Friday, April 5, 2013

Teaching Writing Style

I think student have difficulty in getting a sense of good writing style. Here is a definition of style from The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill:

Have you ever wondered what your instructors mean when they write “wordy” or “passive voice” or “awk” in the margins of your paper? Do you sometimes sense that your sentences could be stronger, clearer, shorter, or more effective? Do you often feel that you know what you mean but do not know how to say it? If you sometimes get feedback from your instructors that you need to “tighten your prose” or “look at your word choice,” you may need to work on your writing style—the way you put together a sentence or group of sentences.

Part of the problem with style is that it’s subjective. Different readers have different ideas about what constitutes good writing style, and so do different instructors and different academic departments. For example, passive voice is generally more acceptable in the sciences than in the humanities. You may have an instructor who keeps circling items in your paper and noting “word choice” or “awkward” and another who comments only on content. Worse yet, some of what readers identify as writing problems may technically be grammatically correct. A sentence can be wordy and still pass all the rules in the grammar handbooks. This fact may make it harder for you to see what’s wrong, and it may make you more likely to think that the instructor is picky or out to get you when you read her comments. In fact, the instructor probably just cares about your development as a writer. She wants you to see what she thinks interferes with your argument and learn to express your ideas more directly, elegantly, and persuasively.

Here is a link to the Writing Center’s electronic handout on the subject. It discusses wordiness, passive voice, nominalizations, weak verbs, and ostentatious erudition, all with helpful examples.

(ljs)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2013/04/teaching-writing-style.html

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