at its heart, a complexity I have not previously been capable of. The best part is that this comes from synthesizing three sources; imagine if I had more time to work and more sources to synthesize! This example from my most recent paper illustrates how I see myself as a writer today. I am a writer who is self-aware. I know how I work best and have an understanding about how my thought process incubates ideas over the long term. I am an active and conscious writer in my everyday life, incorporating elements of writing into conversations with people, interactions with social media, and learning and applying knowledge in my classes.
The knowledge I have gained in this class will stay with me even into my future career as an engineer. Engineering is at the intersection of writing and science. Think for a moment about the iPhone. Engineers designed it with a particular audience in mind. This audience demands simplicity and elegance above almost all else. Had the iPhone been designed for military use it would probably exchange beauty for durability. In fact I think almost anything an engineer designs is governed as much by the demands of the customer (the audience) as they are by the laws of physics. This semester has taught me how to better contextualize and respond to these demands, adding an essential tool to my engineering toolkit.