College professors have been bemoaning the lack of solid writing skills in their students for decades (see this article from 1974 for proof), but statistics gathered over the past few years suggest that student writing skills are in an even more dismal state than they were in 1974. Today, 28% of college graduates produce writing that rates as deficient, even with tuition reaching record rates and many colleges being more selective than ever. These poor writing skills have had serious ramifications not only in higher education but in the business world, as our information-driven society makes it ever more critical for students to develop the ability to communicate through the written word.
While it’s easy to point out the problem, it’s much harder to figure out a solution. A promising first step can be to pinpoint just what is causing students to arrive and leave college without the skills they’ll need to get by in the real world. That’s easier said than done. The decline of writing abilities in students is a multifaceted issue, impacted by teachers, students, and administrators alike and encompassing all elements of writing education from support to motivation. While not comprehensive, this list addresses some of the biggest reasons so many students struggle with writing in colleges today, from freshman year to graduation.
Ira Glass shares advice on how to tell your story across any medium.
Ira Glass of NPR’s This American Life recorded a session about storytelling with Current TV back in 2009. The videos just popped up on my radar again recently, courtesy of the wonderfully animated version of one portion below, which inspired me to share.
I think it’s important to note that Ira’s advice isn’t on writing, but on storytelling, which applies to every creative endeavor imaginable. Whether you’re making music, crafting a radio program, taking a photograph, or engaging in any other artistic medium, you’re essentially telling your audience a story. And anyone who’s ever tried to do that will probably be familiar with the frustration Ira articulates below.
The thing I would just like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have. And the thing I would say to you is
everybody goes through that.
So you see, you’re not alone storytellers. The only remedy is to plow through and get your story out there. Your taste will tell you when you’ve got it right.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from the melodic, dulcet, if slightly nasal tones of radio’s favorite curator, Ira Glass.
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Attention, grammarphiles: today is National Punctuation Day!
Commemorated every September 24th, National Punctuation Day is the only holiday in existence to celebrate the wonderful, squiggly world of punctuation marks. In a world where punctuation is rapidly in decline, thanks to texting and trendy writers (ahem, ee cummings and James Frey), this day serves to remind us that “a semicolon is not a surgical procedure,” nor is an ellipsis the moment “when the moon moves in front of the sun.”
Wondering how you can mark this happy day? Unfortunately, NPD isn’t a public holiday (yet). However, there are a few of ways to show your appreciation for all things punctuation-y.
The organizers behind National Punctuation Day hold an annual competition. This year, in honor of the 2012 presidential election, they ask their constituents to elect one punctuation mark as president:
The rules: Write one paragraph with a maximum of three sentences using the following 13 punctuation marks to explain which should be “presidential,” and why: apostrophe, brackets, colon, comma, dash, ellipsis, exclamation point, hyphen, parentheses, period, question mark, quotation mark, and semicolon. You may use a punctuation mark more than once, and there is no word limit. Multiple entries are permitted.
So much for my dark horse vote for the interpunct. Its uses are gravely underrated, if you ask me. Cast your ballot for one of the other hopefuls by visiting the National Punctuation Day website and submitting your thoughts.
The New Yorker‘s Questioningly column is also partnering with NPD for its latest competition. In its post “Punctuation Nation,” Questioningly asks its readers to devise a brand new punctuation mark. The constraints are that it must be made from a combination of two already existing punctuation marks, like the interrobang, for instance (?! or sometimes ‽). The column suggests,
maybe there should be a ,? mark, which indicates slowness and confusion, or a /\, which indicates disingenuous differentiation between two otherwise similar elements. (What?!) Anyway, you get it.
To enter, tweet your suggestion, followed by the hashtag #tnyquestion. You can view all of the current submissions to the contest here.
And if both of those competitions fail you, what else is there to do but sulk at home and bake food in the shape of punctuation marks, right? Yup, National Punctuation Day has a recipe for that.
Haven’t had your fill yet? What a punc you are. This puzzle should set you straight…
Insert the proper punctuation in this sentence necessary to make it correct:
James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher
Got it yet? Check your answer here. (No peeking!)