This exercise, a winner
of the 2006 Style Pedagogy Contest, was contributed by Wesley
Cohesion and Coherence
Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 20 minutes
This classroom or homework exercise gives students unclear sentences from a real world figure to revise. The following examples are from Alan Greenspan, but you can substitute any notoriously unclear politician or public figure.
As a follow-up, ask students to scavenge for examples of similarly
bad prose to share with the class. They can find these anywhere:
course readings from ENWR and other classes, web browsing, newspapers,
signs and advertisements, etc. To avoid having them simply bring
in writing from their disciplines that looks difficult, you can
assign each student a category of problem: excessive nominalizations,
poor information flow, incoherent topic strings, unwieldy word
choice, and any other problems you want to highlight.
Microsoft Word handout with Greenspan sentences.
In academic prose, we seek clarity. Alan Greenspan, the former
Federal Reserve Chairman, is famous for not being clear. Here’s how he put it: “I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you've probably misunderstood what I've said.” Revise three of the sentences below. Use character and action, short to long, old to new, and topic stress.
On economic flexibility: "History cautions that extended
periods of low concern about credit risk have invariably been followed
by reversal, with an attendant fall in the prices of risky assets.
Such developments apparently reflect not only market dynamics but
also the all-too-evident alternating and infectious bouts of human
euphoria and distress and the instability they engender." —September
On the housing boom: "The housing boom will inevitably simmer down. As part of that process, house turnover will decline from currently historic levels, while home price increases will slow and prices could even decrease. As a consequence, home equity extraction will ease and with it some of the strength in personal consumption expenditures. The estimates of how much differ widely." —August 27, 2005
Monetary policy report to Congress: "Our baseline outlook for the U.S. economy is one of sustained economic growth and contained inflation pressures. In our view, realizing this outcome will require the Federal Reserve to continue to remove monetary accommodation. This generally favorable outlook, however, is attended by some significant uncertainties that warrant careful scrutiny." —July 20, 2005
On Social Security and Retirement Programs Generally: "The
bottom line in the success of all retirement programs is the availability
of real resources at retirement. The financial systems associated
with retirement plans facilitate the allocation of resources that
supply retirement consumption of goods and services; they do not
produce goods and services. A useful test of a retirement system
for a society is whether it sets up realistic expectations as to
the future availability of real resources and, hence, the capacity
to deliver postwork consumption without overly burdening the standard
of living of the working-age population". —March 15, 2005
Quotes from Greenspan are from one of these sites: