“A Piece of Writing Is a Piece of Thinking”

William Zinsser, in his book Writing to Learn, remembers a college professor who asked students in his ethics class to write a paper that would be read aloud in class:

“It gets them to write for their peers and not for the teacher,” he told me, “and what they learned was a revelation to them. They learned by the presence or absence of response to what they had written. The good papers raised all the right questions, and on those days the paper would teach the class. The poor paper was instantly noticeable. There wouldn’t be much in it to discuss—there’d be no place to start, or it was so unclear that we’d have to go back over it and try to figure out what it was about. It made everyone in the class realize that a piece of writing is a piece of thinking.”. . .

Writing is a tool that enables people in every discipline to wrestle with facts and ideas. It’s a physical activity, unlike reading. Writing requires us to operate some kind of mechanism—pencil, pen, typewriter, word processor—for getting our thoughts on paper. It compels us by the repeated effort of language to go after those thoughts and to organize them and present them clearly.

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