A radical rethinking of the teaching of writing



maguireIf you train them properly, college students can learn to write well in one semester of freshman comp. Yes, you heard me right: good writers in one semester.

But you, the instructor, need a clear set of goals so you can train only the skills that matter.  Getting the goals clear and sticking with them–that can radically improve student learning. 

Welcome to the Readable Writing Method, a radical simplification of writing instruction.  This method makes readability the top and only goal of the course. Every activity contributes to the final skill: the writing of easy-to-read short essays.This has been thoroughly tested in colleges in the Boston area for more than 20 years.

The skills covered in the 82-page College Writing Guide are unusual. Half will be familiar to most teachers, the other half not. The skills are learned in a unique sequence that starts with the easy but ends with the quite complex.  I teach certain things–like how to be vivid–that most people assume cannot be taught at all. Here’s my promise: if you lead students through the eight weeks of readable writing exercises in this book, they will never  write incompetent or dull sentences again. And your writing will improve, too.

In the first eight weeks, we learn five skills needed for clear sentences and paragraphs. In week 9, we switch to essay construction and learn how to produce an organized paper.  Another way of putting it is this: we prevent students from attempting thesis-based papers for a long time. We make them focus on the sentence. After eight weeks of sentence training, then they learn to structure an essay. The thesis sentence comes in week 10.

And it’s not boring. Students find the sequence engaging. By the end of the course, having had lots of practice, students can produce readable and interesting essays at will. Skeptical? Check the student samples tab to see what “totally readable and clear” student writing means in this course.

If you are a curious teacher or parent, you’ll find more details around the site, including on the “Buy the College Writing Guide” page. (Clicking that button won’t complete the transaction; it will just take you to a page where the buy button is.) The Essays tab, above, links to articles I’ve published in the Atlantic Monthly and elsewhere.  I should stress that the method is highly adaptable and teachers who have bought it for their freshman comp courses pick and choose from among  its exercises.

Bottom line summary: Readable Writing demystifies the production of clear sentences and essays. It strips away what’s not crucial and allows student writers to concentrate on the central skill of being readable.  Hundreds of teachers have bought their own copy of the book to use as a resource, and about a dozen now assign it as a textbook/workbook in their courses. This is the only textbook that makes being clear for the reader its top goal. Readability has proven a far better way to organize student understanding about writing than the standard diffuse and unfocused syllabus. At least Kim Holcomb of Ohio University thinks so. 

Click here for six sample pages from the Guide.

And here an ESOL instructor at Hunter College (Manhattan) tells how she changed her methods, using this book, and became much more productive.

John G. Maguire
307 Market Street, #306
Lowell MA 01852