Higher Education: Writing's on the Wall ; Students and Academics Are Being Taught How to Write, Says DAVID QUIN

Article excerpt

Academics and students are well aware of the dangers of badly written books and articles. It's an occupational hazard. If a particularly dry tome is on the reading list, word gets out. But as the pressure mounts on universities to persuade their academics to get their works published, the need for clearer writing increases.

Now help is at hand. A partnership between the Royal Literary Fund and 38 universities aims to assist students and staff with their writing styles. The scheme has put 55 professional writers in universities to improve academic language. Funding comes from the royalties of the estates of writers such as AA Milne and Somerset Maugham, and the money goes towards year-long contracts for university fellows.

"I have encountered some appalling English," says Mary Flanagan, a novelist and the fund's fellow at the University of Leicester. "But it's not the university or the students' fault. They are victims of an educational crime going way back to primary school. Although some are very bright, many simply haven't been taught their own language. My best student is Greek."

Flanagan says her role is very different from that of the traditional writer in residence. "Unlike a creative writing course, the students accept criticism with good grace. Academia can often encourage a certain verbosity, so I spend a lot of time cutting. …