CO150 Course Overview back Return to Course Information for Students

Your purpose in CO150 is to become an effective writer. An effective writer has two main qualities. First, that writer has to have something to say--a message, a purpose. You already have that first quality. You are an intelligent person with unique experiences and a unique range of knowledge, which means that your perspective on the world is different from everyone else's. Therefore, you are capable of seeing things in the world that nobody else can; you are capable of generating ideas and solutions that no one else can conceive. Your ideas are unique and valuable. People need to hear them.

This is where the second quality comes in. An effective writer can't just have good ideas. An idea no one ever hears about is as valuable as a light bulb no one ever turns on. An effective writer must also help others understand his or her ideas through a set of words on a page. Your valuable ideas are most valuable when they are shared with and understood by an audience.

Writing to this audience is what complicates matters. The people who need to hear your ideas are also like you in that they also have unique experiences and outlooks, qualities that define them as individuals and as groups and make them different from you. The main thing that changes from audience to audience, because of these differences, is the way they use language. Since different people have different backgrounds and experiences, they have different ways of talking and writing about them, different terms to describe their environments, different kinds of dialect, slang, jargon, and different ways of putting words and sentences together. The differences in language, then, reflect these differences in experience. For instance, someone who's never seen a refrigerator can't understand the word "refrigerator" since there's nothing in his or her experience to relate the word to. If you want to tell that person about a refrigerator, you'll have to describe it using words and concepts he or she can understand, otherwise you're talking to a brick wall. This is why, in writing, it doesn't work to say, "Well, it makes sense to me." So what? It already makes sense to you. That's not the point. If the message to "Go ahead and attack" came through the radio on D-Day sounding like, "Go ahead and have a snack" it wouldn't matter what the sender of the message understood. We'd all be speaking German right now, anyway. Your ideas are only valuable when your audience understands them.

You use this concept in your own speech every day. Think of how you'd describe your day to yourself in a journal, in a letter to a friend, and in a conversation with your five-year-old cousin. The language you use in your journal would probably get a blank stare from your cousin, and if you used the same language you used with your cousin to talk to your friend, he'd probably recommend psychiatric help. To communicate with them effectively, you need to use their different languages. And to use the languages, you have to learn about them, and at least develop a hybrid of their language and yours that you can both understand. With your friend, you could say "We learned Keppler's Laws of Planetary Motion today" and perhaps even explain the formula. Your cousin doesn't understand mathematics and doesn't have the vocabulary to understand the statement you made to your friend. So you'd have to point out a planet in the sky and say "See that bright light? That's called a planet. Today I learned about how it moves." This becomes more difficult in writing, since you don't have your audience sitting there to say "Say that again? I didn't get it." Your audience has to understand your ideas without needing you there to interpret for them.

This is where CO150 comes in. This class is about learning to understand the language of your audience in order to communicate your ideas to them effectively in writing. This involves reflecting on your own language and what it means to you to be a "literate" person in a particular language; it involves learning how to analyze different uses of language to see what they reveal about your audience (how their language reveals what they value as a community and how they perceive reality); and it involves learning how to use that information to choose a focus, generate an organizational pattern, select developing information, and use a style that will allow your audience to fully understand your ideas. Success in CO150 will mean that, by the end of the class, you can convey your ideas clearly to any audience you choose.