Tuesday, November 24, 2009


“We perhaps never detect how much of our social demeanor is made up of artificial airs until we see a person who is at once beautiful and simple; without the beauty, we are apt to call simplicity awkwardness.” (my italics)
-- from George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss

    When I read these words over breakfast this morning, I suddenly understood what I’ve been looking for in my students’ writing all these years: simplicity and beauty. I was taken aback by the clarity of the insight: all the students need to do to create successful academic papers is make their writing clear-cut and at least somewhat beautiful. When I talk with the kids about writing, I often get over-involved in unnecessarily complex guideline, rules, and requirements, forgetting how simple it is to describe good writing: it’s direct and well-dressed. Of course, it’s not always easy to do this kind of writing, but it might be easier, now, to explain what makes it good. Of course, I must remember that both qualities are necessary. As Eliot suggests, anything that has simplicity without beauty, including writing, can verge on clumsiness and dullness, and beauty without simplicity is often nothing more than flamboyance.  I want my writing students to find the lucky combination – the blending of straightforwardness and style. It’s really as simple as that.

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