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Readable Writing – Rethinking College Writing Instruction
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: students can become good writers in one semester.

But you, the instructor, need to train only the skills that matter.  Getting the goals clear 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 goals. Every activity contributes to the final skill, the fast production of clear, short essays.

The skills covered in the 126-page Readable Writing Guide are unusual. 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. Your own writing may 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.  

This method entices students to focus on the sentence. It builds systematically from the sentence up. By the end of the course after lots of practice students can produce readable and interesting essays at will. If you are skeptical, check out the student samples tab.

Readable Writing has been tested in the Boston area and elsewhere for more than 20 years. It demystifies writing. It strips away what’s not crucial. It shows shows students how easy it is to get their ideas across clearly.

Hundreds of teachers have bought their own copies. The method is highly adaptable. Some teachers use a few pages from it, others assign it as a mandatory workbook. It’s now an assigned textbook at 15 colleges.  One who assigns it is 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 while using this Guide, and reports “real improvement” even in her own writing. A third fan is Amy Horst. It’s especially useful for novice writing instructors because the book is structured as a course.

There are more details all around this site, especially on the “Buy the College Writing Guide” page. The Essays tab, above, links to my articles  in the Atlantic Monthly and at the Martin Center. The Video tab has interesting stuff.  

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.

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