Friday, July 01, 2005


How many times have you read something written by an educrat that leaves you wrinkling your brow and scratching your head, trying to understand what it means?

You know what they say: you can’t teach what you don’t know. Unfortunately, many teachers have not received very good writing instruction. No wonder employers and the public are complaining more and more about the lack of quality in the writing skills of today’s high-school and college graduates.

Here’s a book that can help those of us who care enough to at least try to get it right, keep it short, and make it sing.


How Not to Write In “School-ese”

Q. It’s almost funny how many college graduates today write in an archaic, formal, hard-to-understand style. They use words like “nevertheless” and “thus,” even though nobody ever uses such stiff and pretentious words in everyday speech. How did this happen, and what can we do about it?

First, we should all demand that K-12 teachers receive better writing instruction themselves in teachers’ college and in district-provided inservices. There’s no excuse for crummy writing by an education professional, since communication skill is the single-most important quality any educator should have.

In addition, there’s a really good book that should be acquired by English teachers from 7th grade on, any businessperson who has to write reports and memos, and anyone else who wants to be a better writer. It’s called “Championship Writing: 50 ways to improve your writing,” by writing coach Paula LaRocque (Marion Street Press, Inc, 2000, 204 pp., $18.95).

She is known for teaching people how to write clearly and concisely, the way we speak when we are focusing on communicating without talking over the heads of our audience, or beneath them, either.

Writing takes a lot of work – but that work should be done by the writer, not the reader. Text shouldn’t be so “fancy” that the reader has to plow through it and look up a lot of complex words in order to understand what’s being said.

Ms. LaRocque and others say the cause of this “school-ese” is that high school and college teachers have rewarded students for "stiff, dense, pretentious" writing, "glutted with gobbledygook and arcane phrasing." Because teachers’ colleges often spout pompous, abstract and jargon-cloaked verbiage, teachers tend to think that’s a superior way to write. But of course, it’s not. It’s gibberish.

The author uses colorful word pictures to explain the problem, such as "octopus writing" -- which "sinks readers in a sea of words" -- as well as “sentence clutter” and "fadspeak.” She discusses the "building blocks of sentences" and demonstrates how short words and simple phrases usually communicate best.

Homework: This book and others about writing and journalism are available at

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