How I Teach English Composition

I teach English composition like a class on informal logic.  You may wonder, "What is the difference between formal logic and informal logic?"  Formal logic mostly has to do with mathematics (although it includes more), whereas informal logic is concerned with rational thought expressed in natural language.  But now the term "natural language" may need some explanation. Our colloquial, everyday language is natural, whereas our considered and refined academic language is not really natural, but is self-conscious, practiced, and refined.

Our everyday language is not a polished speech or essay, but of course we still expect it to make sense.  We expect it to be rational and understandable.  At the university we set our expectations for rational thought higher.  Just as we expect someone who is giving a speech to have the subject matter well thought out, we expect similar rigorous thought from an essay, where the writer has had considerable time beforehand to consider the subject matter.  Readers expect to be led through a series of steps and to arrive somewhere.  We also want to be led by the shortest route possible, because we get impatient if someone wastes our time.

In an academic essay we expect the writer to avoid logical fallacies, to choose words carefully, and to communicate clearly and concisely (most readers do not like to wade through an excess of unnecessary words).

By comparison, creative writing can be for meandering.  The destination is not so important as the journey.  Each kind of writing has its own purpose (sometimes those purposes overlap).  There are classes for writing fiction, poetry, journalism, film criticism, and so on.  Since these are all genres of writing they will have something in common, but they are also all different from one another, and different from academic writing, which is what English 101 will address.