Category Archives: 1957

Writing Is More than Structure (1957)

LaBrant, L. (1957). Writing is more than structure. English Journal, 46(5), 252–256, 293.

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Original article abstract:

That writing is not taught merely “by considering the subject-predicate nature of modem English, the rules for punctuation, the parts of speech, or the placement of modifiers” is the thesis of this paper. The author, a well-known figure in the teaching of English and a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, is concerned with the factors in the “full experience of translating ideas into the written word.” Miss LaBrant is now professor of English education at the University of Kansas City.

Quoting LaBrant:

We approach the process of writing as though it were merely the adding of one structural unit to another. We begin, for example, with the bare bones of the clause-the subject and predicate. We teach that these are imperative parts. We proceed to the paragraph and point out and experiment with its structure: it follows certain principles, contains certain pieces. And from the paragraph we proceed to the whole piece, presumably made up by combining paragraphs. Moving back to more intricate bits, we come to the various parts of speech, to the signs of structure which are punctuation marks-still working with structure. On such a program we often rest our case for the teaching of the written language….I would insist, however, that the full process of writing is much more complicated than any analysis of the grammar of its parts could show and that to deal with mechanics only—even though some of those mechanics are highly complicated—is inadequate. (p. 252)

The first great difference-and it is fundamental-between doing exercises on sentences or paragraphs and writing a whole piece is that the latter requires a larger purpose of the writer. (p. 253)

But I hope that I have hit upon enough of the important factors which go into writing to make it clear that it is not taught by considering the subject-predicate nature of modern English, the rules for punctuation, the parts of speech, or the placement of modifiers. Nor is writing taught when the formal outline with its A’s and B’s, its l’s, 2’s, and 3’s has been considered. Again let me repeat that these matters are not being discarded or condemned; but they are seen as mere factors in the larger process of writing the language. Writing remains the final, most difficult of the language arts….Knowing about writing and its parts does not bring it about, just as owning a blueprint does not give you a house….Despite this, there are today in the freshman classes of our nation’s colleges some hundreds and even thousands of freshmen who are having their first experience in selecting a subject and writing their ideas about it. They have outlined, parsed, and punctuated bits, have perhaps written paragraphs (parts of pieces), but they lack experience with the full production. Does the fact that writing is more than structure mean that we ignore the parts of composition and their makeup? I am sure it does not. (p. 256)

The end has all along been writing, but somewhere along the way we have thought to substitute mechanical plans and parts for the total. We have ceased to build the house and have contented ourselves with blueprints. Whatever the cost in time (and that is great), and whatever the effort, our students must be taught to write, to rewrite, to have the full experience of translating ideas into the written word. This is a deep and full experience, one to which each in his own way has a right. (p. 293)

Please see related:

Thomas, P.L. (2011, September). Revisiting LaBrant’s “Writing is more than structure” (English Journal, May 1957). English Journal, 101(1), 103-104.

Thomas, P.L. (2000, January). Blueprints or houses?—Looking back at Lou LaBrant and the writing debate. English Journal, 89(3), pp. 85-89.