Overview for Revising Prose
Refining our prose takes lots of time and won’t happen overnight. The first thing to do is to actually re-read your work. Don’t rely solely on spell checker…it ain’t that good. We will go over Chapter 4 in Tebeaux and Dragga as well as the Revising Prose document (also on Canvas) over the next few two weeks. Our lessons won’t follow any order from your textbook, but here’s a tentative order below:
- Plain Language
This week and next week will make more sense if you’ve read Ch. 4 and 7 in Tebeaux and Dragga as well as the Revising Prose document.
I’m curious to know if you’ve heard of “Doublespeak” or “Gobbledygook” or “Political Rhetoric.” The overall goal for our revising prose lessons is to make your communication clearer for audiences. How many of you have read George Orwell’s 1984? I highly recommend it, and I even assigned it in my “Rhetoric of Fear” class this semester.
- Doublespeak is language that’s intentionally vague or ambiguous. Although one could argue that sometimes you can’t be too precise because doing so locks you into a position.
- Where is it normally found?
- Well, what type of creature needs to be ambiguous and not say clearly their intentions? If you said the Big Bad Wolf, you’re correct, but there’s an even worse group…
- Politicians don’t want to say things clearly because they need to be able to back out of statements when they become politically disadvantageous.
- And what are politicians? Liars. They are all liars.
- How do we avoid it?
- The goal for creative writing is to expand interpretation to get audiences to think, contemplate, and rethink about ideas.
- The goal for technical writing is to limit interpretation–you don’t want your audience to work to figure out the message.
- Does political speech (lying to the public) somehow reflect our social attitudes and values (or lack thereof)?
- Perhaps. This is probably best for a different class, but consider the public’s apathy. Maybe we just want to hear what we want to hear, so politicians need to tell us what we want to hear.
- Overall, the public wants good news and conviction over “we’ll just have to wait and see.”
- Your messages should be clear and precise, but don’t let concision mean ignoring complexity if that’s what’s called for in a message. You tailor the message to your audience and your purpose for the message.
The next section on plain language attempts to get you to think about clarity first. Your readers will probably never know you, so you can’t expect them to get a hold of you for clarification. Aim to be efficient yet clear.
But isn’t plain language just that—plain? Well, yes. But being plain in the sense of clear and concise is a good thing. Don’t think of plain as dumbed down or unsophisticated. Writing in a plain style means you write in a reader-oriented way—you communicate your ideas effectively, so the reader doesn’t have to do all the work or guess at your meanings; language, after all, can be ambiguous. As a disclaimer, I will tell you that my dissertation advisors would have loved for me to follow this advice. It is difficult to write efficiently and in a plain style. But that’s why we revise—to clean up our prose.
Remember, no one writes because they fetishize grammatically correct sentences; writers write to communicate; professional writers write to communicate in their careers. Regardless of the writing context, all writers must write and subsequently revise with the audience and communication purpose in mind.
Consider the following issues:
- What is jargon? When is it appropriate?
- What on earth is efficient prose?
- How do I elevate my writing in order to sound better?
- When is it appropriate to lie? (obviously, this is a trick question in the context of technical/professional communication)
- See politicians above.
- With all this cool technology, why can’t I just get a computer to do my writing?
We will come back to the above questions in a later lesson. Just have those questions in the back of your mind while doing your prose revisions.
Did you know there’s actually an organization call The Plain Language Association International? Check it out. The English Department’s very own Deborah Bosley (emeritus, so she retired several years ago) is a member of the above group and was interviewed about language and policy making.
Also, check out what Maxine C. Hairston found regarding what businesses want from employees regarding communication skills. I question if grammar is the golden ticket, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. The Hairston link is for your further inquiry.
This call for efficiency is culturally based to some extent. Although we’ll discuss more about intercultural communication in a few weeks, I want to point out that the lessons on Plain Language that we’re going over are Western-centric ones–they adhere to our “system’s” desire for efficiency and increased productivity. Our concept of efficiency may be very different from another culture’s ideas about efficiency and effective communication. It’s best to have a critical understanding, meaning you don’t just know how to do something–in this case write efficient prose–but you also know the reasons why it’s being advocated.
Homework and Future Work
We’ll continue with prose revision in the next “class” and over next week. In order for these lessons to be the most beneficial, you should slow down and write or type them. Just looking at the examples isn’t enough: you should compose these sentences yourself. Do these practice sentences tonight. I’m not collecting them, but try them out, and then compare them to suggestions I’ll post on Wednesday’s page, which I’ll open up tomorrow morning. Go for it!
Don’t forget that your Cover Letters and Résumés need to be submitted onto Canvas by 11:00 pm Wednesday, February 1st.