A Review of Bad Ideas About Writing, Edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe

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Chapter 4: Bad Ideas About Writing Techniques. Review by Bailey Poland

The chapter "Bad Ideas About Writing Techniques" was the shortest chapter in the book, with only three essays. However, the essays covered a great deal of ground that will likely be of interest to writing instructors. Although this chapter was far from comprehensive in its coverage of writing techniques, each section considered the constraints of a particular way of thinking about or teaching writing, and offered ways for instructors and students to approach these techniques with fresh eyes and new strategies.

Kristin Milligan, in "Formal Outlines Are Always Useful," explored and ultimately rejected the common requirement of creating formal outlines at the beginning of student writing projects. Although she acknowledged that, "It's good for writers to collect their thoughts before jumping into the physical process of writing," she also argued that the use of formal outlines as prewriting only works for a fraction of writers and may frustrate the rest (p. 163). As a solution, Milligan suggested teachers "encourage students…to explore multiple writing strategies" that fit a variety of writing and learning styles (p. 165). Milligan’s section is likely to be of particular interest to writing instructors who are themselves frustrated by the rote results of formal outline requirements, and offers some useful starting points for different ways to get students engaged in prewriting and revision.

Each essay considers the constraints of a particular way of thinking about or teaching writing, and offers ways for instructors and students to approach these techniques with fresh eyes and new strategies.

Similarly, Daniel V. Bommarito's section "Students Should Learn About the Logical Fallacies" contended that an over-emphasis on formal identification of logical fallacies can stifle student creativity and cut off dialogue (p. 168). Although the essay's exploration of history and the subjective nature of identifying fallacies were interesting, Bommarito's argument about invention was perhaps the most pertinent for writing instructors. Bommarito argued that merely training students to identify and reject logical fallacies does not prepare them to think inventively or in ways that will help them create and extend a conversation rather than look for ways to shut it down.

Continuing the focus on logic, Nancy Fox's essay "Logos Is Synonymous With Logic" challenged the "often simplistic, formulaic, and transactional use" of the concept (p. 174). Fox reminded readers that in its original use, "logos is grounded in audience and situation—not scientific deduction" ( p. 174). Fox's application of this shift in the use of logos was especially resonant when considering student writing: she pointed out that students are often asked to grapple with "situated arguments about issues for which there is no one, entailed, necessary answer," and a search for logos-as-logic in those scenarios does not serve them well (p. 175). A more capacious understanding of logos can assist students—and the rest of us—in analyzing arguments as a whole.

One notable feature of this chapter was its extreme brevity: with only three essays, it feels as if the idea of "techniques" has been somewhat shortchanged. There are a seemingly infinite number of writing techniques (and bad ideas about them) that could have been discussed, and yet they are not included in this chapter. Other essays throughout the book also seem as if they might have been a good fit for the techniques section—"Strong Writing and Writers Don't Need Revision," (chapter 2) "Citing Sources is a Basic Skill Learned Early On," (chapter 5) and essays on teaching plagiarism and teaching strategies could have easily fit into this chapter. Cross-linking essays within the open access text could have been one way to keep chapter sizes balanced and demonstrate the many interesting links between the categories created for the work as a whole.