One of my best teachers in high school was my calculus teacher. With his other role as director of school musicals, Mr. Sankey brought theatrics to math class. One minus the sine squared, he would say in a booming stage voice. We knew our cue. Cosine squared, we would all boom back. And although my knowledge of calculus 26 years later is shaky, I know that if someone stopped me in the street, I could easily, confidently–and loudly–proclaim that sine squared plus cosine squared equals one.
What we say, and what we repeat, sticks.
So I developed the Great Writing Truths.
The Great Writing Truths are principles of good writing that apply across teachers, genres, disciplines and levels of expertise. And as I tell students repeatedly, whether they’re writing a lab report, history essay, novel or email, these Truths work. While each discipline (and teacher) inevitably has its own small distinctions, good writing is good writing is good writing.
Here are The Great Writing Truths:
The First Great Writing Truth: The best writing is specific
The Second Great Writing Truth: The best writing leans toward clarity, concision and snappiness
The Third Great Writing Truth: The best writing comes when the writer is genuinely interested in her topic
I refer to them in class, I type them at the top of class assignments, I mention them in feedback. Tattoo it on your arm, I say. Write it in your planner, I say. So much of analytical writing is hard and amorphous, especially for beginning writers. Be more argumentative! Explain significance! Connect to the bigger picture! In contrast, The Great Writing Truths are easy anchors.
And they are basic writing principles that I want to stick. May they reverberate for at least 26 years.