Sunday, September 25, 2011

J. Williams & G. Colomb (2010) Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace

[This article is for the students of my writing class (14:35-16:05, Fridays from October 7, 2011 - February 10, 2012, at K102. Note: A special class will be held on Tuesday January 10, 2012 (14:35-16:05, K102). There will be no class on December 23 or January 13.]

By way of greeting, allow me to explain the cost of college education.


Before you obtain the textbook, you're advised to read my Japanese essays on writing.

George Gopen & Judith Swan
The Science of Scientific Writing

― 「は」の文法的・機能的転移を中心に ―

Read the following essay as well. It explains why I chose the textbook we'll use in this class.

Teaching grammar in close relation to logic and rhetoric

There are a number of good books on writing available in Japanese.

You may want to refer to the page below occasionally as you struggle to write academically.


You may also remind yourself of the importance of English proficiency on the web.
英語教師のためのコンピュータ入門 (2011年度)


Williams and Colomb are two of the authors of The Craft of Research, the textbook I always recommend to my students. Read their interview.


p. X

Task (T): Read out first paragraph of the section of "PRINCIPLES, NOT PRESCRIPTIONS".

Question (Q): Why is slow writing important?

Q: Are you to write slowly when you draft as well?

Lesson 1
Understanding Style

Note: Because Chapter 1 is an introduction, you don't have much writing tasks. Patience please for those of you who may want to complain about this as the class is a writing class; you'll have plenty of writing tasks in the following tasks.

p. 1

Q: What do the authors want to show by the first example sentence?

p. 2

Q: What are bureaucratese, legalese, academese? What do the authors think about these language use?

T: Read out the two example paragraphs.

Q: What is the self-contradiction that George Orwell made?

p. 3

T: Read out the third example paragraph (from the New York Times).

Q: How does the writer for the New York Times convey the tone of sarcasm?

T: Read out the last two example paragraphs. Compare the two and discuss the difference. (Please remember that you often find it difficult to study not from the lack of intelligence on your side but from the lack of editing skills on the side of the writer).

p. 4

Q: What does Michael Crichton say? Do you agree with him?

Q: Do you share the sense of inhibition of the second paragraph of the section?

Q: What is the meaning of the next quotation?

Our own writing always seems clearer to us than to our readers, because we read into it what we want them to get out of it..And so instead of revising our writing to meet our readers' needs, we send it off the moment it meets ours. (p. 4)

Note: "read into"

(tr, preposition) to discern in or infer from a statement (meanings not intended by the speaker or writer)

p. 5

Q: Why is it important to put your thoughts on the page? (Please remember the importance when you write a thesis in the near future.)

Q: How are writing (for the first time) and rewriting different?

p. 6

T: Elaborate the next quotation.

So use what you find here not as rules to impose on every sentence as you draft it, but as principles to help you identify sentences that might give our readers a problem, and then to revise them.


A principle internally motivates you to do the things that seem good and right. People develop principles by living with people with principles and seeing the real benefits of such a life.

A rule externally compels you, through force, threat or punishment, to do the things someone else has deemed good or right. People follow or break rules.

Because this class is about principles not about rules, I never mean to be too prescriptive. You are ALWAYS encouraged to ask questions or raise objections.

Q: Would you agree with the authors when they say "no one learns to write well by rule, especially those who cannot see or feel or think." (p.6)?

p. 7

Q: What is the meaning of the next quotation? Elaborate the idea.

Essentially style resembles good manners. It comes of endeavouring to understand others, of thinking for them rather yourself -- or thinking, that is, with the heart as well as the head.
-- Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

Note: "On Style" by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch is available:

Lesson 2

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(password is necessary)

p. 8

Q: What are the differences between 1a and 1b? State specifically.

p. 9

T: Explain "the most general principle for clear sentences" by using 2a.

p. 10

Q: What is the common characteristic of verbs used in 2a?

p. 11

T: Read out 3a and 3b and feel the difference.

The video below is for fun (There's a 10 second advertisement first.)

Q: After you felt something, compare 3a and 3b to discuss the differences.

T: Compare the length of subjects in 3a and 3b and discuss its implications.

