One of the greatest challenges for many college students, regardless of their field of study, is the requirement to write abundant, lengthy, informative essays that are well structured and grammatically correct. Many students feel unprepared for this undertaking, and dread the impact that poorly written papers will bear on their grades. They are wise to be concerned as colleges of all levels of competitiveness have, for many years, stressed the importance of writing skills in the college classroom.
Even Harvard University, typically considered one of most elite colleges in the country, noted a weakness in the writing abilities of its students as far back as 1872 and implemented a mandatory undergraduate writing program. More recently, the director of Harvard’s Expository Writing Program led a study in which she tracked the college writing experiences of more than 400 students. After completing a one-year writing program, three-quarters of the students said they had become more involved in class and better understood and applied concepts they had learned. More than half of the students said they were able to explore and research new ideas in their majors.
Interestingly, becoming stronger writers also had long-term benefits. In surveying 1,600 Harvard graduates in their 40’s, 90% said writing was the most important skill at their jobs.
So it’s clearly worth the time and effort for students to work at improving their abilities in this area. Even Albert Einstein had advice on how students can become better writers. He stressed the importance of clarity and was quoted as saying, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Other advice, gleaned from writing enthusiasts, include the recommendation to keep things simple. Students should know exactly what topics they want to cover, organize the information that needs to be included, present the material in a concise, straightforward manner, and anticipate their readers’ questions.
I’ll never forget some sage advice offered by one of my professors at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Professor Harry Arough said never to raise a question that you’re not going to answer. He also shared the wisdom of being cognizant of your audience, advising journalism students, for example, never to write in a news story that only one person died in an accident or disaster. To that one person’s mother, he warned, that was the only person who mattered.
High school students who need help on becoming better writers can take courses at local community colleges or partake in a host of activities to gain more experience and confidence in the art of effective writing.
Susan Alaimo is the founder of SAT Smart. For the past 25 years, SAT Smart’s Ivy League educated tutors have prepared students for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, AP courses, and all high school subjects. Visit www.SATsmart.com or call 908-369-5362.