Total Posts:36|Showing Posts:1-30|Last Page
Jump to topic:

Bad writing advice

FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 12:44:11 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
There's so much of it out there. I'm willing to bet 99% of the advice you've ever been told about writing is wrong. Examples:

(1) Avoid the passive. Wrong.

(2) Write short sentences. Wrong.

(3) Omit needless words. Meaningless.

(4) Start paragraphs with topic sentences. Wrong.

(5) Write the way you speak. Wrong.

(6) Vary the way you begin sentences. Wrong

(7) Vary sentence structure. Wrong.

(8) Vary word choice. Wrong.

I could go on and on. Identify some advice you've been given about writing. It's probably wrong. I'm sure you're all wondering what "good advice" is. The best advice is this. Write with your reader in mind. That's it.

Also, since I'm talking about writing, most grammar rules are meaningless. Nothing is more annoying than ugly sentences that only a grammarian could love. Yes, there are some important grammatical rules. But these are the rules that account for the fundamental structure of English (e.g. "I saw a blue car today" as opposed to "blue car today saw I"). The rest of them serve only one purpose: to distinguish dialects, which in most cases means distinguishing the upper-class educated folks from the lower-class uneducated folks. For any rule that isn't fundamental to the structure of English, I'll find you a brilliant writer who breaks that supposed rule.
EndarkenedRationalist
Posts: 14,201
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 12:46:25 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
Just looking at this, it's already abundantly clear this applies far more to creative writing than academic writing, and even then, all of the 'do-nots' are perfectly allowable in creative writing because it's largely anarchic.
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 12:47:40 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 12:46:25 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
Just looking at this, it's already abundantly clear this applies far more to creative writing than academic writing, and even then, all of the 'do-nots' are perfectly allowable in creative writing because it's largely anarchic.

No. This applies as much to academic writing as it does to creative writing.
EndarkenedRationalist
Posts: 14,201
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 12:54:21 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 12:47:40 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 12:46:25 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
Just looking at this, it's already abundantly clear this applies far more to creative writing than academic writing, and even then, all of the 'do-nots' are perfectly allowable in creative writing because it's largely anarchic.

No. This applies as much to academic writing as it does to creative writing.

Well, your tips have already lowered the marks of everyone in every university I know (which is about 8).
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 12:58:32 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 12:54:21 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
Well, your tips have already lowered the marks of everyone in every university I know (which is about 8).

Not sure what you're referring to.

If you mean that bad advice leads to lower marks in university, that isn't surprising.
EndarkenedRationalist
Posts: 14,201
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:00:31 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 12:58:32 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 12:54:21 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
Well, your tips have already lowered the marks of everyone in every university I know (which is about 8).

Not sure what you're referring to.

If you mean that bad advice leads to lower marks in university, that isn't surprising.

I mean your advice leads to lower marks.
EndarkenedRationalist
Posts: 14,201
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:02:31 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
In academic writing, in both high school and university, you should avoid the passive, you should omit needless words, you should vary sentence structure, and you should begin paragraphs with assertions. Not doing these will negatively impact your grade.
ColeTrain
Posts: 4,291
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:04:15 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 12:44:11 AM, FourTrouble wrote:

http://40.media.tumblr.com...
"The right to 360 noscope noobs shall not be infringed!!!" -- tajshar2k
"So, to start off, I've never committed suicide." -- Vaarka
"I eat glue." -- brontoraptor
"I mean, at this rate, I'd argue for a ham sandwich presidency." -- ResponsiblyIrresponsible
"Overthrow Assad, heil jihad." -- 16kadams when trolling in hangout
"Hillary Clinton is not my favorite person ... and her campaign is as inspiring as a bowl of cottage cheese." -- YYW
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:26:01 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 1:02:31 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
In academic writing, in both high school and university, you should avoid the passive, you should omit needless words, you should vary sentence structure, and you should begin paragraphs with assertions. Not doing these will negatively impact your grade.

Emphatically not true. I'll briefly address why.

(1) Avoid the passive

The passive is better than the active in all cases where the passive does a better job than the active. And there's a lot of cases where the passive is better. Want to get rid of agency? Use the passive. Want to indicate passivity? Use the passive. Want to weaken the impact of a particular fact or phrase? Use the passive. Want to tell a story from one character's perspective? Use the passive (and yes, this applies to academic writing - as there are "characters" in academic writing, they're just usually not people). The list is theoretically infinite.

