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Mixed Constructions: Skill in Context

A mixed construction is basically a sentence that has lost its way. Have you noticed, though, that sometimes you write more mixed constructions than at other times? When you write a letter to a friend, or a quick summary of what you learned in the chapter of a textbook, your writing is probably pretty clear; the parts go together well. However, when you are writing about something more complex, or when you are not sure what you want to say, or you are overly concerned with how you sound, the writing can quickly sound like nonsense. What can you do? You can't avoid writing that analysis of class in The Great Gatsby. You can't not write that application to UC Berkeley if you really want to go there. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to get the words out and headed in the right direction:

If you have to write about something really difficult, do whatever you can to improve your confidence. Try to find an angle on the topic that feels right and real. For example, if you do have to write about class in The Great Gatsby, think about what you know about class already (Starbucks coffee houses clientele vs. "art" coffee house clientele, or the atmosphere of different neighborhoods in your town). See if you can bring what you know into the picture, to help guide your thought as you tackle new material. You might also try freewriting, a no-pressure kind of writing, just to get some ideas down on paper. You may be surprised at how many ideas you have. And there is an added bonus to freewriting: the material you jot down may actually be useful somewhere along the line in the essay itself.

If you are worried about how you will be perceived by others, whether they will find you intelligent, or interesting enough on the page, the best thing you can do is stop thinking about the style and sound of the words and focus on the meaning you want to come through the words. The most beautiful poetry is often made from the simplest of words. Consider the honesty and the richness of this 7th grader's short paragraph:

I wish I were a cat. I could disappear all day and no one would question me. Disappearing is what cats are supposed to do.

Now, consider a paragraph from a freshman's essay for English 1A:

It was believed that students entering this esteemed institution would be elevated to a higher plateau in learning should they be educated by faculty educated themselves in modern "liberal" pedagogies. Thus, students would receive what academicians like to call a progressive democratic education.

The 7th grader's paragraph outshines the college freshman's paragraph because it is honest and provocative. All we hear in the freshman's writing is that he hopes that we will be impressed by his command of English. This writer would be much more present to the reader by saying what he means directly and simply.

There are times, however, when complex ideas demand complex terminology or skill with modifiers to add subtle shading to your thought. Experimentation will help you develop your voice, so don't be afraid to try new things. Try to add information to your sentences through phrases and adjectives or adverbs, or use an analogy now and then. Just be sure to revise and proofread very carefully before handing in the final draft.



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