Educational Waves in Writing

Writing is one of the oldest forms of expression. It allows us to communicate with people who might be hundreds of miles away or even a complete stranger. But, over the past ten to fifteen years writing has dramatically evolved.  Simply put, the act of writing in everyday life has drastically increased. Before the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, and blogging the available writing venues were very limited. If you didn’t need to write for your job, you might write an opinion piece or letter to your local newspaper or a birthday card to a friend or loved one. You might even write in your own journal or diary, but that was likely only seen by your own eyes.

With the onset of social media, people started making daily posting about what they were feeling and thinking about at that moment, what they were doing that weekend, what vacation they were going on next, or how they felt about current events and local happenings. Twitter thrives off thousands of people writing thousands of words each day. The accessibility of blogging websites enables anyone to write about whatever they want whenever they want to. Social media gives us an instant audience that we never before had. At the end of day, if you are actively using any form of social media, a large portion of your  free time is taken up by writing. Whether you are writing heart felt realizations or complaining that your coffee is too cold, you are writing and communicating in a way that our ancestors never have.

socialmedia

With the increase of the importance of writing in our daily lives, I have been interested in seeing how the education of writing will change. I recently came across an article in the Columbia Spectator about Barnard’s new first year writing program.  Changing a first year college course syllabi is a difficult thing to do because it has been so ingrained in the fabric of the school’s educational experience for years. You don’t want your students to miss out on essential lessons they will need to have a successful schooling experience, but each year the students are different, their experiences are different, and the world they are coming from is different than the last. As students adapt to the world in which they live, therefore our educational system must adapt as well. The course change made at Barnard is a big step, but a necessary one. Many people can’t go a few hours without at least writing a few sentences and Barnard is recognizing a need for a change in writing education in order to prepare their students for success out in the real world.

The first-year writing program will focus more on writing technique than the previous program. There will be fewer books and more of a focus on writing instruction. It always somewhat baffled me that in a first-year English course, there wasn’t much writing at all. You maybe had two to three essays throughout the semester with no real discussion revolving around the assignments. The professor would put a few marks on the paper and you would move on. Most of the time was spent reading and discussing what we had read. Why do we neglect such a large part of our everyday lives? Writing is hard to avoid, so why do we avoid it in the classroom? Is it our pure ignorance to the changing times or are we purposely trying to set our youth up to fail? A large part of an education is learning how to be a functioning part of society and having the appropriate skills to get us from one life stage to the next. Writing is one of those skill sets we all need to succeed in today’s world. If we aren’t learning how to write in the classroom, where do we turn to next? Kim Kardashian’s next tweet? I certainly hope not.

I am very happy to see advancement in the Academic world in response to what is happening in the real world.One cannot succeed without fully accepting the other. We can talk all day on this blog about how to write, when to write, and why we should write. But, if we aren’t practicing those skills in our day to day life then when we will ever truly succeed?

Write on.

When Science Meets Writing

Professor Yellowlees Douglas, an associate professor at University of Florida, recently wrote a book about the science of writing/reading called The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You A Better Writer. Usually, science and writing don’t mix well- at least personally. I always took the bare minimum of science and math courses in college and filled up my schedule with any many English and writing based classes as possible. But, Professor Douglas thought otherwise. She bases the data in her book off of a study she conducted that measured the impact of multimedia documents on reading. She used eye-tracking, brain scans, and neuroimaging to back up her findings. What Professor Douglas learned about writing, the structure of writing, and what readers want through her science experiments will make us all wish we paid a little closer attention in those science classes.

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Here are a few writing tips from Professor Douglas that were highlighted in an article on Futurity:

  1. “Prime Your Readers”

Set up your story, don’t leave out missing details, and don’t leave your readers wondering what is going on. Introduce your characters fully and vividly paint the landscape/world your stories take place in. Do this early, since Douglas’ study shows that readers recall information better that they are given early on versus later. The good news is that this doesn’t mean you need to ruin your surprise ending, you just don’t want your readers to feel lost along the way.

2. “Use ‘Recency’ To Your Advantage”

Readers remember last sentences better than any others, so pack the punch in those sentences for a bigger effect.

3. “Disappoint Without Destroying Good Will”

Use priming and recency to take away attention from the disappointing or upsetting things you need to tell your reader that they may not want to hear. Take advantage of the “dead zone.”

4. “Bury Bad News”

If you have bad news to share start off neutral, then drop in the news, then put a positive spin on it.

5. “Harness Cause And Effect”

If you have something unsettling to tell your reader, put the cause first. Build up a rationale for what you are about to tell them, almost to a point where they can predict what is going to happen themselves. When we can rationalize something, we are less emotionally attached to it.

6. “Don’t Let Passive Voice Drag You Down”

Readers expect sentences to be constructed in the order of the way things occurred. When passive voice is used, the study shows that the reader’s speed slows down.

Write on.