(2) Omit needless words

To whom are the words purportedly "needless"? And which words are "needless"? How do you go about determining which word to remove? If the problem in the sentence is its "clarity," omitting needless words isn't helpful advice. The problem can be solved by clarifying what you were trying to say in the first place. To do that, you have to figure out what you were trying to sat, not merely chop off something a hypothetical reader might consider "needless." Again, my criticism is that the advice is meaningless. It verges on the incoherent. And as such, it cannot be "good advice."

(3) Vary sentence structure

I assume the purpose of this advice is to avoid monotony. But you don't avoid monotony by varying your sentence structure. You avoid monotony by saying what you have to say as clearly as you can, by so thoroughly engaging your readers in your ideas that they lose touch with the surface of your prose. Lots of fine writers repeat the same sentence structures. Most readers will not notice. They especially don't notice when the writing is extremely clear/engaging.

(4) Start sentences with topic sentences

Good writers often introduce paragraphs with more than just a single sentence. Example: Introduce the sentence with the following two sentences: "Some grammarians suggest starting every sentence with a clear assertion of what the sentence is about. However, this is bad advice." From there, you can spend the sentence discussing why it's bad advice. Two sentences, not one. Sometimes, good writers introduce a paragraph with three or four sentences. Others, they don't introduce the paragraph at all, because it is simply a continuation of the previous paragraph, broken apart for the purpose of giving the reader a breather.
EndarkenedRationalist
Posts: 14,201
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:29:06 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 1:26:01 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 1:02:31 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
In academic writing, in both high school and university, you should avoid the passive, you should omit needless words, you should vary sentence structure, and you should begin paragraphs with assertions. Not doing these will negatively impact your grade.

Emphatically not true. I'll briefly address why.

(1) Avoid the passive

The passive is better than the active in all cases where the passive does a better job than the active. And there's a lot of cases where the passive is better. Want to get rid of agency? Use the passive. Want to indicate passivity? Use the passive. Want to weaken the impact of a particular fact or phrase? Use the passive. Want to tell a story from one character's perspective? Use the passive (and yes, this applies to academic writing - as there are "characters" in academic writing, they're just usually not people). The list is theoretically infinite.

(2) Omit needless words

To whom are the words purportedly "needless"? And which words are "needless"? How do you go about determining which word to remove? If the problem in the sentence is its "clarity," omitting needless words isn't helpful advice. The problem can be solved by clarifying what you were trying to say in the first place. To do that, you have to figure out what you were trying to sat, not merely chop off something a hypothetical reader might consider "needless." Again, my criticism is that the advice is meaningless. It verges on the incoherent. And as such, it cannot be "good advice."

(3) Vary sentence structure

I assume the purpose of this advice is to avoid monotony. But you don't avoid monotony by varying your sentence structure. You avoid monotony by saying what you have to say as clearly as you can, by so thoroughly engaging your readers in your ideas that they lose touch with the surface of your prose. Lots of fine writers repeat the same sentence structures. Most readers will not notice. They especially don't notice when the writing is extremely clear/engaging.

(4) Start sentences with topic sentences

Good writers often introduce paragraphs with more than just a single sentence. Example: Introduce the sentence with the following two sentences: "Some grammarians suggest starting every sentence with a clear assertion of what the sentence is about. However, this is bad advice." From there, you can spend the sentence discussing why it's bad advice. Two sentences, not one. Sometimes, good writers introduce a paragraph with three or four sentences. Others, they don't introduce the paragraph at all, because it is simply a continuation of the previous paragraph, broken apart for the purpose of giving the reader a breather.

It doesn't matter how well you justify it. You can't argue with an examiner. You play by their rules.
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:36:48 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 1:29:06 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
It doesn't matter how well you justify it. You can't argue with an examiner. You play by their rules.

I promise you that no competent "examiner" imposes these "rules." I have never had them imposed. I have never imposed them (when I've examined). And I don't know a single A-list academic who imposes them (or follows them).
EndarkenedRationalist
Posts: 14,201
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:38:14 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 1:36:48 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 1:29:06 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
It doesn't matter how well you justify it. You can't argue with an examiner. You play by their rules.

I promise you that no competent "examiner" imposes these "rules." I have never had them imposed. I have never imposed them (when I've examined). And I don't know a single A-list academic who imposes them (or follows them).

