quote of the week: ursula le guin on technical writing

In poetry, by and large, one syllable out of every two or three has a beat on it: Tum ta Tum ta ta Tum Tum ta, and so on. . . .

In narrative prose, that ratio goes down to one beat in two to four: ta Tum tatty Tum ta Tum tatatty, and so on. . . .

In discursive and technical writing the ratio of unstressed syllables goes higher; textbook prose tends to hobble along clogged by a superfluity of egregiously unnecessary and understressed polysyllables.

Ursula K. Le Guin,
"Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings"
The Wave of the Mind  (Boston: Shambhala 2004)
[ellipses sic. paragraph breaks added]

Yet another reason to hire literature students!

3 Responses to quote of the week: ursula le guin on technical writing

  1. Elizabeth W. November 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    Ursula Le Guin + transit = best combination EVER! (And makes me ashamed of my technical writing.)

  2. Dexter Wong November 21, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    I would definitely agree. When I was in college, a textbook in my major field was hard to read. We informed the professor and he replied, “In this subject it is hard to find a person who knows his stuff and can write well. So you have hard-to-read stuff like your book.”

  3. Johny Thomas March 7, 2017 at 1:19 am #

    When I was at university, a book within my important field was difficult to read. We advised the professor and that he responded, “In this subject, it’s difficult to find an individual who knows his stuff and may write well. So you’ve hard-to-read things like your book.”

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