U of T Essay Writing: Do They Really Ask You to Get Rid of What You Know?
Our Student Contributors
Let me just put this out there: I love writing. Of course, my being a blogger and all, I know that it’s probably no earth-shattering revelation, but what some people may be shocked to learn is that when I say I love writing, I’m including the often-maligned art of essay writing.
And I really do see essay writing as an art – an art that I, perhaps somewhat narcissistically, believed I had mastered until that fateful class one week into my first year at U of T, where us students were unexpectedly told to throw everything we thought we knew about the process out the window. Bold move, Professor. Bold move.
Immediately following the revelation, there was this terribly palpable sense of anxiety permeating the room; a dead silence brought on by the sound of our prior education helplessly flushing down an imagined toilet, our yet-to-be-named-Professor’s hand still pressing down on the pearly white handle as they muttered “good riddance”.
Yikes, that was vivid, but it was exactly how most of us felt. Like everything we’d previously learned had now become utterly useless, and consequently, that any potential for success had suddenly been reduced to diddlysquat. On one hand, it could be seen as a gross overreaction, but on the other, there’s definitely something alarming about being told you’ll have to start learning from the ground up all over again.
But really, that’s not what you’re being asked to do, despite the fact it might sound that way. It’s more or less a way to get students to open their minds to new ways of communicating by ensuring they don’t cling onto familiar rules and strategies from the past – nothing more, nothing less.
Sure, it seems a little harsh, but that’s exactly what many students need; a quick jolt to jumpstart their engines and prepare them for what’s ahead. The thing about essay writing is that there’s always something new to learn, a word, phrase, or paragraph to fix, or an idea to be refined.
GERRC paragraphs, the 5-paragraph essay structure – they all condition students to think that as long as they follow specific templates, there’s nothing more to do. That being said, the concepts you’ve learned in high school are far from worthless notions; they do emphasize the importance of structure, and one thing that’ll hit you hard and fast in university is the idea that how you express yourself is just as important as what you’re saying (if not more so).
However, writing is generally fluid and free, an extension of your thoughts rather than a short glimpse into them. What you’re being taught is how to hone your voice, not limit or cloud it. And there are many, many ways of doing so; it does no good to hold on to the methods of past when it turns out they’re, in fact, more restrictive than what you’ll learn to do at U of T.
While it’s true that, at least based on my own experiences, U of T did suggest “throwing away” everything we know about essay writing, what follows is the natural evolution of everything that came before. Ultimately, I wouldn’t be here, speaking to you from behind the screen of whatever it is you’re reading this from, without that advice. As one who was intensely distraught following that pipe bomb of an announcement, I can say without hesitation that I’m a better writer for it, and that’s bound to happen for you as well.