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Writing expert Peter Elbow says: “Nothing is so powerful; as a chance to see your words through the eyes of others.”

To evaluate expository and nonfiction writing, he says in Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 252, criterion-based feedback can be useful.

Elbow suggests questions which can be used to assess four qualities in a piece of writing:

A) What is the quality of the content of the writing: the ideas, the perceptions, the point of view?
Is the basic idea or insight a good one?
Is it supported by logical reasoning or valid argument?
Is it supported by evidence and examples?
Is it really saying something or is it just a collection of thoughts or observations (however unified and well written) sitting there limply? Did the writer communicate why this whole thing matters?
B) Is there too much abstraction or generalization? So few details, examples, and explanations that it ends up dull, empty, impossible to experience? or perhaps even impossible to understand?
Is there too little abstraction and too much clutter of detail? Too little standing back for perspective? Too little forest per tree?
Does it do what it says or implies it is going to do? Does it satisfy the issues it raises?
Is there a point of view or is the writing just disembodied statements from nowhere? And is that point of view unified and consistent?
Is the piece fitted to its audience? Has the writer understood their needs and point of view?
How well is the writing organized?
Is the whole thing unified? Is there one central idea to which everything pertains? Or is it pulling in two or three directions or full of loose ends and digressions?
C) Are the parts arranged in a coherent or logical sequence?
Is there a beginning? That is, does it start off in a way that allows you to get comfortably started? (The safest and most common way of doing this is to give an introduction — for example, a quick explanation of what’s to come. But of course that’s not the only way. Indeed plunging the reader into the middle of things without warning can function as a good beginning.)
Is there a middle? A body, some girth or solidity, some sense of meat and potatoes, sufficiency? Or does it turn around and say good-bye almost as soon as it is finished saying hello?
Is there an ending? Does it give you a sense of closure or completion? (The safest and most common method of doing this is to end with a conclusion — not just repeating what went before but figuring out what everything means or adds up to. But again, that’s not the only good way to end a piece.)
Were the paragraphs really paragraphs? Could you tell what each one was saying? Did they function as helpful and comfortable units of thought: not too much to carry in your arms, but not so little that it feels like a wasted trip?
How effective is the language?
Are the sentences clear and readable?
Are the words used correctly?
D) Is it succinct enough for the purpose and audience? Not too long, repetitious, dull?
Is it full enough? Or does the writer squeeze out so much of the juice of human communication, the oil of actual spoken discourse, that the language, even if correct, is indigestible?
Does the diction, mood, or level of formality fit the audience and occasion?
Is the language alive, human, interesting? Either because of interesting metaphors or turns of phrase; or because of a voice or presence in the words — a sense of someone’s actually being there?
Are there mistakes or inappropriate choices of usage?
Are there mistakes in grammar, usage, spelling and typing?
Are there mistakes in footnotes, graphs, or other special effects?
Is it neat and easy to read on the page?
Visit Writing with Power for more great insights

- Posted on November 21st, 2008 in Pages, Education, Publications, Free Stuff | 2,090 Views |

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