What is Good Writing?
There are some rules about what makes good writing. Some students think of “rules” as the kind of thing that tells them when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon. These rules, however, are more like guiding principles. (Commas can come later.) Any effective writing task has to take into account a number of factors. The more you know, the better you can meet the expectations.
Know your audience. Different readers need different things. Is the assignment directed at a newspaper as an editorial or opinion piece? Are you writing to the University president? Are you hoping to persuade someone to fund your research project? Are you reporting the results of an experiment?
Good writing, regardless of the course or the discipline within which it is taught, shows the following characteristics:
Clarity of expression
When we say we want students to think critically, we mean to think analytically. Students often come to us thinking that criticism is something you do to people or ideas or things you don’t like. On the contrary, we mean for you to take apart an idea or a plan, assess its individual parts, ask questions designed to give you a fuller understanding of the topic at hand, challenge assumptions they might hold, and then—and only then—to come to conclusions. To think critically is to be aware of all the factors that play into our understanding of what goes on around us.
The ability to think critically involves being able to ask questions about causes and outcomes, histories and patterns, experiments and innovations. Most importantly, the ability to think critically involves not making any judgments without first establishing a good understanding of the idea, proposal, or issue in question.
Each field of study has its own set of assumptions, things it finds important, traits it values, behaviors it expects, and so forth. Each course students take here will help develop critical thinking, and each student’s skill at assessing a given situation will be shown in the way she writes, speaks, and interacts. The connections are unmistakable, and the way we teach is to help students see those connections and show them to us. Those skills will transfer out into other courses, other contexts, and the world at large.