Writing Skills Matter in Online Learning

By | November 24, 2014

Kool Derby

To excel in online learning, you must work diligently on your writing skills. Unlike a class in a brick-and-mortar institution, when you’re online no one knows you are part of the class until you express yourself in words.

Professionalism Matters

I make it clear to my online students that I expect a professional approach when posting messages in the discussion board, when writing assignments, and even when communicating with me via email. In some cases, students will write in all lowercase. I have yet to figure out why this is smart.

One person told me that writing in all lowercase saves time, especially if using a mobile device. While it might save time, rest assured that the message is diluted because the format lacks the seriousness required in professional writing.

Brevity is Critical

Online students should be aware that professors are busy managing classes that can be as big as 30 or 40 students. You can imagine how long it takes to review emails, grade papers, and respond to discussion questions. Therefore, my recommendation is to keep homework and other communication clear and to-the-point. Even when a word count is required for an assignment, ensure that the content adds value, and is not merely an approach to add fluff. The instructor can quickly determine the intent.
A big pet peeve of mine is wordiness. In many cases, students use unnecessary verbiage, and part of the reason is that they are attempting to write as they would when carrying a conversation with a friend.

We should avoid the following:

  • “In order” – notice that we can remove those words and the message of the sentence remains clear.
  • “Consciously” – students will sometimes write, “The manager consciously made a decision to fire the employee.” We know that the manager was “conscious” when making this difficult decision. After all, he was likely not in a unconscious state! Imagine the HR implications!
  • “First and foremost” – It is best to use “First” and go from there. In some cases, this expression is not even needed.

To improve your writing, it is important to practice. A good idea is to focus on speaking in full sentences. I understand this will be hard at first, but you can get the hang of it. By focusing on putting proper sentences together when speaking, you will identify the clearest and most persuasive approach to making a point, which is exactly what is needed when writing at the collegiate level.

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