Barry Kalb, Honorary Lecturer at the JMSC, normally teaches news writing to BJs and MJs at the JMSC, but over the last year he’s held half a dozen writing workshops for university staff.
He starts off by citing examples of bad writing and laying down some golden rules, the same rules he gives students. They include: keep it simple, get to the point, keep your audience in mind, not every noun requires an adjective, and avoid jargon and babble.
When he started the courses he tried to steer clear of grammar but feedback showed the participants wanted it. In response, he now points out the most common grammatical errors that non-native speaking English people make, including the trials and tribulations of getting verb tenses right.
The course is split into two three-hour sessions. On day one, the class looks at the rules and examples of bad writing taken from the departments and areas that the participants come from. On day two, they look at how to write a press release.
Barry is careful to inject humour into the classes.
“It’s important to make people laugh as I am telling them their writing needs improving.”
The classes have had an enthusiastic response. Alan Ng, who took part in the most recent sessions at the end of February was glad that Barry made it fun.
“The appropriate amount of humour made the whole learning process much more interesting and fun. The bad examples in the rewritten version help a lot to evaluate whether a piece of written English is good.”
Kalb is writing a guide to good English writing for non-native English writers, which will be published in the summer.