Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Good Bad Writing Resource

I have a fun-- and free-- recommendation for everyone interested in the teaching of writing.

Published by the Digital Publishing Institute at WVU Libraries and in part by Inside Higher Ed, and absolutely free for the download, Bad Ideas About Writing is a compendium of essays by a wide assortment of teachers and scholars about the many terrible myths of writing instruction. Growing out of a project about the sciences (These Ideas Must Die), this book is aimed at a broad audience, as explained by editors Cheryl Ball and Drew Loewe:

This project is necessary because while scholars in writing studies (just as in any academic field) argue to and against one another in scholarly journals, books, and conference talks, those forms
of knowledge-making don’t consistently find their way into the public’s understanding of writing. Yet “the public” in all its manifestations—teachers, students, parents, administrators, lawmakers, news media—are important to how writing is conceptualized and taught. These publics deserve clearly articulated and well-researched arguments about what is not working, what must die, and what is blocking progress in current understandings of writing.

The book is organized around several broad topic headings:

Bad Ideas about What Good Writing Is
Bad Ideas about Who Good Writers Are
Bad Ideas about Style, Usage and Grammar
Bad Ideas about Writing Techniques
Bad Ideas about Genres
Bad Ideas about Assessing Writing
Bad Ideas about Writing and Digital Technology
Bad Ideas about Writing Teachers

Packed under those headings are sixty-two separate articles, each under the heading of a beloved Bad Idea. Here are just some of the Bad Ideas addressed:

America is facing a literacy crisis
Writing knowledge transfers easily
Writers are mythical, magical, and damaged
Some people are just born good writers
Writers block just happens to people
Good writers always follow my rules
Teaching grammar improves writing
Excellent academic writing must be serious
Creative writing is a unique category
The five-paragraph essay is rhetorically sound
The five-paragraph theme teaches "beyond the test"
Research starts with a thesis statement
Grading has always made writing better
When responding to student writing, more is better
SAT scores are useful for placing students in writing courses
Gamification makes writing fun
Digital natives and digital immigrants
You're going to need this for college
Anyone can teach writing

The pieces cover a wide spectrum from "I don't believe anyone still thinks this" to "Hey! That's how I teach writing." Each is a discussion of positive steps-- of fixes and ideas-- rather than  just taking pot shots at a particular Bad Idea. There are lots of "instead of that, try this--" elements here. And yes, some chapters kind of contradict each other-- that's okay, too.

Each essay is grounded in research and comes with "for further reading" suggestions at the end. The writing is accessible enough that I am already considering a couple of these for handouts to my own students. The essays are short and to the point, and while you may not agree with all of them, they still provide a starting point for some reflection on practice.

I have not finished poring through this book, but I'm kind of excited about it, and I recommend it to all my writing teacher friends. Thanks to my own former student Dr. John Raucci (Associate Professor of English at Frostburg State in Maryland) for bringing the book to my attention.


  1. And including devoted-reader-occasional-commenter, yours truly. I'm proud to be in this book, except that I'm sorry it ever had to get written.

  2. "Writers block just happens to people"

    I guess I'm not understanding why that's a "bad idea". I think it's more or less true. Everyone I know who writes, whether professionally, as a hobby or just occasionally, runs into writer's block at some point. Usually it's a sign that you need to step back and re-think what you're trying to say (personally, I find it happens when I'm boring myself, which is a sure guarantee I'm really boring anyone unlucky enough to be reading; so why was I trying to say that in the first place?). It's all part of the process, something utterly aggravating but wonderfully useful if you can welcome it as part of the process.

  3. Would you care to elaborate on your comment, Please? Why do you feel that way about the book?