I know that’s a bit of a bold and dramatic statement, and to be fair my English teachers have done a lot of good for me too. I am proud to know the proper usage of punctuation and understand how to implement metaphors, and I have my English classes to thank for these lessons. But ever since I started considering copywriting and advertising for a living (and especially when I started blogging) I’ve realized that there’s one aspect of writing that none of my teachers emphasized: how to relate to the reader.
Unless you’re writing in a vacuum and not expecting anyone to ever read what you produce, writing is a mutual experience. You have to write for the readers. It has to be enjoyable for them just as much (or probably more) as it is for you, the writer. It has to form a relationship. Yet, from all I remember during my years of English and Literature classes writing piles of essays, relationship-building wasn’t on the rubric. I know that academic writing is much different than all other types of written communication, but how many of us will go on to write for academic books and journals as a career? How many times will I need to remember how to create a running head on my essay? Compare that to how often I may need to engage a reader or a team of employees with a blog post or email. I sense a discrepancy.
I think of writing like I do verbal communication. If when I’m talking to someone I throw around brobdingnagian colloquy that no one apprehends just to boast my sagacity, I’m going to come across as a jerk (see what I did there?). And if I do not want to use contractions because it is generally seen as too informal, I will start to sound. like. a. robot. So if we’re not supposed to talk like this (even for a formal speech), why are we taught all through school to write this way?
Most of the reason why blogging is so fun (both the writing and reading aspects) is because it feels human. Even if the topics are similar, I would rather read a post that seems like it came from a person instead of an essay that could have come out of a machine. Because there’s a relationship. I can sense that there’s someone behind all the words, even if I have never met that person. This bond between writer and reader is what forms friendships over the internet. When we have nothing to compare it to, sometimes the way someone writes can be the sole way to determine what they’re like in person. (Test: how many of you automatically judge someone who rites lyke theyve nevver sen a dikshunary in there lyfe?). Writing style is important.
All of that being said, shouldn’t it make sense that we need to start learning more about how to build relationships with our writing rather than just how to internally cite sources in APA format? With the rise of social media and increasing time spent online, written communication skills are becoming more and more necessary. It shouldn’t just be limited to Journalism or Communications students, either. Everyone–no matter their career–will have to send an email or type up a memo at some point in time, and every word always counts.
Writing really is the process of forming relationships with people, yet academic writing is so…lifeless. Cold. Impersonal. Sure, it may state all the facts in a clearly-defined thesis statement, but where’s the emotion? The human-ness? The made-up words like “human-ness” that prove a real person wrote this? And how can we expect people to want to read what we write when we sound like robots?
Academic writing has a place in the world of communication, but it’s a small place. The informal approaches are more widely used–whether it’s in a magazine or blog or email to a coworker–yet they’re not the focus in English classes. Maybe I’m just a disgruntled college kid who’s written too many essays in my day, but I think there needs to be shift in focus in the world of academia.