Rethinking College Writing Instruction


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


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, where you can radically simplify and intensify writing instruction.  You will learn to teach 10 skills with an intense focus. Readability and vividness are the only goal of this course. Every activity contributes to the final skill, which is the fast production of clear, short essays.

The skills covered in the 82-page College Writing Guide are unusual. Half will be familiar to most teachers, the other half not. There’s a set of writing behaviors that produces vivid and interesting prose; that’s what we focus on. The skills are learned in a unique sequence that starts with the easy but ends with the quite complex.   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 own writing may improve. Get the Guide now.

I and colleagues using this method make students focus on the sentence, but not in a remedial way–in a really exciting way. The method has been tested in the Boston area for more than 20 years.

It’s not boring, but engaging, because the purpose of every lesson is obvious. By the end of the course, having had lots of practice, students can produce readable and interesting essays at will. If you are skeptical, check the student samples tab to see what remarkably clear writing they produce.

Readable Writing demystifies writing. It strips away what’s not crucial and shows students how to get their ideas across clearly. 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. One is comp teacher Kim Holcomb of Ohio University,  who reports she loves this method. Another fan is Mary Fiero, an ESOL instructor at Hunter College (NYC); she changed her methods using this Guide, and reports “real improvement” in her students’ and in her own writing. 

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. The Essays tab, above, links to articles I’ve published in the Atlantic Monthly and at the Martin Center.  The method is highly adaptable and teachers who have bought it for their freshman comp courses pick and choose from among  its exercises.

Readability has proven a far better focus for students learning to write than the standard syllabi that hit 19 topics but  never let students master any one skill.

Here are six sample pages from the Guide. Click here for a bullet-point summary. Here’s the list of colleges using the book.

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