What is meaningful, practical writing?

One of the goals of writing across the curriculum is to make writing more meaningful to students in all classes.  It is not a matter of quantity or frequency, but meaning that makes any activity worthwhile for students – or professionals.  Meaningful, practical work is fulfilling, and the same holds true for the classroom.  In my job, I surveyed all the writing I do in one day and tried to categorize it into what I have to do vs. what I like to do.  Certainly the writing I have to do (often emails) is not given much thought or time.  I respond quickly, sometimes without really thinking things through (which I don’t recommend), and I don’t really enjoy maintaining my inbox.  What do I like doing?  What writing in my job is meaningful to me?  What gets my attention and time?  Resources and professional development.  Part of my job is to write or edit writing resources for students and faculty.  There is nothing more intriguing to me than to have a topic proposed for a resource that I have to research and then compose in a way that is helpful and meaningful to students and/or faculty.  I know that the resources I write or edit are meaningful because students or faculty need them because they’ve asked for them.  I also know the writing is practical because it will get used. Because of these two things, I pour a lot of time and energy into resource development, and the same can be said for my professional development conference presentations or publications. 

My purpose in rambling about myself in the paragraph above is to set up a conversation here.  Just like in the workplace, there is writing for classes that just has to get done, sort of like the email part of my job.  But are there writing assignments that are truly meaningful for students?  Something they know is wanted or needed and will somehow get used?  How do we know the writing in our courses is meaningful and practical?  So I’d like to ask two things:  What kinds of writing do you do on the job that you find meaningful and practical?  And what classes do you teach and what writing assignments do you think are meaningful and practical for students?  How do you know they are?

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One response to “What is meaningful, practical writing?

  1. Michaella Hammond

    This is such a wonderful conversation starter, Diane! I have been thinking about your questions a lot since I see my professional life divided into the tutoring/resource development mode and the adjunct/college composition teaching mode. I think one I am trying to improve student experiences with writing is to explain how the writing will be relevant to them beyond my class. Simple, I know. But I also think by having guest speakers, surveying students about their personal and professional aspirations, and knowing what they enjoy writing (or don’t) is a great start. The video Robley Hood shared earlier this week (I Hate Writing Project, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvIYAcUGJDU) showcases why I think writing is tough and personal for all of us, not just students. I know personally I am not a fan of writing stitled proposal abstracts. I really have to work at that process. But ask me to write a recipe, student resource, culinary review, interview another person, or write a lyric essay? I’m all over it. Which brings me to a video I JUST learned about today at the Campus Technology virtual conference: Where Good Ideas Come From: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU I think if we provided more time and more collaborative spaces/places for writing, the more people would find writing meaningful and practical. Sharing with students templates for success and showing them how to mimic great thinkers can yield great results, I think!

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