Monday, September 10, 2007

Blog Entry

Pretty catchy title for a blog entry, don't you think? Or are any of you actually reading this blog?

It's nearly time for my Composition 2 students to write their first essay. We've gone through the introduction to the course, the online orientation, an introduction to academic thinking and reading, and now they're watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, the first of several sources of varying opinions about global warming. Their first assignment is what we call a summary/strong response essay--students are charged with writing an essay that summarizes the main arguments of the documentary and then responds to them, agreeing with some points and disagreeing with others, taking into account both the subject matter (what Al Gore presents about global warming) and also the rhetorical concerns (the persuasive strategies used, the purpose, the audience, the format of the material, and so forth).

I'm dreading these first essays.

Oh, not for the reasons you think. These students have made it through Composition 1, so presumably they can write reasonably well. It's not that I'm expecting dreadful essays (although I occasionally get them). It's also not the grading load--60+ drafts to look over. Rather, I'm dreading the beginnings.

My students seem to think that titles are disposable, unimportant. So despite my mention to them already that titles should engage the reader and imply or reveal something about the essay's main idea, I will get titles like "Blog Entry," stating the obvious:
  • "My Essay"
  • "Essay 1"
  • "Summary/Strong Response Essay"
Only slightly better are the essays titled "A Response to An Inconvenient Truth." At least that title tells the reader what the essay is about in vague terms.

I ask my students this question: If you were looking at the table of contents of a magazine and saw an article titled "My Article," would you read it? I usually have one or two students raise their hands (I suspect these are the students who think cereal box prose is High Literature or they are just being smart alecs), but the rest of the class just sit with Cheshire grins on their faces. I then launch into my soapbox about titles.

And guess how they generally fix the problem? By eliminating the title altogether. What's an English professor to do?

Once we get past the title, it's time to deal with the atrocious introductions. I'm not sure where students learned how to write introductions, because I know that no conscientious high school English teacher would give a student a passing essay grade with some of the introductions I receive. Here's a representative sample of what my students submit to me:

1. The Long-Term-Memory Beginning
. All too common, the Long-Term-Memory Beginning is so named because it sounds a lot like the stories your 93-year-old grandfather tells: "When I was just a kid..." or "When I was born...." My students aren't far enough removed from their childhoods to use these starts, so instead they turn to a Jungian "collective unconscious" beginning:
  • "Since the beginning of time, man has had to deal with Mother Nature." (Really? I don't recall, even drawing upon the collective unconscious, humanity being around at the beginning of time.)
  • "Since the time of Adam and Eve..." (The church-going students prefer this take.)
  • "Since the time of the cave man..." (Well, at least we are in humankind time.)
Such starts are not only obvious and inaccurate, but they're also not the least bit interesting for the reader.

2. The Webster's Dictionary Definition
. Ah, the joys of the dictionary! And how my eager students love to share definitions with the reader at the beginning of their essays! Now, sharing such definitions is even easier since many print dictionaries have an online presence. Students don't even have to leave their computers to whip up a Webster's Online Dictionary beginning:

  • "Webster's Online Dictionary defines 'global warming' as 'The progressive gradual rise of the earth's surface temperature thought to be caused by the greenhouse effect and responsible for changes in global climate patterns. An increase in the near surface temperature of the Earth. Global warming has occurred in the distant past as the result of natural influences, but the term is most often used to refer to the warming predicted to occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases. See climate change, greenhouse effect, enhanced greenhouse effect, radiative forcing' ("global warming," s.v. "weather")."
Stunning piece of prose, isn't it? Doesn't it call to you, sing through your veins, make you want to leap joyously into the essay, putting aside your plans to watch Big Brother or read those Kashi Go Lean cereal boxes? Dictionary definitions have a time and place, and often need to be in the introduction in order to help readers understand the issue under discussion. But please, not in the first sentence! Additionally, rephrasing the definition in terms the reader can easily understand would help considerably.

