Not Just “Writing Across the Curriculum,” But Writing Well

Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor Kaplan University School of IT

Writing well is not just a phenomenon desired in College Composition courses; it needs to be a concern in all classes. I teach online at Kaplan University in the School of Information Technology, and far too often I hear the student cry, “But this isn’t a writing course!” Students, beware: those who don’t teach composition classes interpret this as an excuse for writing informally, not proofreading, not organizing thoughts first, or sometimes not caring whether or not the source material was appropriate or cited properly. We (the faculty) are not just being picky: there are reasons for trying to teach you to write well.

First, the student needs to know that writing properly in general is beneficial to his or her career, starting with the ever-arduous task of searching for a job. A meticulously written resume and cover letter speak reams for a job candidate’s ability to organize thoughts and express ideas clearly. Along with those values, appropriate presentation on paper or in a Word document is expected.

Learning APA style and practicing it with papers in all classes reinforces adherence to rules and standards. The technology major should understand the idea of industry-wide standards, the business major must follow rules of business ethics, the paralegal student must follow document standards and conformity, and the health science major must be mindful of HIPAA and other laws. Every career involves regulations of some kind! For those who want to rise in their company’s hierarchy, publishing in a professional journal might (gasp) even require APA.

Employers want to hire employees who pay attention to detail, whether the job entails manual labor or writing computer code. Software developers know that one missing or misplaced semi-colon can cause a program to crash or to spew incorrect results. Database administrators need to ensure that queries will result in logical, well-written reports. Webmasters must produce pages that display good grammar and spelling, or site visitors might not do business with the client. Networkers must keep excellent documentation so that issues can be dealt with quickly. There are project proposals, analysis documents, reports of many kinds, memos, meeting minutes, emails, press releases, grant proposals, and other things to write in the workplace.

Being able to write formally and knowing when it is acceptable to write in other styles is also important. This blog post, for example, is not totally formal because of the venue in which it is published – a blog. (I used to write for a newspaper, and there are different conventions in that industry, too.) This has to do with the old adage that “there is a time and place for everything.” The time and place to learn how to write formally and practice it is now, while the student is in college.

Writing formally isn’t just the avoidance of LOLs and emoticons. Formality reduces the chance for miscommunication. For example, if a business email included “It’s cool. When do you want to meet? Haha!” there is actually a chance that someone who speaks English as a second language will think “cool” refers to temperature. We live in a global community and need to remember that it is important to be literal and direct; even native English speakers can misinterpret clichés and idioms. The “Haha” quip might indicate that the writer is joking; it brings an uncomfortable levity to what should be business.

Another benefit of formality is the writer’s control in developing trust with the reader because the writing is clear, organized, and without error. Someone who writes a proposal that fits this description will more likely be hired to do a project than a sloppy writer, because the client knows the good writer cares enough to be careful with presentation of words and ideas.

To answer my students’ cry, “Yes, [insert name of any course] is indeed a writing course. You are proving that you can organize and clearly explain ideas, follow rules, pay attention to detail, avoid miscommunication, and develop trust with your business clients, bosses, and coworkers.” It is important not just to write in all of your classes, but to write well.


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2 Responses

  1. Tamara Fudge says:

    Michael, thank you so much! Not long ago I had a student whose far-too-informal work included a large amount of writing errors. Fragments and run-ons, subject-verb disagreement, clichés, word choice errors, and sarcastic forays into his pet peeves permeated his assignments and discussion posts. He argued (unsuccessfully) that he “has always written this way” and that I should accept his “style.” My counter-arguments included your statement about thrown-out job applications as well as the fact that progress is never made when a person is unwilling to change. I hope that my post will encourage students to keep working on their professional writing!

  2. Michael B. McKenna. says:

    Excellent article on the importance of writing well; too many of us spend too much time trying to convince our students of the importance of writing well and too many of our students arrive in our courses with poor to marginal writing skills. As a retired executive for a Fortune 25 company I saw a large number of cover letters and resumes with multiple mechanical and composition errors and based on the number of resumes to be reviewed these poorly prepared resumes went to the “circular” file. In my continuing effort to communicate the importance of very strong writing skills I have copied and posted the article as an announcement in my course.

    Thank you for this very purposeful and relevant piece.

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