And I've gone to high school, gone to college, and worked in writing centers for 6 years. Yes. They do care about those rules.
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:51:57 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 1:38:14 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
And I've gone to high school, gone to college, and worked in writing centers for 6 years. Yes. They do care about those rules.

I can't speak to writing centers, but from what you're telling me, they're completely incompetent writing examiners.

In colleges, nobody gives a fvck about those rules. No English professor follows them. No history professor follows them. No science professor follows them. No linguistics professor follows them. Look, I just wrote three sentences with the same structure. I probably could have said it with less words, too. Terrible writing. I'm sure I would have failed all my writing assignments in college. Too much use of passive. Not enough variation in my sentences.
EndarkenedRationalist
Posts: 14,201
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 1:57:18 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 1:51:57 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 1:38:14 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
And I've gone to high school, gone to college, and worked in writing centers for 6 years. Yes. They do care about those rules.

I can't speak to writing centers, but from what you're telling me, they're completely incompetent writing examiners.

In colleges, nobody gives a fvck about those rules. No English professor follows them. No history professor follows them. No science professor follows them. No linguistics professor follows them. Look, I just wrote three sentences with the same structure. I probably could have said it with less words, too. Terrible writing. I'm sure I would have failed all my writing assignments in college. Too much use of passive. Not enough variation in my sentences.

Nobody would fail off of grammar, but you would lose points and have a red-pen comment advising more variety. My time in writing centers means I see the comments teachers give. In college.
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 2:01:15 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 1:57:18 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
Nobody would fail off of grammar, but you would lose points and have a red-pen comment advising more variety. My time in writing centers means I see the comments teachers give. In college.

Advising more variety in a particular circumstance depends on that particular case. You can't generalize writing advice based on particular cases. Lots of unvaried sentences won't be marked off, and you're not including those in your analysis.
EndarkenedRationalist
Posts: 14,201
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 2:02:53 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 2:01:15 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 1:57:18 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
Nobody would fail off of grammar, but you would lose points and have a red-pen comment advising more variety. My time in writing centers means I see the comments teachers give. In college.

Advising more variety in a particular circumstance depends on that particular case. You can't generalize writing advice based on particular cases. Lots of unvaried sentences won't be marked off, and you're not including those in your analysis.

Depends how you define "lots." 3, as in your example, is a rhetorical device called anaphora with parallel structure. 4-5, and it starts getting clunky.
ColeTrain
Posts: 4,291
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 2:36:30 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 1:26:01 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
(1) Avoid the passive

The passive is better than the active in all cases where the passive does a better job than the active. And there's a lot of cases where the passive is better. Want to get rid of agency? Use the passive. Want to indicate passivity? Use the passive. Want to weaken the impact of a particular fact or phrase? Use the passive. Want to tell a story from one character's perspective? Use the passive (and yes, this applies to academic writing - as there are "characters" in academic writing, they're just usually not people). The list is theoretically infinite.

Active > Passive

(2) Omit needless words

To whom are the words purportedly "needless"? And which words are "needless"? How do you go about determining which word to remove? If the problem in the sentence is its "clarity," omitting needless words isn't helpful advice. The problem can be solved by clarifying what you were trying to say in the first place. To do that, you have to figure out what you were trying to sat, not merely chop off something a hypothetical reader might consider "needless." Again, my criticism is that the advice is meaningless. It verges on the incoherent. And as such, it cannot be "good advice."

I agree with you here, to an extent. There are circumstances in which it is necessary to omit words that, even if they add more clarification, are unecessary.

(3) Vary sentence structure

I assume the purpose of this advice is to avoid monotony. But you don't avoid monotony by varying your sentence structure. You avoid monotony by saying what you have to say as clearly as you can, by so thoroughly engaging your readers in your ideas that they lose touch with the surface of your prose. Lots of fine writers repeat the same sentence structures. Most readers will not notice. They especially don't notice when the writing is extremely clear/engaging.

