Using Language

We use language all the time for many reasons. We use it to meet, greet, and persuade people; to ask and answer questions; to pose and solve problems; to argue, explain, explore, and discover; to assert, proclaim, profess, and defend; to express anger, frustration, doubt, and uncertainty; and to find friendship and declare love. In other words, we use language to conduct much of the business and pleasure of daily life.

When we think of the uses of language, we think primarily of speaking, not writing. We think about speaking first because we do it more often and because it is somehow easier, more available, less studied, more natural. Without being taught, and long before we went to school, we learned to speak. By the time we completed first or second grade, we had also learned both to read and to write. It was in school that we memorized spelling lists, learned to tell nouns from verbs, and diagrammed sentences—none of which we did when we learned to talk. It was in school that we also wrote stories, poems, themes, reports, and examinations, with varying degrees of success. In fact, many of our early associations with writing include school in one way or another.

The farther we advanced in school, the more we were required to write, and the more our writing was likely to be criticized and corrected. We probably wrote more often for grades than for sharing our ideas, for the fun of it, or just for ourselves. For many of us, writing became associated almost exclusively with what we did in school, which was quite different from what we did on weekends, on vacations, for ourselves, or to have a good time. But the degree to which you understand how writing works for you may be the degree to which you succeed in college. To be more specific, let me describe three generally distinctive uses to which you can put your writing: to communicate, to imagine, and to explore.

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