Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Professional Journals on Writing 03

Question: What can be learned from professional educational journals about teaching and learning to write?

Answer. Note from RayS: I will shift my Q & A on Writing column to summarizing the more interesting ideas from professional educational journals on the teaching of writing. While these articles will be primarily of interest to teachers from kindergarten through college, they might also be useful for the general reader.

What are the differences between writing and speaking? 1. Writing is learned behavior; talking is natural behavior. 2. Writing is an artificial process. 3. Writing is a technological device; talking is organic. 4. Most writing is slower than talking. 5. Writing is stark, barren, naked; talking is rich, inherently redundant. 6. Talking is based on environment; writing must provide its own context. 7. With writing the audience is absent; with talking the listener is present. 8. Writing produces a visible product; talking does not. 9. Because writing produces a product, writing is more responsible and committed than talking. 10. The written word is permanent; talking is ephemeral. 11. Writing is a source of learning with its product; talking is easily forgotten. J Emig. College Composition and Communication (May 77), 123-124.

…people read about twice as fast as they speak, which means that you can read something in about half the time it will take a speaker to tell you the same thing. TM Sawyer. College Composition and Communication (Feb. 77), 45.

How do writing and speaking to an audience differ? “The speaker can relate to the audience with a fairly certain knowledge of its response, while the writer can never know for sure what his or her readers are like or what they next expect.” RJ Connors. College Composition and Communication (Oct. 79), 286.

Thomas Sawyer points out that ‘because the listening audience is sure to miss portions of live speech and cannot preserve it for review…communication must be redundant—repetitious—to be memorable.’ RJ Connors. College Composition and Communication (Oct. 79), 288.

Writing also has the advantage over speech in the precision it allows in word structure…. RJ Connors. College Composition and Communication (Oct. 79), 289.

What should we look for when revising? We’re all guilty of padding (“at this point in time” vs. “now”). Each of us uses certain phrases without thinking. The trick is to identify them so we can eliminate them. Start by searching your copy…. Once you know your pet phrases, get into the habit of using your computer’s “find-and-replace” function to eliminate them. GA Workman. The Writer (Sept. 04), 10.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Professional Journals on Writing 02

Question: What can be learned from professional educational journals about teaching and learning to write?

Answer. Note from RayS: I will shift my Q & A on Writing column to summarizing the more interesting ideas from professional educational journals on the teaching of writing. While these articles will be primarily of interest to teachers from kindergarten through college, they might also be useful for the general reader.

What is the difference between a synopsis and an abstract? Synopsis defined: chronologically ordered summary of the main events of a novel, short story or play. DM Guinn. College Composition and Communication (Dec. 79), 380. Abstract defined: Summarizing a sequence of ideas. Two types: descriptive and informative. Descriptive concentrates on topics covered by the writer. Informative concentrates on what the original says. DM Guinn. College Composition and Communication (Dec. 79), 380-381.

How help students develop sentence variety? Have students select individual sentences from their writing and try to reorder the words in them in a more interesting way. R deBeaugrande. College Composition and Communication (Oct. 77), 240-246.

Why teach grammar? The goal then of learning the rules is to render them invisible. A reader does not see correct punctuation; only mistakes show. Correct spelling is an invisible conduit through which the writer’s point of view flows to the reader…. A misspelled word, rendered visible, draws attention to itself, invites a judgment and distracts the reader from the writer’s point of view…. I tell my students…I want you to know that I lost sight of your point of view because what I was seeing was the errors in spelling. If it’s OK with you that your point of view goes down the drain…. If it’s not all right with you, then in your next paper do whatever you have to do in order to make your spelling invisible and thereby supportive of what you wish to communicate. BJ Mandel. College Composition and Communication (Dec. 78), 368.

What does research tell us about teaching grammar? Reports of grammar’s uselessness in improving writing are based on research that is neither thorough nor completely convincing, with generalizations usually drawn from one study—the Harris study in 1962. The Elly study (1976) draws the conclusion that the study of grammar does not help students in editing, an interpretation that goes beyond the data. Suggests that maybe one valid conclusion from the Elly study might be that grammar should be introduced at the later junior and high school levels. J Neuleib. College Composition and Communication (Oct. 77), 247-250.

