How have I benefited from studying in our program? That’s an open ended question that begs some nostalgic reflection as well as understanding how various skills have changed over the course my studies. When I noticed that my personal and professional projects are completed more efficiently and it is much easier for me to pick out isolate points and arguments in my study efforts and professional projects, I decided to compare my earliest notebooks with my current ones. It might hold the answer to how I have benefited from studying English and Comparative Literature.
First, let me say that my decision to study English literature came about after completing some writing courses at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and participating for several years with a theatre company that writes and produces original plays. Comparing the rhetoric of these different genres is very interesting. Filmed and staged material depends upon visual cues and the audience’s relationship with actors. Narrative writing does not. In narratives a lot of material has to be provided for the reader to create a ‘scene.’
That is as far as I will go into the tremendously stimulating arena of literary analysis, comparison, and the creative process. For purposes of this discussion it is very helpful to focus on something they have in common, which is the need to paint a particular picture. It starts with asking ‘What do I want to say?’ or ‘What is this author saying, how is it being said?’, and ‘What does the reader need to know?’. In my professional life that question is extremely important. In my work I develop collateral for many different audiences and present it in different mediums. The ability to answer those key questions and use the information effectively is one way I have benefited dramatically from studying. Evaluating exactly how brings me back to comparing my old notebooks and new study and work techniques.
At the beginning of my degree I enrolled in a Study Skills seminar. Most students, like me, identified note taking and argumentation as their greatest challenge. Now, when reviewing my seminar notes and my note taking in various courses, I realize that using my three questions as guiding ideas are very important to successful outcomes in critical reading and writing arguments: what do I want to say in my own writing, (which, presumably, is the reason I am reading a particular text) what does the reader need to know, and what is this author saying and how are they saying it? When beginning this course it was almost impossible to read or write with those questions in mind. Today it is impossible to read or write without asking them. For me, the key to successful argumentation lies in asking and answering those simple questions.
I also noticed the relationship between successful argumentation and effective note taking. Outlining a text or article is not really effective note taking, though a few years ago I did not believe that. How do you take notes that will be useful at exam time several months from now and that will be helpful to building arguments as the academic year progresses? Is it possible to take effective notes without a reading objective, or guiding idea? Having a specific objective is about the only way for me to make each block of study time effective and productive. That is a nice, complete circle.
Over the years I worked incredibly hard at improving my arguments. For me improving my ability to analyze and articulate arguments could not be done with exercises used only in exams or when writing practice essays. It had to become part of how I approach study and now my professional work. The benefit has been cumulative and almost imperceptible. It is a concrete skill that I am very, very glad to have and one of the most tangible ways I have benefited from studying in our programme. There are many others, but for me, great benefits have come from answering those simple questions. It is harder than it looks. Just ask me several years later! If you are working out how to develop arguments try answering those open-ended questions: ‘What do I want to say and how will I say it?’, ‘What does the reader need to know?’, and ‘What is this author saying, and how is it being said?’. Argue happily – the benefits are endless.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.