Additional writing guidance

Good writing isn’t merely a matter of using good grammar or following prescribed styles. It’s a fundamental means of communication that takes practice to perfect.

Some additional matters of style and usage to keep in mind as you prepare communications about RISD:

adjectives

Wonderful as adjectives are, try to use them purposefully and sparingly in RISD writing. While writing about art(ists) and design(ers) certainly calls for descriptive—even colorful—language, try to narrow your word choice down to avoid the fussy or flowery feel that accompanies adjectival excess:

no: The persistent staccato of her fierce, bold brushstrokes lent an odd, strangely unnerving quality to the whisper of the soft pastels on densely-covered canvases with an otherwise calming, otherworldly effect.

Although it’s common practice in certain types of writing to drop the -ly at the end of adverbs and use adjectives in an adverbial fashion, as in:

Bike safe! Drive slow! Lose weight fast!

resist the temptation in RISD writing and keep those two letters when the usage calls for them:

Bike safely. Drive slowly. Lose weight quickly (by fasting)!

audience

Think of the type of person who will be reading your text. If the primary audience is teenagers (prospective or current students), the tone might be looser than average, but should not be self-consciously trendy. Try for informality without resorting to slang.

Content written for alumni can have more attitude than for, say, museum members, who may expect an intelligent, measured tone, but wouldn’t be averse to a playful one.

In the end, finding the most appropriate tone is a judgment call, but one that should be informed by an understanding of RISD’s objectives and culture.

contractions

When using an informal, conversational style, make use of contractions, except at the beginning of a sentence (unless the sentence begins with: It’s).

no: He’ll respond to all questions....

yes: It’s very difficult to follow what you’re saying.

When writing in a more formal tone, avoid mixing contractions with more traditional written language:

no: The dean will respond to all queries at the next available moment. Since he can’t be disturbed, please do not expect a response until later.

If, on the other hand, you want the text to read more like spoken language, try something like:

yes: He will respond to all questions as soon as possible. He can’t be disturbed before lunch, though, so don’t expect to hear from him until after 2pm.

exclamation points

Convey urgency, energy and/or excitement through word choice and formatting as opposed to punctuation:

Join us. It promises to be memorable.

For the best price, enroll before April 15.

vs:

Don’t miss the chance to reconnect with friends!

Enroll before April 15 for the best price!!

If an exclamation point feels absolutely necessary given the context or message, use only one.

length

For most written communications at RISD, think haiku, not dissertation. People are already bombarded with more information than they can process, so write concisely and delete extraneous words and phrases. For most situations, paragraphs should be short and to the point (usually three or four sentences at most).

misplaced modifiers

When using a participial phrases at the beginning of a sentence, make sure it agrees with the subject of the sentence. For instance, these constructions are incorrect:

no: On arriving at RISD, the Admissions Office welcomes all new candidates.

no: Without someone to stop her, the temptation proved irresistible.

Since the intended subject of the first sentence is new candidates, not the Admissions Office, the sentence should read:

yes: On arriving at RISD, all new candidates are welcomed by the Admissions Office.

yes: The Admissions Office welcomes all new candidates as they arrive at RISD.

In the second ungrammatical sentence above, the intended subject is not the temptation, but rather an implied she, meaning the sentence should read:

yes: Without someone to stop her, she found the temptation irresistible.

yes: Without someone to stop her, she gave into temptation.

mode of address

The second-person direct address (you) is recommended when trying to engage an audience:

You will explore your natural surroundings as you discover new materials...

This approach is preferred to less personal third-person options such as:

The student will explore her natural surroundings as she discovers new materials…

Students will explore their natural surroundings as they discover new materials...

Or the formal:

no: One can explore one’s surroundings as one discovers new materials...

parenthetical expressions

The decision about when to set off a parenthetical expression (that is, a phrase that explains or elaborates upon a noun or thought preceding it) with commas, dashes or parentheses should be based on emphasis and context. If the information you’re conveying is truly an aside, put it between parentheses:

Tutors at the Center for Arts & Languages (formerly known as the RISD Writing Center) help advise peers on how to craft everything from artist’s statements to grant applications.

If the phrase helps clarify the thought or situation, but doesn’t deserve undue emphasis, put it between commas:

Mr. Reid would watch me painting, standing over my shoulder, and exclaim, ‘Oh, you must stop right now!’

If you want to emphasize the information you’re conveying—i.e. for clarification or to add detail—put it between em-dashes, with no spaces on either side of the dash:

The company donated money, materials, models, machines—even desks and chairs—and provided a steady stream of students.

prepositions

When using prepositions, remember to pay attention to what you’re saying. Is a person a program head for or of a particular area? Does she hold a master’s of or in painting?

teaches in the Illustration Department at Rhode Island School of Design

teaches at RISD

a graduate of Yale University

holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting

her work is part of a series being shown in Exhibition X at Museum Y

he is a principal of the ABC Studio, where he is responsible forsaying the alphabet

she is an associate vice president at RISD

she is an associate vice president of time management at RISD

she is the associate vice president for Human Resources

the curator of contemporary art at the RISD Museum

the head of the Education Department

Dangling prepositions (i.e. prepositions at the end of a sentence) are not something to strive for. But that construction is acceptable when the alternative is syntax as stodgy as:

no: Dangling prepositions are not something for which to strive.

This is not to say we’re advocating bad grammar. In fact, it’s generally preferable to word each sentence to avoid ending with a preposition. However, if there’s no better way to communicate your intention, go for it:

yes: That’s not what she asked for.

useful descriptors

When writing about RISD projects, studios and community members, certain words tend to recur. The following nouns and adjectives may be helpful when describing the creative process and/or students, faculty, alumni and what they produce.

inquisitive / curious / intellectually agile / nimble

innovators / problem solvers

driven / passionate / engaged / excited

entrepreneurial / self-directed

willing to take risks / willing to fail / fearless

rigor / rigorous

intense

immersive

fun / playful / high-energy

studio-based / hands-on making

inquiry / investigation / experimentation / research

question / challenge assumptions

multidisciplinary / interdisciplinary

collaboration

intervention

transformation / transformative

craftsmanship

inspired by complexity

verb tenses

Changing verb tense mid-paragraph is common in casual speech, but it doesn’t work on the page. It’s best to keep tenses consistent even in informal writing:

yes: I was biking on Benefit Street when a dog appeared out of nowhere and ran into the road.

Popping into the present tense can impart a sense of immediacy when you’re telling a story but should be done only in speech:

no: I was biking on Benefit Street when this dog appears out of nowhere and runs into the road.

Note also that ‘this’ (used as an article with ‘dog’ for emphasis) is too colloquial for written material and should be replaced with ‘a.’

no: She thinks she’ll tell him how she remembered having him as a teacher years ago. He stands in front of the class and demanded complete silence, which terrifies her.

yes: She thinks about telling him that she remembers having had him as a teacher years ago. He stood in front of the class and demanded complete silence, which terrified her.