Review English Grammar, Usage, and Spelling

If you can't write clear and correct English, many powerful people will think less of you. These powerful people include university admissions committees, professors, and prospective employers. You often get only one chance to impress these people, and they do not have the time or inclination to wade through inept, half-baked prose. Maybe it's unfair of them to judge you harshly on the basis of your writing, but that's beside the point: life is often unfair. If you want to change the world in a civilized way, you're going to have to convince people with clear, rational arguments.


Most community college students do not write well. Bright students who can't write are the rule, not the exception. Many students have told me they did no serious work on writing in high school. They say they have never had a teacher who insisted on correct grammar and spelling. They say they have never been punished for plagiarism. The best students usually begin my class writing excessively wordy prose; they have never been taught to write simply and clearly. I have heard about high school English classes in which students simply "shared their feelings" or watched Hollywood movies or did "role-playing". In short, most of my students have never been challenged to write as well as they can. I intend to challenge you.


Some people think Standard Written English (SWE) is merely Standard White English — elitist and politically incorrect — and if a student's first language is not SWE, the student should not be forced to use SWE. I do not agree. I am persuaded (and entertained) by David Foster Wallace's arguments in the article "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage." Read it yourself and see what you think!


You should plan to work throughout the semester on these sections. You will probably need to review spelling, grammar, and usage matters more than once. For better or worse, I will read your papers with respect: I will treat your words as if what you wrote is exactly what you intended to write.


Most people (including your instructor) do not write anything well the first time around. As your English teachers have no doubt told you, "Good writing is rewriting." In this portion of the class, I would like you to get in the habit of editing your writing.


In addition to the items under "Writing Well" here on WebCT, you are also required to read the entire O'Conner text. If the O'Conner text is too advanced for you (if you do not know what "passive voice" or "parallel construction" mean, or if you do not know the difference between an adjective and an adverb, for example), then you have some serious catching up to do.

There will be one exam on writing. See the Study Guide for Philosophy 3 Test on Writing. Writing counts on all work for this class. See the Syllabus for how writing affects your grade. Every semester, students lose significant credit — some students have even failed this class — because of easily-corrected English errors.


Be sure to take all the self-tests on this material before the exam. Go to "SelfTests/Paper Help" from the Home page or the Navigation Bar; then select "SelfTests on English." If you do not pass these self-tests, it's YOUR job to figure out what you did wrong. Every self-test includes links to explanations of the relevant principles of grammar or usage. I strongly suggest you retake the self-tests until you show improvement. I will be happy to help you by answering specific questions.


Suggestion for Discussion Postings

As you review grammar and writing, you begin to notice errors in ordinary life. Share a "found howler."





Week 4 Improving writing Woe Is I (all)
Study Guide for English Test
Examples of Bad Writing
Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language
Self Tests on English
Critical Thinking Checklist
English review: Miscellaneous
Common Confusions and
Spelling Errors
Quiz 4 on English



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