Features of African American English (AAE) narrative styles are used in college writing. These features may be employed not only in narrative assignments but also in argumentative papers and other genres. For example, African American writers, including college students, sometimes use styles known as circumlocution or topic association. These styles are characterized by implied rather than explicitly stated claims, topic connections, and transitions.
Stephanie Boone Mosher provides an example of a student paper that uses these organizational features of African American English in the article Ideology, Expectation, and Evaluation in the journal Pedagogy.
Implications for Grading your Writing
Your instructor might specify a particular organizational pattern for an assignment. If so, this pattern is most likely linear and includes explicit claims, connections, and transitions or chronological order. If your assignment has criteria about organization, ask questions to make sure you understand the descriptions of the grading criteria. For example, if staying “on-topic” is a criterion, ask how that will be determined. If the assignment asks for “focused” or “clear” organization, ask for specific examples and what makes them focused or clear, as well as for non-examples and what makes them unfocused or unclear.
After you learn what organizational styles the instructor expects, you can determine whether African American English organizational styles, such as topic association and circumlocution, align with these expectations. If African American English styles don’t align but you want to use them, gather the information you need to advocate for these organizational styles. Consider:
- How might topic association help you reach your intended audience? For example, topic association might help you relate to an audience who often makes their own arguments or tells their own stories without stating the obvious.
- How might topic association help you meet the assignment purpose? For example, topic association might help you achieve your purpose of encouraging your readers to think more deeply about an issue, because they will need to infer connections among topics as they read your work.
- How might topic association help you use your own voice and your own language? For example, topic association might be part of an individual writing voice that you would like to cultivate as you develop as a writer.
If your instructor penalizes or corrects your use of topic association, you can use the points above to explain how topic association helps you achieve specific writing goals. If purpose, audience, or voice are part of the grading criteria or included in a rubric on a specific assignment, you can make the case for how your organizational style helps you meet these criteria. You can expand on some of the considerations listed above to make this case. Here is an example using considerations of audience and purpose:
I understand that clear transitions are part of the rubric. At the same time, I wanted to use this organizational style, topic association, to relate to an audience who often makes arguments without stating the obvious, since attention to my audience was also part of the rubric. My goal is for the audience to infer connections among these topics, which is why I don’t state these connections explicitly.
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