Last semester, I took a grammar course because I thought that it would help me become a better editor of my text. As an English major, I had been criticized over and over again about the grammatical mistakes in my writing. I noticed that most of my first year writing professors seemed to care that I perfect my writing rather than the content of it. Once I took the grammar class, however, I learned that grammar is a very large concept that cannot be perfected through one course, or even many courses. There are two types of grammar: prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptive grammar requires speakers/writers to follow a set of established rules, while descriptive grammar allows speakers/writers to use grammar the way it is actually used in everyday speech.
While reading Harris’ Error, Shaughnessy’s method of revision merely for proofreading reminded me of the prescriptive approach (81). For her, following the rules to fix grammatical mistakes seemed more important than to revise for clarity and creativity. Sometimes, a person can write an essay without any error, yet his/her work goes unnoticed because it is either too complicated or it does not provide an interesting argument which grasps the readers. Therefore, while prescriptivism might seem like the “right” way of speaking/writing, it can also work as a downfall to intellectual writing.
Harris, then, mentions how correctness does not define a text; rather, for a piece to be interesting, “students must learn not simply avoid mistakes but how to write in ways that engage the attention of educated readers” (83). Contrary to the prescriptive method, Harris and many other scholars such as Kiniry and Rose, promote the descriptive method. This method does not completely void grammatical correctness, but rather it encourages writers to express what they mean, without the constant worry of being “wrong.” In other words, grammatical correctness plays a role in making the piece credible, but it does not make the piece itself. For something to be noteworthy, it must be written both correctly and persuasively. A writer’s job is to engage the audience. This is mainly done by developing a strong point, followed by establishing credibility through effective writing.
After taking my grammar class, I learned that my freshman writing teachers were not wrong in picking out all my grammatical error, for they always did give me credit for the thought I had put into my essays. The reason why some of my friends, who were using big words and “fancy” punctuation, were receiving low grades was because behind all the well-articulated grammar, their writing was missing content. On other hand, teachers would also encourage us to peer review, through which we found out that many of our fellow classmates had well-crafted ideas, yet still received low grades because their poor grammar interfered with these ideas. Therefore, it was necessary for students to reach a medium, through which they can use grammar well enough to express their thoughts creatively. In this sense, if Shaughnessy had broadened her concept of editing not to just proofreading, but also content correction, her theory would have received less criticism. As a scholar, it is important to recognize that grammar is just part of the picture, not the picture itself.