Rethinking College Writing Instruction

Lost in an essay vs. lost in a parking garage.

This winter has been very snowy, which has required me to park my Honda in the garage near by my office. It’s a four story garage—or five if you count the roof. It’s a dull gray cement color, with minimal signage. All the floors look the same, so you know what that means—I often can’t find my car, even though I parked it only four hours earlier. It frosts me that I have to wander up and down the stairs and ramps trying to find my almost invisible dark blue-green sedan.

“This is so stupid,” I have said to myself two dozen times this year.

Then I changed tack. I started to memorize my location by creating verbal tags. Now, as I leave the car, I say aloud, perhaps, “Third floor, rear.” Or “Up on the roof.” If I’ve parked in a zone I hardly ever use, one I have no memory for, sometimes I stop just before leaving the floor. I stand at the stairwell, look back at the car, then look to the right at the sign in the well that says Floor 4. I might say “Fourth floor, lost no more,” and then I descend.

This has worked, as you can see it would.

In other words, when it comes to finding my way back to my car, I consciously construct a strong verbal trace that I can use for orientation.

This is quite like what a writer does when he or she uses tags the right way. (See the CWG, page 23.) If you the writer want the reader to find what you have pointed him toward in the forecast sentence, take the time to make strong and easy-to-remember tags. It’s no more fun being lost in a piece of writing than it is being lost in a parking garage.

John G. Maguire
307 Market Street, #306
Lowell MA 01852