Friday, April 8, 2016


Writing, to most people, seems like an insurmountably impossible task (I’ll admit it feels like that sometimes to me, Mister on the Fourteenth Edit of His Novel). And it’s easy for me, a person who has been writing professionally for more than 20 years, to forget that. And in forgetting that, I’m failing my students.

Today, for example. I’m reading a piece at,  a piece I feel could model the 1,000- to 1,500-page research proposal my Foundations English 101 students do at Brigham Young University- Idaho. It’s a wonderful piece, well-researched and brimming with the pathos, ethos, and logos I look for in my students’ writing.

It’s also an impossible example for even the best students to replicate.

I’m shooting them – and me – in the foot even thinking it’s a good example to share.

But it’s a great example. Just not reproduceable at their level of writing experience.

Do I have to set the bar lower? No, I do not. But the examples I provide could certainly be more doable.

I mean, look at this piece. It’s a wonderful bit of researched journalism, and fits in nicely as a research proposal (though it doesn't offer a solution; no paper is perfect).

But for my novice writers, reproducing it is not doable. My students, most of them novice writers, do not have the time nor the experience to do this kind of writing. So in sharing it as an example, I'm doing them a disservice.

I use this – and many like it – as examples to my students. And the bar is set: Research a topic and find real people who are experiencing the problem you’re researching. Show how a solution you propose could help solve that problem and help those people.

That bar can be kept at that level but I can provide examples that are more doable to my students than Zoe Schlanger’s 4,700-word article, good as it is. I would be challenged to reproduce Schlanger’s article, and that’s after ten years as a newspaper journalist. I can’t throw out examples like that to my students and expect them to look at it and say, “Hey, that’s something I could do.” And maybe they could. After many years of experience. But not with a two –week turnaround for a basic English composition course.

So I’m off in search of “doable” examples.

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