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The Write Stuff: Why Learning How to Write Well Matters Beyond the Classroom

Writing well can give you a leg up in your studies, but not only because it can help you earn better grades on writing assignments. The skills required to help you write well can actually make you a better reader and problem solver, making you a better student overall.

While writing is often critical to success in the classroom, it can also often have an impact on advancement in your professional life. Whether you’re writing contracts, conversing with clients over email, or developing content for a company website, writing will be a key tool in nearly every career avenue you’ll encounter.

That’s part of why it’s so critical to develop your writing skills now. The good habits and strong skills you develop today will not only help you as a student, but can also make a huge difference in your success in the professional world. Read on to learn more about why writing matters and to get tips and ideas for improving your writing.

Why Writing Well Matters

While you might only think about writing in terms of writing papers and doing assignments, writing isn’t just an academic tool, it’s key to many, if not most professional careers as well. Surveys show that 80 percent of salaried jobs require some kind of writing (and 50 percent of jobs overall) and it is not uncommon for professionals to spend as much as 30 percent of their day (that’s 2 hours for full time employees) writing. Being able to effectively communicate your ideas through writing can also make the difference in getting a promotion, scoring a leadership position, or otherwise advancing in your career.

It’s also important to remember that writing isn’t just an important skill for those who do it as a primary function of their job, like writers, web developers, publicists, and other related fields. Nearly every profession requires some kind of writing. Scientists have to write up research and submit applications for grants.  Businesspeople need to be able to communicate with clients, work with investors, and market their products. And nearly every kind of work will require you to write emails, either internally or externally with coworkers, clients and customers.

Effective written communication is one of the many skills that employers value highly in prospective employees. Why? Because poor writing skills cost employers an estimated $3.1 billion in training each year, not to mention countless millions in lost productivity and errors due to poor communication. So, you better believe employers are evaluating you on the writing in your resume and cover letter. If the choice is between two candidates who are otherwise equal except for their writing ability, the better writer will usually win out, as those who excel at written communication are often perceived as being more competent, credible, and productive.

Why Writing Is Hard for So Many Students

If writing is so important, both in class and outside of it, why do so many students struggle with it, even after years of instruction? Why is it so difficult for so many to master? There are a number of very common reasons why so many struggle with their writing skills.

First, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to writing—many disciplines take a differing approach. The tone needed for a scientific article is quite different than the more conversational tone you can adopt in an email with a well-known client. Structure, citations, norms–these can all differ depending on what you’re writing. To make it more confusing, you may even have to switch between these styles of writing within the same field. Mastering these varying conventions can take time and a lot of effort, which can be frustrating, especially to those already struggling with writing.

Sometimes, when writing feels really hard, it’s because you don’t really understand the subject matter. It’s hard to write one sentence, let alone and entire paper about a subject that you don’t really understand, as a fragmented understanding of a subject can hardly be expected to result in a coherent paper.

More commonly, however, people struggle with writing because no one has ever really focused on writing as a unique skill to hone. It isn’t very helpful to get a poor grade on a paper without an explanation as to why or some instruction on how to do better in the future. Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for many students to reach college without having someone really sit down and figure out what they need to do to be a better writer, as many courses focus more on content mastery than writing proficiency. Writing is a skill that takes a lot of practice to master, and without really great feedback as well as serious self-analysis that looks at strengths, weaknesses and improvement over time, it’s really difficult to make progress as a writer.

How to Become a Better Writer

Whether you’re struggling as a writer or just want to further hone your skills, there are some ways that you can make the most of your online courses to improve your writing ability.

  • Ask for help. There is no reason to go it alone. Reach out to your professors, classmates, or the tutoring options available to you through COD to get some assistance and guidance in improving your writing.
  • Get feedback. Even if a grade has already been decided on a paper, ask for some feedback on how you can improve for next time. That way, you’ll know where to focus your efforts for improvement and can craft an even better paper the next time around.
  • Treat everything like a writing assignment. Even if your coursework isn’t strictly a writing-focused assignment, try paying close attention to the kind of writing you’re producing. One great place to start is in your online discussion forums. Take extra time to perfect your grammar, ensure you’re being concise and to the point, and to proofread a couple of times before posting.
  • Read more. Did you know that reading can make you a better writer? The more you expose your brain to high quality writing, the more you’ll internalize the patterns it uses. Even better, you’ll likely absorb some grammar, vocab, and knowledge without even realizing it.
  • Learn the basics. Never really nailed down the basics of good writing? There’s no better time than now to learn. Explore common grammatical errors, learn how to craft an amazing thesis, and gain a better understanding of what makes for a strong academic paper—it may not sound exciting, but it can make a big difference.
  • Develop a writing process. Most writers don’t just sit down and hammer out a paper, article, or chapter in one go. They have notes, outlines, resources, and a general structure in their mind beforehand. If you’re looking to improve your writing, you’ll need to find a writing process that works for you and can help you organize your thoughts into a coherent piece of writing.
  • Edit and proofread. What makes great writers great? Not being afraid to seriously edit and proofread their work. Look at your writing and see what’s working and what’s not. Can you rearrange things? Do you need more sources? What just doesn’t sound right or may be confusing to a reader? The more you analyze your work and make improvements, the better your final grade will be.
  • Practice often. You can’t learn a language if you don’t speak it. You can’t master an instrument if you never pick it up to play. Writing is the same way. To get better, you have to practice. So start writing. Use online prompts to give you ideas, start a blog, share writing with friends, work on a novel—anything to get you writing and improving your skills will help.

Finally, keep in mind that just like any skill, becoming a good writer takes time. Be patient, stick with it, and you’ll reap the rewards in class and beyond for years to come.