Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Are We Writing?

This semester I am enrolled in a couple introductory level classes to complete a minor and fill GEC credits.  I sit in large, resonant lecture halls twice a week and fill my notebooks with information; these types of classes are new to me, as I’m more used to smaller classes generated largely by lots of discussion and interaction. What I hear an overwhelming amount of from my fellow students in these larger classes is: Why do we need to be doing this? Not only do students ask this question, but commonly do so with a bit of frustration in their voice.  In particular, when given homework assignments, the students around me question why writing is so important in, say, a geography or astronomy class.  
To this I say: writing is crucial to anything and everything you do in life.  It is a basic means of communication, and having honed in good communication skills will only help you with anything you want to do. Think about it this way—how could it hurt?  If you’re a biology major looking to do research in a particular field of medicine, you’ll need sharp, clear writing skills to report your findings. If you’re in a geography or astronomy class, it is important to be able to write well in order to show that you understand not only the facts, but also the concepts you are studying.  If you’re a math professor and you want to find a better means of explaining a challenging concept, you’ll need to use words and language to do so in a manner that your students will understand.  Even when it comes to winning an argument with your parents over spending too much money on the weekends, a good sense of communication will probably help your case.  Chances are, no matter what you end up doing in the “real world”, you’ll need to be able to write a full statement that communicates your thoughts, and does so well.  One thing I’ve learned over the last few years in school is that these assignments are doled out not to drive you crazy (though it can certainly feel that way at times), but as a means of helping your improve something—each and every little one of them.  
There are some easy ways to adjust your attitude when it comes to writing something you simply don’t want to, though getting these down to habit may take time.  I feel that having a good attitude towards writing is probably one of the most important elements of improving, the same way you can only really learn to ride a bike (without falling) if you want to in the first place.  Here are some of my most basic tips:

·      Try to make the most of every assignment. I know this can be hard when they’re handed out like candy, but instead of looking at an assignment as simply just that, try to read into and understand why your professor would make you write a short essay on, say, a political cartoon. What is he or she trying to get you to think about and why are these ideas important? 
·      Another difficult one—try not to wait until the last minute to do this work.  This is something you’ve probably heard a hundred times already, but you’ll find the longer you work on it that it does make a real difference.  That being said, this is probably the most challenging habit for me to get into, personally, between having jobs and homework and maintaining a personal life, but it’s a noticeable, good feeling when you finish a writing assignment with plenty of time to spare.  This will allow you to put more thought into your writing, give you time to go back and tweak (should you realize later that something isn’t quite right with it), and will allow you to pay attention to small things you wouldn’t normally if you’re rushed. 
·      Try to write away from any distractions that may seem more important than what you’re doing.  This means putting your phone back in your bag, logging out of facebook, turning off the TV, and really focusing on what you’re doing.  This may seem oddly uncomfortable at first, but it’s my experience that working without these distractions allows you to pay better attention to what you’re writing and how you’re writing it, and allows you to take note of important ideas that may be coming up as you write.  You'll be more in tune with not only how you're writing, but also how you're learning. 

Hopefully by trying one or all of these you’ll begin to see an improvement not only in your writing, but also in the way you view writing as an academic activity.  Changing these things won’t mean that writing will always, 100% of the time, be a blast from here on out (it won’t; this coming from a creative writing major!), but it will help you see the importance of what you’re writing and allow you to put a real effort into it—more than is just what is needed to get the A.  After all, going to school isn’t just about grades, but primarily about learning something in the process. 

Amanda Clark

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