What? Yes, you do avoid monotony by varying sentence structure. The reader naturally reads varied sentence structures with different internal voices, hence avoiding monotony. Sometimes repetitive sentence structures can be utilized for effect and dramatizing scenes, but as a general rule, it sounds objectively "better" to vary structure.
"The right to 360 noscope noobs shall not be infringed!!!" -- tajshar2k
"So, to start off, I've never committed suicide." -- Vaarka
"I eat glue." -- brontoraptor
"I mean, at this rate, I'd argue for a ham sandwich presidency." -- ResponsiblyIrresponsible
"Overthrow Assad, heil jihad." -- 16kadams when trolling in hangout
"Hillary Clinton is not my favorite person ... and her campaign is as inspiring as a bowl of cottage cheese." -- YYW
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 2:44:13 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 2:36:30 AM, ColeTrain wrote:
Active > Passive

Not always. I'll explain this in more depth later, because it's probably the single worst piece of writing advice out there, yet widely accepted by bad writers and incompetent grammarians.
PetersSmith
Posts: 5,811
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 2:44:21 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 12:44:11 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
There's so much of it out there. I'm willing to bet 99% of the advice you've ever been told about writing is wrong. Examples:

(1) Avoid the passive. Wrong.

(2) Write short sentences. Wrong.

(3) Omit needless words. Meaningless.

(4) Start paragraphs with topic sentences. Wrong.

(5) Write the way you speak. Wrong.

(6) Vary the way you begin sentences. Wrong

(7) Vary sentence structure. Wrong.

(8) Vary word choice. Wrong.

I could go on and on. Identify some advice you've been given about writing. It's probably wrong. I'm sure you're all wondering what "good advice" is. The best advice is this. Write with your reader in mind. That's it.

Also, since I'm talking about writing, most grammar rules are meaningless. Nothing is more annoying than ugly sentences that only a grammarian could love. Yes, there are some important grammatical rules. But these are the rules that account for the fundamental structure of English (e.g. "I saw a blue car today" as opposed to "blue car today saw I"). The rest of them serve only one purpose: to distinguish dialects, which in most cases means distinguishing the upper-class educated folks from the lower-class uneducated folks. For any rule that isn't fundamental to the structure of English, I'll find you a brilliant writer who breaks that supposed rule.

I say you can do whatever the hell you want if you creatively write. It's your work that you should enjoy. And if you're lucky others may enjoy your...uniqueness as well. "Bad" writing can sometimes sell *cough* 50 Shades of Grey *cough*.
Empress of DDO (also Poll and Forum "Maintenance" Moderator)

"The two most important days in your life is the day you were born, and the day you find out why."
~Mark Twain

"Wow"
-Doge

"Don't believe everything you read on the internet just because there's a picture with a quote next to it."
~Abraham Lincoln

Guide to the Polls Section: http://www.debate.org...
ColeTrain
Posts: 4,291
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 2:49:02 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 2:44:13 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 2:36:30 AM, ColeTrain wrote:
Active > Passive

Not always.

I realize that, lol. :) I'm just saying that, as far as I've seen, active is more common, more applicable, and sounds better.

I'll explain this in more depth later, because it's probably the single worst piece of writing advice out there, yet widely accepted by bad writers and incompetent grammarians.

I'm interesting in hearing your opinion, honestly. As an aspiring writer, it's good to hear every side of things. :)
"The right to 360 noscope noobs shall not be infringed!!!" -- tajshar2k
"So, to start off, I've never committed suicide." -- Vaarka
"I eat glue." -- brontoraptor
"I mean, at this rate, I'd argue for a ham sandwich presidency." -- ResponsiblyIrresponsible
"Overthrow Assad, heil jihad." -- 16kadams when trolling in hangout
"Hillary Clinton is not my favorite person ... and her campaign is as inspiring as a bowl of cottage cheese." -- YYW
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 3:36:23 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 2:49:02 AM, ColeTrain wrote:
I'm interesting in hearing your opinion, honestly. As an aspiring writer, it's good to hear every side of things. :)

I'm glad to hear that.

In terms of the passive, here's a quick point that should change your entire perspective about it (I'll give you my detailed spiel later).

The passive allows you to change where you place certain words in a sentence.

I want you to pause for a moment. Reflect on that statement. It has more power than you think. Why? Two reasons.

First, readers generally assume that a sentence is about whatever shows up first. Consider the following examples:

"FourTrouble loves Indian food." This sentence is about FourTrouble.

"Indian food is loved by FourTrouble." This sentence is about Indian food.

The first sentence is the active version, the second sentence is the passive version. Which sentence is better? Depends on whether the story is about FourTrouble or Indian food. The choice to make it active or passive thus turns on who the story is about, not on an abstract notion that a particular type of writing is better.

