In order to best understand style and how we can teach it to developing writers, we need to be able to read like a writer, identifying the syntactic choices an author makes for meaningful effect. This assignment will build on work we do together in class where you read a piece of writing and identify syntactic choices, label them, and discuss their effects.
Length & Format
You will select two short texts (of 400-600 words) for this assignment; these can be complete, short texts or they can be excerpts of a longer text. You can either print these or use a digital tool like Microsoft Word to make annotations (see below for more details). Each excerpt should be from a different genre so you have a chance to analyze choices made in different contexts (i.e., one can be from fiction and the second should be an excerpt from a non-fiction source).
First, select a text. You’ll want to choose an author you feel worthy of emulation or a genre that you know you’ll be asking students to write in. Choose carefully, as you’ll want to have a short text that has sufficient opportunities for analysis.
Next, read like a writer. Read through the text multiple times. As you review the text, pay attention to specific techniques your author uses (his/her moves) and start to keep track of the examples. You’re looking specifically for grammatical and syntactic choices, but this gives you a broad set of possibilities (look at my model for some ideas and take note during class discussions of the kinds of things we attend to). Any specific concept we discuss in class is fair game, of course, but you should branch out and find your own concepts based on things you notice about the text. Name the things you start to notice (with either technical or original names) and reflect on how they’re functioning in the text.
Finally, choose the features to comment on and write your annotations. As you can see from the models, you are to provide the name for each “move” you identify as well as to comment on the purpose behind that move.
This assignment will be graded holistically. The following criteria will be used (in this priority) for the evaluation:
- Completeness and thoroughness: a sense that you have pulled the essential moves from the text and have explained them in adequate detail. Be specific and appropriately comprehensive, especially in terms of discussing the effects or supposed purposes behind the features you have named.
- Accuracy: although you don’t have to use technical terms, the ideas should reflect a sound knowledge of language use and its effects in writing. If there’s something you see that you don’t know about, ask or look it up.
- Writing: the writing in the commentary should be engaging and correct. Enough detail should be used to make sense but avoid wordiness. You should correct punctuation and grammar errors that interfere with reading.