A Supplementary Guide to Professor Simpson's College English Class (COMM1007)

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Course Outline
The Story of English
Essay Writing

As punishment for not attending classes, the professor forces Charles to eat a large linen handkerchief.

Welcome, Constant Reader

If you’re reading this page then you probably enrolled in my College English class at George Brown College. 

If you're not in my College English class, you probably landed here while Googling some related subject, such as "grammar," "essay writing," or "chicken art" (long story, I'll tell you later).

Either way, the point of College English is to show college students how to write effectively and academically, and even how to do both at the same time. 

The First Principle

In this class there is one over-riding principle to which we adhere: in order to write, you must first have something you want to say.

There is no magic formula. There is no quick and easy methodology. In order to write, you must have a functioning brain and an active interest in the world around you. You must be able to question things. Not just the big issues, but hundreds of thousands of smaller issues. We all have our philosophies, and some have to do with federal elections and some have to do with everyday objects and events. Who decided that blow driers were better than paper towels in public toilets─and is there any way of getting back at him? What idiot at Fox decided to cancel Firefly? And why did stores all across the country suddenly decide one day that we should get our change with the coins balanced precariously on top of our paper money?

Any topic is appropriate for an essay.

The Second Principle

A corollary of the first principle is this:  if you have something you want to say, you must make an honest effort to say it.

You've got an observation to share, a theory to promote, or a complaint about the way grocery clerks hand back your change. Unfortunately, your primary means of putting forth an argument has generally consisted of something like:  "! You are! You moron!"

This, as emotionally appealing as it may be, could not be considered an "essay" because it doesn't reflect a true effort on your part to argue against the moron's position. 

That means you now have a vested interest in capturing a reader's attention. Of explaining things in a way that is understandable to a majority of reasonable, commonly-educated people.

Which is why the age-old advice to "know your audience" still holds true. You write to your project superiors in one way, and to your team members in another way.  The better you know your audience, the better chance you have of articulating your arguments in concepts and terms that this  particular audience understands.

Audiences are wary of people who sound like they're "trying to be smart." Speaking clearly indicates respect. And showing respect to the opposition is also a good idea. As a general rule, people aren't convinced of the truthfulness of an opponent's argument while being yelled at and insulted by the opponent. Speaking clearly shows respect, and attracts respect in turn.

You're the one talking. Learn to be clear. 

Emotional Requirements:

Writing in a mature, rational, and most of all honest fashion requires control over your lower impulses. It's always fun to exchange clever and increasingly complex insults with a worthy opponent, but if you're serious about trying to actually communicate your ideas, then you have to be prepared to see the issue from other sides. An attack on your reasoning is not a personal attack, and sometimes it's even accurate.

But remember you're now open to analysis and counter-arguments. So try to answer any counter-arguments you can right in the essay. If anybody wants to lay siege to your theory, to scale the walls of your conceptual ramparts, they should do so only against a vigorous and well-fought defense.

Top illustration from Colleridge's Albatross: A Hypertext Essay on the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by David S. Miall, University of Alberta.