The Nature of Writing
In understanding the nature of writing, one must process a wide range of elaborative to succinct definitions conveyed by the experts and scholars in the academic landscape. In its literal sense, writing is a system of conventional symbols used to represent meaningful utterances that can be recovered without the intervention of the person responsible (Daniels & Bright, 1996). On the other hand, with a more creative approach, Vipond (1993) defines writing as “a way of knowing and acting” (p.2). Accordingly, as a way of knowing, its purpose is to discover and validate knowledge; and as a form of social action, it creates a socially favorable community for people engaged in a meaningful written communication. It is thus established in the two different levels of definition that writing satisfies both the abstract and concrete faces of active human communication.
Perhaps, the most practical approach towards writing is to take it as a skill. According to Langan (2010), writing must be realistically conceived as a skill, not a natural gift; thus, like other skills, it can be acquired through practice. In addition, Freeman (2003) asserts that “the writing process is how we translate ideas into written text; it starts with an idea in our head and the need to develop it, communicate it with an audience, and preserve it” (p.5). Therefore, writing, as a skill, should be refined, i.e., choosing right words, formats, and contents, for an enriched communicative engagements with other people.
In a more scientific level, writing is seen as an organized cognitive process. In fact, it involves four cognitive operations that comprise collecting information, planning ideas in the realm of personal symbols, translating ideas into the realm of written text, and reviewing ideas and symbols on the text (Kellogg, 1994). Likewise, Roldan (2010) describes the art of writing as the art of shaping an idea. Correspondingly, the human mind is a dimension of ideas; some are related, many are not. In writing, one is forced to compose thoughts and organize ideas from the mind to the more concrete outlets like a written paragraph or paragraphs. As has been implied, a written work is a creative and highly organized output of an expressive thought.
Notwithstanding the multi-disciplinary applications of the defined skill and cognitive process, good writing is an elusive concept because there is no formula, and it always varies according to the rhetorical situation and individualized style (Kroll, 2003; Hamilton, 2003). In fact, Kroll (2003) argues that:
“It is clear, however, that certain properties of good writing can be identified. Most would occur that for writing to be deemed ‘successful’ to its overall purpose, it must conform to the conventions of English syntax and usage, generally referred to as ‘grammar.’ Grammar is indisputably an essential element of second language writing instruction, but the ways in which it is integrated with other components of writing courses have varied” (p.141).
The learner’s goal, according to Hamilton (2003) is to hone his or her best writing style. On the other hand, the teacher’s is to guide the learner in the realization of the goal. Therefore, the collective goal of the writing class should not be the production of homogenous compositions. Correspondingly, an instance of correction is seldom sufficient to teach students to avoid writing errors. With this, Hamilton (2003) suggests a repeated practice to change the writing patterns. Appropriately, if there is a recursion of errors on subsequent products, there must be a thorough practice exercise on the identified problem.
It is also worth-mentioning that writing requires an absolutely sound condition of the students. Most of them, in spite of grammar competence and good foundation in writing mechanics, fail to produce good writing products because of some intellectual, physiological, and emotional unpreparedness. Irrefutably, in most writing classes, some students feel partially, or even worse, totally deprived of the inspiration, privacy, access to resources, and sufficing time to write well. As a result, most students produce written outputs that do not necessarily comply with the actual stages; i.e., prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and presenting, that writing must undergo. Nonetheless, most teachers do not compromise students’ writing home works for these considerations because of the high probability of plagiarism and doubt on the authorship of the submitted compositions.
Writing in the Basic Education Curriculum and K-12 Program
In the Philippines, the 2002 Basic Education Curriculum, on English instruction in secondary levels, “addresses the communicative needs of students by adopting a communicative, interactive, and collaborative approach to learning as well as a reflection and introspection…” (DepEd, 2002, p. 19). Clearly, the curriculum emphasizes the students’ acquisition of communicative competence in speech and in writing; however, prescribed instructional materials in English are highly literature-based. As a result, grammar is treated with little attention, and the teaching of writing conventions and mechanics have been defocused.
