Commentary on Passage

Passage 1 appears to be a personal' piece because it refers to the writer's own experience as a child and is written as a narrative - it recounts what happened to her and describes the effects on herself as a child, in the way that you might have done in the previous activity. The writer's place is indicated in her use of I'. However, note that the use of I' might not tell us as much about the writer as we might think. It could stand for a fictional character, invented by the writer. Alternatively, the writer could have written about her own experience by using she', the third person. This indicates how the meaning of the use of I' is not a simple one, but rather it is always a construct. This passage is just about this writer's experience and her own feelings and thoughts about it. She does not make any attempt to see the events from the viewpoint of anyone else, even her parents or brother, and she does not draw on any other sources for her information. The writer is at the centre of this passage and her concern is with her own experience and feelings. She does not try to be objective and she does not draw on any 'evidence', even from her own experience, to back up her assessment that 'I think it made me less confident'. She does not need to, since she is only talking about her own experience for her own purpose. In this brief extract, she simply allows this statement to stand. The vocabulary is simple and direct, with no technical terms.

You will see, however, that, as well as recounting what happened, the writer does also make an attempt to evaluate the effects of the event on herself: 'I think it made me less confident'. Look out for this pattern, which is very common in academic writing, where a section of chronology writing, recounting what happened, or description writing is followed by a commentary. Writing as an adult about her childhood means that the writer has become a little distanced from her experience and can be a little more objective about it, which is what academic writing asks of you.

Is there any way in which this writer's experience might be useful if she were writing an assignment about the impact of parental separation on the children? Could it help her to make a statement such as the following?

I will argue that parental separation may lead to a loss of confidence in the child.

Even if she were able to write about herself in a university assignment (and this is possible, although it would not be usual), it is clear that this writer's own experience cannot justify the above assertion. She has not explained how she became less confident or discussed other ways in which the experience affected her. In this brief passage she has not analysed her statement, even for herself. If asked to explain further, she might try to 'give evidence' that would demonstrate how she became less confident, or to think about other ways in which the experience affected her. This might lead her to think more about her experience in ways that could help her to understand it further. However, as it stands, there is nothing in her story that could allow her to generalize from her story. She cannot deduce or generalize anything about the effects of parental separation on children just from her own experience. At the same time, however, it is possible that if this writer were to make a study of the family, for instance for a social studies course, she would bring her own experience to bear on her work and it would make her study a richer experience for her. Students often say that academic study illuminates and expands their previous understanding and helps them to make sense of things in their lives or in the world around them. Writing helps reinforce this kind of learning.

How, then, might Carol approach this academic essay about the effects on the child of parental separation? To reach a more objective and academic perspective she would have to find out about what other writers have said, which she could use as her secondary sources. If this were appropriate for her particular assignment, it might also be useful to talk to other people about their experience, but she would need to acknowledge how she had got this information. She might need to engage in some kind of field research to get information at first hand, although this would be more likely to take place at a later stage in a course. Carol's own experience as a child could be a motivator for tackling such an essay, as a way of relating her own experience to that of other people and of making more sense of it, but she would now have to think about the family in different ways. She might have to rethink what a family is in terms of the perspective of her field of study. As she gathered more information she might possibly rethink what she had experienced as a child. It is unlikely that this experience would get into her writing directly, although she might be so convinced about the validity of her personal experience and opinion about her family's split-up that she would look for studies to back it up and in doing this she would discover a range of different positions, opinions and frameworks. In all this work her own experience might give her more of a sense of engagement with the work of the assignment. However, in most conventional academic writing the reader would never know about the writer's personal situation, although there might be an opportunity to bring it up - and hear from others - in seminars or other group discussions.

In this academic work the writer might or might not use I'. But if she does, the I' will be a different character from the one who is telling the reader about her childhood story. It might, for example, introduce the assignment - In this essay I will . . .' or I interviewed . . .' - or evaluate material - It seems to me that these two studies contradict each other'. In this case, the ' I' character would represent the writer as university student writer, distanced from her material and reasonably objective.

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