February 1

Ramblin’ ‘Ritin’

The Kitchen Sink Approach to Writing

By Gary McCarty

I’ve read enough papers, first as a graduate assistant and later as a university communications instructor since 1995, to know the mistakes people make and the traps they fall into.

Today I’d like to focus on one of the most prevalent and treacherous of all pits into which students fall, the one I label the kitchen sink approach to writing. Let’s look at a real example of an assignment I’ve given countless times and read thirty times for each of those countless timesan essay on controversial television advertising.

Generally, students have little knowledge of this subject except for what they’ve seen on TV, and usually they just remember the Paris Hilton Bentley ad for Carl’ Jr. Therefore, like so many lemmings scurrying off the nearest cliff, they rush to Google and Wikipedia (neither of which is their best recourse, but I’m talking real life here) to do research. They end up with a slew of articles from which to fashion their essays.

However, since they usually don’t bother to formulate a thesis and pick supporting topics, they then rush headlong into writing their essays. Five or so pages later, they’ve regurgitated everything they’ve read, even if it’s not really pertinent, to create a usually rambling hodgepodge of information, statistics, observations, anecdotes and so on.

Now, and here comes the surprise and the revelation at the same time, when they get to writing the conclusion, they have finally figured out their thesis.  I often read in the very last paragraph or very last sentence a rather cogent statement such as, “Therefore, all television advertising should be reviewed by a ratings committee before being aired on TV, and anything deemed controversial should be rejected or restricted to late-hour airing,” or words to that effect.

What a relief to have figured out what you’re writing about finally! It’s really a shame that these students have to spend so much time writing just to figure out their thesis statement, which should be what they start with and reveal in their first paragraph.

Wouldn’t it be better to brainstorm the research findings and then fashion a thesis?  Of course it would!

However, students are so accustomed to the high school routine–cram as much information into as many pages as possible at the last minute–that they shortchange the writing process.

It’s time to wash the kitchen sink approach to writing down the drain and start afresh, ugly metaphor and all.

Next: Crafting thesis statements.

After a career in journalism that started in the 1970s, Gary McCarty is now semi-retired and facilitating university classes while writing and producing his Weblog, http://grammarsource.com.

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