Why Do Students Think They Don’t Need to Know How to Write?

Discussion Post Stars

In Deborah Brandt’s book The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy, she argues that the U.S. has changed from a reading society to a writing society.  The informed citizen is no longer simply one who is informed by reading, but one who produces by writing. Furthermore, she addresses the “emergence of the so-called knowledge or information economy” and notes that “It is not unusual for many American adults to spend 50 percent or more of their workday with their hands on keyboards and their minds on audiences” (3).  That is, most students who go to college will likely end up in some sort of career that requires them to write, whether that means they are submitting journal articles for publication in fields like chemistry, physics, or psychology; submitting reports to their CEOs or managers; explaining their research to those outside the field; or writing manuals or instruction guides.  The possibilities for writing are diverse and seemingly endless.

However, despite the prevalence of writing in daily life and the increasing demand for workers to be able to write in the various genres of their fields, many students seem to continue to harbor not only an aversion to writing but also a disinterest.  It’s commonly accepted that students are more interested in work that they find useful or believe is directly related to them, and that they consequently expend more effort in completing such work.  So, somehow, it would appear, students believe that, if they don’t study English, they don’t really need to know how to write.

Students are correct in believing that if they don’t enter literary studies, they will not need to know how to write literary analysis.  And that seems to be the crux of the problem.  So many schools expect the English department to also be the composition department, even though rhet/comp is its own field of study separate from literary studies, and every discipline requires specialized writing skills that tend to be specific to that discipline.  That’s why Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) emerged back in the 1970s.  Rhet/comp individuals realized that there was a need for students to be able to recognize that the writing done in each of their classes was based in values specific to the discipline and thus requires unique ways of expression.

However, most individuals have probably never heard of WAC, even if their school had or has a WAC program. Most students probably are not quite sure why their history teacher seems to want them to write one way but their biology instructor wants them to write in another way.  And they continue to view writing as synonymous with English because it’s typically English instructors and English grad students who are recruited to teach the general education composition courses.  And, of course, in grade school and in high school, writing routinely gets lumped together with literary studies as  “English class,” even though students ought to be writing in all their courses.

WAC is one way to address students’ disinterest in writing.  However, there is still work to be done.  We need students to recognize that all writing is valuable and increases understanding of the field and the content of the field.  We need students to understand that learning to write well in one genre does not mean learning another genre will not be difficult–for example, just because you learned how to write a thank-you note, that does not mean you know how to write a cover letter, a book review, or a recipe.  We need students to learn that writing skills can be transferrable, however, and that the general education composition course does not have to be meaningless because it is required, and not part of the major.  And we need to get students–and society–to recognize that writing isn’t just the job of the English department.  It’s everyone’s job because it’s important to every discipline.  Maybe it’s time to show our students some statistics, time to show them how writing really impacts their lives and their careers.

Works Cited

  • Brandt, Deborah. The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy. Cambridge UP, 2015.

Krysta 64


9 thoughts on “Why Do Students Think They Don’t Need to Know How to Write?

  1. Briana says:

    I think I’ve mentioned this in comments before, but, yes, I run across college students all the type who have big complaints against their high school English departments for not teaching them every genre of writing, like how to write a resume, for instance. I think it’s worthwhile that English literature is a field of study; you are there, yes, to learn content. it’s not just about reading comprehension and writing in general. You are supposed to learn things about Shakespeare and Milton and Melville, etc. and you are supposed to learn literary analysis and literary research papers because it is a literature class. If I wouldn’t expect a history teacher or a chemistry teacher to teach me how to write a resume or a cover letter or a polite email because it’s unrelated to what they’re teaching me, I’m not sure why I should expect a literature teacher to cover those things either. Every teacher should be teaching writing that is necessary to their specific discipline.


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, they seem to want to be taking a rhet/comp class or maybe even some sort of life skills class, but I think they don’t have a name for it. Because they’re so used to English teachers teaching writing, they don’t understand that 1) writing is its own field of study separate from literary studies and 2) writing is different across fields so your English teacher can’t necessarily teach you how to write well in a genre that they don’t know. Even if they teach a general resume, your bio professor will likely know more about what a good bio resume looks like than an English professor would.


  2. Ravenclaw Book Club says:

    Ah this is really interesting! And I completely agree, even though I hadn’t really thought about it before!


    • Krysta says:

      I think many schools are set up so that you don’t really question it, especially since grade schools and schools house writing in English courses like it’s all just lumped together when really you have two separate disciplines being called “English.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. sophiethestark says:

    This always puzzled and angered me! Back in high school, most of my classmates had this kind of attitude and it honestly pissed me off so much. To this day, I still encounter this type of people everywhere and it just makes them look incredibly uneducated and unlikable.
    The whole treatment of language studies was and still is appalling and I wish people would just knock it off, because it’s absolutely annoying.
    Anyway, rant’s over – amazing post!


    • Krysta says:

      I think that the way we set up school systems frames English as meaning “composition.” Because other teachers in other classes expect English teachers to “teach students how to write” as if English teachers alone bear this burden and as if English teachers could teach the chem lab report, the history paper, the literature paper, and the math paper all at once! We envision “writing” as being something that we learn once and then know, but of course we have to learn to write again each time we encounter a new type of writing. I’m not surprised students think they don’t need to know how to write because high schools act like English papers are “writing” and so they don’t necessarily recognize their other writing as writing.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.