‘It’s good to write clearly’
“It is good to write clearly,” wrote Joseph M. Williams, “and anyone can.”
Williams developed “The Little Red Schoolhouse” (LRS) writing course at the University of Chicago. The course focused on writing clear sentences, cohesive paragraphs and graceful pieces.
Little Red Schoolhouse has since expanded to other universities, a book (Williams’ well respected Style), and a website. The latter makes a great resource for professional writers.
Little Red Schoolhouse Online uses videos of graduate students acting out their theses, comic strips and movie trailers to illustrate principles of clear writing. The lessons are elemental, but not simple. I’ve worked with many professional writers who could benefit from such guidelines as:
Think of your sentences as stories with clearly identifiable characters acting concretely.
Yes: “You won’t be able to steer when you put on the brakes.”
No: “Its failure could affect vehicle directional control, particularly during heavy brake application.”
Write about people doing things, not about things doing things.
Yes: “We expected the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to rule that management could not interfere with the strike or harass picketing workers.”
No: “Our expectation was for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that management interference with the strike or harassment of picketing workers was not permitted.”
Write in verbs, not nouns.
Yes: “Pinocchio’s nose grew longer when he lied to Geppetto.”
No: “Growth occurred in Pinocchio’s nose when lies were told by him to Geppetto.”
Corollary: Nix nominalizations, or words that turn verbs (like explain) into nouns (like explanation).
Thanks to Nadine Warner, writer/video producer of The Bricolage Group, for telling me about Little Red Schoolhouse. I learned a lot from reviewing this site, and I hope you will, too.