Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Worst Writing Contest

A large historical debate in writing studies (tho I'm not sure how much rhet/comp scholars continue to debate this in our recent disciplinary scholarship) is the idea about teaching grammar--or any type of writing--in context. Basically most research and scholarship in writing studies calls for the need to teach students to write for real audiences and real purposes (read Because Writing Matters, published by the National Writing Project in 2003), and that grammar should be taught within the contexts of students' own writing or real writing situations.

I stumbled upon this article about the worst writing contest. Participants were asked to submit a horrible opening sentence to novels. Some of these sentences were submitted:

"'Toads of glory, slugs of joy,' sang Groin the dwarf as he trotted jovially down the path before a great dragon ate him because the author knew that this story was a train wreck after he typed the first few words."

"Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater -- love touches you, and marks you forever."
I guess this article could serve as real life example for the importance of not only writing good opening sentences (whatever good means), but also, the significance that grammar plays in people's judgments when we write. I'm not going to take the time and point out the errors--not quite sure if the previous examples are more reflected by issues of stylistic choice than issues of 'error' (if you're that nerdy you can do that yourself), but I will say that using this example of how confusing syntax (and I think it IS confusing) may limit readers' understanding and influence their judgments of a piece. I think using 'real' examples is much better than scribbling 'awk' in the margin.


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