The Writing Center

Using Voice to Achieve Clarity

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As a college-level writer you are going to spend the next couple of years being graded on your ability to write clearly. You may think this is unfair, and maybe it is, but that’s the way the university is set up. This workshop is designed to help you in one very specific area: that of voice. When we speak of voice in written language, we’re referring, basically, to the vocabulary and sentence structure. The words you choose and the way you construct your sentences with them will play a large part in determining your grade on a paper -- probably as much as grammar, and spelling, and format. This should strike you as good news, because unlike spelling and grammar, voice can be mastered relatively easily. One of the biggest problems beginning writers face is that they may not have ever been asked to write an essay using the formal conventions of the college-level essay -- and if you’ve never been taught something, there’s no reason in the world you should be expected to know how to do it. Many of these conventions will help you tie your ideas together into readable prose. This in turn will help you clarify your ideas and producing a clear essay that sensibly puts forward logical ideas is all most professors want from you as a student.As a college student, teachers are going to expect you to construct fairly simple sentences that conform to the rules of grammar and that convey your ideas clearly. Before we begin writing a few sentences, let’s go over some of the stumbling blocks new writers often hit. Vocabulary inflation: Don’t use big words because you think they make you sound intelligent. They don’t. They make you sound like someone who’s nervous and wants to sound intelligent. The sentence "I crossed the street." is just as clear and much more readable than "I traversed the boulevard." Overuse of introductory/transitional phrases: The words "however" "on the other hand" "thus" and "therefore" should be used only sparingly. They often just clutter your ideas when you could do just as well without them.

Write simple sentences: While you shouldn’t turn in a paper with nothing but simple sentences, you should learn to rely on them as beginning writers. As you advance and get used to using college-level conventions, you can begin writing long sentences.

A Practice Exerise:

Now, I want you to take a piece of paper and write a few sentences (six or so) describing the three most important qualities you believe a person should exhibit at a job interview. Remember: use your own vocabulary, avoid transition words, use simple sentence structure. The point here is to get your thoughts on paper in whatever raw form you can. We’ll polish them up later.

Now, take another ten minutes or so and write a few sentences describing your feelings about the importance of reading and writing in your life. If reading and writing play no role in your life, that’s fine, but talk about why. Why don’t you read? When you sit in classes and listen to teachers talking about how important reading and writing are, what are you thinking? Why don’t you see any value in reading and writing? If you do read, say why you do — tell us what you get out of it on a personal level.

What we’re going to do now, is take some examples of your writing and show you how you can convert the simple sentences you’ve written off the top of your head into the kinds of paragraphs you can turn in to a professor here at Cleveland State.

Varieties of Tone

We recruited fools for the show. We had spots for a number of fools (and in the big all fool number that occurs immediately after the second act, some specialties). But fools are hard to find. Usually they don’t like to admit it. We settled for gowks, gulls, mooncalfs. A few babies, boobies, sillies, simps. A barmie was engaged, along with certain dum-dums and beefheads. A noodle. When you see them all wandering around, under the colored lights, gibbering and performing miracles, you are surprised.The Pueblo Indians of the Southwest are one of the most widely known primitive peoples in Western civilization. They live in the midst of America, within easy reach of any transcontinental traveler. And they are living after the old Native fashion. Their culture has not disintegrated like that of all the Indian communities outside of Arizona and New Mexico. Month by month and year by year, the old dances of the gods are danced in their stone villages, life follows essentially the old routines, and what they have taken from our civilization they have remodeled and subordinated to their own attitudes.In his latest book, Fire in the Mind, Johnson weaves a number of interlocking themes: the latest scientific thinking on the origin of the universe; man and the universe as patternmakers; and the nature of man’s religious and scientific knowledge.Johnson’s explanations are clear and thought-provoking, and much of what he reports will be new to even well-informed readers. Throughout, Johnson develops a highly technical concept of man as an information gatherer, feeding on the patterns that the universe makes.The clearest available example of such epistemic violence is the remotely orchestrated, far-flung and heterogeneous project to constitute the colonial subject as Other. The project is also the asymmetrical obliteration of the trace of that Other in its precarious Subjectivity. It is well known that Foucault locates epistemic violence, a complete overhaul of the episteme, in the redefinition of sanity at the end of the European eighteenth century.


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