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Where we fail our students: Writing Skills

February, 2011 · By Justin Bengry

I firmly believe that one of the great benefits of an education in history is the development of writing skills. I strive for that in myself, and encourage it in my students. Writing skills will continue to benefit them beyond my classroom, in other disciplines, and beyond the academy. I’m certainly not alone in this belief, and almost universally I hear from other professors, lecturers, and TAs how important writing skills are to them as well. But what do we really do about it? We mark up papers, we make ourselves available for consultation, and we direct students to university writing centres. Is that really enough?

But doing more comes with its own pressures. I realized this recently when I decided to devote an entire lecture period to discussing writing issues. Initially I planned only to devote 15-20 minutes to addressing the most egregious writing problems I discovered in recent student assignments. But by the time I created slides with examples, I realized that more than half the class period would be required simply to go through them all, leaving inadequate time for “real content”—as in the history part.

I went back and forth all day, worrying that I was somehow doing my students a disservice by devoting less time to EU formation or So