Inquiry Four is a letter I decided to write to my younger sister who is still in high school. I wanted to use Inquiry 4 to give her advice about the kinds of skills she will need to have or develop for college composition. I mainly focused on one skill that I believe I have learned this semester and think has really benefited me. I encourage my sister to learn the skill of questioning a text, and try to prove to her through my process of writing Inquiry’s One, Two, and Three how that skill has helped me and why I think it is important.
Through writing Inquiry Four I also found myself realizing other skills that I have developed this semester. For each Inquiry I wrote, I include the skills I believe writing it taught me and how they contribute to a well-written paper. In conclusion, I want my sister and any other reader to understand that I believe I have learned and developed many new skills this semester that will help me throughout my academic and professional careers.
To my younger sister,
It is hard to give you a single piece of advice when beginning to prepare for college composition. There are several skills I have learned are necessary to possess to write a focused, organized and well written paper. But I do not believe you can study these skills, or force them upon yourself. They come with practice, and are developed with patience and revision. With this being said, I can tell you what one of the most valuable skills I believe I have learned from this semester is and how it has helped me. Throughout the duration of this semester, it is undeniable that I have grown as both a writer and a reader and gained valuable skills that will help me long after I complete English 112.
The most valuable skill I have learned this semester, and the skill I encourage you to start practicing now, may seem humorously simply but this skill allows for so much more than it may appear. By the end of this letter I hope I can prove to you how this skill has allowed me to grow as a writer and reader and how it has helped me succeed. Put simply, I believe I have developed the ability to form questions. Even to me this sounds simple. But this semester I have learned to closely read and analyze a text, and through this analysis I have learned to form questions and form my own opinions about the topic. This ability to form questions has changed the way I approach historical and cultural issues, helped me develop a better approach to research, and has allowed me to become a better student.
The process of writing the three inquiries I wrote this semester will help you understand how I came to the conclusion that the ability to ask questions has been the most beneficial skill I gained this semester. This is not to say I have not developed other skills that are crucial to becoming a better writer and reader. For example, I have become a much more organized writer and a more analytical reader. Additionally, I believe my papers have become more focused. The focus of my papers can be attributed to better organization in the developmental stages of my papers and understanding the concept of audience to a deeper degree. I have learned through the semester how significantly a specific audience of a paper can shape and change the focus of the paper. When you combine organizing your work before writing a paper, having a focused paper, and understanding your audience you have a well-developed and thorough paper.
In class, before writing Inquiry One we did some exercises relating to close reading and text analysis. These are two skills crucial for developing the ability to read a text and form questions about it. Anyone can read a text, but I have gained the realization that a text is not supposed to give me all the answers, but rather help me conclude my own questions and opinions. This skill was developed through writing Inquiry One because we were asked to look closely at The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and ask questions about the text. Specifically, this inquiry was not asking for a summary of the text, but instead we were asked to analyze the text and think about how the text works to create meaning. Growing up, we are constantly asked to summarize texts and reiterate main plot points, but being able to ask yourself how a text creates meaning in your world or for a certain historical or cultural group requires more in-depth questioning.
In Inquiry One, I questioned whether Junior’s ability to grieve actually helps him succeed in achieving his goals. I concluded, “The theme of losing and death is an important part of Junior’s life, but this theme is also an important part of Junior’s self-discovery. By the end of the book, Junior realizes by experiencing the losses in his life that he has the ability to change the cycle of death and hopelessness on his reservation. Each of the losses that Junior goes through helps shed light on a new reason for him to remain hopeful and to strive for his dreams (3).” By requiring me to question the themes of the text and argue a certain viewpoint, Inquiry One helped me develop the ability to question and form my own opinions about a text. Being able to think critically about a text and analyze it is the first step in being able to ask questions.
Inquiry Two helped develop my ability to form questions by requiring me to focus on one question I had about a certain topic. Personally, I was interested in Native American boarding schools and focused my paper around the text Boarding School Seasons by Brenda Child. As I began to conduct research, my initial question of “what is a Native American boarding school?” quickly developed into a more in-depth exploration of the boarding schools. This research led me to ask bigger questions, and relate the research to myself and Native Americans in today’s society. In Inquiry Two, I included this information by stating, “Currently, a restorative project called the Boarding School Healing Project is working towards bringing attention to and healing the “intergenerational trauma” experienced by so many Native Americans. Other projects similar to the Boarding School Healing Project are currently working to help Native American communities overcome the negative impact that boarding schools left on them.” By allowing myself to develop my own questions on my topic and research, I was able to include more information in my paper that otherwise would have been left out.
The basis of research requires you to have a question you want answered, but I learned through my Inquiry Two that you should continue to ask questions while you research. By continuing to ask questions, I was able to more thoroughly research the entire topic, but led me to having a surplus of research. I was able to organize this research effectively through the use of a blog. I found the blog to be immensely helpful when both researching my topic and when I was ready to begin writing my paper. Through the process of writing Inquiry Two, I realized that to conduct thorough research one must continue to ask questions rather than only look for the answer to one. I also greatly improved at organizing research, thus being able to include the research in my paper in a more ordered and efficient way. Lastly, I found the process of writing a research paper much more enjoyable when I was constantly asking questions that I actually had interest in. By asking questions that I genuinely wanted answered, I found the research paper to be interesting and educational to write.
If I have not convinced you yet on how I believe asking questions is a valuable skill, I hope to convince you through the last Inquiry I did this semester. For Inquiry Three, we were required to research a topic in a group and use a different medium to relay the information. My group decided to research the Miami University mascot controversy and present our information in a Powerpoint Presentation. Deciding both what topic to do and what medium to use required us to question who our audience was and how the topic was relevant to that specific audience. Inquiry Three really helped me learn the importance of audience, as well as understand that the medium is a very important factor of a presentation. My group ended up having questions not covered in our research so we decided to poll Miami students about their opinions on the topic. The following image is a pie chart we constructed that shows Miami student answers to the question, “Do you believe both the Redskin and Red Hawk should represent Miami University?”
In addition to this question, we asked students three other questions and were able to collect the data, analyze it, and present in a clear and precise way to our audience. Inquiry Three was both a challenging and interesting project to take part in. It allowed me to continue to develop my question making ability and realize the importance of audience and medium.
In conclusion, I want you to start thinking about the skill of asking questions. I have become a reader who reads not to read, but to find questions I want answered. By asking questions about texts, I am motivated to do research and more in depth exploration of a topic. Through the process of writing Inquiry One, Two, and Three I have noticed that I approach historical and cultural issues in a different way as well. I believe the inquiry skills I have developed this semester help me approach historical and cultural issues in a unbiased and scholarly way, always looking deeper into the issue and asking questions. Although I am glad I have gained these skills, I think it would be beneficial for you to start practicing them now. Start questioning the texts you read and be inspired to do outside research so that when you get to college, you will be practicing these important skills rather than learning them. I am happy to say that I believe this semester has given me a good base for the rest of my academic career, but more importantly, it has given me skills that will help me for years down the road.