3 things college students need to know about writing

Soft skills like writing and communication are in high demand across nearly every industry, but many employers complain that good writers are still few and far between.

In fact, many students "can't write a clear sentence to save their lives," complains Joseph R. Teller, professor of English at College of the Sequoias.

Learning to write takes practice and many students just aren't writing often enough, reports Jeffrey J. Selingo for the Washington Post. Specifically, students outside of a writing-intensive major lack critical thinking and complex reasoning skills that they can develop from completing longer writing assignments, say sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roska.

Tackling the 'soft' skills gap

After interviewing his own writing teachers, Selingo compiled three things students must learn to become better writers:

Recommendation 1: Take your time

Writers often fall into two camps, which journalist Don Fry refers to as "planners and plungers." Planners outline their writing first, while plungers begin without a clear plan in mind.

Many students adopt the "plunger" approach and merely "let their brain spill onto a page" before submission, says Leslie Nicholas, Pennsylvania's former teacher of the year. Plunging into a writing assignment is not necessarily a bad approach as long as students incorporate revising and editing steps before the final draft, advises Selingo.

Recommendation 2: Self-edit

First drafts rarely become the final product without any edits. Instead, student writers must realize that a truly polished piece will take multiple drafts. Every good writer self-edits, writes Selingo. To practice self-editing, students should print out their drafts, leave it alone for an hour or two, and then edit with fresh eyes, he suggests.

The most important editing step is to read the writing out loud so you can identify any unnecessary or repetitive passages, says Barbara Adams, associate professor of writing at Ithaca College.

Recommendation 3: Ask for feedback

To improve as a writer, share your writing. When students keep drafts to themselves, they miss an opportunity to improve their work, notes Selingo. The best feedback will happen quickly while the assignment is still on a student's mind, he notes. Lastly, students should look for feedback not only from teachers but also from peers.

One fail-proof way to improve your writing is to read good writing, writes Selingo. The more good writing we read, the better our "ear for language, sentence structure, and pacing" will be (Selingo, Washington Post, 8/15).

How your reading choices affect your brain


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