The linguist Geoffrey Pullum, after reading a student paper with endless passive-voice sentences, and after acknowledging that some writers (Noam Chomsky, Anthony Trollope, Jeffrey Ullman) get things right the first time:
Our students should not imagine they can adopt the working practices of such brilliant exceptions. They are mostly like you and me: Our first drafts aren’t good enough, and need many restructurings, improvements, and corrections before they are fit for a reader. Yes, a few authors can produce publishable prose without ever looking back, but they are outliers, not role models. Balzac “revised obsessively.” Dickens did likewise.Related posts
So, to the typical student working late Thursday night for a Friday paper deadline I say: You are not Chomsky or Ullman or Trollope, and you have left it too late! You cannot write A+ material the first time through. Next time start your paper at least a week ahead. Then rewrite it. Then read it aloud, and go through it again fixing some more of its faults: the echoes and clunkinesses; the slips in verb agreement; that vague bit you thought you might get away with; the sentence where you decided on a structure but changed syntactic horses midstream and ended up with gibberish.
And don’t tell me you don’t have the time! Ordinary working people do 40 hours a week. Typical millionaires work 70 or 80. Admit it, you’re not committing that kind of time to your studies. You can improve that paper, and ensure that reading it isn’t like being repetitively bludgeoned. Please.
Pullum on Strunk and White
More on Pullum, Strunk, White
Hardly (adverb) convincing (adjective)
[Pullum commented on the first of these posts. He’s never touched the third, which looks at his untenable claim that The Elements of Style forbids the use of adjectives and adverbs. In the Lingua Franca piece I’ve excerpted, Pullum still can’t acknowledge that inappropriate use of the passive voice is his student’s problem. Instead, it’s the student’s “tin ear.” I cannot see the difference. But I think this exhortation is worth sharing.]