As the K-12 program has been introduced to decongest the curriculum, writing has been treated in a renewed perspective. Written work, as a component of summative tests, must be designed to “ensure that students are able to express skills in written form… other written work may include essays, written reports, and other written outputs” (DepEd, 2015, p. 7). Emphatically, the inclusion of Reading and Writing Skills in the senior high school core subjects foregrounds the refinement of students’ writing skills in the production of academic texts and professional correspondence (DepEd, 2013).
Grammar Features and Writing Mechanics
In English writing instructions, scholars and language teachers underscore the students’ sound foundations in grammar and mechanics. These comprise the conventions and rules that shape the writing, the meaning, and the overall impact of the written output (Kroll, 2003; Young, 2009; Grudzina, 2008; Anderson, 2005). Conformities to subject-verb concord rules, semantic appropriateness of prepositions, resolving problems with ungrammatical structures such as run-ons, fragments, and dangling modifiers must all be taken into a rigorous consideration. Equally important, aspects of writing mechanics including but not limited to punctuations, capitalizations, spellings, and abbreviations must not be ignored. In fact, Anderson (2005) describes these aspects as constituents of a visual skill in writing.
Subject-verb concord is the correspondence between a subject and its verb whereby the number and person of the former determines the shape of the latter (Langan, 2010; Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999; Milroy & Milroy, 2013). As the general rule states, plural subjects take plural verbs, and singular subjects take singular verbs. In form, present-tense verbs other than ‘be’ take an s-ending if the subject is third person singular; otherwise, they remain uninflected. Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999) posit that in most English sentences, the agreement is straightforward and noncontroversial; however, identify some potential conflicts which may arise when the form is syntactically singular but notionally plural (or vice versa), and when the agreement is driven by meaning or use.
Another grammar features looked into this analysis are run-ons and fragments. Run-ons come in two forms: fused sentences which contain no internal punctuations; and, comma splices with two or more independent clauses inappropriately joined by commas (Wingersky, Boerner, & Holguin-Balogh, 2008; Helling, 1992; Langan, 2010). Wingersky, Boerner, and Holguin-Balogh (2008) hypothesize that most writers suppose that if the idea is short, it cannot be two or more sentences. Accordingly, sentences are determined not by length but by the essential elements. In conjunction, Helling (1992) explains that run-on sentence is not merely a sign of inattention to existing grammar rules but also a sign of poor communication. On the other hand, sentence fragment, according to Levy (1998) and Langan (2010), is a word group that lacks either a subject or a verb, thus, fails to express a complete thought.
Dangling modifiers are words or word groups that are supposed to modify other elements in a sentence but fail to do so because they are not placed near enough to these elements; thus, the sentence takes on an unintended meaning (Soles, 2009; Langan, 2010; Levy, 1998; Covey, 2012). As a tip, Langan (2010) suggests that a modifier introducing a sentence must be followed immediately by the word it is meant to describe. Levy (1998) clarifies that “although the connection may be clear in the writer’s mind, it is not necessarily clear in the readers” (p.229).
In addition to these grammar features, prepositions pose major challenges and are described as notoriously difficult to master. Generally, prepositions are grammatical units that relate nouns and pronouns to other categories in sentences. In English, the use of preposition is often idiomatic rather that governed by grammatical rules; therefore, it is suggested that ESL learners need to memorize the formulaic phrases in which they are used (Kirszner & Mandell, 2013). In support, Lindstromberg (2010) describes prepositions as being ‘polysemous’ and are involved in a vast number of collocations. Another difficulties associated to the use of prepositions is the fact that they include the spatial and temporal meanings and that they differ with regard to their specificity as well (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999).
