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posted Aug 24, 2012, 2:22 PM by David Burkhart   [ updated Aug 24, 2012, 2:22 PM ]
Writers need lots of tools, including pen and paper, a computer and printer. However, an English handbook is often overlooked. Lacking the technological appeal of surfing every five minutes, it seems archaic. Writers who lived in the dark ages of the 50s and 60s can attest that every college freshman was required to buy a thin paperback issue that was worn to a shred by the time the senior year arrived. Freshmen are required to purchase a handbook, but they usually relegate it to a permanently unused status.

I've been amazed for years that elementary, middle school, and high school teachers require students to memorize writing and grammar rules from a textbook and never teach them how to use a handbook. I have freshmen from ages seventeen to sixty in my English class who have never heard of an English handbook.

Why don't all English teachers instruct their classes how to use an English handbook (now called a writing handbook)? Can this be part of the reason students are "turned-off" by writing? If they think they have to know everything (all rules about tense and punctuation) before they can write, they'll be overwhelmed with doubt before one word could be put on paper. It is important for writers, no matter how skilled or unskilled, to learn how to use an English guide.

Many writers own more than one. When I teach reading and writing across the curriculum for teacher re-certification, I point out to school teachers that they are requiring students to do something that professional writers never have to do. That is the single thing that gets to me. Think of this! A person who gets paid to write can use a reference book at any time during the process. I've been a writer for years and would never think of writing a piece without my English handbook with me. (Even if I don't use it.) Note: Sometimes I don't use it, and find out later, that I should have.

I have an English handbook with me wherever I write. There is one on my desk, one on my night stand, and one in my briefcase. I have one when I need it. During my classes, I have students use their handbooks even if I have to give them the page number to look up "active voice" or "comma splices." I can not believe how many hundreds of students I've taught that don't bother to use a handbook because their fifth grade teacher had them memorize punctuation and grammar and they've developed an inferiority complex because they can't remember every thing they learned about the English language.