Corey Taylorfaculty writer
My business—or “industry,” if you like—consists in large part of writing. I assign and evaluate writing in all my courses, and I do a decent amount of it in my professional life (conference papers and other scholarly endeavors, emails to students and colleagues, letters of recommendation, Thorn columns, etc.). I also read, review, and respond to the writing of my peers. I don’t purport to have a corner on the market, as a teacher, a critic, or a sometimes-writer. Being immersed in writing isn’t unique to English professors, or for that matter to the humanities and social sciences. In fact, one of the things I admire about Rose-Hulman is how much writing my colleagues across disciplines incorporate into their courses.Frequently, I have serious and humorous conversations about writing with colleagues in my own and other departments. I have also helped incorporate more writing tasks and instruction into some engineering courses. I must confess that prior to arriving at Rose I sometimes used to think that written expression, expository or creative, didn’t matter much to non-humanists. It makes me happy to know that amongst most faculty members here, writing—and, for that matter, communication of all kinds—matters a great deal. While courses in the HSS department rely on writing more than most others, it’s not a stretch to say that writing is pervasive at Rose-Hulman. Students have to write and, in most cases, are expected to write well. Some enjoy it, some tolerate it, and some hate it, which makes writing like most other academic tasks. Not everyone is going to like it or be good at it. Students, your professors realize this.Here’s something else we realize: You can’t escape writing. It’s necessary to engage with the writing process and a variety of writing tasks in humanistic, scientific (social and natural), and engineering contexts in order to be a successful and well-rounded student and, eventually, an effective professional—no matter the profession. There is no such thing as a perfect writer, and if you strive for perfection you run the risk of self-paralysis, not to mention disappointment. However, there is such a thing as honing a skill set. Although you can improve your writing over ten weeks, proficiency in writing is developed over years.You don’t have to be an English major to realize the beauty, utility, and importance of writing—or to be a good writer. It helps to be an avid reader and a frequent writer, but there’s no denying that in academic and professional contexts, writing is a fundamental, portable, and practical skill.Still, I sometimes wonder if there’s more we could do as an institute to promote a culture of writing, or at least to show that we value it.Sure, we have an excellent newspaper, a dynamic literary and visual arts magazine, and yearly HSS essay awards. Almost every student has to take two required writing courses to graduate, and writing assignments cut across disciplines. We tout the numerous accomplishments of our students—as well we should—but I can’t shake the sense that writing is sometimes viewed as a bit player when it should have a leading role. For example, no student enrolled here had to write an application essay to earn admittance. We erroneously use this fact to promote the college to prospective students. Once admitted, some (by no means all) students select electives based on how little writing is required. Then there’s the thought, which manifests itself in different ways, that writing can be fudged because it is only necessary for certain kinds of classes. “Oh, that’s what they do over there. Just take a couple of courses and you’ll be done with that writing thing.” This is the wrong message to send and the wrong attitude to adopt.To write clearly means to think clearly. To convey complex technical or scientific concepts to a wide audience means to understand those concepts and their broad importance to society. To articulate a unique interpretation of a text means to persuade others that your ideas have merit. Do these things well and you will be surprised at what avenues will open for you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have essays to grade and a conference abstract to revise.
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