Do you need to improve your writing? Read more…

Students doing an exam in a classroom

Want to, need to, improve your writing? You might be surprised to learn that reading more and reading better can help. Read on 😊 as Learning Skills explain how the writing-reading connection works.

How many words will you write this session? How many sentences? How many paragraphs? A lot, if you’re like most other Macquarie students.

So, how can you improve your writing? You probably know that the more you practice writing, the better you’ll become at it. But did you know that reading more can also improve your writing?

This is because both reading and writing involve complex, and connected, ways of thinking and acting. Associate Professor Marcelle Freiman from Macquarie’s Department of English explains the connections: “When you write you’re also reading; when you read you’re writing in your head.” And in his recent study conducted at the University of Michigan, Michael Bunn proposed that being motivated to read “increases the likelihood” of students succeeding at reading and, importantly, also at writing.[1]

So, read more to help your writing. Specifically, read more deeply and read more good writing.

Read more deeply
Deep reading, or active reading, is the opposite of what we do when skimming through our Facebook or Twitter news feeds, or perhaps what you’re doing right now with this article. According to Associate Professor Freiman, deep, active reading involves paying attention, slowing down, and annotating—writing the thoughts that come to your mind—as you read. When you read this way, you will find yourself thinking critically about what you’re reading, and thinking critically about what you’re thinking as you read. Deep reading that prompts critical thinking creates what Mariolina Salvatori calls “a context for writing”: it helps you come up with relevant ideas about what to write.[2]

What do you need to read for university this week? Read it more deeply. But don’t stop there. Apply deep, active reading to your own writing. “Do you read what you write in your assignments?” Associate Professor Freiman asks. Reading your own writing doesn’t mean doing a quick proofread just before you submit an assignment. Instead, it involves paying attention, slowing down and annotating as you read—reading to analyse how your writing is (or isn’t) working so that you can rewrite. Deep, active reading facilitates rewriting. And, difficult as it sounds, it is the process of rewriting that helps you improve your writing. You can learn more about this process at Learning Skills’ Writing Repair workshop in the mid-session break.

Read more good writing
When was the last time you read a novel? Or a short story, or a poem? High school? Perhaps you’ve never read a novel in English. And, you may be thinking, now is not the time to take up reading anything other than what I (you) must read for Uni. But you might want to think again. Have you received assignment feedback that suggests you need to improve your written expression? Do you use language ineffectively? Does the way you write make it difficult for your marker to understand your meaning?

Reading more good writing may influence, and improve, how you use language. In Associate Professor Freiman’s words, reading fiction “allows you to immerse yourself in language without noticing that this is what you’re doing.” When you read a novel or short story, you won’t notice that you’re learning how language can be used effectively because you will be caught up in the story.

You need look no further than the Macquarie Uni library to find a good story or two. Not a regular reader? Start with shorter novels, such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or, for something Australian, one of Melina Marchetta’s novels or Tim Winton’s That Eye, the Sky. Want to read a classic? It’s hard to beat To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Or if you prefer memoir to fiction, try Benjamin Law’s The Family Law.

How many more words do you need to write this session? Keep going! And keep reading.

[1] Michael Bunn, “Teaching Reading (and Writing) in the Composition Classroom,” College Composition and Communication, 64, no. 3 (2013): 512.

[2] Mariolina Salvatori, “Conversations with Texts: Reading in the Teaching of Composition,” College English, 58. no. 4 (1996), 446.

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