Bad Ideas About Writing is a useful and accessible text that aims, as we mention throughout these segments, to reach a more widespread audience rather than continuing to preach to the rhetoric and composition choir. Because of its intention to influence the general public to see writing in ways that many people outside the field decidedly do not see it, rather than the already-nodding heads of scholars in the field, there are a number of aspects of the text that were different from most scholarly texts about writing. Although several of these aspects make the text ideal for the intended audience, some features—or lack of features—were puzzling or frustrating.
Readers, regardless of their background, will find the language and short-essay format simple to follow. Written with limited jargon and paragraphs free of references a non-academic reader might find confusing or distracting, each section is easy to read, easy to understand, and brief. It's a veritable bathroom book of composition theory. The brevity and precision of each essay makes it easy to find something of relevance, read about it, and move on to the task at hand for which said relevant topic was needed. And although the brevity sometimes leaves the reader wanting more details or specifics about the concepts or suggestions, every essay concludes with a short section instructing the reader where to find additional information. This design is particularly helpful for outsiders to or novices in the discipline and may be a great way to introduce such readers to more complex scholarship in the field.
Further, although the text attempted to correct the thinking of people who believe in popular myths of writing and the writing process, it did so in a way that is neither insulting nor condescending. Especially in the current political climate, many people have hardened to criticisms of their thinking or beliefs because of the perception that those who think or believe differently are too heavy-handed in those criticisms. This was not the case in Bad Ideas About Writing. We discuss in several of the chapter reviews that the essayists often did an excellent job filling in background as to why so many people believe as they do about these misconceptions of writing. Thus, rather than criticizing the reader for being so foolish as to believe such a thing, the writers couched the false understandings in background information. In doing so, the text is much more likely to actually change the thinking and understanding of audiences outside the discipline by creating a common ground.
The open access nature of the text means that anyone with internet access can read the text at no cost. This is an obvious strong point for gaining a wider audience: who doesn't love free stuff, right? But open access also means that readers have to know where to go and how to access it. These are not difficult concepts, mind you, but they fall squarely into the category of COIK: clear only if known. If readers know where and how to find the text—and they know it exists—it's a piece of cake. If they don't, however (and this, of course, is where most of the general audience lies in terms of understanding), it is unlikely that they will find and access the text, regardless of its awesome freeness. So although Ball and Loewe clearly stated that their intended audience was a broad one (p. 2), we feel that the book needs an intermediary audience—almost certainly scholars in the field of rhetoric and composition—to talk up its strengths and possibilities with folks outside the discipline in order for it to gain wider recognition and readership. Such a thing is time consuming, and that broader audience is not as likely to snag and read this text as they are to pick up the latest bestseller by Tom Clancy, partly because its online and free nature makes it invisible to many book shoppers.
Bad Ideas About Writing is a veritable bathroom book of composition theory.
Of course, the text also makes for a good introduction to writing myths for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as preservice English teachers. In the Applications for Students and Courses section, we explore ways that this text makes composition theory accessible to beginning writing students. The text can be used with an intermediary audience that would then be able to further share it. And because it is free, it is an ideal resource for cash-strapped students who may or may not have the background in composition theory that many other texts require for deeper understanding.
The fact that the text is online also presents both advantages and drawbacks. Although it is easy to find (provided you already know it exists) any time you have an internet connection, making it an easily portable text, all of our reviewers were baffled by the text's failure to take advantage of virtually any of the affordances of an online medium. The text is a giant PDF. There are no links to chapters or essays in the table or contents or between sections, so if a reader wants to consider chapter 6 in conversation with chapter 3, or to reach the later essays in the book, they end up doing a lot of obnoxious scrolling. Had the text been developed with inter-linked sections rather than as a standard, linear PDF, readers could quickly and easily manipulate without the frustration of scrolling past several hundred pages. If you are already familiar with the text and know what you're looking for, there are some ways to avoid the scrolling (control+F or command+F works wonders, but only if you have a specific destination in mind); using hyperlinks would have been much easier and more accessible. A reimagined Table of Contents is included as part of the review, and the review links to specific sections of the book as they are cited, in hopes of helping continue to make the work accessible.
