How to Write an Interesting Complex Essay

Friday December 17, 2021

Invested, Interesting, Complex Writing
Learning to write for the academic world requires much more than simply putting
grammatically correct sentences on the page, one after the other. Professors Kristin
Dombek and Scott Herndon write in their teaching book, Critical Passages: Teaching
the Transition to College Composition, about the thinking transitions students must also
undergo as they move through their academic writing classes. They explain that:
Good essay writing arises out of a writers’ engaged, rigorous, and creative
exploration of a problem about which they do not yet know the answer. The
process of doing this kind of writing can and should be demanding, certainly;
along the way to being able to write new ideas about their problem
authoritatively, writers may feel the very opposite of authority. Learning how to
linger productively in uncertainty long enough to develop meaningful, complex
ideas is at the heart of learning to write well at an advanced level. Feeling stupid,
in other words, is part of the process. (16)
Another way to think about this is that on the way to writing about a problem with
authority, students must spend some time “not-knowing.” However, this isn’t easy, as
“not-knowing often feels to students too much like actually being stupid and confused”
(13). Being gentle with oneself and acknowledging that problem solving through writing
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takes time and practice, are two things students can do to alleviate some of this
discomfort.
Dombek and Herndon go on to note a number of other things about essay writing
for which students are often underprepared. One is that “the order of [ideas in their
essays] will be governed by the kinds of questioning and speculation being done” and
not a predetermined format. Content determines form and not the other way around.
Writers will also likely change their minds throughout the research process, “as an
earlier speculation may be discarded…when new evidence is introduced” or as the
writer’s own thinking changes through writing (16).
They also explain that as our ideas get more complex, so too will our sentences.
As Dombek and Herndon put it,
syntax and diction will change to accommodate the kind of thinking being done.
Sentences in which a writer is wondering about relationships between ideas in
tension with one another, for example, will tend to be longer, with more
dependent clauses, than sentences simply designed to declare a fact. (16)
As writers try on these new patterns they will likely experience a period of increased
error and/or frustration with their own prose. Invested, interesting, complex writing is a
craft that must be practiced and honed over time, and there will be bumps and bruises
along the way.


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