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Ron Cooley, English Faculty

Undergrad Mistakes

What are some mistakes that students in senior undergraduate English courses make?

I think as students advance, they forget the lessons they learned in first and second year. They think the rules don't apply to them anymore. What I always tell senior undergraduate and graduate students is that every time I've sent a paper to a journal, I've got back a reminder from the editor saying "make sure your thesis statement appears clearly and emphatically in your opening paragraph." So those lessons that we learn in first year we never get really exempt from them, unless we become superstars in our field; then maybe editors cut you more slack. But you know, if you take on board the basic lessons on writing that you learn in first year and carry them through: always make an outline, [and] always state your thesis quite emphatically and compactly, preferably in your opening paragraph. Those are rules or strong guidelines for a reason: because they work. They help readers to get what they need from your writing. As people get to be more advanced writers, they increasingly see writing as something they are doing for themselves, and writing is something we do for readers. We need to be conscious of what they [readers] need to get out of it and not just think of our writing as self expression. It's communication.