A Two-Pronged Approach To Better Writing: Practice And Reading!

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Zinnia Tabbleforth was concerned: a junior in college, her major was earth science, and her goal was to work for the United States as a geological scientist. Her course schedule, as a result of her major, was heavy with math and science. There were many labs, in which she excelled, and her math and science courses were always A or B+ in group collaborations and equations. But her anxiety came with the writing she had to do. There were essays that focused on various problems and challenges in her field, and she always jumped in with writing, but again and again she received feedback indicating her writing ability was simply poor. The few English classes she had to take were the worst, and Zinnia was told if she didn’t get her grades up, she risked being dropped from the program. As far as Zinnia was concerned, writing was simply taking ideas and putting them onto paper, then working out the order. What she never did: take the time to read about writing. Many folks think, like Zinnia, that writing is simply practicing the craft, yet it must go in tandem with reading about writing.

Zinnia’s problem is a common one. On the surface, it seems that if one wants to be a better writer, one should write more, and to an extent this is true. Yet if there is no guidance, no insight, no information on how to become a better writer, the person’s writing will not improve, no matter how much the practice. But if we read about writing and read other writers, we learn so many wonderful things to improve our writing, as broad as tone, paragraph development, and thesis statements to the nitty-gritty of punctuation, grammar, spelling, and proofreading.  Books to help with one’s writing will clarify and focus, while books on virtually any non-writing subject can give ideas on what “sounds” good or does not, various approaches to supporting an argument, and creative ways to engage the reader. This combination of writing practice and reading becomes the golden key to making anyone a better writer.

One of Zinnia’s math professors set up a Zoom conference with her to discuss this one area of weakness in his class. After a series of questions about her writing, the professor made some recommendations: to read some books he recommended on how to improve one’s writing, an article written by a friend on the importance of good writing in a career as a geological scientist, two fiction books that had a focus on the Earth and the sea, and several items in Purdue Global’s Writing Center. This “quiver” of reading for Zinnia would give her a nice balance with the writing she was doing. The professor closed out the session with Zinnia giving one strong word of advice:  “No matter the major, no matter the career, the only way to become that writer who will be needed and coveted in any field is by reading about writing and by practicing writing. If you don’t do this, others who do will pass you by.”

So much had suddenly been given to Zinnia; she wondered: “How can I do my schoolwork, maintain my  part-time job, practice my writing, and do the reading recommended to me?”  Since she had created a daily schedule for herself to stay on track with school, Zinnia felt a combination of a schedule and guide could help her with the reading and writing duo. She spent about an hour putting it together, asked for and received input from her math professor, and felt confident she had found a good approach that would result in far better writing.

This is a peek at what Zinnia created:

  • Read the suggested books for one hour each day; take notes
  • Develop a “Most Important to Remember” notes file online
  • Create a record of writing feedback; make an errors list as a reminder
  • Visit a PG tutor for each major writing assignment
  • Go over reading notes and writing feedback against the newly-written assignment
  • Keep the grammar, etc. handbook on the desk, next to the computer; use for clarification
  • Do a constant check of writing progress; revisit notes and writing feedback to maintain improvement
  • Do read non-assigned articles, books, essays, etc. to enjoy and improve her writing
  • Always reach out for help when needed
  • Have a constant reminder that good writing will be expected in the professional world

When Zinnia first looked at her mini-guide, she felt it could not be done; there seemed to be too much. Yet she went ahead with it, slowly, and soon the greatest motivator of all surfaced: her writing improved!  Her math professor, who first gave reading suggestions, complimented Zinnia on her writing, something no one previously had done. She mused: the idea of needing both reading and writing to improve her writing at one time seemed far-fetched, yet there it was, for not only Zinnia to see but also her professors and others: far fewer error marks on her essays, and the one English class she was currently taking had her listed – she had to look twice to believe it – as running a B+ grade! There was also one bonus: Zinnia had discovered a real interest in reading, something she never had. What a beautiful ending, she thought: both writing and reading as good friends!

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2 Responses

  1. Helen Dorsey says:

    Very insightful!

  2. Diane Sykes says:

    I would love to see that reading list!

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