Guilford College Writing Manual

This is the official Guilford College Writing Manual. A collaboration between the English Department and the Hege Library.

Write to learn . . .

Write to learn . . .

Here's something else to consider: writing is itself a way of learning.

That statement may strike some students as ironic. For many, writing seems to hinder learning. They view writing as simply the medium for presenting a finished product to a teacher; and before that presenting takes place, worries about getting spelling and grammar correct can actually interfere with the generating of ideas, perhaps even lead to crippling writer's block.

But numerous studies demonstrate that students who write about what they are learning learn the material more thoroughly and remember it better and longer. How can this be so?

Writing is not simply a medium. It is a tool of exploration, a voyage of discovery, one that leads not only to new ideas but clearer ideas. As Maxine Hairston points out in Successful Writing, "writing about a topic stimulates our thinking on that topic and helps us to probe knowledge and experiences we have stored in our subconscious mind." Moreover, writing makes this knowledge more precise. Hairston goes on to say, "often we can clarify vague or elusive concepts for ourselves by writing about them." Sometimes just submitting a difficult thought to the grammar of a sentence (with the sequential logic that a sentence requires) enables the writer to see an idea better. Many of you have undoubtedly experienced this phenomenon in keeping journals or in writing letters to friends.

Writing involves constantly putting things together--words, sentences, paragraphs. And putting together, again in Hairston's words, forces us to "make connections, see relationships, and draw analogies that would not have occurred to us if we had not started to write." Discovery.

And as for learning rather than just discovering the new knowledge: research in cognitive psychology has established that if new material is to stay in our long-term memory, we need to graft it to what is already there. Our subconscious must engage in private conversation with itself, as it were, constantly attempting to fit the new material into the knowledge structure we already possess (thereby enlarging the knowledge structure in the process). When we write, we stimulate the cognitive functions necessary for this conversation to occur.