Post 1: Writing and Material Culture

In “The Secrets to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas,” John Maguire discusses why students are having trouble writing and attempts to set forth a new idea to help students improve their writing. Maguire characterizes student writing as focusing on “abstract ideas” rather than focusing on the content and details of the writing. They are often too focused on the “big picture” thus veering away from the content of the essay. He begins his essay talking about how many students come to college and are unable to write a good paper. He suggests that the main problem that students face is their inability to formulate content. As he explains, “One might naturally assume that giving good concrete examples is unteachable, that it’s just an aspect of a student’s thinking, and that a student with good mind will use good examples in his or her essays,” and with this he characterizes that writing students are not incoherently bad with writing, but they are just not taught how to formulate contents through their past teaching of writing. Students have trouble with writing because they cannot orderly display examples and content throughout their essay. He suggests that students need to add physical objects to the idea in order to create content.

In response to Maguire characterization, I agree when he characterizes new writing students in this light. I also agree with Maguire’s point that there is a lot of emphasis on the grammar aspect of writing, but formulating examples and content is often believed to just be “understood” be skilled writers. Drawing back to the Czikszentmihalyi reading, using objects that we value or objects of power would allow the writer to become more interested in what they are writing about, thus making their writing less “boring.” Also, using objects that relate to self can help improve this characterization that Maguire sets forth that would allow students to become more descriptive.

However, there are many holes in this characterization and idea of bringing physical objects in student writing. First, when Maguire is talking about the topics that writing students, he seems to act as if students are only faced with topics that one can imagine, such as history, policy, or experiences. However, college writing is often not about these topics. How can a student add physical objects to a paper on Aristotle’s ethos, pathos, and logos? How can a student add physical objects to a response to a reading on Marxism? How can a student add physical objects to a response to the reading “The Secret to Good Writing?” It is just too vague to say that students should imagine the physical objects because although this may work in writing for elementary or middle school students, college writing often veers away from these simple topics. He seems to act as if students are writing about very simple topics. Also, it might be too difficult or time consuming to add physical objects to topics like these. In English 1101, students may be presented with topics that they can imagine, but once students take classes on theories, it becomes much more difficult to bring objects to help construct the essay. This characterization about writing students is too vague because it will become more difficult to relate objects to writing as students encounter more advanced topics.

Moreover, in theory, I think that Maguire’s idea seems logical; however, adding objects to abstract ideas to create content can often be very difficult in college essays. If a student is writing about an experience that they can imagine in their head, then it is easy to bring objects to the essay; however, often when writing college papers this is not the case. For example, as I am writing this blog post right now I am not able to imagine objects to formulate my ideas better; instead, I am thinking about a theoretical idea, so there is no possible way for me to add objects to my writing. I cannot add physical objects to make this blog post more descriptive; instead, I have to think about ideas–not objects–in response to Maguire’s “abstract idea” on student writing. Moreover, since many college essays are about theories, we can not bring physical objects to the essay. Sure, if I was writing about my experience that I had going to the grocery store yesterday, then I could imagine the physical objects and be more descriptive, but I am not and this is often the case with college writing. It is hard to put this theory to practice because it is not as easy to put objects to certain ideas that a student writer will write about in college.

Overall, I do not agree with Maguire’s characterization of writing students because I think that college writing is much more than Maguire suggests it is. I would not say that I am offended by this characterization because I think that he is right to some extent; however, all students learn in different ways and it would not work for all students across all disciplines. All students find truth in different ways, and Maguire’s idea of adding physical objects to help write papers is one way that can help a student; however, as all students find truth in different areas, there is no one way that can help writing students.

One Reply to “Post 1: Writing and Material Culture”

  1. This is an agreeable reflection you have here; I agree with you that Maguire’s article is a little too limited (in scope) when it comes to evaluating student writers. Like you say in your post, I think he is correct when it comes to classifying freshman composition students with their lack of skills in writing. Many students coming from high school are still used to the tightly structured five paragraph essay.

    I like the point you make about encouraging students to write about topics (or objects) that they are interested in, because I certainly think that helps in the writing process. On a personal level, writing about topics I am interested in is much easier than writing about a topic that I have less interest in. I also agree that in academic writing, it can be difficult to include physical objects. However, I think in a rhetorical context, we can expand the definition of physical objects–are these objects we can physically touch, physically feel, physically see? It is easier to cut out the word physical and leave it as “objects.” It is much easier to include objects in our writing, because objects can be ideas and all writing is idea-based. Also, we write about physical objects often: the books we write about and quote from are objects.

    Overall, this is a good reflection on writing and material culture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *