Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Key to College Success: The Ability to Read Bad Writing

The ability to handle complex reading is the major factor separating high school students who are ready for college reading from those who are not, according to a new report.

In complex reading passages, organization may be elaborate, messages may be implicit, interactions among ideas or characters may be subtle and the vocabulary is demanding and intricate.

And to think that in 30 years of my professional career, including two advanced degrees, I've been going down the wrong path. At least if you believe ACT, the testing company that put out this report.

In all of my career of professional writing, I was taught to simplify, simplify. And to write "not only so you can be understood, but also so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood." In other words, the lesson I learned in my life was that "elaborate organization," "implicit messages," "subtle interactions among ideas or characters," and "demanding and intricate vocabulary" are all the marks of bad writing.

On the other hand.....

"Academic success" applies only to being able to handle the demands of an academic environment. And one of the most characteristic feastures of academic writing is that most of it is very bad. So I guess you can make a case that if a student wants to suceed in college they have to be able to read bad academic writing.

This begs the question of whether a college education is really necessary for sucess in most lines of work, but that's the subject of another post.


Blogger blueenclave said...

I forget who wrote this: "You may be unable to understand the thought of Hume, and if you are without philosophical training its implications will doubtless escape you: but [it is very difficult not to] understand what the meaning of each sentence is." An average reader will understand what the meaning of each sentence is. A better, or more attentive, reader will keep relationships between sentences in their heads. This is particularly important when the mathematical formula you understood perfectly well has not been cited for five pages.

11:21 AM  
Blogger blueenclave said...

This is a feature of mathematical writing. It is very compressed, because the readers can follow many of the steps in their heads.

11:22 AM  

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