Writing isn’t easy but it is a problem

Tynesha Daniels

The syllabus for Dr. Kent Baxter’s Composition and the Professions class states, “This course gives students the opportunity to hone their writing skills and apply these skills to forms of writing common to professions such as technical writing, publishing, public/government relations, corporate communications and advertising.”

The document goes on to say, “Students will learn models for professional writing assignments such as news releases, brochures, speeches, advertisements, etc. and will also identify and master qualities that are common to all forms of effective communication.”

During the first meeting, Baxter told the class that people in the industry prefer English majors because English majors know how to write and journalism majors do not, meaning no disrespect to journalism majors in the class, of course.

Shortly after class, I overheard two young women talking about the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam.

One woman said to another, “It’s really easy. I just wrote a page about whatever and I passed.”

Ah, the misperceptions of what it means to write well.

The high school class of 2006 produced the SATs’ largest score drop in 31 years. While officials from College Board, which owns the SAT exam, believe student test taking methods are responsible for the dramatically disappointing scores, others believe the new format, which requires students to write an essay, may be to blame.

With an average score of 501 out of 800, 4 points better than the national average, California students did relatively well on the new writing exam.

According to a press release from College Board, students were supposed to write an original, first-draft essay responding to a point of view on an issue. Students were also supposed to support a position using reason and examples taken from reading, studies, experiences, or observations.

Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said, “The addition of writing has made the SAT a better measure of the skills students need to succeed in college and later in life.

We will continue to work with schools and colleges to encourage high standards and a greater focus on writing in the classroom.”

As of this fall, the format of the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam will be considerably different from years past.

According to the UDWPE website, students taking the UDWPE will now be expected to read a short passage about a current topic of interest.

Students will be asked to identify the main points of the text and argue whether or not they agree.

Students will also need to support their arguments with reasons and examples from their own reading, observations and experience.

Criteria for evaluating the UDWPE will consist of demonstration of analytical skills, use of relevant evidence to support an argument, effective organization, and use of standard English grammar, diction and mechanics.

While it may stroke one’s ego to believe their writing to be superior to that of another, wouldn’t that beard-stroking time be better spent focusing some attention on the individuals for whom writing is not so bright an achievement?

If high school seniors are not being prepared for college-level writing courses, as dismal scores on the SAT writing exam may suggest, doesn’t that impact the need for remedial writing courses offered on college campuses already suffering from lack of funding?

With the additional necessary remedial courses, doesn’t that leave far less room to offer courses like African American literature or children’s literature?

Doesn’t limiting the variety of classes inhibit the learning potential and, therefore, disadvantage those of us who are proud, in an almost elitist manner, of our abilities to write effectively?

The one thing that frustrates me most as a journalism student is to hear people say that writing is easy.

Students putting off the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam for about as long, in theory, as some people try to put off dentist appointments, can attest to the fact that writing is not as easy as it may seem.

Attempting to convince ourselves, and our classmates, that the writing process is not a challenge does not alleviate the difficulty. It only makes mastering the task that much more daunting.

Writing is not easy, and while everyone isn’t able to channel Ernest Hemingway, writing skills are key for success in every career field.

Written communication, then, should be approached as seriously as any other skill one finds vital to their future employment.

The prevalence of weak writing skills affects us all, even those of us who feel we possess them.

Professors, administrators and students alike should all be concerned about the ways to rectify the writing problems we’re faced with today.