Good with Words: A Series of Writing & Editing Courses from the University of Michigan

We’ve all used words just about as long as we’ve been alive. This obvi­ous truth, alas, has led too many of us into the delu­sion that we’re good with words: that we’re good speak­ers and, even more com­mon­ly and less jus­ti­fi­ably, that we’re good writ­ers. Yet any­one who’s seen or heard much of how words are used in the realms of busi­ness and acad­e­mia — to say noth­ing of per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence — does under­stand, on some lev­el, the true rar­i­ty of these skills. Now, those of us who rec­og­nize the need to shore up our own skills can do so through Good with Words, a spe­cial­iza­tion in writ­ing and edit­ing now offered by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan through online edu­ca­tion plat­form Cours­era.

Good with Words com­pris­es indi­vid­ual cours­es on word choice and word order, struc­ture and orga­ni­za­tion, draft­ing, and revis­ing. Here to teach them is Michi­gan Law School Clin­i­cal Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Law Patrick Bar­ry, of whose lec­tur­ing style you can get a taste in this Youtube playlist col­lect­ing clips of a writ­ing work­shop held for Michi­gan Law stu­dents in 2014.

In the clip above, he takes on the com­mon prob­lem of ver­bal clut­ter, work­ing from the def­i­n­i­tion orig­i­nal­ly laid out by On Writ­ing Well author William Zinss­er (whose ten writ­ing tips we pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture). In oth­er brief views, Bar­ry touch­es on every­thing from the pow­er of descrip­tion and sen­tence flow to facts ver­sus truths and zom­bie nouns.

In one work­shop clip, Bar­ry reminds his stu­dents that, in order to write good sen­tences, they must read good sen­tences. This point bears repeat­ing, and indeed Bar­ry repeats it in his Cours­era course, the rel­e­vant excerpt of which you can view here. “A young writer must read,” he quotes Colum McCann declar­ing in the book Let­ters to a Young Writer. “She must read and read and read. Adven­tur­ous­ly. Promis­cu­ous­ly. Unfail­ing­ly.” But tak­ing a course as well could­n’t hurt, espe­cial­ly when, as with Good with Words, it can be audit­ed for free. (Cours­era also offers a paid option for stu­dents who would like to receive a cer­tifi­cate upon com­plet­ing the spe­cial­iza­tion.) Bar­ry offers plen­ty of exam­ple sen­tences, good and less so, but the true writ­ers among us will nev­er stop look­ing for their own, even after Good with Words’ sug­gest­ed four-month dura­tion is over.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Writ­ing & Jour­nal­ism Cours­es

The Craft of Writ­ing Effec­tive­ly: Essen­tial Lessons from the Long­time Direc­tor of UChicago’s Writ­ing Pro­gram

10 Writ­ing Tips from Leg­endary Writ­ing Teacher William Zinss­er

Mar­tin Amis Explains His Method for Writ­ing Great Sen­tences

Jane Austen Used Pins to Edit Her Man­u­scripts: Before the Word Proces­sor & White-Out

Google & Cours­era Launch Career Cer­tifi­cates That Pre­pare Stu­dents for Jobs in 6 Months: Data Ana­lyt­ics, Project Man­age­ment and UX Design

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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