The Blue Book of Basic Writing is a textbook I developed for my basic writing classes. I first started working on it in the late 1980’s, when I had become more and more dissatisfied with basic writing textbooks on the market. The more I taught basic writing, the more I developed my own materials, until I had enough to begin building my own text.
The first two editions I worked with came out in manual format with plastic comb binding, and they went along with a commercial handbook. From then on I was able to get a book publisher to produce copies in a regular perfect-bound book format, and I had enough material that I no longer needed a handbook.
Since the fourth edition, Endeavor Books has been the publisher, and our arrangement has been a good one. I am able to use the material I want and in the sequence I want, so I am able to achieve good efficiency. Endeavor Books runs off a small number (fifty to a hundred) copies at a time, so if I have some emendations to make or if I want to go to a new edition, we can do that without great upheaval. Furthermore, since I choose not to receive royalties on textbook projects for my own students, Endeavor Books is able to supply my students with books that cost much less than comparable textbooks from larger commercial publishers.
Because I have been working on this project for so long and have made so many changes both major and minor, I have put more time, research, and energy into the Blue Bookthan I have into any other project, including my doctoral dissertation. I am currently in the sixth edition, and I have also brought to fruition a collateral text consisting entirely of supplemental exercises. This text, entitled Done by Friday (reference to Robinson Crusoe explained in the Preface), has increased my efficiency in the course even more than with the Blue Book alone.
Although not many people other than my own students have bought (and learned from) the Blue Book of Basic Writing, a few have. From time to time an adjunct instructor in one of the outreach centers will use the book for a course, and a few writers have acquired copies for reference. My explanations tend to be more discursive than the typical entries in a handbook, so a reader will get an actual discussion of a problem such as who versus whom or whether to use I or me in a two-part construction (“Nora went to the bank with Raquel and me”). I do believe that many writers who would like a brush-up on this or that point of usage could benefit from the discussions and examples, but of course not all people have the same level of interest in controlling the grammar, punctuation, and syntax of their sentences.
One significant difference between this book and a handbook is that the Blue Book of Basic Writing does not attempt to cover all topics or all points of usage. As is explained in the Preface, the book covers many of the most common problems in everyday writing. In order to discuss things like verb or pronoun use, however, I find it useful to lay out a few basic ideas about how sentences are put together. Therefore, Chapter 1 covers simple sentences, the main parts or core elements of a sentence, plus phrases and clauses. Chapter 2 (a short one), covers compound sentences. Chapter 3 covers complex sentences and the three kinds of dependent clauses. After that, we apply these terms and the ideas behind them to various problems in sentence composition—verb forms, pronoun forms, agreement, sentence fragments, comma splices and run-on sentences, main uses of the comma, main uses of the semicolon, minor punctuation, syntax, sentence combining, and prose style. After all of these chapters there is a general reference chapter on parts of speech, so that the active learner may read more sentences about Eileen, Bernice, and many others, all illustrating how the parts of speech work in sentences.
The general assumption is that studying any or all of these topics will help a person become a proficient writer. That is, the overall approach assumes application, and it assumes that people who study this material are going to write sentences in continuous discussions. In addition to these chapters, then, the book has chapters on writing short compositions and essays, with progressively more focused exercises.
This book and its companion workbook volume have been a useful and rewarding professional project for me for more than twenty years. And as I write in the Preface, I hope the Blue Book of Basic Writing helps make the student’s education enjoyable and worthwhile.
The Blue Book of Basic Writing, 6th Ed. is available on Amazon.