How practice sentence combining? Students “deconstruct” professionally written sentences as they would for sentence combining, then reconstruct them. J W Ney, 1976. College Composition and Communication (May 77), 189.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Professional Journals on Writing 01

Question: What can be learned from professional educational journals about teaching and learning to write?

Answer. Note from RayS: I will shift my Q & A on Writing column to summarizing the more interesting ideas from professional educational journals on the teaching of writing. While these articles will be primarily of interest to teachers from kindergarten through college, they might also be useful for the general reader.

How help students become better interviewers? Interviewing influences improvement of oral expression through formulating worthwhile questions; speaking in a clear and easily understood voice; developing listening skills; expressing appreciation for the information given; developing poise and self-confidence; summarizing what was learned. EG Cowe. Language Arts (Sept. 76), 633.

Why do teachers give the grades in writing that they do? The most significant influence proved to be the strength of the content of the essay. The second most important influence proved to be the strength of the organization of that content. The third significant influence was the strength of the mechanics. SW Freedman. College Composition and Communication (May 79), 163.

How teach formal expression to students? Give students exercises to help them translate spoken dialect into formal writing. P Silber. College Composition and Communication (Oct. 79), 294-300.

How cut your word count—and improve your writing?
1. Outline your article—preferably before and after your first draft. 2. Examine the length of your lead. Excessively long leads can cause readers to lose interest. 3. Is all your background material really needed? 4. See if you can lose some summary or description. 5. Study your transitions. 6. Save only the best anecdotes and quotes. 7. Go sentence by sentence. 8. Assign priorities. JK Borchardt. The Writer (Apr. 06), 36-38.

How teach students to write letters of application? Letters of application are often written for jobs that do not clearly match the educational background of the student. Students must be shown how to relate the job to the educational background and personal experience of the applicant. EM Walsh. College Composition and Communication (Dec. 77), 375.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Web Picks on Writing 07: Business Letters

Question: How should I organize a business letter?

Answer: Written by Kenneth Beare for people whose English is a second language. However, even native speakers will appreciate the concise outline of the basic parts of business letters and the styles needed for different purposes, with key words to establish tone. I think this Web site is well worth reviewing. The URL is listed below. RayS.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Web Picks on Writing 06: Business Writing Q & A.

Question: Where can you find good information on business writing?

Answer: RayS: An excellent resource on the Internet is Lynn Gaertner-Johntson’s Q & A on business writing. She’s good. In this collection of newsletters, she answers questions about how to write clear, concise FAQ’s with good examples. Should you or shouldn’t you send e-mails ending in quotations? The uses of verb tenses in “minutes,” that is for meetings. Communicating with customers on airline flights to make them most comfortable. The principles are the same for all your customers. Don’t use emoticons—do use written expressions of emotion; includes many examples. Use the expression “sweating bullets”? Yes, if the reader is a native speaker of English. No, if the e-mail will be read by a person in a foreign country who will not understand its literal meaning. Capitalize “sales department”? Reflections on how she writes her column. Capitalizing salutations. A list of questions she has answered. Response to an intrusive question—how to frame the question tactfully. And all written in clear, smooth English. A good business writing Web site. The URL is listed below.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Web Picks on Writing 05: Revising Business English

Question: What should I look for when I revise?

Answer: The writing lab at Purdue University discusses how to revise business correspondence, beginning with establishing purpose for writing and expectations of readers, avoiding wordiness, using tact and concluding with a review of organization and the mistakes you are most likely to make in grammar. Fundamental stuff with good reminders for how to polish your business writing. The URL is listed below. RayS.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Web Picks on Writing 04: Myths about Writing

Question: What are some myths about writing and teaching writing?

Answer: National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE): Ten Myths about Writing.

RayS: My reaction to these 10 myths about writing is that they are half-truths. It’s true that kids have interesting ideas. It’s also true that some kids at some time run dry and have no ideas that strike them as interesting. It’s also true that real writers most of the time do not get it right the first time. But in writing memos, for example, they often do. They have a mental formula for what they want to say and they say it without spending a whole lot of time revising. So check out these myths about writing. What do you think? For me, every statement of a myth required a counter statement contradicting it. The URL is listed below.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Web Picks on Writing 03: Powerpoint Presentations

Question: What can I learn on the Internet about Writing?

