Penn State University College of Education Writing Manual


by Rich Gibson

copyright 1994


Writing in Education and the Helping Professions
"Write Things, Not Words"

Writing, done well, is a path to joy. Finding a new approach, even giving a worn idea a fresh and vivid outfit, is a way to gift-wrap our surroundings and offer them up to others as a profound contribution. The right word or the best metaphor fashion a unique sense of wholeness that is difficult to duplicate.

Rules of writing are not limited to punctuation. Right now, for instance, it is less acceptable in formal writing to use "dude" in an urban setting than in reference to a type of ranch. As you write for classes across the curriculum, you necessarily learn the discourses of multiple disciplines--because you must learn to adapt your writing style in order to be understood.

There is contention in language and writing. Unorthodox computer hackers recreated the language (input, boot up, download, even hacker). Consider the insurgence of "What's up?" since the popularity of the film "Malcolm X", or even south Philly's "Yo!" The meanings of gay, nuke, queen, and drag changed quite a bit in the last decade.

In education and the helping professions, clear and thoughtful writing serves a variety of purposes: creating records (lesson plans or counseling portfolios), clarifying instructions (course syllabi), building the future (funding proposals!), and simply communicating your intent (as in instructions on visual aids). Every level of work in our profession is dramatically influenced by the ability to present ideas clearly. Most practically, good writing can make you employable.

You can write well. Your good writing will reflect your meticulous and unique effort to study your world and to find general applications that can be understood, and that will enlighten those who encounter your writing. In the words of one great teacher, Ken Macrorie, you will find ways to "write things, not...words."

Good writing is a process driven first by content, then by organization and style. We will focus, here, on the latter two. But your choice and grasp of content, coupled with the liberty to explore, will often generate everything else.

There are no inflexible rules for this process, no guidelines that are not susceptible to shifts in political realities, changes in your own ideas as you write, or the demands of authorities, legitimate or capricious.

This handbook was designed for the here and now. The most current references were used to answer some of your most basic writing questions. Chapter one deals with rules of thumb: When should or shouldn't I capitalize? What are split infinitives? What are some of the most common stylistic errors?

Chapter two provides a quick reference for punctuation: How do I use semi colons, dashes, commas and quotations? When is it appropriate to break the rules?

Chapter three concentrates on style: How do I put together sentences and paragraphs? How do I keep my tenses straight? What are some of the strategies effective writers use?

Chapter five explores the writing process: How do I get started? How do I organize my material? What tone should my writing take? Why should I bother with collaborative writing?

Chapter six deals with citation: What is the difference between endnotes and footnotes? How do I cite sources? Which bibliographic reference format is the most useful?

Chapter seven describes various politically correct pitfalls: What is libel? What constitutes slander? How do I know if I'm plagiarizing? What's all the hype about sexist language? How do I avoid it?

Chapter eight explores how to plan and develop different forms of writing: What is an essay exam? How do I prepare for it? What's the difference between a regular bibliography and an annotated bibliography? What are casenotes? What do I need to know before starting a research paper?

Chapter nine briefly discusses library resources: What are the various data bases at the library? How do I find out about them? If a book I need is already checked out, is there any way I can get my hands on it?

Good writing does not come easily, but with practice and diligence you can become a more effective composer of words. And good writing does not have to wait for its own inspiration. It is quite possible to write well whether you are describing the interior of a closet or the eruption of a volcano. But before you begin, you need to know the rules. This handbook should guide you through many of your writing experiences.

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