Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rules and Regulations

I just spent about forty-five minutes in English class--and about fifteen earlier in history--learning how to properly format an MLA style research paper. It felt like four years, although in that length of time I probably would have finished my doodle of Percy Jackson (which reminds me: I need to post a list of all the fabulous books I have been reading lately). The biggest thing I took away from the lesson was a renewed appreciation for blogging and other informal, non-structured types of writing. I understood suddenly (although I've no idea why it took me this long) why pretty much everyone else hates writing. They only write when they have to, and when they have to, it's miserable!

Blogging is good. In my blog, I can write however I want, about whatever I want, and it will be whatever spacing I want it to be. I don't have to worry about how I'm going to format my works cited page when I've finished this post. I can use the word "I" if I want to. I can use the words "you," and "your," and "our," and "we." I can have as many or as few paragraphs as I want, and I can block them off like this instead of having to worry about whether to indent them using the tab key or by pressing the space bar five times! I don't have to have a thesis statement at the end of my introductory paragraph. In fact, I don't even have to have and introductory paragraph! I can just jump right into it! I can use exclamation points as often as I like and use as many as I want at a time!!! And question marks: why use one when you can use three???

I don't have to worry about whether every single sentence I write supports, either directly or indirectly, my thesis statement! I can have random, ridiculous sentences that relate to nothing in the middle of a paragraph. Samuel Morse invented the telegraph. Writing is an art, not a science, no matter what you're writing about. I think (also a phrase I'm not supposed to use) more people would enjoy writing if it wasn't so structured all the time. Remember being children, when the best games were the ones you made up as you went along?

Now, just so we're clear, a word on proofreading and revising (my history teacher told us today not to start paragraphs this way): Proofreading is almost always good. In fact, I'm having a hard time coming up with an example of when proofreading isn't good, so I'm just going to go ahead and say it's always good. Proofreading is going back over what you've written and making sure you haven't made any embarrassing mistakes that will make others question your command of the English language. For example, I just tried to spell "embarrassing" with only one "r," but Firefox gently informed me that it was incorrect with a little red line underneath it (which I personally prefer to Word's Auto-Correct assaults). I'm glad I went back and changed the spelling because a mistake like that would have been very embarassing indeed.

Revising is like proofreading for structure. This is also good because it helps you make sure that whatever piece of writing you're working on is as good as it can be. That doesn't mean making drastic stylistic changes to fit some arbitrary style of formatting. It means moving words, sentences, and even paragraphs around so that your audience may understand you more clearly. I, admittedly, don't do much of this on my blog as I tend to simply spew whatever is in my mind into the little post box in whatever order it happens to come out.

I'm the editor of my school newspaper. I may have already told you that, but I'm too lazy to go back and check. If I have, I apologize, I am not telling you again to toot my own horn, I promise I am getting ready to make a point. Here comes my point: Editing is good. I would sooner have many horrible things happen to me than let some of the stories I've seen go to press unedited. I even have to correct according to style a lot of times, because it is a newspaper and it is better if everything is consistent, writing-wise, throughout. Still, I prefer writing and editing for the newspaper to even thinking about this MLA-style essay. Maybe it's because the AP (Associated Press) style is far more practical, IMHO (ooh, an acronym, those are super-extra not allowed), than MLA. But that could just be me. I wonder if the world would explode if we just let everybody write his graduation project paper how he pleases, without having to worry about whether his in-text citations are formatted properly.

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