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

8 thoughts on “College Instructors Don’t Require Enough Writing

  1. I know that I’m technically a “writing major”, but I’ve had to take some non writing classes where I’ve had to write pretty lengthy papers. Yes, there was my college comp class where we wrote about ten papers throughout the class. But we also have a professor at PPU that only teaches cinema studies/cinema history classes, and at the end of the semester requires us to write a 15-20 page paper. I also took a Classical and Modern Drama class last year where we read a different play each week, had an in class discussion about it, and then at the midpoint and the end of the semester, we wrote two papers (10 page minimum) about a play of our choice.

    It blows my mind when I hear some of my friends complain about having to do a 7 page paper or a small number like that.

  2. I’ve only taken ONE of your classes so far and look what’s happened: I was listening to the Once On this Island soundtrack and started accidentally forming a close reading argument defending Andrea’s actions at the ball using evidence from lines from various songs. I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing until it dawned on me that I was thinking in transitional phrases with documented sources. I blame World Drama.

  3. Your class truly changed and shaped the way I write today. It was the hardest class I ever took in my entire college career and benefited me twice over. I’ve received many responses from my professors at how well I wrote and that I was one of their best students in all their years of teaching. Your class was intellectually stimulating and I owe any bit of writing skills that I have, to you. ❤️❤️

  4. I think I probably had ADHD as a student, and definitely do now that I’ve reached the “golden years.” 🙂 A 10-page paper every other week??? One or two per semester just about killed ME in the late ’50s and early ’60s … (Indiana University, Tulane/Newcomb, UC Berkeley, UCLA – ended up with AB in German from IU, Master of Library Science from Berkeley … and I made Phi Beta Kappa at IU because they didn’t average in the grades on the credits I transferred back there from Tulane).

    • Most of my undergrad classes weren’t quite so demanding. Some relied heavily on exams, so there was little graded work on a weekly basis. But doing that much writing gave me a lot of practice interpreting challenging texts.

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