Answer: OWL Powerpoint Presentations on Writing.

RayS. These Powerpoint presentations from the Purdue University Writing Lab cover a wide range of topics on writing. I skipped immediately to “Writing Business Messages.” The presentation was clear. Reminded me of things I had forgotten or paid no attention to and added some helpful information. Presentations also deal with writing résumés and cover letters for employment. Try a couple of these Powerpoint presentations on topics of interest. I think you will find them to be worthwhile. URL is listed below.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Web Picks on Writing 02: Students Practice Writing

Question: How can I help high school and college students practice their writing?

Answer: Suggestions from Kim Jackson, Assistant Director of the City College Writing Center on how to help students practice their writing:

Give students five to ten minutes at the end of class to summarize the day's lesson. Have students use five to ten minutes at the beginning of class to respond to a question introducing the day's discussion topic or to the previous session's activities. Assign individual students (one or more for each session) to write up the "minutes" of the previous class session and then distribute/review them with the rest of the class at the start of the next session. Ask students to keep "facing-page" notes: notes on the left, questions and comments on the right. URL is listed below.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Web Picks on Writing 01: Scientific Writing

Question: How do I write for a scientific journal?

Answer: How to Write a Paper in Scientific Journal Style and Format. Bates College.

Introduction to Scientific Writing. A Strategy for Writing the Paper. Other Useful References. Revising Your Paper. Journal Style Format: Abstract. Introduction. Methods. Results. Discussion. Acknowledgments. Appendices. Tables and Figures. Reporting statistics. Citing References. Abbreviations. The URL is listed below.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ideas to Write About

Question: How can I find ideas to write about?

Answer: The following ideas are by Barbara A. Tyler in The Writer (January 2007), pp. 32-33. Tyler alphabetizes 26 sources of ideas, an "Idea Generator."

Anniversaries: Pick an unusual holiday and brainstorm related stories.
Breakthroughs: Medical, technical and scientific breakthroughs make great stories.
Cultural explorations: What are the festivals, holidays, etc., of different cultures?
Dust off the old: Update or expand old ideas.
Experts: Know somebody who is an expert in a field? Interview them.
Fads: Look for new trends. Research old fads.
Government: Explore government publications.
How To....: How do you do what others find difficult?
Idea book: Jot down ideas wherever you go in a notebook you always have with you.
Junk mail: Don't junk it until you have gone through it for possible ideas.
Keep file: Keep newspaper clippings.
Learn something new: Take a seminar on something entirely new to you.
Market: Go to the library and read a year's issues of a magazine you would like to write for.
Numbers: Make lists of 10, 12, 15, 20 dealing with a topic.
Opinion: What burns you up? What makes you want to cheer?
Phone friends: Brainstorm with them for ideas on topics.
Quotations: You'll find them all over the Internet.
Read something new.
Subscribe: To publications new this week at for new publications on unusual topics.
Tour your town: What's new? What's old? Who can tell you about it?
University: Check university Web pages.
Visit: The nonfiction section of your library where you will find books on topics you never imagined. Check "Nonfiction" on the Internet.
Write: Outside your comfort zone. Try some different form of writing that you have not tried before.
X = 10: Write 10 topics. Then under each topic, write 10 subtopics.
Yellow pages: Find unusual occupations and trades.
Zone out: Try not thinking about topics at all. You'll be surprised how your relaxed frame of mind suggests topics to write about.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Editors on Writers

Question: What annoys professional editors about writers?

Answer: Get my name right. Your query doesn't excite me. Sending unsolicited finished articles. Expecting an immediate reaction. Flubbing your phone call. Don't expect me to remember you. You didn't follow directions for the assignment. Belaboring the point. Ignoring word counts. No heading. No summary. No upfront paragraph that spells out its point in a nutshell. Missed deadlines. No contact list--for the purposes of checking facts. Don't like to be edited.

