[Previously published on GoodReads 2019-02-20.] For those of you who don’t know, I write both fiction and text books. These involve very different writing styles.
Creative writing involves metaphors, similes, double entendres, sub-text, hyperbole, synecdoche, litotes, aporia, aposiopesis, intertextuality and so on. Readers often enjoy discovering new meaning when they re-read their favourite books. The language used within the work can trigger emotional responses.
Technical writing requires plain English, written in a precise, unambiguous style. Customers don’t want to be told that the product they purchased doesn’t actually do what they thought because they didn’t interpret the subtle nuances within the product specifications. If I buy a DIY kit I don’t expect to have to analyse the instructions for hidden meaning. Technical manuals, user guides, official documents should all provide the reader with the information they require accurately and concisely. In our modern Internet age, people reading web pages may well be reading the text through a translation service. For example, this page is written in English, but if a non-English speaker wants to read it they can do so using, for example, Google Translate. These translation services work best with plain, unambiguous, well-written, error-free text. This is something that all businesses and organisations should bear in mind if they have an interest in the international community. I hope this is something I have achieved in my text books and whenever I post answers to technical questions on the Internet. (The temptation to slip into creative writing is always present, but I try to avoid it.)
In the UK (at least in England, I’m assuming it’s the same in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), the secondary education system has two English GCSEs: English Literature and English Language. The first studies set books and analyses the creative writing used within that work. The second includes writing fiction and comprehending pieces of creative writing, where the samples are taken from classic novels or from articles.
Both GCSEs emphasize creative writing skills. This is as it should be for the English Literature course, but the lack of a specific technical writing GCSE is a cause for concern. Firstly from the point of view of employers who are aiming for the Crystal Mark. They need to know the technical writing skills of job applicants, but they can’t tell this from the English Language GCSE. The second problem bothers me even more: the current system discriminates against students on the Autistic Spectrum, who may have a wide vocabulary, good spelling, punctuation and a firm understanding of grammar, but because they can’t understand sub-text, emotional responses and non-literal phrases they fail the English Language GCSE. The education system labels them as illiterate even if they have far better technical writing skills than their neurotypical peers who are able to pass the GCSE because they can understand sub-text and can write about emotions.
I’m not faulting the English teachers here. There are many good teachers who are aware of this discrimination, but they are constrained by the curriculum. However I have also heard arguments along the lines of ‘They need to learn how to understand sub-text and non-literal expressions in case they encounter it in their profession.’ This has no more sense than saying that a colour-blind person needs to learn how to distinguish between colours in case they enter a profession that requires that ability. It shows a basic lack of understanding of disabilities.
I believe that the curriculum should consist of three separate English GCSEs:
- English Literature. (As it currently is.)
- Creative Writing. (Much of what the current English Language GCSE entails.)
- Technical English.
This would not only help to end the curriculum’s current discrimination against Autistic pupils but will also benefit business and technical sectors who need employees with technical writing skills.