Monday, April 26, 2010

More on bad writing

Yesterday, I finished a tedious editing project, a Master's portfolio (a series of responses to questions) on vocational counseling. That might sound dull but I've read four others from this program and some of the writing was both superb and fascinating. Not this time.

First, the writer had clearly spent little time writing it (even though it was 80 pages) and almost no time on it after throwing together a draft. Not only had the writer not edited or even proofread, but I suspect the writer hadn't even reread it. There were sentences and whole paragraphs that appeared verbatim in several locations, one of the hazards of the cut-and-paste feature of computer writing. That it can happen once is an oversight, that it happens a bunch is sloppy work.

Second, many of the sentences were not grammatical. They had the kind of run-on nature of conversation. And while that can work in speaking, it doesn't work in writing. You need a subject for every verb and a verb for every subject.

Third, many of the sentences were long and convoluted. This isn't so much a writing error as a thinking error. I got the feeling that the writer, and I use the term loosely, was just gluing together random phrases that the writer had picked up from reading and the lectures attended.

Fourth, it was superficial. Little thought had been given to the questions the writer was required to answer. There was little of the self, no reflections, and little experience in the thinking, clearly the whole point of the portfolio.

Writing is hard work. It takes more than literacy to be a writer and it takes more than education to be a writer. This client told me in the initial email that what was wanted was an exemplary portfolio and it certainly is but not the way I think the writer wanted.

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