A radical rethinking of the teaching of writing



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

But you need a clear and minimal set of goals so you can teach them only the skills that matter.  Getting the goals and the skills right–that’s the rub. 

The Readable Writing Method makes readability the top and only goal of the course. Every activity you assign contributes to the final skill: the writing of easy-to-read short essays.

The skills covered in my College Writing Guide are unusual. Half my topics overlap the standard stuff, but the other half do not, and we learn the skills in a unique sequence that starts with the laughably easy but ends with the quite complex.  We 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.

In the first eight weeks, we learn, practice and master five skills needed for clear sentences and paragraphs. Then we switch to essay construction. We learn five techniques that will organize any paper of any length on any topic. Sentence school covers clarity of perception for the reader. Essay school is about the reader’s clarity of movement through the paper.  

By the end of the course, with lots of practice, students have combined these ten separate skills into a single behavior: the production of good, interesting essays. And the essays are totally readable and clear. Don’t believe me? Check the student samples tab to see what “totally readable and clear” student writing means to me.

The Essays tab, above, links to articles on the method published in the Atlantic Monthly and on the Pope Center web site.  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.)

Bottom line summary: this new method is a radical simplification of freshman writing. I have chosen to teach a handful of crucial skills and left most of the minor details out. As a result, students never forget throughout the course that being clear for the reader is the top goal of all writers. Readability has proven a far better way to organize student understanding about writing than the standard diffuse and unfocused syllabus. Ask Kim Holcolmb.

Here are six sample pages from the 76-page book to give you a sense of how the focus on readability is introduced and built up from week to week in the course.  

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