06 September, 2012

Writing Badly

It's really hard to deliberately write badly when you've been practising writing well.

This I learnt yesterday as I tried to put some example sentences into my Writing 101 presentation. But with some searching in the writing books I have on hand I found some. I also found some doozies in my own unedited writing back in 2007 when I first started to take writing seriously.

Check these out. I'd also love it if you could provide me with more "bad examples" also!

Unclear writing 

“He noticed a large stain in the rug that was right in the center.”

In referring to two male friends, Ralph and Joe: “He is happy because he loves his wife.”

Long sentences 

“Kim, a student at Central College, won the lottery, and she is going to quit her job waitressing at Slab o’Beef, where she has been working for the past three years.”

“Location can be a problem for missionaries going on holidays, this depends on where someone is working, but if they are stressed because of cross-cultural issues, it is challenging if they can't escape it, just a little, when they go away for a break.” (from something I wrote last week!)

Flabby writing 

“The mission is in the process of doing a survey of their members.”

“What I didn’t initially realise was that I’d have to sleep in the same cot as my son!  Granted it was a largish cot and I am not a largish person, but still…neither of us was used to even being in the same room at night, let alone the same bed.” (Sometime I wrote some time ago.)

“Two or three times before in her life, she had fought winning battles against cancer, and each time the Lord had healed her.”

"Macbeth was very ambitious. This led him to wish to become king of Scotland. The witches told him that this wish of his would come true. The king of Scotland at this time was Duncan. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth murdered Duncan He was thus enabled to succeed Duncan as king."

Avoid repetition 

“English does not tolerate repetition of words. Repeating words will just turn people off reading your writing. You will be surprised how much improvement you can bring to your work by avoiding repetition.”  (From

Indirect writing 

 “The fact that he had not succeeded.” 

“He showed satisfaction as he took possession of his well-earned reward.”

Multiple problems

A nice example from On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This one has cliches, unclear phrases, and isn't written tightly.

Last February, Plainclothes Patrolman Frank Serpico knocked at the door of a suspected Brooklyn heroin pusher. When the door opened a crack, Serpico shouldered his way in only to be met by a .22-cal. pistol slug crashing into his face. Somehow he survived, although there are still buzzing fragments in his head, causing dizziness and permanent deafness in his left ear. Almost as painful is the suspicion that he may well have been set up for the shooting by other policemen. For Serpico, 35, has been waging a lonely, four-year war against the routine and endemic corruption that he and others claim is rife in the New York City police department. His efforts are now sending shock waves through the ranks of New York’s finest. . . . Though the impact of the commission’s upcoming report has yet to be felt, Serpico has little hope that . . . 

More examples

I'm still looking for examples for "Preachy writing" and "Unnecessarily complicated words and sentences." Any takers? My husband has promised me some examples from the latter category from his current reading for his Masters in Education.


April said...

The "multiple problems" paragraph might be a fun one to edit together as a group after you've taught them how to spot various problems and how to fix them. You could compare the group's final product to the edited version you've prepared ahead of time to see if there is more they can tighten up/fix.

Preachy writing... Have you read "Little Women"? There were several times where I had to roll my eyes at the preaching, even though otherwise I like the story. I don't have a copy of the book on hand to look it up just now though.

April said...

Found this: http://ezinearticles.com/?Memoir-Writing---Four-Tips-For-Avoiding-Preachiness&id=4317463

Thought it might help a little.

KarenKTeachCamb said...

Try "Elsie Dinsmore" for preachy writing. Available free at Project Gutenberg. I'm enjoying reading the series at the moment, but I will confess to skipping some bits.

Wendy said...

Good idea April. Editing someone else's work is a good way to help you improve your own.

We listened to a bit of "The Swiss Family Robinson" while we were travelling, I couldn't believe how preachy it was, but not so much directly at the reader, however the father was always preaching at his kids, even for the smallest thing. He'd be shocked at our society today, methinks. It must have been an accepted style back then, though.

Wendy said...

Nice link April!