2.2 THE BIG PICTURE: Really? Writing? Again?
Yes. Writing. Again. Obviously you can write. And in the age of social media and smartphones, you might be writing all the time, perhaps more often than speaking. So why spend more time and attention on writing skills?
Research shows that deliberate practice — that is, close focus on improving one’s skills — makes a difference. Practicing writing skills will improve your writing much more than simply producing page after page in the same old way. And writing well is going to save you a lot of time and hassle in your studies, advance your career, and promote better relationships and a higher quality of life off the job.
Also consider this: the Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted a survey of employers in 2021. The survey found:
- 90% of employers say that the ability to communicate effectively in writing is an important skill
- 91% of employers say that the ability to analyze and interpret data is an important skill
- 93% of employers that the ability to locate, evaluate, and use information in decision making is an important skill
- 95% of employers say that critical thinking is an important skill
In other words, these companies want to hire employees who can think critically and write effectively. You have to be someone who can find, evaluate, analyze, and use information carefully. These are important skills not only in college, but also in life after college.
Now maybe you think you are already a good writer. Maybe your teachers gave you positive feedback. It’s important to note, however, that writing in a U.S. college — especially after you leave an ESOL program—is different. How? Keep reading …
Students drive their own learning
The assumption behind high-school instruction in the U.S. — and perhaps in your home country — is that the teacher is the engine of learning. Consequently, a lot of time is spent in lectures. Homework is for practice, and teachers often tell students what to do every day. Some of that happens in ESOL classes, too.
However, the assumption behind college instruction is that students are the engine of learning. The most important learning happens outside of class while students are working through a difficult reading or other challenging task on their own. Most college classes meet only 1-3 times a week for a total of about 3-4 hours. Consequently, college instructors think of class meetings as an opportunity to prepare you for the work that you’ll be doing on your own. Sometimes that involves sharing information. More often, instructors want to provide you with material not in the reading, or they want to provide you with an active learning experience based on what you read at home. When you come to class, the assumption is that you did your homework, and you are ready for something new.
College professors also expect a different kind of writing
College writing is different, too. By now, you probably know well the rules of standard academic English, such as grammar and mechanics, paragraphing, and the use of thesis statements. These are basic practices, and your teachers have given you a wonderful gift in helping you master them. However, do you remember the familiar five-paragraph essay? Well, that is no longer enough.
College writing assignments require you to apply those skills to new intellectual challenges. Professors assign papers because they want you to think deeply about important questions in their fields. To your instructors, writing is for working out complex ideas, not just explaining them. It requires original and ambitious thinking, not just reporting.
Writing a paper isn’t about getting the “right answer” and adhering to basic rules. It’s about joining an academic conversation with something original to say. You’re writing to learn, writing to develop, writing to think — not just writing to express.
So what do professors want?
Good writing assignments are supposed to be challenging to write, and professors are, above all, looking for your own self-motivated intellectual work. Professors want to see that you’ve thought through a problem and taken the time and effort to explain your thinking in precise language. The Association of American Colleges and Universities brought together instructors from across the country to discuss the knowledge and skills that all students need. These are what most instructors agree on:
- You know who will be reading your work — and why (this makes your writing relevant)
- You understand well the subject of your writing (this makes your writing useful)
- You use standard formatting, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization (this makes your writing clear)
- You use good sources of information (this makes your writing reliable)
- You use interesting vocabulary and language (this makes your writing enjoyable)
When you stop to think about these things — that is, when you stop to think about how you think about how you write — that is what we call metacognition. Let’s find out more about metacognition. First, watch the short video below. Then answer this question: How can the concept of metacognition help you become a better writer?
- If you’re still unclear what metacognition means, watch this short video titled “What Is Metacognition”.
- If you like this video and want to watch others, go to: “How to Get the Most out of Studying: A Video Series”.
Text adapted from: Guptill, Amy. Writing in College: From Competence to Excellence. 2022. Open SUNY Textbooks, 2016, milneopentextbooks.org/writing-in-college-from-competence-to-excellence/. Accessed 16 Jan. 2022. CC BY-NC-SA
Video from: Samford University. “How to Get the Most out of Studying: Part 1 of 5, ‘Beliefs That Make You Fail… Or Succeed.’” www.youtube.com, 16 Aug. 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH95h36NChI&t=2s. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.