Currently, I’m teaching four classes–two of comp I and two of comp II. At UTSA, comp I is “informative writing” and comp II is “argument.” In the comp I classes my students work on using research as a means to inform their readers. There are several things the students need to keep in my when writing their papers in comp I: summarizing and paraphrasing correctly, using MLA parenthetical citations appropriately, learning to structure an essay competently, etc.
One of the most foreign concepts to the students is the notion of audience. The majority of the students don’t truly realize that at its most basic element, writing is simply a form of communicating with other people. Too often, the students turn in their papers without ever considering the fact that someone might actually read what they wrote. They only think of writing as a means to fulfill an assignment, but I find that if I can break through that intellectual wall and help the students recognize an audience, their writing generally improves exponentially.
Last week the students had to turn in a process analysis paper (fancy term for “how-to” paper). As an author, one of the biggest challenges of this paper is deciding when technical terms need to be defined for the readers. I tell my students to err on the cautious side, and if they have any doubts whether or not a term needs to be defined, they should probably go right ahead and define it.
One of my students turned in a paper where he mentioned the second law of thermodynamics in passing and where he stated, and I’m paraphrasing, that everyone knows that the majority of the electricity we use in our home comes from burned coal.
I kinda know the definition of the second law of thermodynamics, something about entropy increasing in closed systems, but I had no idea about coal and electricity. Just for a moment, I wondered if I was too big of a moron to be reading his paper.
So to make myself feel better I told him that a normal audience would probably need those terms defined.
It remains to be seen if I’m a moron.