Terresa Fontana Kaplan University Faculty, Department of Educational Studies
What kind of impression can you make in seven seconds? According to research conducted by NYU, we make at least eleven conclusions about others within seven seconds of first meeting them (Goman, 2011). I’d venture to guess that number might increase when our first impression with someone happens in written form.
In the online learning environment, most (if not all) interactions with others are conducted in written format. Most communication is done via email, newsgroups, team “bulletin boards,” and classroom discussion settings.
Let’s face it. In the traditional classroom setting, students have very little evidence of anyone else’s skills or performance in their courses. Some students never or rarely interact verbally with their professors or other classmates. Even when they do, students usually have no idea if their classmates’ writing skills match how they speak – and they often don’t care what others can or can’t do because it’s not something they personally observe on a regular basis. In the online environment, however, everything changes. Students are able to physically “see” their classmates’ writing abilities on an ongoing and regular basis – and these impressions can either enhance or inhibit the online learning experience.
Will Rogers once said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And in the “real” world, that is often true.
Fortunately, people who work in the online environment have the opportunity to overcome such a disadvantage. In the online classroom, the impression that you make – as a student or as a professor – is often more significant because it extends into a number of weeks or months rather than a simple moment or two. Because the online interaction is extended over time, that sometimes “bad” first impression can be proven or disproven with each keystroke, with each posting in the classroom, with each email, personal message, or paper that is written.
As both high school teacher and online college professor, I have seen how some very simple strategies can help you very quickly improve your writing skills, make a better impression, and enhance the online learning experience for yourself and others.
1) Be sure to engage in the all-important prewriting strategies. The small amount of extra time spent planning will be well worth the effort when you start earning better grades (and making better impressions). For some great pre-writing strategies, check out the following blog posts: Prewriting Without the Boredom of Prewriting and Addicting Students to Prewriting.
2) Use the spelling and grammar check features available in your word processing software. Although they are not 100% reliable in every setting, they will highlight many of the common mechanical mistakes inexperienced writers make and suggest corrections for you to accept or decline.
3) Contact your school’s online Writing Center or Library.
- Most schools provide paper review services that provide holistic feedback as well as editing suggestions to help you identify issues your word processing software may have missed. The review will also highlight inconsistencies with formatting and will be specific to whatever format is required by your school. Because there is usually a 24- to 72-hour turnaround on these services, it’s very important to not procrastinate.
- Most schools also provide tutoring to their students. Some schools offer live tutoring sessions in addition to tutorials (videos, PDFs, PowerPoints, etc.), usually provided at no additional cost.
- The school library is also a resource that shouldn’t be overlooked. You can get help conducting research, learning how to use that research, and find out how to correctly cite your sources in your work.
4) Find a trusted friend, family member, coworker, or classmate who likes to read or whose writing skills appear to be better than yours. Often just having another set of eyes read over your paper will help you realize simple typographical, mechanical, or grammatical errors that you’ve made.
5) Finally, reach out to your professor. Regardless of what many students might think, most instructors want to see their students succeed. While the professor will not edit your paper for you or help you as much as the Writing Center, he or she will often review your work before you submit it for grading to highlight anything significant that should be addressed before you turn in your final draft for grading.
By incorporating these strategies with strong determination and a will to succeed, you will improve your writing skills and continue to make good impressions.
Goman, C. K. (2011). Seven seconds to make a first impression. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2011/02/13/seven-seconds-to-make-a-first-impression/