Can you Write Better than a 5th Grader?

 March 12, 2012

One of the delights of having children is that when they reach a certain age, you can leave them in the care of highly qualified babysitters called teachers during the day to give you some much needed self-time and sanity. They are then returned to you later in the day hopefully thoroughly exhausted from a day of running around and playing with their friends and who knows, they might actually learn something occasionally!

One test our 5th grader recently brought home got me thinking laterally. He is finally at the age when they are beginning to learn sentence and word construction and the actual mechanics of writing. As an aid to this end, he came home with a checklist called ‘Traits of Good Writing’ where they are encouraged to rate their own writing and it occurred to me that a lot of this wisdom could be applied to the average press release writer too.

The writers are asked to judge their work on the following criteria – organization, voice, sentence fluency, idea development and word choice.

• My introduction grabs the reader’s attention.
• I used transition words to move from idea to idea.
• My paragraphs show where my subtopics begin and end.

Be honest, how many times have you broken these rules? Several of my introductions have been pedestrian and prosaic, I have used inappropriate words or inadequate words previously and even now, my paragraphs have a tendency to run on and merge into one another. I am delighted that the children are being taught the benefits of brevity!

• I really tried to show passion about my topic.
• If read aloud, it sounds like something I might really say.
• I did things in my writing to help my audience understand.
• I captured a tone or mood with my words.

‘I really tried to show passion about my topic’ I had to write it again to illustrate how important it is to also remind myself in my writing that this is the key. If you are not passionate or excited then how can you expect anybody else to be?  Similarly, even now, reading prose aloud or at least back to yourself will help you spot grammatical issues that your eyes might have skirted over.

Sentence fluency
• I use a mixture of simple and complex sentences.
• I use a variety of transitional words when I write.
• If read aloud, you can hear a rhythm behind my sentences.
• If I repeated anything, I did it for effect.

More good advice, specifically the last piece about repeating. it is a useful rule to teach that they can repeat themselves in the text if it has a purpose. I have read press releases before that say the same thing in a variety of ways for no other good purpose than to fill up space!

Idea development
• I used a balance of showing and telling.
• My details try to paint a picture in the reader’s head.
• I stayed on topic throughout the entire writing assignment.
• My theme/message is clear to my reader.

Clarity of message is the aim of any press release writer. This is addressed by stressing the need to stay on topic and also make the reason why they are writing is clear at all times.

Word choice
• My adjectives are excellent and thoughtful.
• I use a good balance of action and linking verbs.
• My nouns are precise; I don’t overuse pronouns.
• It is clear that I am not afraid to take risks with new words.

Another great tip here is not to be afraid of experimenting and trying out new combinations of words and phrases. Yes there are rules but like any good ones, they can be bent from time to time, although only if you know them first!

It is heartening to see that the next generation of press release writers are being taught the tools of the trade right now and also that the rules are just as applicable to professional writers as they are to 5th graders!

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