I purchased Professor Koll's Better Writing at the beginning of the summer because I am a college writing instructor, and that is what we teachers do over breaks. I was delighted to find several ideas that I could apply to my lessons this fall. One I used as my opening essay assignment and had better results than from any other first papers. However, this book is not written only with writing instructors in mind. In fact, anyone who writes for pleasure or work will find Professor Koll's book accessible and informative. He populates the lessons with clear examples and realistic situations, something that is welcome, and rare, in such books.
Travis Koll's "Better Writing: Beyond Periods and Commas" comes at a time when many in academia, teachers and students alike, are discussing the often exorbitant price for textbooks. Koll combats this situation by offering a slim text for a reasonable price, both of which are factors that enhance this text's viability as a text for adoption in any composition class, particularly beginning composition courses, and this was part of Koll's point in writing the book--he wanted to offer a book that was inexpensive, easy to read, and to the point. Ultimately, Better Writing is easily accessible and rife with pertinent information that will provide excellent direction for any beginning writer.
Koll writes: "The intention behind this book is a simple one: provide students and the general public with a straightforward and unpretentious guide to better writing. To that end, Better writing: Beyond Periods and Commas encourages novice writers to adopt a holistic and creative approach to composition rather than obsessing about rules and templates and lists of dos and don'ts. This theme of providing a straightforward approach to writing is sustained throughout, as the book is written in everyday language and adopts the second person voice in its attempts to be directly relatable to the reader by addressing him or her throughout. Koll's intent in being straightforward in tone and wording is to make the reading approachable to even novice students, and his message is that there is much more to writing than grammar and mechanics--hence the title--and this intent is established in his introductory section, not to be confused with the preface (he makes use of both) when he attempts to communicate to the reader what differences exist between students' understanding of what writing is and teachers' understanding of the same process. This disconnect between the ideas of the two populaces is exemplified in the introduction when Koll writes that students' expressing ideas such as "I hate writing," "Writing is a waste of time," and "I'm a terrible writer, and I always will be"--whether explicitly or in their failure to meet the needs, such as page requirements, of assignments--often is interpreted by instructors as students' saying "I hate discovering new things about myself and the world. I just don't care about anything but myself, my own life, and my new phone," and "Connecting with my fellow human beings is a waste of time, even though I spend hours each day texting friends and posting on social networking sites." Throughout, Koll then addresses the anxieties new writers often face, in part a result of the disconnect between teachers' interpretations of what they have said and what they want and students' interpretations of what they have heard and understood (or not understood, as the case may often be), and in doing so, addresses the true nature of writing and what it means to strive for improvement. He adds a caveat at the end of the introduction that is echoed throughout the text: "If you're a student, please remember that you should always write and complete your assignments according to your teacher's suggestions and requirements... so use the approaches and techniques discussed in this book only as a supplement to your teacher's lessons and instructions--never as a replacement for them."
One of the strongest points of Koll's text is the inclusion of a section in each chapter devoted to discussion questions, an in-class exercise, and an at-home assignment related to content of that particular chapter. This greatly increases the text's usability in a classroom setting, thus providing for group discussion and work, a key concept in modern composition courses. Furthermore, it creates a platform for practice, which as Koll indicates throughout, is what allows a writer to develop his or her skills. The combination of these characteristics makes "Better Writing" an excellent source for beginning writers, whether at the high school or college level, and the adoption of this text in any classroom would be a step in the right direction for instructors who want students to move beyond seeing writing as nothing but periods and commas.