Students Lacking Writing Skills - Who's To Blame?


woman writingA recent study shows that “in a typical semester…50 percent [of students] did not take a course with the necessary writing requirements. Over the entire four-year college experience, 50 percent of students had taken five or fewer courses that required significant writing….” (

When I taught in academia, a common complaint that I heard from faculty was that their students’ writing was poor.  At the time, I was teaching technical writing and heard this so often from faculty that I decided to see if I could develop a writing across the curriculum program, which would’ve meant that all students in all disciplines would take writing courses. Ideally, in such a program, students would be required to take more than just the mandatory freshman English—they’d be involved in writing classes throughout their academic career. Great idea, right?

Armed with my research on writing across the curriculum, I visited faculty in the schools of business and biology, as those were the largest departments at the university where I taught. I interviewed faculty and they were excited about my initiative. They wholeheartedly agreed that students should be writing in all disciplines, but then…. Then they discovered that they would be responsible for creating writing assignments and reading those assignments and perhaps even grading them, and guess what? They were no longer so enthused about ensuring that students had those writing skills because it would mean that the faculty would have to work harder. So, while it’s a shame that students aren’t being trained to write and write well, the blame should not rest entirely with the students. Students should, however, be upset at their colleges and universities that don’t demand that they take courses that will prepare them to be successful, like writing courses. After all, aren’t colleges and universities, and indeed the faculty, supposed to be guiding students in terms of what they should be doing to prepare for the real world?

Copyright 2011.