I started a thread here recently titled 'Formal Writing Need Not be Awful'.
In that I included a sample of formal writing. The subject matter was very complex. It explained how humans' capacity for empathy evolved, that when we see another we care about in pain the first part of our brain triggered is the emotional response we would have in their situation, but not the physical response.
It is a superb piece of formal writing. The only suggestions I can find to improve it are:
_1. The 225-word paragraph is too long. It can be broken up into three logical parts: the history of research in the field, the mechanics of its groundbreaking experiment, and the conclusions of that experiment.
_2. The final sentence could use some extra punctuation to clearly identify the subject of the verb evolved.
Many, rightfully complain that formal writing is stilted and disjointed because it contains so many punctuation marks and other crap required by the rules of formal writing. This example only had two commas not there only because the author chose to interrupt the main flow of her sentences with parenthetic asides. I would have used those commas in fiction too. Both were in sentences joining two reasonably lengthy parts with but.
I examined each of the sentences closely. To me, they all appeared to have been written in a way similar to that recommended in Strunk's original version of The Elements of Style. That's only the 40-page "cheat sheet" he wrote for his students. It is unstructured, making it hard to read. It has a dictatorial tone and insists on many standards that even the most anally retentive of formal writers these days would consider old-fashioned and inapplicable.
Despite all its shortcomings, it is included in every list I've ever seen by famous authors giving their recommended reading list to other writers. The advise it contains on how to write clearly – not all the other crap about grammar and punctuation, etc. – is actually superb and as relevant as ever today.
Personally, I would not recommend it. I suggest Roy Peter Clarke's Writing Tools instead. It contains all of Strunk's good advice, brought up-to-date, with many other valuable pieces of advice as well, and all written in a style that is a joy to read. He actually demonstrates how to use his own advice in the way he has written it.
Another example of a superb technical writer is Grammar Girl. Some of her blogs cover very complex topics. I always find them not only easy to understand but a joy to read, simply to observe the way she writes.
The point of this post is my conclusion is that formal writing has an appalling reputation here that is totally undeserved. YES, most formal writing we see is awful, but I don't think that is caused by writers following the rules of formal writing. I am convinced it is simply caused by bad writers, i.e. those who've never learned the principles of good writing as set out most famously, if not for the first time, by Strunk.
I want to test that theory.
I want others here to give me the worst examples of formal writing they can find so I can see what I can do with them.
I want to test if I can turn almost any sow's ear into at least a cotton purse!
I'm almost certain that could be done by a writer who good enough. I'm honestly not sure if I'm there - yet.
This is very important to me. The implications are very serious for the kind of advice newer writers are getting here, or just picking up based on the weight of derogatory remarks about formal writing they see here.
Please, hit me with your best shots. If those here don't give me examples to test, I'll throw it open to all readers on the site with a blog post.
My requirements for the samples I want to test are very broad:
_1. They must be an explanation of something technical
_2. The length should be at most about 250 words
_3. The person submitting them to me must have enough knowledge of the point being explained to tell me what their interpretation of individual sentences would be.
I am looking forward to this challenge. I sincerely want to know if my opinion that formal writing need not be awful can actually be proven.