Here’s the work I did to improve two sentences in a recent post. The first draft:
If the most powerful and moneyed interests who now seek to reshape higher education have their way, what we call “college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing reserved for a privileged few and credits and credentials — haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed — for everyone else. If this future weren’t already in itself appalling, the rhetoric of inevitability that accompanies it — get on board or risk being swept away — might alone be reason enough to object.The work of revising, with additions in red, some deleted:
IfMost of the changes are in the interest of concision, fewer words with no loss of meaning or detail (the noun clause “what we call ‘college,’” for instance, reduced to “‘college,’” with the quotation marks doing the work of the deleted words). I used a pair of commas to avoid the ungainly repetition of dashes. I hit on prospect as a better choice than the trite future or the loftier vision, and chose sells as a far better verb than accompanies. The aside about MOOC stars came to me while revising: and yes, I do think there’s shameless cynicism in trading on prestigious names to sell a feeble replacement for real-presence education. The aside is practical too: the interruption eliminates the slightly misleading and of “a privileged few and credits.” The revised sentences:
the mostpowerful and moneyed interests whonow seeking to reshape higher education have their way, what we call“college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing reservedfor a privileged few (MOOC stars have to teach somewhere, right?) and credits and credentials, /haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed, /for everyone else. If this future visionprospect weren’t alreadyin itself appalling, the rhetoric of inevitability that accompaniessells it — get on board or riskbe ingswept away — mightwould alonebe reason enough to object.
If powerful and moneyed interests now seeking to reshape higher education have their way, “college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing for a privileged few (MOOC stars have to teach somewhere, right?) and credits and credentials, haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed, for everyone else. If this prospect weren’t in itself appalling, the rhetoric of inevitability that sells it — get on board or be swept away — would be reason enough to object.The changes are all minor. But such changes, multiplied over sentences and paragraphs, add up. Are they worth the time and effort? They are.
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)
Draft, draft, draft, draft (John McPhee on revision)
[This post is no. 43 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. This post is one of two about my writing. Here’s the other.]