In addition, a more interactive format would have mitigated another beef most reviewers in our group had with the text: its organization. For the most part, the essays were organized in a way that made sense and in chapters where readers could clearly understand the essays' placement. There were a few areas of confusion, however. Most of the essays about plagiarism are in chapter 5—by far the longest chapter of the book—about genres. We were flummoxed by the placement of these essays here rather than in chapter 4, which is about techniques and contains only three essays. Granted, we don't consider plagiarism to be a "technique," but considering the brevity of chapter 4 and the length of chapter 5, the placement of the plagiarism essays struck us as illogical. Further, another plagiarism essay appears in chapter 6, which is about assessment, and although it fits quite nicely there, we again found it strange that the plaigiarism essays were divvied up in such a way, and that the obvious-seeming connections between essays in different chapters were not made explicit or accessible through the use of hyperlinks.
A similar issue happens with several essays from chapter 2 about who good writers are that could have been placed in chapter 3 about grammar, style, and usage. We understand the inclination to place essays about dialect in the chapter about writer identity (and it is the best placement for them from a linguistic standpoint, since language is an element of identity); however, because the audience was purportedly the general public and the general public tends to see dialect difference as error in "grammar," it seems more logical that the essays would be in chapter 3. All that said, these issues of placement would be non-issues if they could have been cross-listed in more than one chapter as part of an interactive webtext. Thus, those of us who already know and understand that dialect is connected to identity would find the chapters about dialect listed under "Bad Ideas about Who Good Writers Are," and the broader audience who might not be aware of the connection of language and identity could find those same essays discussed in conversation with "Bad Ideas about Grammar, Style, and Usage." Many of the essay topics in Bad Ideas about Writing fell under more than one category, and it would be particularly useful to outsiders to see the cross-listing as a way of understanding how these concepts weave a complicated fabric of composition.
Overall, Bad Ideas About Writing accomplishes many of its goals: it is a text that speaks to a wide variety of audiences, provided it can reach them. The research, resources, and insights included in the book are likely to be of use to seasoned scholars, novice students, and non-academic readers who are curious about writing. Despite its failure to take advantage of some of the affordances of online publishing, the book is an excellent addition to the growing collection of open-access works in the field. The remainder of this review—accessible through the drop-down menus at the top of the page—provides a closer look at each chapter, and takes a deep dive into uses for the text with undergraduate students, graduate students, and for scholarly research.
This review is interactive and aims to allow readers to experience it in various ways. We offer here a bit of information that may enhance your reading and understanding of the piece.
There are three types of reviews here: overviews, chapter reviews, and applications reviews. The two overviews offer a discussion of the structure of Bad Ideas about Writing and a comprehensive review of the text as a whole. The chapter reviews seek to convey the essence of each chapter with a focus on how each essay within the chapter may be of use to readers. Chapter reviews tend to focus on cohesion, thoughts, limitations, and audiences. The application reviews consider how the text might be used in academic settings, either in research or in teaching. Finally, there is a reimagined table of contents for the book.
This review, in an effort to mirror the multiplicity of voices represented in Bad Ideas about Writing, employs the voices of seven reviewers. Although the review as a whole is collaborative in nature, you will find in reading the various elements different styles, voices, and even shades of difference in opinion. Each of the reviewers chose to write their contributions based on their research interests, background, and experiences. We hope, in developing the full manuscript in this way, that not only are more voices heard, but that those voices represent interest and expertise in the specific elements reviewed.
You can access all portions of the review using the navigation bar and dropdown menus at the top of each page. Within the reviews, you will encounter hyperlinks to other portions of our own review as well as links directly to relevant portions of the Bad Ideas About Writing PDF. These hyperlinks are embedded in the text and incorporated visually, through the images below; you will encounter these images on the review pages as well as in the gallery below. You can navigate within the review using the images and in-text hyperlinks, and access the Bad Ideas About Writing PDF via hyperlinks throughout the text.