As he notes, “You don’t write Another basic tenet of good communication is clarifying the purpose of the communication and letting that purpose shape your decisions.Your professor wants to see you work through complex ideas and deepen your knowledge through the process of producing the paper.
Sometimes, though—especially when you are new to a field—you will encounter the baffling situation in which you comprehend every single sentence in the prompt but still have absolutely no idea how to approach the assignment.
No one is doing anything wrong in a situation like that.
If the professor took the trouble to prepare and distribute it, you can be sure that he or she will use it to grade your paper.
He or she may not go over it in class, but it’s the clearest possible statement of what the professor is looking for in the paper.
You would do well to approach every assignment by putting yourself in the shoes of your instructor and asking yourself, “Why did she give me this assignment?
How does it fit into the learning goals of the course?Often when you write for an audience of one, you write a letter or email.But college papers aren’t written like letters; they’re written like articles for a hypothetical group of readers that you don’t actually know much about.There’s a fundamental mismatch between the real-life audience and the form your writing takes. It helps to remember the key tenet of the university model: you’re a junior scholar joining the academic community.Academic papers, in which scholars report the results of their research and thinking to one another, are the lifeblood of the scholarly world, carrying useful ideas and information to all parts of the academic corpus.Keeping an audience like this in mind will help you distinguish common knowledge in the field from that which must be defined and explained in your paper.Understanding your audience like this also resolve the audience mismatch that Elbow describes.The natural direction of communication is to explain what you understand to someone who doesn’t understand it.But in writing an essay for a teacher your task is usually to explain what you are still engaged in trying to understand to someone who understands it better.Each assignment—be it an argumentative paper, reaction paper, reflective paper, lab report, discussion question, blog post, essay exam, project proposal, or what have you—is ultimately about your learning.To succeed with writing assignments (and benefit from them) you first have to understand their learning-related purposes.