Second, using the passive allows you to put new (and highly critical information) in the stress position. The stress position is the last thing you say in a sentence. Linguists have found that the stress position is the single most important location in a sentence, because it's what readers are most likely to remember. There are a bunch of reasons for that, but it basically comes down to the simple fact that we remember the last part of a sentence (or a paragraph, or paper, or piece of writing) more than anything else.

So, here's an example of the power this principle in relation to the passive voice:

"Through his cunning, FourTrouble convinced Cole to embrace the passive voice." This is the active version. The stress position is occupied by "convinced Cole to embrace the passive voice."

"Cole was convinced to embrace the passive voice by FourTrouble's cunning." This is the passive version. The stress position is occupied by "FourTrouble's cunning."

Or notice the way I framed the "stress position" as the subject of these sentences. I could have said the following: "FourTrouble's cunning occupies the stress position." But since I wanted to emphasize that the subject was the stress position, not "FourTrouble's cunning," I used the passive version. This allowed me to emphasize certain information. And it allowed me to communicate more clearly.

And that's just the beginning of what the passive can do. I haven't even gotten to its primary uses, which are to indicate passivity and to obscure actors.
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 3:38:58 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 3:36:23 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 2:49:02 AM, ColeTrain wrote:
I'm interesting in hearing your opinion, honestly. As an aspiring writer, it's good to hear every side of things. :)

I'm glad to hear that.

In terms of the passive, here's a quick point that should change your entire perspective about it (I'll give you my detailed spiel later).

The passive allows you to change where you place certain words in a sentence.

I want you to pause for a moment. Reflect on that statement. It has more power than you think. Why? Two reasons.

First, readers generally assume that a sentence is about whatever shows up first. Consider the following examples:

"FourTrouble loves Indian food." This sentence is about FourTrouble.

"Indian food is loved by FourTrouble." This sentence is about Indian food.

The first sentence is the active version, the second sentence is the passive version. Which sentence is better? Depends on whether the story is about FourTrouble or Indian food. The choice to make it active or passive thus turns on who the story is about, not on an abstract notion that a particular type of writing is better.

Second, using the passive allows you to put new (and highly critical information) in the stress position. The stress position is the last thing you say in a sentence. Linguists have found that the stress position is the single most important location in a sentence, because it's what readers are most likely to remember. There are a bunch of reasons for that, but it basically comes down to the simple fact that we remember the last part of a sentence (or a paragraph, or paper, or piece of writing) more than anything else.

So, here's an example of the power this principle in relation to the passive voice:

"Through his cunning, FourTrouble convinced Cole to embrace the passive voice." This is the active version. The stress position is occupied by "convinced Cole to embrace the passive voice."

"Cole was convinced to embrace the passive voice by FourTrouble's cunning." This is the passive version. The stress position is occupied by "FourTrouble's cunning."

Or notice the way I framed the "stress position" as the subject of these sentences. I could have said the following: "FourTrouble's cunning occupies the stress position." But since I wanted to emphasize that the subject was the stress position, not "FourTrouble's cunning," I used the passive version. This allowed me to emphasize certain information. And it allowed me to communicate more clearly.

And adding to this point:

I bet you $10,000 that no professor in a relatively decent college would have marked me off for using the sentence: "The stress position is occupied by 'FourTrouble's Cunning.'"

I'd bet more than $10,000 on it, because the sentence is not only perfectly fine, it's the best way to express that idea, in the specific context in which I used it.
ColeTrain
Posts: 4,291
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 3:40:34 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 3:36:23 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 2:49:02 AM, ColeTrain wrote:
I'm interesting in hearing your opinion, honestly. As an aspiring writer, it's good to hear every side of things. :)

I'm glad to hear that.

In terms of the passive, here's a quick point that should change your entire perspective about it (I'll give you my detailed spiel later).

The passive allows you to change where you place certain words in a sentence.

I want you to pause for a moment. Reflect on that statement. It has more power than you think. Why? Two reasons.

First, readers generally assume that a sentence is about whatever shows up first. Consider the following examples:

"FourTrouble loves Indian food." This sentence is about FourTrouble.

"Indian food is loved by FourTrouble." This sentence is about Indian food.

The first sentence is the active version, the second sentence is the passive version. Which sentence is better? Depends on whether the story is about FourTrouble or Indian food. The choice to make it active or passive thus turns on who the story is about, not on an abstract notion that a particular type of writing is better.

