Some Thoughts on the Question, “Why Do We Have to Write?”


Hi folks! This is Robley, a tutor in the Writing Center. In the previous blogcast, Kurtis shared my video Why Write?, which focuses on the writing most people do outside of school (like sympathy notes, grocery lists, text messages, and the like). I hoped my video would inspire students to realize that they’re already writers.

In this post, I want to offer some much more pragmatic advice about assigned writing, and I’ll start with an anecdote that might sound familiar in the general, if not the specific circumstances.

Years ago, in the middle of a face-to-face class, a student blurted, “Why do we have to write about this? Can’t you just give us a test, Dr. Hood, and move on?” In stunned silence, other students looked down at their desks or drafts, trying to avoid eye contact or potential conflict.

After a moment, I said, “We won’t have any tests in this class. Instead, we’ll talk and write from what we read and learn.”

“But why?” she demanded.

“Because writing well matters,” I answered.

Hers was a great question, and she was brave to ask it. Although I didn’t explain the why? more fully at that moment, my student learned the answer for herself in the act of reading, writing, and thinking. Here’s what she learned and what I want to share with you about why writing matters and why so many professors require it as a means of assessment.

You write in college

●  To demonstrate mastery of content: of human digestion; theories of crime prevention; Blue Book legal documentation; ethical practices; or any of the myriad concepts, facts, theories, principles, procedures, and the like in various disciplines and areas of study

●  To practice and refine critical or analytical thinking: defined by Writing to Think: Critical Thinking and the Writing Process (2021) as the ability “to delve beneath the surface of sweeping generalizations, biases, clichés, and other quick observations . . . [and to] consider points of view different from your own, seek and study evidence and examples, root out sloppy and illogical argument, discern fact from opinion, embrace reason over emotion or preference, and change [your] mind when confronted with compelling reasons to do so” (para. 3)

●  To apply your learning to new contexts and situations: by composing an argument for a positive change in your own community, or by reflecting on your own suitability for a certain profession, or by responding to a case study in an essay explaining how a health service professional helps someone facing a serious challenge, or by creating a brochure detailing a heart healthy diet for distribution in a medical care facility

●  To develop college-level communication: a balance of your own original thinking and research support; a clearly focused topic, idea, or thesis; consideration of audience and purpose; formatting appropriate to composition type or form; effective organization, through bulleted lists in PowerPoint slides or paragraphs in an essay, for example; formality of tone and style; documentation of research; the basics of grammar, usage, and mechanics

●  To understand and apply assignment directions: to show you know how to read, understand, and follow instructions that provide a framework for your college writing and also for the professor’s evaluation

●  To explore and reveal what you know and think, how you know and think it, and why knowing and thinking matter to you and your readers

These reasons to write may sound familiar. Your course syllabus usually names goals in statements like these, and assignment rubrics often do as well.

But there is another reason for requiring writing. It’s rarely directly stated, though. You write

●  To prove you deserve course credit

This is one of the two most pragmatic and practical reasons why writing matters. To earn credit, you have to satisfactorily complete each writing assignment, and to earn a degree, you must satisfactorily complete required courses. Professors create assignments to assess your progress, and even though you may imagine writing for another audience, the primary reader will still be the person who determines satisfactory progress. Writing matters because your degree matters.

The other most pragmatic and practical reason is because writing matters at work.

Course content provides knowledge students and professionals need. Writing assignments demand habits of thinking and communicating that students and professionals need as well. Both prepare you for workplace expectations that you know relevant information, have suitable skills, are willing to follow directions and undergo training, and can communicate with clarity and respect, whether you are a nurse, bookkeeper, medical assistant, parole officer, early childhood aide, shift manager, or any other professional.

This is why writing matters most: your dedication, effort, and willingness to engage in your writing assignments will help you write your future. 


References

Writing to think: Critical thinking and the writing process. (2021). Purdue Global Academic Success & Writing Resource Center & Blog. https://purdueglobalwriting.center/writing-to-think/

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