So, readers, are you still with me? Did anyone even read this blog given the title? If you're still out there, leave me a comment--what kind of beginnings grip you? What advice for beginning an essay would you offer up to my students? We use this blog in our classroom, so they'll be reading your responses.

But I suppose if none of you respond, that tells them something, too--boring titles don't work.

41 comments:

Michelle said...

My favorite essay starter is a pithy yet subject-appropriate quote. Always puts me in a good mood!

Diane said...

"MY RESPONSE" (ha ha)

Well... I read this entry because Kris is my cousin, and I am interested in reading what she writes about. I must say, given the title, I wouldn't have read it otherwise. :-)

I LOVE the idea Kris (The Professor)has of thinking in terms of a table of contents in a magazine when you are chosing titles for essays! Surely, you can't go wrong using that as a guideline.

You know, my mom was an english major, with a 4.0 grade average. Something she did with her essays, to grab the reader on the first line, was to find a famous quote or very short little poem that applied to the topic. I think those kinds of beginnings always spark an interest and make the reader want to continue on.

Another idea is to think in terms of an advertiser - as if you are writing a commercial. (let me explain) Such as, how can I write about this topic so that the majority of people who read it (because you can't please EVERYONE) will be completely interested and captured.

Humor in writing works too. I think teachers enjoy a good laugh like the rest of us! Your professor uses humor in these blog entries quite often! It certainly makes me want to read the next one she writes!

Think about something you read that you really liked reading and ask yourself how it got your interest and KEPT your interest to the end. Or, even ads on TV. What ads do you watch? What did they do to capture your interst. Then use those ideas when writing your papers! It's a wonderful opportunity for you to be really creative if you want to!

This is my advice, I hope it's good advice, and I hope it helps someone title and begin better essays!

-Diane

Diane said...

P.S.

(Actually "P.S." for a title usually grabs a reader! HA HA!)

Sorry guys! I had a couple typos in the 2nd to last paragraph of my entry above -- and maybe elsewhere, but hopefully not! So I also must advise PROOFREADING before submitting your essays as well! HA!

-Diane

Deborah Pulliam said...

Hello. My mane is Deborah and my papers have boring titles. I am one of those students whose papers come off as "pretty dry". I am not making excuses for myself or others like me but I am just not very creative and if I try to be creative, sometimes it doesn't come out right or even sounds dumb. So, sticking with the standard boring stuff is safe. It may not be thrilling but is still "safe". I may try humor, therefore I would be expecting people to laugh. In the past all of the writing I have ever done has been for a professor or something that someone has had to read. I have never thought about the fact that I had to "capture" my audience. I will definately ask myself that if I were to pass by the title, would it draw me in to read it? Shocking titles capture my attention. Such as "If you eat this you will die!", or "If we don't take care of the earth, it will burn up!" I know that is a little strong but I was trying to add a little humor. Thanks for reading! Deborah Pulliam, English 102-V1 Student.

joe from 102-01 said...

i believe that introductions that make the reader or listener imagine something are effective. for instance, telling a story about something that might happen, but hasnt neccessarily happened yet. it is a great way to imerse the reader and get them interested as well as make them comforable listening or reading.

that is just one idea i had. as far as your students go, you cant neccessarily make them do something like that. not all students are that creative or motivated. however, you can use the same logic when teaching. to get your students interested and comfortable as well as spur their brains by getting them interested, the best thing you can do is try to arouse their opinions and feelings. english is obviously not everyone's favorite subject. but, the best way to capture their attention and motivate them is to do just that. perhaps no one really cares about al gore in your classes. i actually have a strong opinion on global warming because i just dont like liberal veiws like that. however, you cant just make students have strong feelings and opinions. i know you wont change your teaching methods just because i made a suggestion, but if you want your students to be more motivated about writing, which will hopefully make them more motivated about making a title, intro, etc., i think it would be a good idea to let them write about a controversial topic of their choice.

i apologize for not using capitalization or puntuation. i know that probably drives you mad. :)

Anonymous said...

