A college professor on writing – be succinct, multiple drafts, and more

by Grace

Some “truths” about writing that Rob Jenkins, a veteran composition teacher at Georgia Perimeter College, tells his first-year composition students.

1. “If you think you won’t have to write anymore once you’re done with your English classes, you need to think again. As a junior and senior, you’ll probably have to write term papers for most of your classes. And this is the last time anyone will ever spend an entire semester showing you how to write those papers, so you’d better pay attention.”

2. “If you think you’re going to be done with writing when you get out of college, you need to think again. It doesn’t matter what field you’re going into. The minute you get one step above fry cook, writing becomes part of your job. The higher up the ladder you climb, the more important writing becomes. And there’s an inverse relationship, too: The better you write, the higher you’re likely to rise.”

3. “Writing is not a magical ability that some people just have and others just don’t. Writing is a skill, and like any other skill — playing the piano, learning a sport — it can be acquired through hard work and dedication. We’re not all going to write the Great American Novel, but anyone with at least average intelligence can learn to write reasonably well.”

4. “If there is a secret to good writing, it is this: multiple drafts. Writers are not people for whom a piece of writing always comes out right the first time. They are people who realize that it never will and have learned how to cope.”

5. “Good writing comes from having more to say than you have space in which to say it, so that you’re forced to say it as well as possible. Bad writing comes from taking a few meager ideas and puffing them up to make them sound like more than they really are. College students aren’t the only ones who do this.”

None of these are absolute truths, but they are good general principles for students.  From what I read about the declining standards in higher education, #1 may not be true in many cases.  My favorite is #5, probably because writing succinctly is often such a challenge for me.

As for #4, I suspect most students are like this “Lazy College Senior”.


One Comment to “A college professor on writing – be succinct, multiple drafts, and more”

  1. I agree it depends on the field, but I think there are many areas where writing is important in career success. Business writing is important in many corporate positions, even if it’s simple stuff like writing memos. Yes, writing sometimes becomes less important in some of these areas as you ascend the career ladder, but certainly not always.

    Someone I know in financial consulting frequently complains about the poor writers who are supposed to take responsibility in client reports, but then the senior person ends up having to spend too much time editing. In this case, PowerPoint presentations are companion pieces to the report that actually needs to be written well.


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