Second, using the passive allows you to put new (and highly critical information) in the stress position. The stress position is the last thing you say in a sentence. Linguists have found that the stress position is the single most important location in a sentence, because it's what readers are most likely to remember. There are a bunch of reasons for that, but it basically comes down to the simple fact that we remember the last part of a sentence (or a paragraph, or paper, or piece of writing) more than anything else.

So, here's an example of the power this principle in relation to the passive voice:

"Through his cunning, FourTrouble convinced Cole to embrace the passive voice." This is the active version. The stress position is occupied by "convinced Cole to embrace the passive voice."

"Cole was convinced to embrace the passive voice by FourTrouble's cunning." This is the passive version. The stress position is occupied by "FourTrouble's cunning."

Or notice the way I framed the "stress position" as the subject of these sentences. I could have said the following: "FourTrouble's cunning occupies the stress position." But since I wanted to emphasize that the subject was the stress position, not "FourTrouble's cunning," I used the passive version. This allowed me to emphasize certain information. And it allowed me to communicate more clearly.

And that's just the beginning of what the passive can do. I haven't even gotten to its primary uses, which are to indicate passivity and to obscure actors.

Hey, I've got to go for now, but I just wanted to let you know I saw this and will look at it later. :)
"The right to 360 noscope noobs shall not be infringed!!!" -- tajshar2k
"So, to start off, I've never committed suicide." -- Vaarka
"I eat glue." -- brontoraptor
"I mean, at this rate, I'd argue for a ham sandwich presidency." -- ResponsiblyIrresponsible
"Overthrow Assad, heil jihad." -- 16kadams when trolling in hangout
"Hillary Clinton is not my favorite person ... and her campaign is as inspiring as a bowl of cottage cheese." -- YYW
Deb-8-A-Bull
Posts: 2,181
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 10:26:41 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 12:44:11 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
There's so much of it out there. I'm willing to bet 99% of the advice you've ever been told about writing is wrong. Examples:

(1) Avoid the passive. Wrong.

(2) Write short sentences. Wrong.

(3) Omit needless words. Meaningless.

(4) Start paragraphs with topic sentences. Wrong.

(5) Write the way you speak. Wrong.

(6) Vary the way you begin sentences. Wrong

(7) Vary sentence structure. Wrong.

(8) Vary word choice. Wrong.

I could go on and on. Identify some advice you've been given about writing. It's probably wrong. I'm sure you're all wondering what "good advice" is. The best advice is this. Write with your reader in mind. That's it.

Also, since I'm talking about writing, most grammar rules are meaningless. Nothing is more annoying than ugly sentences that only a grammarian could love. Yes, there are some important grammatical rules. But these are the rules that account for the fundamental structure of English (e.g. "I saw a blue car today" as opposed to "blue car today saw I"). The rest of them serve only one purpose: to distinguish dialects, which in most cases means distinguishing the upper-class educated folks from the lower-class uneducated folks. For any rule that isn't fundamental to the structure of English, I'll find you a brilliant writer who breaks that supposed rule.

TYPING
It's typing, People 25 years or so older never grew up typing chat in chat rooms. No texting. You can't teach a old dog new tricks, with in as much as , WHO CARES. It might be easier if you can teach ya brain to just . Let it go, just , Let it go. Typing post are not , Job applications, or wills.

A wth here instead of a with there and a forgotten full stop along with a starting paragraph miss placement. Pfffff. Your Four trouble, you see the people that bring up these , pet peeves, and bad Grammar. Post topics , seems to be the smartest bunch on this site.
I feel for strain it puts on ya brain. No comma . OUCH.
All I ask for is a little patience grasshopper.
Deep breath . In through the nose , 1,2,3 . Out threw the mouth. Thx.
SolonKR
Posts: 4,039
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/6/2016 11:25:06 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
I'll just mention my interpretation of what my senior English teacher told me a year ago with regards to this very topic.

All of these rules are good (except perhaps, "Write the way you speak").
That doesn't mean that all of these rules are good all of the time.

Passive voice is bad when you're talking about your own arguments and assertions, and usually not the best choice in prose. However, it's good when talking about any opposition to your claim, or when you want to change emphasis (as FT has already noted).

Short sentences are bad when there is no point to them. If I write a paper about dogs, and I say, "I like dogs. Dogs are great. I pet dogs. I feed them treats. They like to bark," that doesn't sound realistic and it isn't stylistically readable. However, short sentences can be wonderful for emphasis, repetition, and more. A politician can say, "blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. This is the American Dream," and that's a pretty good recipe for applause.