Titles for Essays by CARLA BECKER

My best essay was one that I wrote for Engl 101. Our subject was a book or movie review and I did mine on the movie Eight Mile. I used the first few lines of his song for the movie as an intro. I got a great grade on it. I forgot what my title was though. I'm sure nothing spectacular. I really enjoy funny reading. I like a bit of humor. I like the magazine article idea. I don't feel that I am all that creative though so it will take me some time to come up with a good start and title. I liked Diane’s' post though about the famous quote or think of it in terms of an advertiser.
Thanks for reading,
Carla Becker Engl 102 - V1

EnglishProf said...

Joe,

Aren't you lucky that I'm not grading your entry for mechanics! Additionally, your research essay for the course WILL be on a controversial topic of your choice (we're using global warming as a skill-building topic), so I guess that makes you doubly lucky!

Amber 102-01 said...

I think the titles that strike me are the questions that make you go "wait what did they just say?" These get me because right off the back you're thinking... And if you can't get the reader thinking then why are you writing?

Kim H said...

I have to admit, I had to laugh while reading this.I did that once, no title. Some of us are more creative then others.I believe your getting your point across.

Evan Eng 102-01 said...

I like to usually try to use titles that scare or shock people. Like for a Global Warming Essay I might title it "Cars Will Be the Death of Us All" I tend to put some thought into my titles. I, like most people don't read many books and those I do read have catchy titles. It is the first thing a reader will see so it needs tobe hot!!!!!!

caitlin 102-2 said...

In my 4 years of high school I don't think I have titled one essay. I have always been fond of alliteration, perhaps something along the lines of "Are Cows Causing the Carbon Catastrophe?"

Oh, there is very little that can draw my attention away from my Kashi GoLean Crunch, that's some highbrow literature.

Adam Harrison. Eng 102, Section 01 said...

Many laughs....... "students are "charged" with writing a summary" I am Sorry for finding humor in your writing, but when I read over this I laughed......

In concern to the more relevant discussion; a title that possesses both the ability to arouse the reader and deceive them into reading the rest of the essay is integral to the survival of the paper among its audience.

Is it not obvious that our first interactions with inanimate and biological entities on Earth determine our initial perception and judgment of them? Since the title of a paper is the first piece of information the reader will observe, you must make it unique and interesting. Here are some titles I just threw out there. I hope they are not to off the hook for most readers....

Al Gore: The Messiah of Global Warming , CO2 Invasion, A Gaseous Armageddon, CO2: The Hot Human Holocaust.

Jennifer 102-02 said...

I also prefer something a bit shocking and humorous as as title to anything. The cow one above was pretty good! This essay is a difficult one for me to write because Gore's methods really made me angry and not want to listen to anything he said about global warming so I can only imagine what kind of title I will come up with. It has been many years since I have written an essay or taken 101 so I don't even remember what I did in the past.
Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Titles are actually my favorite part of the paper. I am very creative. I like things such as scrapbooking, painting and sketching. I am not the writing type. But when coming up with a title, that is my time to shine! I can get as clever and crazy as I want...my chance to put my pizaz on the paper. Some of my favorite titles use alliteration and/or humor. When I was little, I always like words that rhyme. Alliteration does not really rhyme, but the really cool sound it makes not only sounds good but is also memorable. When I study for tests, I try to use alliteration to help me group and remember information better. (I know...I sound like a nerd, but I prefer geek :))

My family reads "Readers' Digest." I don't. But when I am bored and see it lying on the coffee table I go straight for the titles that deal with humor. If you get to know me, you will find out that I LOVE humor. One of my major goals in life is to bring laughter and joy to the people I am with every day. Research says that laughter is the "best medicine." I started out going to college to be a surgeon. Something changed that, while I'm not exactly sure what. I can handle blood just fine. Thanks to my brother, who has taught me everything I know, I have this desire to bring smiles to faces as well as happiness and health to those around me. I guess you could call this my contribution to the medical field. I'm not sure what my title is going to be yet, but I am working on it as I type and am thoroughly excited for the outcome.

