A radical rethinking of the teaching of writing

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Readability, step by step

Skill acquisition proceeds stepwise. Each new skill is introduced. Students  practice it until mastered, then practice it in combination with the  preceding week’s   skills. New skills  are introduced one at a time, from easy to harder to hardest. Each new habit is practiced until mastered. Students can do all […]

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Can students be taught to be interesting writers?

Many people think not, but I know that they can. First I’ll answer the usual objections, then give the evidence. Being interesting is a talent. Not true. It can be trained for. Being interesting has to do with the subject. Some subjects are boring and some are interesting, so if […]

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“Writing from the Body” — a book outline, 15 chapters

1. Introduction. If you are a writer of any sort–college student, business person, doctor, lawyer–I want to make you care about something you may never have cared about before—things. When I lived in Miami, I used to drive out to Key Biscayne on a causeway, park and walk out to […]

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Lost in an essay vs. lost in a parking garage.

This winter has been very snowy, which has required me to park my Honda in the garage near by my office. It’s a four story garage—or five if you count the roof. It’s a dull gray cement color, with minimal signage. All the floors look the same, so you know […]

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Recall active verbs to mind: I

If –ion words are the enemy of clear writing,  then what? As we understand sentences more, we want to make them active. But just wanting to be more active doesn’t always do the trick, because our sentences often are based on “is” or “are.” [Like this one using are based.] […]

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Stones, metals, chairs, tables

“An abstract style is always bad. Your sentences should be full of stones, metals, chairs, tables, animals, men, and women.” Alain (Quoted in Rudolf Flesch, The Art of Readable Writing p 83.) == Usually the arrangement of details in writing is considered an afterthought. The average pedantic professor thinks that […]

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Video interview with Barbara Oakley

Barbara and I talked about the problems student writers have with they get too abstract. This is a Coursera video and it will require you to sign in, but it’s free. She interviews me in Week 4 (Renaissance Learning). Trying turning the captions on when you watch. Here’s the link.

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“Abstractitis” comes from -ion infection

Abstractitis is a writing disease and a threat to clarity. It’s related to another illness called Abstract-orrhea. This sickness produces an endless and thick flow of abstractions. In extreme cases, these two diseases can kill the meaning of a passage. Abstractitis was first identified by Henry Fowler in his Modern […]

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The grammar of vividness

I don’t have research to prove it, but I’d bet that many English teachers do not understand how vividness of imagery promotes intellectual clarity. Vivid writing is sensual writing—the kind that gives you an orange on a blue plate in Sunday morning sunshine. I think most teachers believe vivid images […]

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Atlantic Monthly piece on writing concretely

Here’s my introduction in the Atlantic to the whys and wherefores of teaching students to write concretely.  Read the whole thing for the detailed argument. The short summary is this, however. Abstract ideas are always related to objects fundamentally. You can understand this just by thinking about it, but brain […]

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John G. Maguire
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Lowell MA 01852
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