Choice vs. Error

Writing is a series of choices that carry consequences …

Conventionally understood, choices are conscious selections from a given set of conscious options. However, in this conventional view, choices are reduced to a conscious understanding, and as popular movies such as The Matrix point out, exactly how conscious are we of the difference between the red pill and the blue pill?

As writing teachers, we meet students during a period of transition, which means we have a responsibility not only to ground students in the University’s changing expectations for their written communication but also to expose them to new knowledge and practices for their continued writing improvement. We aim to help students distinguish between choices and “errors’ in their writing, and then to reduce the number of errors and increase a writer’s confidence in making deliberate choices in their written designs. For example, is that run-on sentence an “error” or is its awkward breathlessness intended for a particular effect?

Rhetoric is the study of misunderstandings and their remedies. –I.A. Richards

Language and writing function as “mirrors’ and “tools.’ As a mirror, language both reflects and refracts the identities, histories, and contexts of the user and use of language. As a tool, any language use responds to such identities, histories, and contexts and, through its use, shapes these things in some way.  Thus, what appears to be an “error’ may actually be a reflection of the context in which something is written or said. Alternatively, the “error’ may be a “choice’ or “tool” that intends to reshape that context in some way. This understanding of language is referred to as a social semiotic; that is, language both shapes (tools) and is shaped by (mirrors) the contexts of its use.  By learning these distinctions and establishing themselves as choice-makers, students can  apply this knowledge to contexts outside of writing classrooms.