Katie ENG 102-1

Anonymous said...

Carla Becker Engl 102 -V1

Response to Adam Harrison - I really liked you example titles. Esspecially Al Gore: The Messiah of Global Warming. It really got my creative thoughts rolling. Thanks for the inspiration.

Kat 102-01 said...

At first when I saw your title, I was thinking "Oh no... The title is boring which means the blog will be too." But no, I completely understand where you are coming from about boring titles. My English teacher my Junior and Senior year of high school stressed having catchy, clever, witty, or creative titles. It really makes a difference when you do have a title that doesn't complete sum up what you are going to talk about in your essay.

Being an artist it is almost a requirement to have a good catchy title, especially if you want someone to view your work. I know this from experience. No good title or no title at all = not much recognition.

Sometimes though, I have writers block, and sometimes it only pertains to making a good title. It just depends on my mood though I guess.

Erica said...

My favorite titles are the ones that are catchy, but don't make sense until you read the article. When I write papers, I have the worst time choosing a title. That is probably the hardest part for me.

Anonymous said...

(veronica frazee's comment)
First we found out that we use the wrong structure for a paper, then we take the wrong kind of notes and now we use the wrong titles and introductions. It is starting to get a little depressing, especially since I have already taken almost two years of college and written at least 6 term papers. Why do I not have a lower gpa?

Saima Farooqui Eng 102-01 said...

I have always been taught to have catchy titles, which I have had a hard time doing, but I somehow manage something better than "My Essay." I really liked Evan's title "Cars Will Be the Death if Us All." I usually want to surprise the reader with something towards the end of the introduction, a strategy taught by my Eng 101 teacher. So I don't want my title to give away anything. If any of you are like that, then I think that it is not at all difficult to come up with catchy titles without giving anything away. I once wrote an essay about my experiences in my chem lab. The title I used was " The Awfully Wonderful Chemistry Lab" Kinda weird but hey it KEEPS THE SUSPENSE.

Heather Eng 102-02 said...

Titles can be fun but it is hard to find one that fits just right. Titles needs to be better than "Blog Entry"...but it take time to find one just right. Mine come right at the very end.

Bryan Vallier 102-V1 said...

Well I guess I won't be using "An Inconvenient Truth, Summary/Strong Response Essay" for my title. Back to the drawing board. Really though, people actually put things like that for titles? I wonder if they're just being lazy, or actually thinking a title like that is okay. Titles don't come easily to me, but if I can do some brainstorming and jotting down ideas after some time, I usually have something fairly catchy. I've never been critiqued on any titles I've ever used so this will be a new experience for me to actually put a little more thought into it. Honestly I'm more concerned about writing a good paper rather than the title at this point, but once I've got the 1st draft done, I'll sit for awhile and see what comes to mind for a title.

Matt Eng 102-02 said...

How about "An Inconvenient Spoof?" That would catch my attention.

Kelle 102-02 said: said...

I really like the title that Adam Harrison came up with, called The Messiah of Global Warming. I wish I had that kind of talent figuring out an interesting eye catching Title. My last english teacher didn't tell us to have an eye catching title, they were definetly boring, like A response to an inconvenient truth.

Beverly Blust said...

I think that boring titles can work and get your attention if it is something that interest you. I really did like the title Inconvenient Truth, its the truth, After seeing the movie, the title even made more since to me.

Ryan Howell 102-01 said...

I agree that titles are important. I sometimes won't read or watch something if the title sounds uninteresting. For me, coming up with a good and original title is very hard.

Bobbi Clark english 102-v1 said...

I believe a title is what makes you want to read the entry, essay, book whatever it may be. However, I agree with some of the others in that some people are more creative than others. I enjoyed reading the blog. I struggle with feeling confident in my titles and my work, so it is nice to hear that other people feel the same way.

