Saturday, May 12, 2018
Five Minute Friday: INCLUDE
Today I'm joining Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is INCLUDE.
I teach an online university course in academic essay-writing. In our course, students learn how to develop a thesis statement, an outline, and strong introductory, body, and concluding paragraphs.
One problem faced by many student writers (writers of all kinds, really) is not knowing how much information to include. So we put a lot of emphasis on having a plan -- a thesis statement that sets a road map for the rest of the essay. It's a useful metaphor. If you're trying to get from Kingston to Montreal, then your road map will include stops along that journey; you don't have to worry about including Toronto in your road map because that's not part of a Kingston-Montreal trip. Likewise, in an essay, if you narrow your topic or thesis sufficiently -- let's say, you decide to write an essay about diabetes in children -- then you don't need to worry about including information about adult diabetes, because that's not part of your topic, so it's not on your road map.
Another metaphor I often use is the recipe. I tell students, "Have a general idea of what you want to make first, before you go grocery shopping. Are you going to make lasagna? or cabbage rolls? or trifle? Then look for ingredients that will contribute to that dish; don't just go the store and wander around selecting ingredients that look interesting but might not end up working together." Likewise, with an essay, they should have at least a basic idea of where they think their essay might go so that they can decide what information, sources, or data to include -- and what to exclude.
These are great principles, yet there are also times when a student will contact me and ask, "Is it OK if I change my topic? I started gathering information and realized I really want to write about X, not Y." I've even had students start out taking one side of an argument and, as they worked on their essay, ending up with exactly the opposite argument. So as much as I urge planning, outlines, and clear thesis statements, I also want to encourage students to be changed by the process of writing rather than to be so narrowly focused that they can't see anything beyond their specific parameters.
I't s a paradox, isn't it? Sometimes -- whether in writing or in life -- we need to hold our plans, road maps, and recipes loosely. Sometimes we need to make room to include something that wasn't on the original agenda.
Sometimes we plan the journey; sometimes the journey plans us.