Review – The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing by Michelle Tucker
In the children’s story The Wizard of Oz Dorothy, the main character, exclaims as she’s walking through woods that scare her, “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!” When our composition students show up on the first day of classes they often feel like exclaiming a 21st century version of Dorothy’s lament. Looking like deer that have been caught in the headlights of a writing class, they are unsure and overwhelmed by what they consider the sheer terror of having to actually “write”. It is incumbent upon us as composition teachers to have a “first-day of classes” primary goal of allaying our students’ fears about succeeding in a writing class. Part of our strategy to achieve this goal is providing our students with a textbook that logically guides them through their thinking and writing processes. The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing does just that – it offers a logical, comprehensive writing textbook that will remain on our student’s bookshelves rather than in the Aztec Bookshop’s “Book Buy- Back” bins.
In the preface of the sixth edition of The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing Axelrod and Cooper state
…our basic goals remain unchanged. From the beginning, we have tried to continue the classical tradition of teaching writing not only as a method of composing rhetorically effective prose but also a powerful heuristic for thinking creatively and critically. To the best insights from that tradition, we have with each edition added what we believed to be some promising developments in composition theory and research. In particular, we have tried to emphasize the idea that writing is both a social act and a way of knowing. We try to teach students that form emerges from context as well as content, that knowledge of writing comes not from analyzing genres alone but from participating in a community of writers and readers. Our principal aim is to demystify writing and authorize students as writers. To this end, we seek to teachstudents how to use the composing process as a means of seeing what they know as well as how they know it. We want students to learn to use writing to think critically and communicate effectively with others. Finally, we hope to inspire students with the desire to question their own certainties and provide them with strategies for doing so (vii).
Axelrod and Cooper have been successful with their goal; it is now up to us as instructors to utilize their textbook as a powerful heuristic for our success in teaching our students.
The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing is divided into six sections with a total of twenty-eight chapters and a handbook. Section One is entitled “Writing Activities” and presents nine assignments that our students may experience in our academic community as well as the local and global communities they will encounter when they leave academia. Each of the nine chapters include, in addition to the chapter topic, the following organizational components:
¨ Readings to compliment the topic explored in the chapter;
¨ Summary of the purpose and audience for the topic addressed;
¨ Basic features of the topic discussed;
¨ A Guide to Writing that includes tips for choosing, planning, drafting, critical reading, revising, editing and proofreading any writing assignments about the topic of the chapter;
¨ An example of an actual writer’s writing process as it applies to the chapter topic;
¨ Designing written work;
¨ Critical thinking activities to aid the student in reflecting and reviewing what they learned from the chapter.
Section Two explores heuristics available to the student and this part of the textbook is divided into two chapters. The first chapter provides strategies that include clustering, listing, outlining, cubing, dialoguing, dramatizing, journalizing, looping, questioning and quick drafting. The second chapter provides reading strategies that include annotating, outlining, paraphrasing, summarizing, synthesizing, contextualizing, exploring the significance of figurative language, patterns of opposition, reflecting on challenges to the writer’s beliefs and values, evaluating the logic of an argument, recognizing emotional manipulation and judging the writer’s credibility.
Section Three of The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing addresses writing strategies. Orienting statements, paragraphing, cohesive devices, connectives, headings and subheadings are explored as well as modes of presenting information. Those modes addressed include narrating, describing, defining, classifying, comparison and contrast, and arguing.
The fourth section of this textbook looks at research strategies ranging from field research to library and Internet research. Guidelines for using and acknowledging sources are provided and examples of the MLA and APA systems of documentation are covered. This section concludes with a sample student research paper.
Section Five is entitled “Writing for Assessment” and covers essay exams and writing portfolios. Tips are given for both topics that range from preparing to writing an essay exam and the purpose for and the assembly of a writing portfolio.
The last section of this textbook assists students with the design of written documents and oral presentations. It also includes information about working with others on individual and joint writing projects and concludes with remarks about students writing for their individual communities.
The handbook included at the end of the textbook is a thorough reference guide that covers grammar, word choice, punctuation, mechanics, sentence boundaries, effective sentences, ESL troublespots, sentence structure and frequently misused words. The handbook is designed to be a quick reference guide that allows students to quickly access answers to issues they may encounter during their writing process.
Flexible and comprehensive, The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing is one of the best how-to-write textbooks currently available and is applicable for college audiences as well as any writer who wants to sharpen their writing skills. It is a invaluable and resourceful textbook because it gives our students extensive support for their writing process, interesting readings for writing models and discussion, and, given the skyrocketing costs of college textbooks, its comprehensiveness means instructors don’t have to require their students to purchase more than one book! What I like best about this textbook is its careful attention to supporting how one writes with step-by-step explanations and examples. This care to detail is very useful for students as it guides them in the many types of nonfiction writing tasks, from research papers and essay exams to interviews and arguments, emphasizing a step-by-step process and offering strategies for critical thinking and reading. Unlike many textbooks that cater to the writing needs of students while they are immersed in the university’s academic environment, The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing provides a solid guide for not only their academic writing needs but also for the many types of writing that our students will become “immersed” in when they leave the halls of academia for the streets of the “real world”.
With this textbook to compliment and aid our classroom instruction, our students, when they leave our classroom, will no longer feel like deer caught in the glare of oncoming headlights. Instead of running scared through the woods of writing and shouting “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!” our students will have a thoroughly detailed reference book that allows them to exclaim “Reading and Thinking and Writing and Communicating, Yes!”