Jamie Sec 02 said...

I found this blog interesting and yet true. I would not have read it if I would have seen that title in some magazine or newspaper. It needs more to it. That is what makes me read different things is the title, it has to catch me, it has to be something that I want to actually read or interested in it. I have never like writing essays or paper, I wish I did, but I don't. Although, I am fairly good at coming up with titles, if I think long enough.

Amber Eng 102-2 said...

This blog was very interesting and truthful. In prior English classes I have only spent little time on titles not thinking of their importance.I prefer the titles that leave a little mystery to the subject matter. I loved mystery books when I was younger and still do to this day. Anything that jumps out and makes me think "huh," or "I want to know more" is a great eye catcher and suspence holder.

jo eng102 said...

This blog is very truthful. The title is the first thing a perosn will see when they pick up the book, article, or magazine. I would not read something if it had a sleeper of a title. I must say thought I have never spent this much time in an english class talking about titiles. Although I do not understand why, it is just as important as the rest of the esay.

tiffany eng102-01 said...

I believe that the title should be catchy enough to catch the reader's attention. No one wants to read something if they see that the title is not "hot". I know if the title for the paper is not catching my attention I will just skip over the whole article. But seeing as though I couldnt skip over reading this article because it's for a grade...I had no choice but to read it :). I think that a good question could help out the paper a little. So yeah...NO BORING TITLES! :)

Eric Baker 102-01 said...

I like the titles that are funny the most. They are always the first one that I read. I "read" sports illustrated a lot and most of the time I never even read half of the stories because I just pick and choose between the titles.

Frank Morrell said...

I agree that the title and opening paragraph should get your attention and should make you WANT to read the article. Its hard to come up with something that will do this!

Jordan - English 102-V2 said...

I always have trouble writing the title of a paper... which is why I generally write the paper first and HOPE I come up with a title before then.

bethany 102-02 said...

wow what a bad title. this title was not catchy. it think the title is one of th best parts.

Anonymous said...

Maria- english 102-01
For me coming up with a title it is hard. I have great ideas but just can not get them into paper.

Anonymous said...

I think that thinking of a title can sometimes be the hardest part of writing any type of paper. There is so much pressure on it because it does have to catch your readers attention and make them want to read the rest of your paper.
Monica 102.02

Anonymous said...

Amber Bujack 102
I am also one of those people who has a very hard time thinking of a title and stick to the safe boring ones.However, I understand how important a title it to an essay or a paper because a lot of people, (me) assume an essay or a research paper will be boring. You need something to make a person want to read it, but I am more likely to read something with a title like "Blog" that is vague because it doesn't tell you what it is about and my curiosity makes me have to know.

Anonymous said...

I have done some children's writing and my instructor has made comments about me being creative. But, I don't see myself creative with writing like this. My titles seem to always be boring. I do, however, like the ones that are catchy or really draw your attention to the story.
An introduction should be interesting and unique. I liked the idea of the famous quote or poem. Those were definitely different and would probably get my attention and make me want to read on.
I do like to use humor. I think that really keeps the reader interested in what they are reading.
Vickie Collins Eng 102-V1

Teresa said...

First, I would get a color copy of the World. Center it in the title page, right above that I would have, centered,(BOLD wording) " I'm MELTING..... "
I think that would be a great way to grab the attention of the reader and also get the point across in a witty way letting the reader know you have something to say!

Anonymous said...

Finding a title that is relevant to the work, and also something that the reader will see and want to read the article can be hard sometimes. Im having a hard time figuring out what I want to title my draft, but it's in my brain, I just need to figure out where it is.
Corey Colson 102-01

Anonymous said...

Kris,

Since I am your dad, I will offer an opinion. I liked the title because I thought it would turn some away by them thinking the blog wouldn't be very interesting. That would be a mistake because it was very interesting!

Love,
Dad