If you are taking one of my classes or any class in the humanities or the social sciences you’ll notice that you have to do quite a bit of writing over the course of the semester. My face-to-face students have a short writing assignment due every class period as well as longer papers and/or group presentations. My online students have 4 or 5 major questions to discuss every week.
I worked as a technical writer for almost 20 years writing myself and supervising the writing of others. One of the many things I learned during that time was that the best way to become a good writer was to write–a lot! As a technical writers we didn’t have the luxury of waiting until some inspiration struck to start writing. Instead we went to work everyday and wrote (and edited and re-wrote) day after day. And we all got better at it. Spending that time every day trying to find the best way to say what we needed to say made us better writers.
I want my students to become better writers too and the only way I know to help with that is to encourage them to write a little bit on a regular basis. The writing assignments also have a direct effect on your grades since they are tied to the reading for the week. The best way to see if you really understand the readings is to respond to them in your own words. Explain them to yourself, argue with them, expand on them. The writing assignments give you a systematic way of doing that. But of course you don’t have to limit yourself to the writing assignments, you can do other writing as well. In fact I would encourage you to start the first week of class responding to the readings on your own and using the study guides for the class to start constructing your thoughts about the readings.
Finally the writing assignments (and study guides) help your grades because, as you will discover when you take the first test, often they serve as the basis for many of the test questions. If you’ve already done the writing assignments and worked through the study guide you’ll be one step ahead when it comes time to prepare for the exam essay questions.
For online students the discussion questions serve some of the same purposes. They help you think about the texts and respond to what they say. And you’ll discover many of the exam questions are similar to the discussion questions. So if you’ve participated in the discussions, you’ll be prepared for the exams.
What has helped you become a better writer? Let us know in the comments.