Monday, May 13, 2013
Fifty percent of Bryan Garner’s students believe their writing has gotten worse since they started law school. To explore that belief further, Garner asked to see the previous writing of one honors English major who thought his writing had declined. The introduction to his moot-court brief contained a misplaced modifier, verbose and flowery writing, and a hyperbolic tone; Garner agreed that the brief’s low grade was warranted. But the student’s senior thesis was no better: its beginning was “empty and confused,” with "roundabout wording" and flawed sentence structure. Garner’s speculates that the paper's grader may have been “so jaded by rampant illiteracy” that “plausibly formed English sentences” were enough to summon an A.
What causes the incongruity between the students’ confidence and their actual performance? Garner explained in the May Student Lawyer that many students’ writing has been so overpraised that they’ve never developed the skills necessary to do good persuasive writing. “[M]any who think they’ve lost skills they once possessed,” Garner writes, “never really had them at all.”