Thursday 10 December 2015

What's the difference between 'good writing' and 'well-edited writing'?

In response to my blog about assessment, I will reply: But what about correctness? What about producing correct writing?

To which I say:

1. Writing is much more varied than the curriculum allows for. Many kinds of writing do not operate according to the rules of continuous, formal, non-fiction prose.
As examples:

some passages within fiction,
song lyrics,
many parts of newspapers and magazines - especially headlines, sub-heads and summaries or 'boxes', billboards,
film scripts,

None of these 'forms' of written language are trivial or unnecessary or unimportant. To ignore them is to misrepresent what 'writing' is. 

2. Even continuous, formal, non-fiction prose is open to variation and change. A comparison over, say, 50 years of newspaper editorials would find a great difference in some key aspects of sentence structure and length, use of colloquialisms, use of 'non-sentence' forms as sentences and so on.

3. The correctness we usually talk about when we say 'correctness' is about a specific set of punctuation 'rules', prescribed conventions of grammar and spelling. As I say, these only apply regularly and mostly in the circumstances of formal, continuous, non-fiction prose. In other words, they are used for that purpose. However, this is not the same as 'good writing'. It is quite possible to deliver a piece of writing using that specific set of conventions whilst being extremely dull, illogical, pointless, repetitive, hackneyed, imitative and so on.

4. This leads me to think that in an ideal world we would have two categories: 'good writing' - (which I have tried to cover in the previous blog)  and 'well-edited writing'.

5. I think we should teach how to do 'well-edited writing' in schools. I don't think we need to do it all the time. I don't think we should kid children and students that 'well-edited writing' is the same as 'good writing' nor that all 'good writing' needs to 'well edited' according to the rules of formal, continuous, non-fiction prose - especially when writing those other 'forms' that I have listed above. These operate according to other conventions or indeed, sometimes, invented conventions.

I think that if we keep the two fields of 'well-edited writing' and 'good writing' separate we can also say that for certain purposes, it is vital and necessary to apply 'good-editing' to 'good writing' - especially when we 'publish' what we write in written form (as opposed to when we perform it).

6. We can teach 'good-editing' in many different ways. There isn't only one dull prescriptive way of doing it. We can use games, editing each other's writing, making deliberate 'mistakes' and seeing if we can spot them. We can 'investigate' of continuous formal non-fiction writing to see whether we can deduce the rules being used. We can look at the other varieties of written language to see how they are not using those rules. For example, we could go on expedition and look at billboards, or examine ads in newspapers or on TV and see how punctuation and sentence grammar are laid to one side for the sake of putting over powerful messages (or messages that are attempting to be powerful).

7. We should not let the 'good editing' tail wag the 'good writing' dog. We should not penalise 'good writing' for not being 'well-edited'. If we want to mark 'good editing' then that's fine, we can give it marks. But let's not pretend it's anything else other than 'good editing'.