In the past, I’ve written on the importance of good writing skills, as well as posted some tips to improve writing skills. This post is an extension of those previous entries and might act as an example of good writing in action. Because I mentioned Matthew Arnold and his belief in the English language and its literature as the basis of a good education in my post about the importance of good writing skills, I felt it would be appropriate to use him as the example. Thinking about this while tooling around on the Internet, I came across an opinion essay called “Discourse Integration by Manipulation: Matthew Arnold” by Avon Crismore, written for the Center for the Study of Reading in which Crismore examines Arnold’s writing style. The full text of the article is available through ERIC (or Education Resources Information Center) and a summary of the abstract can be found in the following:
In the writing of Matthew Arnold, integration, one great impression rather than many great individual lines, is the most important goal. In his essay, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” the “blocs” of his thoughts occur in sets of two, three, or even four sentences: in effect, he writes much like a poet, in couplets, triplets, and quatrains. He also uses a variety of devices to combine his blocs into larger discourse units. His high level of redundancy helps readers integrate and process his difficult text. He manipulates structure to attain parallelism and characteristically puts the most important information in subordinate clauses and phrases. On the semantic level, he does not use many synonyms, preferring repetition of key words to achieve cohesion. This repetition slows the presentation of new information and leads to greater ease of processing. Arnold’s discourse blocs, surface form manipulations, foregrounding, and redundancy all serve to help him develop his ideas while keeping his sentences intermeshed and his prose coherent.
Although Arnold wrote the text in question in 1895, I feel that a modern reader can still access it today with ease. Thanks to Google Books, a digitized version of Arnold’s complete work (“The Function of Criticism at the Present Time”) is available for your perusal by clicking on the link provided in the previous paragraph. I strongly recommend reading Crismore’s work or at least skimming it (at 29 pages this should not take very long) and then reading a good bit of Arnold’s piece, looking for those devices and techniques that Crismore mentions in her essay.