An Assignment That Gets Students to Take Writing Seriously


Occasionally I will encounter college students preparing for careers in professional fields (business, engineering, nursing, physical therapy, etc.) who do not believe that writing will be an important part of their future work life.

Shawna M. Lesseur, a first-year writing instructor at the University of Connecticut, has an assignment for these students.  Here is a taste of an article about her assignment at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Professors know that the ability to write well and communicate clearly are important skills for all students to have, no matter what their intended profession. But how do you get that message across to college students in a required class in writing? After all, many are there only because they have to be. And they may not yet know what kind of career they want to have.

For Shawna M. Lesseur, the answer is simple: Show them the future. A first-year writing instructor at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, Lesseur has developed an assignment that resonates with her students. She asks everyone to interview four people, including a professor in their intended major and an alumnus in a related profession, to explore what role writing plays in their careers. Do they write reports? Proposals? Long papers? Presentations? In what ways has writing factored into their professional development, and at what points in their career has writing mattered the most?

The answers, she says, often surprise students. Lesseur recalls an international student, majoring in statistics, who told her, quite confidently, that he’d never need to write once he started working. After all, he was going to be a number cruncher. “He really thought that if he made it through this class,” she says, “he’d be done and not have to write in English again.”

Instead he returned from his interviews chastened. He learned that “he had to be an exceptional communicator,” she says. Not only would he need to write well, a professor and a professional statistician told him, but he would also need to be able to communicate his ideas and his work to a wide variety of people, including clients. “He was shocked,” says Lesseur. “He realized he really needed to focus on his ability to communicate effectively. Numbers weren’t enough. He was going to have to tell a story with them.”

Read the rest here.