The Rhetoric of Style: Writing is Like Getting Dressed in the Morning

Lauren Short, Consultant

You greet the day with panic because you overslept. Again. All that matters now is grabbing your things and making your way out the door looking reasonably presentable to society. Even though you may be thinking to yourself, “I have nothing to wear,” you somehow find a few articles that do the trick. When it comes to drafting a paper, a panic similar to a missed alarm can be so overwhelming that you think, “I have nothing to write,” but you shouldn’t feel pressure to create your magnum opus the first time. When it comes to writing (and getting dressed in the morning) you don’t have to reinvent the wheel–follow a formula that works for you and feel free to throw on an unexpected accessory once in a while.

While at the university, generally everyone has to wear a top, bottoms, and shoes (or at least one would hope). A typical paper includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. Though forms of style and styles of writing will differ within specific contexts, you get the basic idea. If you’ve got an outline to work from, the next step is easy. What really makes our work special is the extras that we use to define ourselves, our style, if you will, just as each person has a distinguishing characteristic about his or her choice in dress. If you’re not sure what your strengths are as a writer, feel free to ask! Ask your friends, family, professors, or your trusty neighbors at the writing center. Realizing that you have something unique about your writing, be it your indelible voice, your penchant for creating an organized paper, or your strength for research.

Recently, a student came in hoping I could help check over his paper before he turned it into class. From the get-go, I noticed that he had an unmistakable colloquial voice about his writing. While some of his paragraph structures needed work and he needed to find relevant research to validate his claims, I was taken with the way he could turn a common phrase and make it sound appropriate for an academic paper. Some of his words needed updating, but for the most part, I didn’t want him to lose his voice. This student’s voice was like a perfectly-tied bow tie upon his paper.

Another student needed help brainstorming for an upcoming paper and seemed desperate to lock down a thesis statement. Her sources were in order, her notes were organized, and she was able to answer all of my questions, indicating that she knew what she wanted to write, but was afraid it would all come out wrong. Since this student had indicated her skills for organization, I tried to steer her in the direction of asking questions that would answer her writing prompt. We made a few organized lists that detailed what she wanted to express and were able to cross out extraneous details until we were left with a few concise statements to form a thesis. This student’s organizational intuition was a polished pair of pearl earrings to pull together the rest of her ideas.

LaurenThe overarching message here is that just as we have a closet for getting dressed, we also have an arsenal of skills for writing papers. One man’s strength is another’s weakness, so it just takes practice to determine what you need to work on and what you need to highlight in your writing. Remember that just like personal style, writing can be fun! Let it be the place where you show off your knowledge, entertain a crowd, or move someone to tears. Once you get the basics, feel free to play around a little. Write in a format you’ve never experienced before. Try coming from a different perspective. Mess with language. Because if we conform to a prescribed popular notion of what writing is, we will never develop anything new. Create a style all your own–and if you need any help along the way, you know where to find us…

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