Laura Hull

Voicing Questions and Needs: Writing’s Practical Side

Laura Hull portraitAs a writing tutor, I have noticed that many students enter workshops thinking that writing well primarily means reaching a prescribed word count or following a five paragraph essay format. Many other students, however, see writing as a medium for self-expression or entertainment. Both sets of students tend not to realize that studying writing—far from merely a way to earn a grade or communicate a feeling— can enhance their ability to ask questions and articulate immediate needs. When students begin to think broadly about writing in contemporary society, they discover that writing skills, if developed with clarity and nuance as the goal, will enable them to become strong advocates for themselves or those they represent.

At the university, students succeed when they become comfortable asking questions. This is evident in the classroom when students raise their hands and quickly receive answers. Student needs extend beyond the lecture hall, however. Concise, appropriately formatted and phrased inquiries sent to professors, deans, academic advisers, and enrollment evaluators can take students from guessing about their best course of action to confidently proceeding with their academic plans. In the academic environment, a poorly worded email requesting information, reevaluation, or assistance may be misunderstood and elicit a negative response. A well-written email, conversely, often will be met with a prompt and helpful response. Such communications may also benefit students by making them more visible to faculty members than they otherwise would be. When professors hear of job openings or other opportunities, they are most likely to think of passing that information along to students who have already demonstrated courtesy and competence.

Writing in order to voice questions and needs, a skill first practiced and applied at the university, impacts career growth and standard of living for students who exit the schooling system and begin to establish lives for themselves. For example, a gracious cover letter requesting an interview can make a job candidate stand out. Once settled in a position, this worker’s ability to make fitting written requests will continue to serve her as she assembles reports, makes proposals, or solicits donations on behalf of those she professionally represents. These skills follow the worker home, where she cares for herself and any dependents she may have. In the course of a year, she must relate to perhaps a dozen or more private and public agencies in order to secure and maintain housing, possessions, and services— and perhaps also to protect civil rights. If seriously wronged by a bureaucracy or corporation, she may need to send a formal letter of complaint that includes a clear account of an event and a demand for a desired solution to the problem. In all of these scenarios, her writing proves practical and persuasive.

Writing represents toil or mystery to some individuals, but playfulness or art to others. Whether or not people feel enthusiastic, indifferent, or hostile toward it, they will find writing a valuable tool.  For every college student, natural or learned dispositions can and should be expanded to include appreciation for how better writing enables better communication. Regardless of background, chosen major, or future plans, students who are willing to utilize campus resources to understand writing conventions and develop clear voices will begin to live increasingly assertive, connected lifestyles. When they graduate, these students enliven their workplaces and their communities as they continually make their requests heard.