Less Is More in College Students' Writing: Extremely Short Stories as a Bridge to Academic Writing

Less Is More in College Students' Writing: Extremely Short Stories as a Bridge to Academic Writing

Celine Kamhieh (American University of Madaba, Jordan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2265-3.ch003

Abstract

This chapter reports on a study of the content of extremely short stories (ESS) written by freshman undergraduates in the language and literature department of a university in Jordan. It looks at the origins and benefits of extremely short stories, with particular reference to the extensive work of Peter Hassall who established the first Extremely Short Story Competition (ESSC) for non-native English speakers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This study is the first in an Arab country outside the UAE. Students' most popular themes included problems and problem-solving, travel, student life, family, and friends. Stories contained features of academic writing as well as many literary elements, including character, plot, metaphor, simile, and more. The chapter concludes by suggesting that the ESS can successfully serve as a bridge to academic writing and bring writer and reader closer together by generating interesting texts for audiences other than the instructors.
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Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences … This requires not that the writer make all sentences short … but that every word tell. (Strunk & White, 2000, p.10)

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Introduction

“Academic English is no one’s mother tongue” (Huang, 2013, p.17), yet academic life revolves around writing in English, even in many non-English speaking countries. When studying for a degree in English language and literature, students must be able to write well-organized academic essays, usually in response to long, complex, literary texts. These are often seen as a form of “specially-designed torture” (Whitaker, 2009, p.2) by native and non-native English speakers alike. Instructors who wade through such long essays with multiple, repeated errors will testify that quantity is no guarantee of quality and that demanding such huge leaps from high-school writing to full-blown academic writing often results in plagiarism. This chapter suggests one way to bridge that divide by placing quality before quantity, asking for less in one area to achieve more in others. Having college freshmen write 50-word stories about topics of their own choosing early in their studies, enables them to establish a stronger foundation in writing, reduce errors, gain confidence and motivation, and find their voice and agency as writers. These short, pithy stories can then be successfully used to introduce freshmen to the key features of narrative and other literary elements which are essential in the discipline of language and literature.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Endophora: Refers to both anaphora and cataphora as a form of reference.

Pseudonym: A name other than one’s own, often used by authors who wish to remain unidentified.

Anaphora: Referring back to a referent earlier in the text.

Exophoric Reference: Refers to something that is external to the text.

Conceptual Thinking: Thinking at an abstract level to gain new insights and identify possibilities.

Corpus: Written and spoken language that is collected and stored (on computers) for use in the study of language and compilation of dictionaries.

Reiterate: Repeat a word or phrase, usually to explain it more fully.

Vigorous Writing: Writing that is concise.

Cataphora: Referring forward to a referent in a text.

Concise: Giving information in a precise yet informative manner.

Fossilized Errors: Errors in language which have become a habit through repeated usage, and so are difficult to change.

Cohesion: Forming a whole unit; in language, forming a text.

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