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WyzAnt Wants To Know: Real World Writing

“Students often want to know how they'll use a subject "in the real world." Pick one of your subjects and tell us why it's important outside of the classroom.”

As it happens I wrote an article on this very topic as it relates to Algebra a few months back. You can check out that article here. So since I've already answered this in relation to math, I'll discuss another of my topics today: writing.

It's true that once you finish college you'll probably never need to write another term paper. Unless your career path tends towards academics (or blog posting), regular paper-writing is probably not going to show up very much. But what will show up quite frequently is the need to clearly and concisely articulate your thoughts and opinions in writing. In today's text-based world, first impressions are often written rather than spoken – whether that be a cover letter for a resume, a request for information about a position, or a proposal for a new project. If you plan on being self-employed, starting your own business or going into certain fields such as arts administration, you can expect to run into larger writing projects as well. Business plans, grant applications, and press releases all require skill in clear and concise writing. But even something as simple as an email introduction still deserves a careful and articulate hand.

I experienced this myself when I first started tutoring; each time I wanted to respond to a job posting on WyzAnt I found myself sitting on the response screen deleting and rewriting for several minutes to get the phrasing just right. Realizing this, and also realizing that I generally ended up using the same specific phrasing for certain situations (such as finishing all introductions or requests for information with the sentence “Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you”), I finally decided one day to sit down and write up a template response, one that incorporated all of the best phrasings I'd come up with over the months of writing and rewriting. This way I can now save time on each response by simply tweaking any specific details, and still be sure that I'm putting my best foot forward and including all relevant information.

Writing papers and essays in high school and college provides you a valuable chance to develop and hone your written voice. As you complete assignments, you'll begin to learn what a good sentence looks and sounds like. You'll practice thinking ahead, going through each next point as you type the one before, and you'll become more skilled at translating that inner monologue into a smoothly-flowing paragraph. Writing papers also teaches you to edit, whether that means drafting, proofreading and rewriting or simply stopping in the middle of a sentence to think through a few different ways of finishing it before continuing. You'll learn to be straightforward and confident, whether that means stating your opinions as facts in persuasive pieces or citing just the right piece of research in history papers.

Speaking of research, the act of researching for a paper is an invaluable lesson for when you need to figure something out in the real world. Taking notes, highlighting and marking pages with post-its are valuable organizational skills, and they are usually learned first in the context of researching a history paper. In the real world you eventually realize that not everything can be found with a wikipedia search, and that sometimes you need to go old-school and hoof it to the library to find the book you need.

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