Young (2009) explicates that grammar takes the guessing out of where punctuation marks including the period, semicolon, colon, comma, and dash can be placed. Therefore, mechanics supplement grammar in meaning-making. With regard to the range of punctuation marks, comma is believed to cause more confusion that any other. Levy (1998) provides that there are more rules governing the use of commas, and that the use is, in some particular instances, a matter of personal preference. To a great extent, mistakes associated to capitalizations, spellings, and abbreviations are a matter of carelessness and can be corrected through a close inspection of the output during the editing stage. Given these, Anderson (2005) puts forward the idea of providing requisite rules and examples right before the students for clarification and stylistic options during the writing process. However, emphasis on options in various writing contexts must be reiterated.
References and Other Readings:
Anderson, J. (2005). Mechanically inclined: Building grammar, usage, and style into writer’s workshop. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher’s course. (2nd ed.). USA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
Covey, S.R. (2012). Fraklin Covey style guide for business and technical communication. (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Financial Times Press.
Daniels, P.T., & Bright, W. (1996). The world’s writing systems. Oxford, CA: Oxford University Press.
Department of Education. (Philippines, 2015). Policy guidelines on classroom assessment for the K-12 basic education program. Retrieved from http://www.deped.gov.ph/sites/default/files/order/2015/DO_s 2015_08.pdf.
Department of Education. (Philippines, 2013). K-12 basic education curriculum: Senior high school- core subject. Retrieved from http://www.deped.gov.ph/sites/default/files/SHS%20Core_Reading%20and%20Writing%20CG.pdf.
Department of Education. (Philippines, 2002). The 2002 basic education curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.deped.gov.ph/sites/default/files/order/2002/DO_s2002_043.pdf.
Edge, J. (1989). Mistakes of form. In Mistakes and correction: Longman keys to language teaching. (7-12). Addison Wesley Longman, NY: Longman Group UK.
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Freeman, M.S. (2003). Building a writing community: A practical guide. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House Publishing.
Francis, N., & Reyhner, J.A. (2002). Language and literacy teaching for indigenous education: A bilingual approach. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters.
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Grudzina, D. (2008). Grammar for writing: Understanding the mechanics of grammar and how language works. Clayton, DE: Prestwick House.
Hamilton, S. (2003). Solving common writing problems. Portland, ME: J. Weston Walch Publisher.
Helling, P. (1992). Grammar and proofreading course. USA: American Management Association.
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Kirszner, L.G., & Mandell, S. R. (2013). The concise Wadsworth handbook. (4th ed.). North Miami Beach, FL: Wadsworth Publishing.
Kroll, B. (2003). Exploring the dynamics of second language writing. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Langan, J. (2010). College writing skills with readings. (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Levy, J.M. (1998). Take command of your writing: A comprehensive guide to more effective writing. Campbell, CA: Firebelle Productions.
Lindstromberg, S. (2010). English prepositions explained. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing
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Roldan, A.H. (2010). College reading and writing. Pasig City, Philippines: Anvil Publishing.
Sarfraz, S. (2011). Error analysis of the written English essays of Pakistani undergraduate students: A case study. Asian Transactions on Basic & Applied Sciences, 1 (3), 21-51.
Soles, D. (2009). The essentials of academic writing. (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Spillner, B. (1991). Error analysis: A comprehensive bibliography. Amsterdam, PA: John Benjamins Publishing.
Vanpatten, B. & Benati, A.G. (2015) Key terms in second language acquisition. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Villemaire, L., & Villemaire, D. (2005). Grammar and writing skills for the health professional. (2nd ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Cengage Learning.
Vipond, D. (1993). Writing and psychology: Understanding writing and its teaching from the perspective of composition studies. Wesport, CT: Praegers Publishers.
Wingersky, J., Boerner, J.K., & Holguin-Balogh, D. (2008). Writing paragraphs and essays: Integrating reading, writing, and grammar skills. (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Yang, X.M., & Xu, H. (2001) Errors of creativity: An analysis of lexical errors committed by Chinese ESL students. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Young, D.J. (2009). The mechanics of writing: Which comes first, the comma or the pause. Ogden Road Portage, IN: Dog Ear Publishing.