If you are a student who loves to write, believe it or not, you are not alone. Many students find that writing is their favorite creative outlet, and they genuinely want to get better at it. If that’s you, then you have a great advantage over other students, even if you want a career that’s not specifically about writing. For example, if you want to become a doctor, knowing how to write well will help you tremendously in writing application essays, organizing your thoughts in advance of job interviews, and even writing up clinical research should that be part of your career.
Though, you won’t develop your writing skills by coasting through your coursework writing “teacher-proof” essays. These are the essays that follow the letter, if not the spirit, of the assignment requirements. The teacher-proof essay has an audience of one: the teacher. While you can often succeed and make good grades doing this, you won’t become an accomplished writer unless you go above and beyond.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that when you write that sophomore microbiology essay on amino acids you have to turn in a Nobel Prize-worthy paper on peptide bond formation. It means that in your mind, you expand your audience beyond just your teacher. Most teachers don’t assign their students to present their essays to the entire class, because most of them have such enormous student loads that it isn’t practical. But write your essay as if you had to do just that. Imagine a room full of reasonably intelligent people who have some knowledge of your topic but who aren’t experts. How do you take them logically through your topic?
Such a mental exercise helps you become more engaged in your writing. You are still required to fulfill the “checklist” of requirements your instructor gives you for the assignment. But you are fulfilling those requirements in such a way that an audience could take away something meaningful from the work you have put into it.
Asking a classmate to read your essay and offer constructive criticism can be extremely beneficial. Better yet, getting together a study group of three or four people to read essays aloud can help all of you better understand what you’re doing well, and where you need to improve. Make sure everyone has a copy of the assignment with them, so that you can refer back to the requirements in the event of confusion. If you read your essay to four different people and all four of them have difficulty understanding the same section, it’s a good bet that the section needs some reworking.
What you do by going beyond the teacher-proof essay is to make the stakes a bit higher for yourself. And it’s by setting higher expectations and meeting them that you grow as a writer and as a student in general. Of course, you will need to adhere to a schedule in order to do this effectively. Waiting until the night before your essay is due to start on the assignment is a sure recipe for falling short of your (and probably your teacher’s) expectations. Becoming a better writer is a matter of expecting the best from yourself and taking concrete steps to deliver. BOLA TANGKAS