Omitting useless words is good if the verbosity of the structure, style, and language of an individual's piece of writing for any purpose serves to become so distracting from the intrinsic purposes of an individual's plethora of writings that the genesis of his ideas becomes lost in the fold of useless verbiage. Or, put another way, "Omitting useless words is good when it avoids verbosity." However, useless words can serve as a good distraction for your audience, especially in speech and especially when combined with other rhetorical devices (see almost every political debate answer ever).

This pattern is pretty much the same for all of the listed items. They're great if you know how to use them, and terrible if you don't. So, the rules are very good to follow until you reach, say, near the end of high school, and have developed a conscious rhetoric (you pay attention to what you're saying and who you're trying to say it to). Even then, it's still a good idea to keep them in mind. It's like music theory--it's all about how to follow the rules of chord construction, voice leading, and so on, and then it's all about how to break every single rule ever taught in a way that sounds good.
SO to Bailey, the love of my life <3
tejretics
Posts: 6,080
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/7/2016 8:53:17 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/6/2016 12:47:40 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/6/2016 12:46:25 AM, EndarkenedRationalist wrote:
Just looking at this, it's already abundantly clear this applies far more to creative writing than academic writing, and even then, all of the 'do-nots' are perfectly allowable in creative writing because it's largely anarchic.

No. This applies as much to academic writing as it does to creative writing.

Then I'd disagree with some of the OP, because academic writing needs to be concise. Concision is critical for academic writing.
"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." - Frederick Douglass
tejretics
Posts: 6,080
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/7/2016 8:56:17 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
Though all of that depends on the target audience.
"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." - Frederick Douglass
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/7/2016 9:16:30 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/7/2016 8:53:17 AM, tejretics wrote:
Then I'd disagree with some of the OP, because academic writing needs to be concise. Concision is critical for academic writing.

I don't think you understood what I'm saying. Concision is indeed valuable. But much more important is minding your reader. Sometimes, you must sacrifice concision for the sake of other things, like clarity, forcefulness, eloquence, and so on. It's not all about concision, even in academic writing.
tejretics
Posts: 6,080
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/7/2016 9:18:54 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/7/2016 9:16:30 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/7/2016 8:53:17 AM, tejretics wrote:
Then I'd disagree with some of the OP, because academic writing needs to be concise. Concision is critical for academic writing.

I don't think you understood what I'm saying. Concision is indeed valuable. But much more important is minding your reader. Sometimes, you must sacrifice concision for the sake of other things, like clarity, forcefulness, eloquence, and so on. It's not all about concision, even in academic writing.

Writing advice isn't universal. There are multiple exceptions to every case. But the advice regarding concision that you rejected is actually usually good advice -- because, if you can clearly explain, forcefully and eloquently, what you wish to convey in a shorter way, then do it. That's good writing advice. So the writing advice that advocates concision is good -- it just isn't universal, and can be outweighed by many other things. Your post says it is "wrong," but it isn't -- it works. It's good advice, only that which can be outweighed upon consideration of other factors.
"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." - Frederick Douglass
FourTrouble
Posts: 12,757
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/7/2016 9:20:32 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/7/2016 9:18:54 AM, tejretics wrote:
At 2/7/2016 9:16:30 AM, FourTrouble wrote:
At 2/7/2016 8:53:17 AM, tejretics wrote:
Then I'd disagree with some of the OP, because academic writing needs to be concise. Concision is critical for academic writing.

I don't think you understood what I'm saying. Concision is indeed valuable. But much more important is minding your reader. Sometimes, you must sacrifice concision for the sake of other things, like clarity, forcefulness, eloquence, and so on. It's not all about concision, even in academic writing.

Writing advice isn't universal. There are multiple exceptions to every case. But the advice regarding concision that you rejected is actually usually good advice -- because, if you can clearly explain, forcefully and eloquently, what you wish to convey in a shorter way, then do it. That's good writing advice. So the writing advice that advocates concision is good -- it just isn't universal, and can be outweighed by many other things. Your post says it is "wrong," but it isn't -- it works. It's good advice, only that which can be outweighed upon consideration of other factors.

I didn't reject any advice about concision. I place a lot of value on concision. What I said is the advice about omitting needless words is meaningless. That's different from saying you shouldn't be concise.