T: Compare 4a and 4b and state the difference.

p. 13

Q: What is nominalization?

p. 14

T: Explain the procedure of Diagnose-Analyze-Rewrite with your own words.

p. 15

Q: What is the "empty verb"?

pp. 15-16

T: Explain the five common patterns with your own words.

p. 16

Q: What is the common feature among the first three common patterns?

pp. 17-18

T: Explain the four happy consequences with your own words.

pp. 18-19

T: Explain the four cases of useful nominalizations with your own words.

p. 19

Q: Why is nominalization of the verb not recommended in "She impressed me when she admitted her guilt."

T: Discuss the implications of Hamlet's remark: "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action." (Hamlet, 3.2)

Lesson 3

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p. 20

Q: Why do most readers find 1a easier to read than to read 1b?

p. 21

Q: What is the difference between subject and character?
You may want to refer to this account:

Q: Why is 1c difficult to read?

Q: Why is the sentence "There was fear that there would be a recommendation for a budget reduction" not a good sentence?

p. 22

T: Explain the procedures 1 to 3 in your own words.

p. 23

T: Compare the two sentences about theology carefully and specify the changes made in the second sentence.

Q: Think of possible interpretations of the ambiguous sentence: "A decision was made in favor of doing a study of disagreements."

p. 24

T: What are the problems of the choice of pronouns in the second example?

T: Compare the first and the third examples. Which is easier for you to read, and why?

p. 25

Q: Why is the nominalization "studies" in the first example considered OK?
Q: What are, then, the problems of the nominalizations in the second example?

T: Compare the second and the third examples carefully and discuss the differences (and the effects they make).

p. 26

T: Summarize the argument of the first paragraph.

Q: What are "virtual characters" in the box?

Q: What does the box say about the cases where "the hidden characters are 'people in general'"?

Q: Do you often worry about the choice of subject when you write in Japanese?

pp. 26 - 27

T: Explain the difference between Active and Passive in your own words.

Q: What is the authors' unique definition of a passive sentence? [Note: Since their definition is rather idiosyncratic, you don't have to worry too much about this. But you have to understand what they mean.]

p. 28

T: Elaborate Point 1 in your own words.

pp. 28-29

T: Carefully compare the first example on p. 28 and the second one on p. 29 and explain Point 2 in your own words.

p. 29

T: Compare the three examples and explain Point 3 in your own words.

Regarding Points 2 and 3, read the following short Japanese article:

p. 30

Q: What do the two examples at the bottom of the page demonstrate?

p. 31

Q: With what type of verb do academic authors use the first person? Why is that?

Q: What is "metadiscourse"?

Cf. What is "discourse," in the first place?

Or "meta"?

Q: What is the point of using metadiscourse?

Q: With what type of verb do academic authors NOT use the first person? Why is that?

p. 32

Q: What are the implied subject and the explicit subject of the sentence: "To determine the effect, preparations of the devices were added."

Q: The following sentences are examples of dangling modifiers. Explain what they are.

Turning the corner, a handsome school building appeared.

Having finished the assignment, the TV was turned on.

Without knowing his name, it was difficult to introduce him.

To improve his results, the experiment was done again.

IMPORTANT: The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University is one of the best online resources available for writing in English. Bookmark the site on your browsers.

The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University

p. 33

Q: Summarize the description of the box.

Q: What are problems of a long compound noun phrase such as "childhood thought disorder misdiagnosis"?

Q: What is the authors' opinion of the claim by some grammarians that we should never modify one noun with another?

p. 34

Q: Why is "thought disorders" lumped together in the first example.

Q: What do you think of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's remark.

Whatever if translatable in other and simpler words of the same language, without loss of sense or dignity, is bad.

Lesson 4
Cohesion and Coherence

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pp. 35-36

T: The authors say that while 1a seems "choppy" 1b "hang together better." Compare 1a and 1b carefully and pick up expressions that support their contention.

Q: What is cohesion according to the author?

Q: What is coherence according to the author?

Cf. Cohesion is usually defined in linguistics as follows:

Cohesion is the grammatical and lexical relationship within a text or sentence. Cohesion can be defined as the links that hold a text together and give it meaning. It is related to the broader concept of coherence

There are two main types of cohesion: grammatical, referring to the structural content, and lexical, referring to the language content of the piece. A cohesive text is created in many different ways. In Cohesion in English, M.A.K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan identify five general categories of cohesive devices that create coherence in texts: reference, ellipsis, substitution, lexical cohesion, and conjunction.

Despite the difference between the definition by the author and the above one, it remains the same that coherence is a broader notion than cohesion.

