A radical rethinking of the teaching of writing



maguireIf you train them properly, today’s college students can learn to write in one semester of freshman comp. They can become good writers in one semester. All that’s needed is (1) a clear goal for teacher and student, and (2) the right set of distinct skills that can be learned, practiced until second nature, and combined. But getting that sequence of skills right—that’s a big rub. 

 In most college courses, readability is not the primary goal and so naturally it is never achieved, and as a result, millions of college graduates can’t write decent sentences. The Readable Writing Method, however, makes readability the top and only goal of the course. Every action and activity in the course contributes to the final skill: ease in writing completely interesting short essays.

The skills and the sequence in which we cover them are pretty unusual. About half my topics overlap the standard topics, but the other half do not, and the sequence in which we learn the skills is wholly unique. Some behaviors we teach as skills (like how and why to be vivid) may seem at first not teachable skills at all.

The first eight weeks are Sentence School and the last six weeks Essay School. Sentence School covers five skills that together produce readable prose in the classic plain style. And Essay School covers five organizing skills, which properly combined result in simple, hyper-clear essays. Sentence School focuses on the reader’s clarity of perception, Essay School on the reader’s clarity of movement through the paper.  

By the end of the course, the students have assimilated these separate skills into a single behavior: the production of good, interesting essays. And the essays are totally readable and clear.

Click on the Essays tab for two accounts of the method. One was published in the Atlantic Monthly, the other on the Pope Center web site. Click on the Student Samples tab to see how my students write. If you click on “Buy the College Writing Guide” to the left, you’ll get more details. (Clicking that button won’t complete the transaction; it will just take you to a page where the buy button is.) This Readable Writing method is efficient and governed by a single goal: that’s why it works. 

John G. Maguire
28 Sprague Avenue
Chelmsford MA 01824