Beyond Blah, Blah, and Blah

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At this point in the semester, my students have pretty much mastered the “blah, blah, and blah” argument.  What’s that? Well, my most recent assignment prompt asked students to use Wesley Yang’s “Paper Tigers” and two other readings from the semester to “determine the key factors necessary for personal development and success.” The “blah, blah, and blah” argument looks something like this: “Success is gained through personal development through different ties and connections, individualizing oneself from communities, and taking risks.”  I’m not complaining about this; for my course it’s a solid argument, one that offers clear points and a sense of the overall organization of the paper.  The problem is that it’s just a listing of points; the problem is that it’s the ghost of the five paragraph essay; the problem is that it’s blah. Some students have broken through into complexity.  Witness this example: “The core solution to obtaining personal development and success is to be an individual. Finding a sense of individuality must be achieved before all others steps; otherwise you would get lost in networking and entrap yourself in little loyalties. Once you find your sense of individuality, you may begin to properly network and avoid little loyalties; allowing you to form weak and strong ties to victoriously move up the ladder of personal development and success.”  The “blah”’s are still there: be an individual, avoid networking to escape little loyalties (this from Malcolm Gladwell’s “Small Change” and Rebekah Nathan’s “Community and Diversity”), and form weak and strong ties.  The difference is, of course, that this student has shown the relationship between the elements of the argument. That’s where we focused class tonight: moving beyond the blahs.  We took several list-type arguments and students revised them with a sense of the relationships between each connection to move the arguments towards greater complexity.  Often, those relationships were simply expressed as sequences (first do blah, then you can do blah, which will let you do blah)—a step in the right direction.  But other students were able to describe more complex relationships (blah is critical and first requires blah, though it can be complicated by blah if one isn’t careful about blah and blah). The students got it, I think.  Showing the relationships doesn’t just make the argument stronger.  It sets up fluid transitions, offers a map of the whole argument for the reader, and just makes the paper easier to write.  This is their last paper.  I’m hoping to see less blah and a whole lot more “ah ha!”
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.