Later, the authors define cohesion as "the sense of flow" (p. 36) and coherence as "the sense of the whole" (p. 40). These may be better definitions (or at least, simpler ones).

p. 37

T: Compare 1a and 1b in terms of the "sense of flow."

p. 38

T: Explain what the box says.

T: Explain Point 1.

p. 39

Q: Although the insertion of "Astronomers have reported" seems to contradict Point 1, the authors say that it is perfectly OK. Why?

T: Explain Point 2. (This is a very important point in writing, which is very often neglected by EFL learners!)

T: Explain what the paragraph above the box say. (Remember the saying, "The problem of a writer is that she knows about the subject too much.")

Q: What does the box say?

p. 40

T: Read the first paragraph and the following two indented parts and explain how coherence is different from cohesion.

Q: What does the example (that begins with "Sayner, Wisconsin...") demonstrate? (As a teacher, I often read a passage like this one. Such a passage is perfectly OK if it is spoken at a party, but does not make an academic paper.)

p. 41

Q: What is wrong with the first definition of subject?

Q: What is wrong with the second definition? Explain by using the four examples that follow.

p. 42

Q: Read the first example and why it feels "choppy."

T: Explain the procedures of Diagnose-Analyze-Rewrite.

p. 43

Q: What is throat-clearing?

Q: What is the problem of throat-clearing?

Lesson 5

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(password is necessary)

p. 45

T: What do you think is the most important part of the most important sentence of the first paragraph?

pp. 45-46

T: Describe how you feel as you read 1a and 1b respectively.

Q: Which do you like better, 2a or 2b? Why?

Note: Section of "Complex Meaning" (pp. 46-48) is to be omitted in the class because there are too many technical terms for EFL students. Personally, though, I recommend that you read through without using a dictionary.

p. 48

Q: What is the end of a sentence for? Pick up two items from the box.

T: Summarize the argument of the box.

p. 49

Q: What is the psychological subject? How is it from the grammatical subject?

Q: What is the stress here?

T: Compare the two sentences about global warming and describe the difference of the effects that they produce.

p. 50

T: Compare 1a and 1b and state which you think is the passage that blames the American president.

T: Elaborate this principle: Just as we look to the first few words for point of view, we look to the last few words for special emphasis.

p. 51

T: Explain the three tactical revisions.

T: Explain the six syntactic devices to emphasize the right words.

p. 52

Q: Isn't the expression "There are" rather empty? What function does it serve?

Q: Do you feel any difference between the two examples of Point 3 (What shift)?

p. 53

Q: Point 6 is really a "fine" point. Do you get the point?

p. 54

Q: Why do we think that 1b focuses more on two topics than 1a (on the previous page)?

T: Elaborate this principle: Put key words in the stress position of the first sentence of a passage to emphasize the ideas that organize the rest of it.

p. 55

T: Compare 1c and 1b and specify the differences.

p. 56

Q: Again, what is the difference between characters and themes?

T: Explain the meaning of the old German proverb "Begenning and end shake hands with one another" by relating it to the box.

Lesson 6

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p. 57

Q: Why does the first example sound redundant? Explain specifically.

Q: The second example is concise. But are there not any points in the use of the expressions taken away from the first example?

pp. 58-63

T: Explain the six principles.

Q: Do you know anyone that uses those listed verbs that are used "as uncousciously as we clear throats"?

Q: What are the doubled words?

p. 60

T: The last four lines of this page expresses what a principle (as opposed to a rule) is about. Explain.

p. 61


Please do not overgeneralize that those expressions on this page and others are always redundant and bad. There are some cases when a writer deliberately uses these expressions to make a special effect.

If you're sure that something is written by an experienced writer, you should assume that any expressions she used must have some purpose. This assumption is to be abondoned, though, when you are reading what is written by an unskilled.

Relevance Theory formalizes the principle of communication:

The core of the theory is the “communicative principle of relevance”, which states that by the act of making an utterance the speaker is conveying that what they have said is worth listening to, i.e. it will provide "cognitive effects" worthy of the processing effort required to find the meaning. In this way, every ostensive act of communication (that is the lexical "clues" that are explicitly conveyed when we speak/write) will look something like this:

1. The speaker purposefully gives a clue to the hearer, ("ostensifies"), as to what she wishes to communicate - that is a clue to her intention.

2. The hearer infers the intention from the clue and the context-mediated information. The hearer must interpret the clue, taking into account the context, and surmise what the speaker intended to communicate.

