Enlivened Prose

Writers addressing a general audience employ a vivid, engaging, and easy-to-read style quite different from most academic prose. You can see the difference in an experiment conducted by Michael Graves and Wayne Slater at the University of Michigan. For their study a team of Time-Life book editors rewrote passages from a high school history textbook. The editors tried “to make the texts interesting, exciting, vivid, rich in human drama, and filled with colorful language.” A group of 300 eleventh-grade students found the revised version both clearer and much more memorable than the original.

The Time-Life editors applied several specific strategies to enliven the textbook’s prose.

  • They employed rich sensory details and concrete language.
  • They added vivid, dramatic scenes. (According to the editors, such scenes, or “nuggets” — vivid events that encapsulate complex processes or principles — are the lifeblood of Time-Life prose.)
  • They often delayed critical information for dramatic effect.

Look for examples of each of these strategies in the following Time-Life revision:

Original History Text

The most serious threat to world peace developed in Southeast Asia. Communist guerrillas threatened the independence of the countries carved out of French Indo-China by the Geneva conference of 1954. In South Vietnam, Communist guerrillas (the Viet Cong) were aided by forces from Communist North Vietnam in a struggle to overthrow the American-supported government. …

Shortly after the election of 1964, Communist gains prompted President Johnson to alter his policy concerning Vietnam. American military forces in Vietnam were increased from about 20,000 men in 1964 to more than 500,000 by 1968. Even so, North Vietnamese troops and supplies continued to pour into South Vietnam.

Time-Life Editors’ Revision

In the early 1960’s the greatest threat to world peace was just a small splotch of color on Kennedy’s map, one of the fledgling nations sculpted out of French Indo-China by the Geneva peacemakers of 1954. It was a country so tiny and remote that most Americans had never uttered its name: South Vietnam. …

Aided by Communist North Vietnam, the Viet Cong guerrillas were eroding the ground beneath South Vietnam’s American-backed government. Village by village, road by road, these jungle-wise rebels were waging a war of ambush and mining. They darted out of tunnels to head off patrols, buried exploding booby traps beneath the mud floors of huts, and hid razor-sharp bamboo sticks in holes. …

No sooner had Johnson won the election than Communist gains prompted Johnson to go back on his campaign promise. The number of American soldiers in Vietnam skyrocketed from 20,000 in 1964 to more than 500,000 by 1968. But in spite of GI patrols, leech-infested jungles, swarms of buzzing insects, and flash floods that made men cling to trees to escape being washed away — North Vietnamese troops streamed southward without letup along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.


Your Task

Enliven the following paragraph (from a student argument opposing women’s serving on submarines) using the Time-Life editors’ techniques: concrete language, dramatic scenes or “nuggets,” and delayed critical information for dramatic effect.

Women on Submarines

Not only would it be very expensive to refit submarines for women personnel, but having women on submarines would hurt the morale of the sailors. In order for a crew to work effectively, they must have good morale or their discontent begins to show through their performance. This is especially crucial on submarines, where if any problem occurs, it affects the safety of the whole ship. Women would hurt morale by creating sexual tension. Sexual tension can take many forms. One form is couples’ working and living in a close space with all of the crew. When a problem occurs within the relationship, it could affect the morale of those directly involved and in the workplace. This would also occur if one of the women became pregnant or if there were complaints of sexual harassment. It would be easier to deal with these problems on a surface ship, but int he small confines of a submarine these problems would cause more trouble.


Due: Friday, April 25

Writing Exercises

Page Last Updated: 12 January 2014