Rethinking College Writing Instruction


"Readable writing is a great goal." --Peter Elbow

maguireWhy are so many college students such bad writers? Why can’t even college graduates produce a coherent sentence?

It must be the instruction, because somehow American students are not learning to write, despite the hard work of their teachers. Some different kind of instruction is needed.

It exists. It’s called the Readable Writing Method. Both teachers and students love it because it’s simple, yet it produces rapid improvement in student essays. With it, students can become good writers in a single semester, permanently.

Readable Writing is not just a nice idea, but a course of training that (1) pretty simple, and (2) pretty intense. It’s both a book and boot camp for writers. It starts with a skill anyone can do-writing with objects you can drop on your foot, and then the lessons get more complex. It’s fast-paced and the students feel a palpable sense of improvement.

Some topics I teach in the Readable Writing Guide are well-known, but many are unusual. Here’s my promise to teachers: If you lead students through eight weeks of readable writing exercises, they will never write incompetent or dull sentences again. And your own writing will probably improve.

These skill exercises are unique and fun for students. They reinforce writing behaviors that produce vivid and interesting prose.  We teach them in a unique sequence that starts with the easy but ends with the quite complex.  

I’ve tested Readable Writing in the Boston area for more than 20 years, so all the activities and assignments have been tested.  Thirty-two model student papers are included in the book.

Readable Writing entices students to love the active sentence.  By about eight to ten weeks, they can writing interesting essays at will.  If you are skeptical, check out the student samples tab.

Buying the book.

Hundreds of teachers have bought their own copies.  Some teachers use a few pages from it, others adopt it formally as a required textbook.  It’s now an assigned textbook at 15 colleges.   Kim Holcomb of Ohio University  reports she loves this method. Another fan is Mary Fiero, ESOL instructor at Hunter College (NYC). She changed her methods while using this Guide, and reports “real improvement” even in her own writing. A third fan is Amy Horst.  Amy is not a writing teacher at all, but teaches a “writing intensive” music history course; she likes the prepared sequence of lessons she can give students from the first week on.  A fourth fan is Susan Roberts at Boston College, using it in her freshman writing seminar.

To learn more, click around this site.  The Essays tab, above, links to my articles  in the Atlantic Monthly and at the Martin Center. The Video tab includes a 22-minute discussion of the Five Rules that are a cornerstone of my method.  

Readability training is different. It has proven a far better framework for students than the standard syllabus that hits 27 topics but none in depth.

If you have been a professional writer, reporter or editor and are now teaching writing, you’ll want this nuts-and-bolts book. It will click with everything you already know about writing.

Here are six sample pages from the Guide. Click here for a bullet-point summary. Here’s the list of colleges using the book.   You can buy a copy by clicking on the image of the book cover.  You can reach me via the contact form. The ISBN number is: 978-0-9970811-1-4.

Readable Writing Press
John G. Maguire
28 Sprague Ave
Chelmsford,MA 01824