Q: Why is the affirmative more direct than the negative?

p. 62

T: Compare the next two sentences: "Do not translate a negative into an affirmative if you want to emphasize the negative" and "Keep a negative sentence if you want to emphasize the negative." Which is more emphatic?

p. 63

T: Learn the skill of deleting from the example. It'll be useful when you tweet.

Q: Again, what is metadiscourse?

p. 64

Q: Why do you think are the authors negative about metadiscourse that attributes your ideas to a source?

p. 65

Q: Do the authors suggest that we eliminate metadiscourse that announces your topic entirely?

Q: What is the hedge?

p. 66

Q: What does the first example ("There seems to be some ...) demonstrate?

Q: What does the second example ("This evidence proves ...) demonstrate?

Q: What is the function of a verb like suggest or indicate in an academic writing?

Q: The last example was written by Watson and Crick. What do you think about their expression? (You may compare their paragraph with the revised one on the next page.)

p. 67

Q: What is the intensifier?

Q: What is "the most common intensifier" according to the authors?

Q: What are the effects of the intensifiers used in the last example?

p. 68

Q: What is the opinion of the authors about the last example (with many uses of intensifiers) on the last page? Would you agree? (Please remamber that this book is not about rules but about principles.)

T: Summarize what the box says.

Q: What is the message of John Wesley?

I write for those who judge of books, not by the quantity, but by the quality of them: who ask not how long, but how good they are. I spare both my reader's time and my own, by couching my sense in as few words as I can.

Lesson 7

pp. 69-70

Q: How do you compare the original on p. 69 and the two revisions on p. 70?

p.  70

Q: Why does the second revision feel 'choppy'?

T:  Explain the humor of the last paragraph on p. 70.

p. 71

Q:  What are the three sources of 'a sense of shapeless length'?

T:  Elaborate the two rules of thumb: (1) Get to the subject of the main clause quickly; (2) Get to the verb and object quickly.

Q:  Of the four part from [ 1 ] to [ 4 ], which can be relatively long, and which cannot be long?

[ 1 ]  Subject  [ 2 ] Verb [ 3 ] Object [ 4 ] .

p. 73

Q:  How do you compare the last three example texts on p. 73?

p. 74

Q: Ask yourself: Do you have the two problems on p. 74?  I, as a writer in a language which is not perfectly of one's own, do, particularly when trying to condense a lot of thought into one sentence, which is meant to impress readers (though it doesn't), have, as you've already abundantly noticed, them.  :)

p. 75

T: Explain the exception at the top of p. 75.  (You'll use this exception rather often).

p. 76

T: Explain what the authors mean when they say "we can best manage complexity when we begin with something short and direct that frames the more complex information that follows."

p. 78

Four ways of reshaping sprawl are explained from this page: Cut; Turn subordinate clauses into independent sentences; Change clauses to modifyng phrases; and Coordinate.

Q: Which part of the sentence is to be cut?

You can change clauses to three types of modifying phrases: Resumptive modifiers; Summative modifiers; and Free modifiers.

p. 79

Q: What is the resumptive modifier?  (Note that a resumptive modifier can begin with a noun, adjective, verb or "one that.")

p. 80

Q: What is the summative modifier?  How is it different from the resumptive modifier?

Free modifier is generally known as 「分詞構文」 by Japanese learners of English.

p. 81

T: Coordination is often referred to as "parallelism."  In my opinion, this is one of the most useful principles for clear writing.  Explain by pointing to examples.

p. 83

Q: What is the principle you should keep when you find what you want to coordinate (or parallel) differ in length?

p. 84

Q: What are the four unifying principles: Subject-verb; Old-new; Point-explanation; and Short-long?  (You should learn to use these principles together when you can.)

Long sentences often contain faulty grammatical coordination, faulty rhetorical coordination, unclear connections, ambiguous modifiers, or dangling modifiers.

Q: What is the faulty grammatical coordination?

p. 85

Q: Is the nonparallel coordination to be avoided at any time?

p. 86

Q: What is the faulty rhetorical coordination?

p. 87

Q: What strategy can you use when you find it difficult to shorten the first half of the coordination?

T: Explain the ambiguity of "overtaxing oneself in physical activity too frequiently results in injury."

p. 89

T: Explain the meaning of a saying by John Stuart Mill: The structure of every sentence is a lesson in logic.


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