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!

2 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.”