Professors A to Z Talk – Writing So Many Assignments

Dearest Overwhelmed,

First of all—professor confession, we are both still working on our writing, and think that we both still have a lot to learn. We also struggle with days that we don’t feel like writing, and experience writer’s block and other difficulties. All this said, however, we learn about how to improve our writing all of the time, and this learning began in high school and university.

Despite these truths, Professors A to Z honestly assure you that half an hour into grading a large pile of your writing assignments, your professors are likely asking themselves that exact same question—why do we make you write?

Once, long ago, the story of the world was only told orally. Cultures transmitted knowledge and wisdom, culture and history and, of course, gossip, through brilliant oratory stories and debate. Today, many cultures still are oral cultures, keeping their knowledge and history brilliantly alive through spoken transmission to keen and eager listeners who pay attention and don’t fiddle with their smart devices. However, unfortunately for you, many millennia ago, some damn fool invented written language and the world has not been the same since. A discussion of which form of communication is better isn’t relevant here. What is important is that institutions of learning followed hot on the heels of the religious institutions they were frequently associated with in embracing this cool new form of knowledge transmission: writing. After the Gutenberg Book Press was invented, “the masses” could eventually get in on the action and learn to read and write.  

Today, the written word is the preferred form of communication in the majority of cultures, nations and universities, for better or worse. So, for your sake, we ask you to write. And write. And write. And write some more. Because we know that this is a skill that is still very important to your future success and employment options in Western cultures, no matter which amazing path you choose. Unfortunately, most people stink at writing (including many professors.. shhhhhh… don’t tell them we told you!) unless they practice and practice, and get lots of feedback on how to improve.  

We profs have pegged ourselves to this writing cycle for life, via the peer-review process—every time we write, submit, and re-submit (perhaps more than once) for publication, we feel like you do, and ask the same question, but might also begrudgingly admit that we do learn something new almost every time.  And that is why we ask you to write, and then provide you feedback on your submissions—we are not trying to exact revenge, but rather to prepare you for similar processes that you will experience.  We want to help refine your writing skills so that you will leave university a better communicator than when you arrived.

It’s not because we love grading (trust us!), it’s because we need to help you test the knowledge and arguments that you are forming along the way, in the predominant communication form: the written word. That is, until we are taken over by aliens, and then you and your professors will be struggling side by side to decipher the means of communication brought by the new visitors…..