College Prep Writing
Introduction to Writing
Do you like to read? That's a question that you might reasonably reply to with a question: Read what? How about the full page of tiny-print disclaimers that accompany an advertisement for a pharmaceutical in a magazine?
Probably no one enjoys every kind of reading. One person might devour fiction and eschew nonfiction. A nonfiction lover might read only how-to books while another might pore over books on the Civil War. The subject matter is not the only difference between these two kinds of reading. Vocabulary is another. Another is that how-to books make frequent use of imperative forms of verbs, which might be entirely absent from the chronological narrative of history books. There are other differences as well.
Kinds of Writing
Pick up a few books, magazines, or newspapers; notice billboards; check popular websites. You will see a wide range of kinds of writing. Compare a cookbook and a law book. They almost seem to be different languages. They are organized differently, for one thing, and the jargon-packed writing in law books is more formal than the writing in cookbooks. The writing found in each of these kinds of publications is also a little different from the others: computer manuals, medical journals, advertising, corporate reports, religious documents, and newspapers.
Even within one type of writing there may be differences. One poet's style may be very different from another's, for example, and every news organization has a company style manual that makes its publication's style slightly different from another.
Differences in writing in publications are the result of how a publisher perceives its image and its readership. The average age, educational level, economic status, as well as the interests and occupations of readers are valuable information that helps determine what style of writing, organization, and content a publisher will use to make its publication appealing.
None of the various kinds of writing comes naturally. Each has to be learned and practiced because writing skills are not a part of our in-born language ability. All writers have to learn and practice the writing skills they need.
Writing a request for a grant requires skills that are different from writing a news article about a recent election. Journalism schools teach the skills for print and broadcast news writing, and persons who want to write in the fields of advertising, public relations, business, medicine, science and technology, screenplay writing, and creative writing can also take courses that prepare them for those kinds of writing.
Clear and Interesting
In spite of the differences among the kinds of writing, two rules apply to all them. The first is “make it clear.” When you consider that communication is the purpose of writing, the principle of clarity seems like a platitude, yet a lot of writing often does not satisfy this important criterion—including disclaimers for pharmaceuticals.
“Make it interesting” is the second rule, and to do that successfully, it is necessary to understand the potential reader. Obviously, you would not write about bridge construction for engineers or heart disease for physicians the same way that you would write about these topics for middle school children.
It is not always easy to write clearly and in an interesting way: these two goals make all kinds of writing difficult. Correct grammar, sentence variety, parallel structure, sentence rhythm, paragraph organization, appropriate punctuation, and good spelling contribute to clarity and interest, however, and these traits of good usage should be a part of all writing, whether it is a personal essay for a university application, a cover letter, a direct mail piece, a letter of appeal for grade change, or a first book for young readers.