Other writing considerations

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.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind as you prepare communications about RISD:

Keep it concise

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).

Reconsider jargon

Avoid of-the-moment buzzwords in favor of more established terminology. When trying to determine whether a word is too jargony, it’s helpful to think of more familiar words that take on very specific and evolving meanings when imported into an industry context. Unless you’re quoting an artist or curator directly (in which case you should also consider paraphrasing), avoid jargon-ridden statements like this:

“Combining radical notions of performativity and the body as liminal space, the artist’s practice interrogates the theoretical limitations of altermodernism.” [source]

In cases when artists and designers are writing for an audience of peers, using specialized terms might be appropriate—or even expected. Otherwise it’s preferable to aim for more verbiage.

Use superlatives with care

Not everything is the best, the most innovative, the first-ever. When you’re inspired, it’s easy to get carried away with describing just about everything around us as:

innovative, cutting-edge, leading-edge, preeminent, state-of-the-art

Adjectives like these certainly have value in the RISD context, but they also run the risk of being so overused that they lose their impact. So just be sure to choose your words with care.

Avoid hyperbole

Don’t make claims that can’t be substantiated:

no: RISD offers more majors than any other college.

yes: RISD offers more discipline-specific studio majors than at most art and design schools in the US.

no: RISD is the best college of its kind in the country.

yes: RISD is recognized worldwide as a leader in art and design education.

Mind your metaphors

Be careful when using metaphors. Don’t fall into the snake-pit of malaproprisms when reaching too far for the perfect allusion, metaphor or simile:

no: Setting out on the long road to adulthood, he would have fallen off a limb and drowned in a sea of temptations if he hadn’t taken stock of his moral compass.

no: She was drowning in red tape and couldn’t begin to imagine how to dig herself out.

Humor and wit

If you’re actually good at it, go for it. Wit and cleverness are both admirable, but only if they come naturally. Subtlety of wit fits at RISD. But many jokes risk being misunderstood or inadvertently offending people or depending on the context, simply sounding dumb.

Pay attention to 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.

“Words strain, crack and sometimes break under the burden, under the tension, slip, slide, perish, decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, will not stay still.”

T.S. Eliot, from Burnt Norton, the first poem in Four Quartets (1943)