16 Oct 2008 [ Prev | Next ]

Ex 2-3: Correct a Misconception

I can't always promise to write up a summary of the exercises we did in class; however, because we won't see each other again until the assignment is due, I thought it would be useful for me to offer a bit of a refresher.

Summary of what we did in class on Thursday.

1) List examples of misconceptions.

2) Choose one, and associate it with a specific source --  that is, a specific advertisement that relies upon a misconception to deliver its message, a specific speech that a politician gave on a particular date, a specific law or university policy, or a belief that led you to act in a certain way that you no longer condone.

3) I suggested a formula, but pointed out that the formula is just a tool to help you organize your ideas, not an example of language that you should use in your paragraph.

I class, I asked everyone to list examples of misconceptions that you know something about. (It can be a misconception that you, yourself had, that you read about online, that you heard a friend or family member say.) 

The example I gave was my wife's belief that sending children out into the cold will give them an infection. I pointed out that my wife would say that I had the misconception that sending a child out without a coat on a chilly day has nothing to do with whether they catch a cold.

I noted the importance of words like "although" and "because" and "nevertheless" -- words that connect chains of thoughts in complex, logical ways.

I suggested a formula -- and remember, this is just a tool that you can use to make sure you are ready to start writing.  Please don't just fill in the blanks and call it a day -- remember everything else you've learned about showing instead of telling, surprising the reader, using powerful verbs, avoiding filler, and going in depth with a small set of carefully-chosen examples, rather than giving a long list of the kinds of things that would "always" happen.

Don't actually start your paragraph with "Some people say..." -- that's sloppy thinking.

Okay, here's the formula, which is just a tool to help you make sure you are ready to start writing.
Some people say X because of A, B, and C; however, they are wrong, because D, E, and F.
I asked you to make sure, before you started writing your paragraph, that you could replace "some people" with a more specific reference. 

"Some of my friends" is only barely better than "some people," but you don't necessarily have to say "Sally Smith of 123 Maple Street says...."  You can say "A cousin of mine..." or "A guy I met on a bus last week said..." 

My point is that I want you to write about a specific expression of the misconception -- some action or speech that you witnessed that SHOWED the misconception in action.

You don't need exactly three reasons. Your paragraph could change that formula, so that you say "X is true because of D, E, and F, even though person Y says X is false because of A, B, and C."

Avoid simplistic, one-sided statements such as "Hitler was evil" or "Water is wet," because there's nothing controversial or complex about those ideas.

Hitler and water may be perfectly fine as TOPICS, if you can find a more nuanced STATEMENT -- the actual claim that you want to make.


Today I had a conversation with a student who kept referring to her rough drafts as errors. "I did that assignment wrong," she said. "I can never figure out the right way to do it." She was probably thinking of high school in-class essays, where the student's job is to spit back as many facts and vocabulary terms as possible, and where the teacher is willing to give points for almost any sign of cleverness, memory, or a willingness to apply the material to the student's own life. But a rough draft isn't meant to be perfect. The reason the portrait hanging in the art gallery looks so life-like is because the artist made numerous charcoal sketches, trying out and rejecting many different possibilities, before settling on the best pose. Your rough draft is a dry run; it helps you and your teacher see what strengths you can build upon, and what needs more work. Just as a lightening rod keeps the house safe, a good rough draft lets you channel the flow of your teacher's criticism, so you can get that feedback early, while there's still time to learn from it (and revise accordingly).
Note that the paragraph above does not follow the rigid pattern of the formula I suggested, but it should be fairly easy for a reader to fill it in.

To keep this example under 200 words, I had to cut this example:
The reason a summer blockbuster is paced so well, is that the director used a storyboard - a series of rough sketches to illustrate the script, rather like a comic book - in order to predict how much time and money to invest in crafting each scene.
Should I have kept the film example instead? I'm not sure. Now that I look at what I just wrote, I wonder if instead of comparing a teacher's criticism to a lightening strike (which is certainly how it feels sometimes), I should instead try to emphasize the idea that the rough draft is like the key that Ben Franklin sent up on his kite. He wanted that key to be struck by lightening, so that he could attract a bolt and learn from it. In fact, his experiment led him to invent the lightening rod, but I couldn't work that detail into that paragraph without going way over the word count.

So... it seems I've got more to say about the lightening example.  Should I expand it, cutting something else to make more room? That's what writing a rough draft is all about -- it gives you the opportunity to decide what you can change, in order to make your good ideas better.

I think my paragraph would be stronger if I cut a few more words, in order to make room for some final statement that brought that specific student back into the story. I could do that by changing the last sentence so that it begins like this:
When I see that student again, I will tell her that, just as a lightening rod protects the house...
What do you think? (Feel free to leave your comments here.)


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