Nov 4, 2012

The Writing Revolution

I, who have been keeping a weblog in Japanese for fifteen years and a weblog in English for two and a half years, am deeply interested in the method of writing.

I found the interesting article "The WritingRevolution" on "Atlantic Magazine website".  The author of this article wrote as followings.

Fifty years ago, elementary-school teachers taught the general rules of spelling and the structure of sentences. Later instruction focused on building solid paragraphs into full-blown essays. Some kids mastered it, but many did not. About 25 years ago, in an effort to enliven instruction and get more kids writing, schools of education began promoting a different approach. The popular thinking was that writing should be “caught, not taught,” explains Steven Graham, a professor of education instruction at Arizona State University. Roughly, it was supposed to work like this: Give students interesting creative-writing assignments; put that writing in a fun, social context in which kids share their work. Kids, the theory goes, will “catch” what they need in order to be successful writers. Formal lessons in grammar, sentence structure, and essay-writing took a back seat to creative expression.

The catch method works for some kids, to a point. “Research tells us some students catch quite a bit, but not everything,” Graham says. And some kids don’t catch much at all. Kids who come from poverty, who had weak early instruction, or who have learning difficulties, he explains, “can’t catch anywhere near what they need” to write an essay. For most of the 1990s, elementary- and middle-­school children kept journals in which they wrote personal narratives, poetry, and memoirs and engaged in “peer editing,” without much attention to formal composition. Middle- and high-school teachers were supposed to provide the expository- and persuasive-writing instruction.
I heard that in school of the U.S. the method of writing was emphasized, so I was surprised with this article.

Although I don't know about the present education of writing in Japan, I got "the catch method" of writing education in school. I had to write a diary in every summer vacation for homework, and I didn't know what I should write on a diary, which my teachers would read.

After I finished school, I learned the method of writing by myself. The most useful reference for me is Barbara Minto's "The MintoPyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking, & Problem Solving." It's no useful for me to learn "the catch method" in school. Of course there are people who don't like "the pyramid principle."

I think that the suitable method of writing differs depending on the person. Someone can become able to write creatively well by learning "the catch method." But it is effective for someone to learn "the pyramid principle" like me. It might be important for anyone to be able to choice their suitable method.

As I wrote in the entry "Swim in the Ocean", we wouldn't be able to swim in the ocean just with reading a book about how to swim. We have to write certain amount in order to became able to write well, if we learned any kind of methods.


  1. To me, this topic is like a red rag to a bull! ^^

    I firmly believe that excellent writers are born, not made. (NB excellent, not merely good.)

    Having said that, any person can improve his writing, but you have to master the rules (i.e. grammar and structure) before you can apply the rules creatively or break them completely.

    Thomas Alva Edison said "genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration". That applies to good writing, too. Good writing starts with reading as much as you can; it evolves with writing as much as you can; it ends with editing, re-editing and re-re-editing your own work.

    Heh. I guess I'm old-fashioned. :D

    PS: That is a very interesting article. Thanks for the link!

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      The goal of school education might not be making excellent writers, but making people be able to write an e-mail which is simple and readable, so I think that it is important to learn and master basic rules. And then people like you intend to be excellent writers.

    2. That's a good point about school education! ^^ The best way to master basic rules is drilling and repetition; but that's gone out of fashion in Western schools.

      PS: I can do factual writing reasonably well, but I'm totally useless when it comes to fiction! (>_<)

      PPS: How did you reach such a high level of English? Did you ever study/work overseas?

    3. I often mix facts and lies on my weblog, so I think that I'm good at writing fictions, haha.

      I'm just an ordinary Japanese "salaryman", and I haven't studied and worked overseas. I'm quite domestic.

    4. I asked because your English is very natural. It doesn't sound like textbook English.

      Lies? OK, I'll see whether I can catch you out! ^^

    5. Thank you very much. I'm wondering what impression my English writings give to readers, especially native speakers, so I'm glad to hear my English is natural.

      Sometime I translate my English entry into Japanese on my Japanese weblog 「山の手の日常」(, and my Japanese become unnatural, haha!