How to deal with these problems: Read the publication before writing for it. Read the masthead to know correct spelling and title of editor. Write compelling first sentence for your query. Don't submit unsolicited, finished manuscripts. [RayS: But check with the publication guidelines. Professional educational journals do ask for unsolicited manuscripts on particular topics.] Remind an editor once a month that you have submitted a manuscript. Polish your phone skills. Go right to the point. In a reminder put title in subject line. Remind editor of who you are, what the story is about and when you sent it. Update editor on your progress. Pull the reader into the story immediately. List all sources at the end of the story.

From: "Editors' Pet Peeves." Debbie Geiger. The Writer. May 2007, 30-33.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Writing Standards

Question: Are writing standards slipping?

Answer: They have always been relatively low.

Melissa Jackson, a BBC News Education reporter, says "Yes," but then they always have been slipping.

In 1996, half of 16- to 24-year-olds in a spelling test by the Basic Skills Agency couldn't spell "receive." Two-fifths couldn't spell "sincerely." One in seven couldn't spell "writing" correctly. The most difficult word on the survey was "accommodation"--68% misspelled it. Other problems were "occasionally," "immediately," "necessary" and "maintenance."

1950s: George Turnbill of Qualifications and Curriculum Authority--"Generations of youngsters have gone through school without having any spelling, grammar or punctuation instilled in the the way they did at one time."

1931: Junior County Scholarship Examination Report: "...there was evidence that the candidates were quite unable to write a few words without gross errors of spelling, grammar and composition."

1864: "A large majority of examination candidates were ignorant of the first principles of punctuation."

1858: "It was evident that the principles of grammar, as exhibited in the English language are not a matter of systematic study in our schools."

Institute of Educational Assessors (IEA): "Don't expect perfection from our young people. We never had it in the past and we are unlikely to get it in the future."

BBC News. Aug. 16, 2007. Internet.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Writing Resources: How Do I Write It?

Question: How do I learn to write something with which I am unfamiliar?

Answer: Here's a book for your writing library: How To Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You'll Ever Write. Sandra E Lamb. Berkeley/Toronto: Ten Speed Press. 1998, 2006.

The title pretty well sums up the purpose of this book. Each chapter comes with a somewhat wordy introduction that I, at least, simply skimmed right over. Instead, I went directly to the model letters, announcements, memos and other types of writing. These models make several points clear:

1. State the facts and purpose of your writing clearly, completely and succinctly. Don't waste time. Get to the point immediately.

2. Supply necessary details.

3. Finish with a gracious ending.

For example:

Notice of divorce. 1. State that you and your spouse are divorcing, preceded by "Regrettably."
2. Temporary addresses for each.
3. Appreciate your friendship and will be in touch.

Notice of new employee: 1. Name and position
2. Responsibilities
3. Drop by and introduce yourself.

Obituary. 1. Name, date and place of death
2. Spouse (if applicable)
3. Birth date. Names of parents.
4. Career
5. Other survivors.
6. Arrangements.

Notice of meeting. 1. Purpose. Date. Location. Time--beginning and end.
2. Breakfast/lunch if applicable
3. Agenda attached or will arrive by date.
4. RSVP by specified date.

Sympathy. 1. Saddened to learn
2. Good memories
3. Express our sympathy to....

You understand the idea. Facts up front. Necessary details. Gracious ending.

Good resource if you do not know how to begin writing a particular type of message. Should help you at least to start. You can add variations as needed.

Includes models of cover letters for employment, resumes, letters of complaint, etc.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ten Minutes a Day

Question: How can I practice my writing?

Answer: Try writing ten minutes a day. Use one of the hundreds of topics published previously in this blog. You will develop the habit of and a facility with writing.

Try "Flash Fiction." Write a short story in 55 to 100 words, not counting the title which should be no more than two words. This idea came from Harvey Stanbrough. The Writer (Jan. 07), 34-37.

You will find an extensive list of topics for writing used by the SAT at

Type the word quotes into Google, select a quote that causes you to want to express yourself and write for ten minutes.

You will be amazed at how writing will become almost a habit, almost as natural as speaking and reading, from spending just ten minutes a day in writing.

All the best. RayS.