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by Kiara Tabb, CICS Ralph Ellison, Class of 2017
When I was an eighth grade student, I wrote an essay about Animal Farm by George Orwell. Upon receiving my essay, my teacher could not believe I wrote such a great paper about the Bolshevik Revolution and its allegorical connection to the novel. Given the way I spoke to my friends in class, my teacher assumed that I would not be able to craft a grammatically correct and well-structured essay. More often than not, people in my community are judged based on how we speak, dress, or present ourselves.
On January 9th, 2014, Dr. Dave Stovall of the University of Illinois at Chicago spoke to the Schuler Scholars of CICS Ralph Ellison about the differences between colloquial speech and academic writing. Colloquial is defined by oxforddictionary.com as, “used in ordinary or familiar conversation; not formal or literary.” He addressed this difference by beginning with an activity where he asked us to call out words we use while text messaging friends. Abbreviations like “wyd” (what are you doing?), “lmk” (let me know), and Dr. Stovall’s personal favorite “wybo” (What have you been on?) soon filled the board. He then asked, “Would someone who isn’t used to communicating with you understand what most of these mean?” Most of us Scholars responded with a simple “no” as we realized his point. Dr. Stovall was illustrating that you have to think of writing as another form of communication.
Within his message, he emphasized the importance of considering your audience. You have the abbreviations and slang for friends and the commas and semicolons for teachers and professors. Dr. Stovall really helped me reconsider how I think about academic writing. Much like my teacher, certain people may judge you based on your writing, so it is important to think about who will read your writing and write like a complete stranger is reading your work.
Another very important message Dr. Stovall left us with was that we, as students, have the power to think and create as opposed to being told whether or not we can think and create. Now, thinking and creating as a student is just as important to me as giving my personal best.
Dr. Dave Stovall was a captivating speaker and I loved every minute of his conversation with us. He helped us enjoy academic writing a little more than we did beforehand and helped us better distinguish the best time to use each form of communication. I know my takeaway point was that no matter where you come from, if you work hard you can—no, you WILL—succeed in life.