“This course focuses on the fundamentals of style and language usage necessary for effective writing,” the course is explained in the official guide.
Sounds simple enough, if not too simple, I thought.
It quickly became clear, however, for most of us just how little of the material covered throughout the course was remembered or was even taught while in grade school. Fundamental writing basics like sentence structure, word choice and even spelling are major themes in the course, yet my college-aged peers and I were re-learning the concepts from grade school—and finding it necessary.
Laurence Stains, a professor in the journalism department, has taught Elements of Writing for three years. He said when he was a student at The University of Rochester in the early 1970s, this course wasn’t taught because it was assumed students should have already learned and understood the bulk of the material by then.
“I wish they had,” he said. “I could have really used it.”
Stains said the department made the course mandatory with the intention of fixing the most common grammar and punctuation mistakes students were making in journalism writing.
The material taught in this course is important in brushing up on important writing rules that will come in handy throughout a college student’s career and beyond—especially a student aspiring for a career in journalism. Given the number of papers most students will have to write throughout their time in college, all students can benefit from the curriculum.
While Elements of Writing is specific to journalism majors—it includes lessons on AP style and news writing—parts of the course could be included in other required courses like Intellectual Heritage or Analytical Reading & Writing, both of which are required for all students.
“If we taught grammar and punctuation rules to first year writing students they’d be disinterested,” said Eli Goldblatt, the former director of the first year English department. Goldblatt believes it would be more effective to help students individually rather than taking up the bulk of a whole semester.
More importantly, Stains said people often stop reading after the smallest mistakes. In regards to usage, punctuation and grammar mistakes.
“All can bring your readers to a dead stop,” he said, stressing the importance of a strong grammar foundation in writing.
Any writing produced in a college setting is meant to be read, and should be on par with college expectations. It’s unfortunate that these skills need to be re-learned by much of the student population, but this one class can eliminate the need for students to struggle with future writing assignments.
Throughout a four-year college career and as a graduate, students will write dozens of papers, assignments, projects and simple emails. Taking this course early in your academic career will go a long way in helping improve the quality writing for all courses, no matter the subject.
Jensen Toussaint can be reached at email@example.com.