I’ll admit it, when I first entered college, I considered myself a superb writer. Throughout my high school career, English and History were two of my favorite subjects besides science. I absolutely loved writing essays, especially research papers, and rarely encountered any severe criticism on my written work. Before entering college I had never really received a grade lower than an A-, or maybe the occasional B+, in classes that were focused on critical reading or writing comprehension. In fact, I was so infatuated with writing that I considered majoring in journalism for a decent period of time, before switching over to the business school. So when I entered Professor Leither’s Critical Thinking and Writing class (Food, Self, and Culture), I was absolutely mortified, and a little bit offended, when I received a D- on my first individual essay.
Confused, frustrated, and drowning in a sense of hopelessness, I felt as if my world had been flipped upside down – I am not exaggerating. I tried my hardest to improve my work for the final essay that quarter, but reflecting on my previous work now, I still held back and did not fully understand the significance behind the trifecta and slant concepts. The next essay I received a C+. Better, but definitely not at all acceptable by my standards. To give you an idea of my writing back then, here is the first paragraph of my first essay I submitted fall quarter:
Slanted Door: The Rise of Modern, Local Vietnamese Cuisine
What do you envision when someone asks you to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant? According to college students attending Santa Clara University, there are countless things that come to mind, but most responses were remarkably similar. Students described a physical Vietnamese restaurant as informal, relaxed, and dirty with fast seating, quick but not necessarily friendly service, and pre-assembled food. Dishes were labeled as inexpensive and simple; most students had sampled pho, spring rolls, or at least an entrée that contained rice or noodles. Other responses touched upon how Vietnamese restaurants are extremely traditional, sometimes intimidating, and culturally individual (as in hard to copy or Americanize). Based on this evidence, Vietnamese cuisine can be seen as an ‘Asian fast food’ by the public. These small establishments are not considered high end, and the food is made to be quick and based on traditional recipes.
Let’s start off with the title. It’s okay, but as a reader does it really interest you? No. I feel a little ashamed reading this paragraph now; it is truly one note, and does not grab my attention at all. Now let’s compare this to my most recently submitted final paper’s introduction.
**THE NEW NEWS: Violence, Sensationalism, & Exaggeration**
ARSON? I was suddenly distracted from my afternoon treadmill run by the television playing directly above my head. LOOTING? GUNFIRE? I watched in horror as a young African American boy threw a brick against a passing police car, his face contorted with rage. The live footage was repeated over and over again. The scene then flipped to a flood of men and women breaking into a liquor store, and again to what appeared to be a group of gang members jumping on top of a car, shouting at frantic civilians. I slowed to a jog, my feet dragging one behind the other. My eyes were glued to the television, darting back and forth. The headlines flashing across the screen read “BALTIMORE RIOTS.”
Much more interesting! My title is considerably better, and definitely more intriguing to a potential reader. I experimented with capitalizing words throughout this particular narrative, as well as news headlines spread out throughout my paper. The addition of images also helps further the impact on my readers, as well as get my point across.
I think the biggest thing that I struggled with fall quarter was properly forming and refining my slant and trifecta. I had a lot of trouble understanding that a good essay does not mean just good research. In high school, I prided myself in being able to find every single little detail on the topic I was covering, whether it was World War II or Coco Chanel. To make a paper even worth reading, one needs use their own individual voice, and really focus in on a single, detailed topic. When we initially went over what a trifecta was together in class, I felt completely lost. Having the third paragraph contain a slant felt extremely foreign. In fact, I had never even thought of placing any kind of opposition in my essays, since I usually wrote my thesis within the first paragraph, sometimes even the first sentence of my papers. I felt like Professor Leither had led me into a dark maze, and there was no way out.
The following is a comparison of two essay slants, one from my first paper fall quarter, and one from my first paper this quarter.
Slant 1: From a hole in the wall located in one of San Francisco’s most dangerous neighborhoods to California’s top grossing eatery, Charles Phan’s restaurant the Slanted Door proves traditional Vietnamese cuisine can be uplifted into something delicious, local, and modern in contrast to its cheap, unrefined stereotype.
Slant 2: In reality, average low-income shoppers are actually missing out on the plethora of benefits from purchasing inexpensive, fresh fruits and vegetables from their neighborhood market.
My first slant in some respects should not be even considered a thesis. Reading this back now, it could have been considered a topic sentence for a research paper. I am missing many key elements in that single sentence. To start, it’s not that interesting; there is nothing that provokes a reader to continue with the paper. Secondly, while it is focused on a specific restaurant, my scope does not seem to pertain to a specific audience. My second slant has much more of an angle, is refined to a specific group of individuals, and has a much greater interest factor.
Other things that I have learned throughout the course are honestly just some basic fundamentals that have really improved my writing. For some reason I never properly learned how to cite text and images correctly during high school, or even write a correctly formatted works cited page. Reading over my first essay, I did not provide any in text or image citations throughout the entire paper. (No wonder I got a D-!) Additionally my works cited page was not correctly arranged; in fact I don’t even think I got that right until this last final paper. In fall quarter I lacked decent primary research (such as peer edited/reviewed studies or statistics from acceptable scholarly sources), and my secondary research was not smoothly woven throughout the essay in an interesting manner. One of the biggest things that I have learned these past months is that essays don’t have to be just about the facts – adding a narrative to one’s paper can be informative, and draw a reader in. (Just look at the beginning of this blog post!)
I ended up receiving a B as my final grade fall quarter; but to be honest what kept it that high was mainly because of homework. (I completely accept my essay grades from fall!) After receiving an A+ on my first essay this quarter, I had never felt more accomplished after finishing a piece of schoolwork. I spent so much time working on narrowing and refining my slant and body paragraphs, and even driving out to San Francisco to interview local farmer’s market vendors. I felt like all my hard work had paid off, and I was really beginning to understand what I was doing wrong in my previous work. Although I don’t know my grade for this quarter, I am optimistic that I will score better than I did last fall. In my opinion, I believe I have improved significantly as a writer, developed my voice, and learned writing techniques that I will continue to utilize throughout my time at Santa Clara. I have taken away so much these past two quarters, and would like to personally thank Professor Leither for shaping how I now approach and write an essay.