College Instructors Don’t Require Enough Writing

I was surprised a few years ago to learn during a curriculum design meeting that I was the only faculty member in the room to require a 20-page paper. When I took a 300-level Shakespeare course as an undergraduate, we read one play a week and were expected to write a 10-page research paper every other week.

So when I started teaching a 300-level Shakespeare, I thought I was going easy on them when I taught fewer plays (I scheduled about two weeks per play, a few short practice papers, and a 20-page term paper).  For the big paper, some students expanded one of their shorter papers, some changed topics a couple times and had to edit down what would have been 30+ pages of content, and a nontrivial number were overwhelmed by the task.

I have since then revised the course. And because a senior education major actually tried the “fiddle with type size and spacing to stretch a short paper” trick, my syllabus will read “about 3000 words” instead of “12 pages”.

Here is a Washington Post article that describes why the working world demands good writers, and notes that writing assignments are labor intensive for both the students and the professors. Few people who aren’t professional writers will be tasked to write 20-page documents in the workplace, but any learning process involves working long and hard to master a skill.  (I fixed the clickbait title, which was “Why can’t college graduates write coherent prose?”)

Near the end of the conversation, the interviewer complained about how difficult it is to find good writers these days. The two men talked about their college experiences and how they learned to write.

“I was a math major,” the interviewer said, “but the biggest differentiator in business now is good writing.”

He’s not alone in his opinion. According to national surveys, employers want to hire college graduates who can write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data. But the Conference Board has found in its surveys of corporate hiring leaders that writing skill is one of the biggest gaps in workplace readiness. —The Washington Post