I found this example of writing in EMU’s catalog:

“Students should be aware that for some scholarships offered by the University pass/fail courses are not considered part of the minimum required load for scholarship. Students also should be fully aware of the possible implications of this option for acceptance into graduate schools and competition for financial aid. It has been ascertained that most graduate schools will accept students who have elected to take some courses on a pass/fail basis, but that if courses taken on this basis are sufficient in number on the transcript, Graduate School Examinations may be utilized to determine the student’s acceptability. Graduate schools, in general, do tend to favor those applicants who have good letter grades on their transcripts.”

If Williams were to revise this entry, it might look more like this:

You may be disqualified from some University scholarships if you take the pass/fail option for courses. Also, pass/fail courses may disqualify you from merit based financial aid and impact graduate school acceptance. Most graduate schools accept students who have taken some pass/fail courses. However, Graduate School Examinations may be given if you have a high number of pass/fail courses on your transcript. Generally speaking, graduate schools prefer to see good letter grades over pass/fail courses on your transcript.

In Style Toward Clarity and Grace, Williams acknowledges you should know your audience when writing. A University catalog should be written with a 12th grade reading level in mind. According to an online calculator, the University’s passage has a grade level of 18. With just a few small changes, my passage has a grade level of 12, according to the same calculator. A 12th grade reading level is acceptable for a University catalog, whereas anything higher is not.

I tried to put subjects close to their verbs, as Williams suggests in his book. Williams says this clarifies my writing for the reader. Additionally, I tried to make the sentences as active as possible, instead of passive. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds in the book to do so! Some of the information requires words like “may” for legal reasons, so I kept a little legal wiggle room in my revision. If I didn’t think some legal wiggle room was necessary, I could have made additional verb changes.

For cohesion purposes, I tried to move from the known to the unknown as best as possible. Also, I tried to take the last thought from my previous sentence to start the following sentence, at least when appropriate. I moved some words and phrases around to try to give emphasis to what I think are the important details, as well. Finally, I tried to maintain coherence by thinking about the overall topic string while revising.

I admit, however, I could have spent hours trying to revise the four sentences using the advice of Williams. He has a lot of good and practical advice, but it is NOT easy yet to integrate all of them into the revision process. Perhaps I should have focused on one or two areas of revision instead? I guess I thought it wouldn’t be that hard to try and use a little bit of everything I’ve read by him with just a 4 sentence selection. But, it was still quite challenging. I realize now it will take time for me to feel comfortable applying the knowledge I am gaining from Williams. But, that’s okay. I’ll get there some day.

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