College Writing Tips: Respect Yourself and Spell-Check Yourself

My teaching career began in the fall of 1997 when a faculty member experienced a heartache about a week before the semester began. During the intervening years between then and today, my peers, colleagues, and even those in business & industry, have noticed a tremendous decline in people’s ability to write.

Recently, I spent many hours grading writing assignments. These writing assignments ran the gamut from “short answers” to “essay” to 3 page response-type papers. My response papers are based on listening to two podcasts. One podcast is an economics podcast discussing the geographic traits of snack food. The other podcast is a mesmerizing account of a couple of Americans traveling throughout a South Asian country.

The more I read, the more patterns in writing emerged. Not just patterns in though; writing involves considerable thinking. I tend to reason writing reveals thinking, how a person thinks, how a person organizes thoughts and information. Writing reveals a considerable amount of information about a person, and I can understand how writing makes people nervous. I’m nervous merely writing this post, but I’m dealing with it.

Writing for higher education doesn’t have to involve the level of stress people attach to writing assignments. Understanding some simple concepts, requirements, goals, and using the education which was provided from ages 6-18 (maybe 16 in Kentucky) can alleviate anxiety surrounding writing.

I am going to walk through some of the common errors I find in writing. Not only will I identify errors but I’ll explain how to adjust thinking processes to help direct attention to formulating better academic responses to writing assignments.

Writing Tip Four: Use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling

Nothing can kill a good bit of writing like poor grammar, lack or misuse of punctuation, and, of course, spelling. The journal writing activities which seem to be popular today are, in my opinion, worth little. From what I gather, journal writing in middle and high school are a component of academic portfolios and are required. The problem with journals lies in their evaluation. Journals are not evaluated for grammar, punctuation, nor spelling. Journals are essentially a “stream of consciousness” exercise where the students are allowed to free write and not worry about the last 8-10 years of English, grammar, spelling, or punctuation they have been taught, or are being taught.

Nowhere in the world is writing allowed which permits students to write junk to my knowledge. Nowhere in the world will you find books, articles, web sites, or any other professional media written without adherence to formal writing rules. Except in the United States. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Saudi, German, French, you name the culture, students of English in all of those cultures are learning formal English writing rules and expected to use them at all times.

Too many U.S. high school students believe their college writing is fine because they were allowed to get away with writing abysmal works in high school. Poor writing leads to poor thinking, and poor thinking leads to poor communication. Nothing good comes from allowing students to write whatever they want without critical input. In fact, doing so encourages laziness and can carry over to other courses and work environments.

Poor writing leads to poor thinking, and poor thinking leads to poor communication.

Worried about their fragile little egos? Wait until they reach college or university and fail their first semester, and second semester, because they have been led down a candy-colored lane of lies and false accolades. Then, after they have washed-out in their first year of college because of sugary-sweet coos and watered-down criticisms, will the realization their efforts in high school, and the people they trusted to prepare them for life after high school was nothing but a charming deceit.

I personally blame my peers. My peers are the ones changing policies today, attempting to build a “kinder, gentler, and altogether reckless” education system based on their own personal anathema to their own educational experience. My memories of high school involved listening to whines of homework, complaints about the relevance of some subjects, and the foreshadowing of today’s educational conditions, e.g. “When I have kids, they’ll never have to go through this. This is stupid.”

The only people who do not believe writing is fundamental to society are those feckless individuals who seek to control people through fear and manipulation of facts and information. Writing lies at the heart of Reason, Logic, Thought, critical to the pursuit of knowledge, and vital to the continuance of free and open societies. Damage writing, and society becomes inflicted with a potentially fatal disease.

Rather than become complicit in damaging society, work against the damaging effects of bad writing in our global society and pay attention to the details of your thoughts made manifest in words.

Learn to use the spell-check technology in Word, or any other editing environment. Not using spell-check technology, or proof-reading, is inexcusable in our Age.

learning-smallTry the app, Ginger [link]. Ginger will read writing aloud to help the author find inconsistencies in grammar. Reading a work aloud is the best way to repair problem writing.

Writing well is almost subversive in today’s culture.

Next: “Count Your Reasons”

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