There are some things you never forget. Back in 2002, during my last semester in college, Professor Todd Bolen returned my final assignment for his History of Ancient Israel class. He had spent an hour grading my 10-page paper and had stapled a full page of typed comments to the back.
I’ll never forget what he wrote, because I’d never had a professor interact with my work that thoroughly. I’m sure I made some of the same mistakes college students tend to make (and I’m sure I still do). I’m sure my paper wasn’t a profoundly enlightening read. I’m sure he had more immediately important things to do with a full hour. But thirteen years later, his investment still impacts me — and influences the students I now teach.
Oh, you’re waiting for me to share what he said, to prove I remember it? Off the top of my head: My paper was on the relationship between suffering and faith in the life of David. I was trying to argue that David grew most when he suffered most. Todd responded that the connection I was arguing for was true, but that I didn’t amply demonstrate that connection from the biblical texts I cited. He also told me that I overused italics for emphasis, and that instead of using italics (like I did in the last sentence), I should write in such a way that my emphasis is clear without needing font changes. There was more, but these two memories demonstrate how I was struck by both his overall analysis of my argument and his critique about the finer details of my writing. He was right on both counts, and I’ll never forget it.
Todd Bolen, who would become a friend while remaining a mentor, helped me learn how to write. He helped me learn how to write because he didn’t just glance over my paper and leave a check-mark and an “OK” at the top-right corner of the first page; instead, he pored over my argument, my evidence, my structure, my grammar, my sentences, and my phrases, and he challenged me to grow.
I just spent a week grading 68 undergraduate papers at 8-10 pages each. Trying to trace the argument, affirm good points, challenge unsupported claims, and suggest structural rearrangements, all while marking the finer details of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting — all of this left me so much more thankful for Todd Bolen, and so much more convinced that helping students improve their writing is one of the most important things a teacher can do.
Midway through the 600+ pages, I had noticed enough trends that I decided to throw together a series of tweets about writing. So in honor of Todd Bolen and his investment so long ago, and in honor of my 68 students who labored hard this semester to keep learning the sweet art and science of the written word, here are those tweets.
Twenty-Five Tweets on Writing
On Writing (#1): Say less, mean more.
On Writing (#2): When doing research, choose interaction over quotation.
On Writing (#3): How should you use sources? You shouldn’t. You should digest and interact with them.
On Writing (#4): Your thesis statement shouldn’t tell me what you’ll be talking about but what you’ll be arguing for.
On Writing (#5): Master your prepositions.
On Writing (#6): Always and forever avoid sweeping generalizations, and never ever make extreme statements.
On Writing (#7): Don’t write as though everyone agrees with you.
On Writing (#8): You can ruin a sentence with a misplaced, comma. But well-placed commas, well, those are rhythmic gold.
On Writing (#9): If you fail to anticipate my objections, I’ll assume you’re not talking to me.
On Writing (#10): Your best writing is your rewriting, and since you didn’t rewrite anything, well . . .
On Writing (#11): Just remember that the author’s rhetorical flourish is often the reader’s eye roll.
On Writing (#12): Clarity is the only currency we’ve agreed upon. Discount it, and my attention will come at a discounted rate.
On Writing (#13): We don’t want a pile of meat. We want a sandwich. So give us an introduction and an overview, a summary and a conclusion.
On Writing (#14): Proofreading hides its own proof.
On Writing (#15): When you don’t proofread, I can tell, and it’s annying.
On Writing (#16): Why would I trust your research if I can’t trust your grammar?
On Writing (#17): Most people in the world speak multiple languages. English speakers, let’s at least master one.
On Writing (#18): Every sentence builds or erodes trust.
On Writing (#19): Tell me what you’re going to say, say it, then tell me what you said.
On Writing (#20): There’s something called structure. Learn to see it. There’s something called flow. Learn to sense it.
On Writing (#21): Don’t make me walk through the fog of your only draft while pointing out all the beautiful sights.
On Writing (#22): Don’t start your sentences with “this.” This is why.
On Writing (#23): Don’t parachute me into your topic; walk me into it with an introduction. I wasn’t planning to skydive today.
On Writing (#24): Keep working at it. You’re getting better with each sentence.
On Writing (#25): Now go say something beautiful beautifully.