by Michael Beck, Peer Consultant, University Writing Center
Most American students are taught the importance of reading and writing, but that value often translates to being able to read and write. In the Middle Ages, setting the bar at being merely literate would have been striving for excellence. However, mere literacy often eclipses striving for excellence in modern times. Although most Americans are able to read and write, many cannot do either particularly well. After all, some jobs require no reading/writing, and other mediums for communication exist, right? This utilitarian approach to writing suggests an unfortunate and unhealthy shift in values and attitudes. Continuously striving to write well often affords a sense of clarity and allows the writer to create a unique voice that can be preserved through space and time.
Although a clear difference exists between weak and strong writing, the degree to which something is weak/strong is often decided by the readers’ expectations and backgrounds. These expectations and backgrounds are like hurdles a writer must jump over. If the writer fails and slams into one of the reader’s hurdles, they can damage their credibility and message. Since writers rarely know their audience’s exact expectations and background, they must constantly strive to write as clearly as possible.
Writing can also lead to an improved sense of clarity for the writer because the writing process forces writers to decelerate and ruminate more than they would if they were merely speaking. This slowing down helps the writer to think more deeply about a subject and choose better words to articulate their thoughts. Writing allows people to pin down (or PEN down, haha) the nebulous, transient ideas and expressions created by verbal communication. Once these ideas are pinned down, they can be examined, dissected, and studied. Writing concretizes thought.
Writing is alive, though not in the biological sense. Although a great deal of writing is ephemeral, the durability allows for writing to survive its author by a long time. Transient writing or not, with the advent of the information age, writing can immortalize an individual’s ideas and thoughts. If the allure of immortality for ideas isn’t strong enough, more than likely what is written now will be used to analyze individuals or communities in the future. Thus, writing will preserve writers after death, and writers will be remembered by what they wrote.
So why should people try to write better and not settle for simply being literate? Effective writing can make someone sound intelligent. Whether the writing targets employers, employees, peers, or some other group of people, at no point does it become okay to sound thoughtless. Writing is also an excellent way for people to explore ideas and have something tangible to re-examine. In addition, writing is one way people are remembered after death. Continuously striving to write better inevitably produces better pieces of writing that represent the writer throughout space and time. Why wouldn’t we all strive to write better?