This academic writing experience we expect of our students is as subject to crash and burn as any potential romantic relationship on our university campus. However, in this case at our university it is inexperienced hayseed cowboy who MEETS sophisticated debutante. The following is from my own long held convictions that topic sentences, who are first cousins to controlling ideas and supporting ideas, should remain in remedial courses for beginner students.
Let me introduce Mr. Controlling Idea, he has many virtues. His main job is to catch the reader’s imagination in the topic sentence with his singular purpose to entice them to read on. He wears a cowboy hat with complimentary boots, everything is in neutral colored rawhide. He wears a red kerchief around his neck, he has that “devil may care” look about him because he is invincible and young. However, if there are too many guys like him, too many Controlling Ideas, the paragraph falls apart.
He may have two or three brothers, depending on the paragraph formally named as Mr. Supporting Idea I and II. They help the reader to understand there is logical support or evidence for the control he maintains in his set paragraph or the corral. He rides on Transition Markers, good thoroughbred horses, to alert his reader which direction he is going. These horses names are called: Moreover, Nevertheless, In Fact, For Example, First and In Conclusion, just for example. Mr. Controlling Idea rarely backs up his horse but likes to go full speed ahead while letting his reading audience know there may be a gallop or a simple trot in the next paragraph or two.
One nemesis of Mr. Controlling Idea are the occasional encounters with Mr. Logical Fallacy. Actually, he and his cronies lurk everywhere and have no regard for the words they are surrounded by. Legions of Logical Fallacies abound and they care nothing for their dear readers, their sole mission is to lead astray. Cleverly concealed lies are their content but Mr. Controlling Idea and his brothers are able to discern who these negative forces of the essay paper are. Logical fallacy is NO match for a truthful controlling idea who maintains law and order.
That’s where Ms. In-text Citation makes her appearance. Even though she actually is a city slicker and can be quite provocative at times, she has some attraction for the man of the rodeo, Mr. Controlling Idea. Her expensive clothes are not practical and can show spots on them very easily. If she is of the APA formatting style, Ms. Citation doesn’t really want anyone to know whether she is a female or not, she prefers last name only. However, she DOES want everyone to know that she is wearing the latest fashion by having the most up-to-date publication. When she looks at the tired out Chicago style, she appears uppity. Also, she sees that footnotes of the Turabian devotees are so untidy. Ms. Citation doesn’t even try on MLA clothes, there is something so twentieth century about them. No, Ms. Citation comes from very highbrow types, just look at her parents in the “Works Cited” page.
Actually, her grandparents are called “Working Bibliography” who were from the farm and never take on their granddaughter’s airs, they work quietly minding their own business. The only way her Grandparents got to the top was a LOT of spade work, meaning they knew how to use Keywords to get their source material from the electronic research databases. Yes, Keywords are good family friends with the Bibliographies and Citation families. What Ms. In-text Citation doesn’t appreciate is that to make it into the essay in the first place, she has to be wanted by Mr. Controlling Idea. His Supporting Idea brothers have to want her in the family of their sentence as well.
So, what do we have in our university’s classroom with young, impressionable Kazakh students? We have those who do not know the basics of how to write in English, they’ve been grilled in high school on how to use correct GRAMMAR. This haranguing was probably done in steady Russian.
These beleagured students do not grasp the importance of what topic sentences with controlling and supporting ideas are all about. Unfortunately, these students are expected, according to the syllabus for their one and only writing and reading course, to know how to use the sophisticated reference work of APA formatting style to help buttress their arguments in any given essay. We only teach them two in the space of 16 weeks, discursive and problem and solution essays.
Some of our students are capable of this budding relationship between the simple mechanics of essay writing and using in-text citations. A happy marriage happens with good results if they have the grounding in Intensive or Provisional classes and in our Academic Reading and Writing courses are to fine-tune the referencing and researching fun.
Unfortunately, the two are not meeting each other, poor Mr. Controlling Idea and Ms. In-text Citation. This relationship takes time, writing takes time, writing requires re-writes. Alas, I didn’t even bring up the King of the Rodeo and that is His Honorable Thesis Statement. Stayed tuned for Part II.