On the Power of Writing

Submitted by Sam Aylett on Tue, 08/17/2021 - 07:13

If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.

Martin Luther (c. 1517) 


To understand the complexity of a problem, as well as the available solutions, executives and board members must turn to written communications. 

William J. Farrell (1992) 


Writing is never easy. Writing is difficult, it takes practice to become a good writer. You need to keep it at it. I started my undergraduate degree in 2008 and I finished my PhD in 2020. I am now writing a book. After 12 years of studying and writing, I still find writing difficult. To overcome these difficulties it is important to understand why we write. In this post, I want to give you a reason for writing; above and beyond just getting good grades (which is of course important).  

Essay writing is an essential part of studying for your degree. It helps you to develop your understanding of a subject, its key debates, theories, and concepts. Most importantly, it encourages you to clarify your thinking. In fact, it is the main mechanism through which you develop your critical thinking and learn to exercise critical judgement of source materials and other authors’ work.  

When I started my undergraduate degree, having gone to an unexceptional comprehensive school, my writing skills were poor. My history teacher, a passionate Welshman with a love for nineteenth century Welsh social history, inspired in me a passion for reading, learning, and writing, but I was never very good at writing. Nevertheless, as I progressed in my university career, a few inspiring lecturers and professors helped me to focus on the importance of writing; not just the importance of good grammar and structure, but on why we should write.  

The cardinal reason to write, and why you’re asked to write essays at university, is so that you can learn to effectively organise and articulate an erudite set of ideas to say something meaningful. Good writing will, in part, earn you a good grade, but it will also help you to think, and thinking is empowering. If you can think clearly, write fluently, and articulate your ideas coherently, you can achieve so much. 

Take a moment to think about how becoming an effective writer and communicator will support you in your chosen career. The ability to write clearly and think critically is a skill employers value highly. In a study by The Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted in 2013, 93% of employers said they wanted candidates that demonstrated “...a capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems..." (Moore, 2016). Conversely, a 2018 survey found that of 650 employers surveyed, 64% struggled to find candidates with the desired critical thinking skills. Here is an opportunity. If you can develop your writing skills, and thus your critical thinking and communication skills, not only will you have developed a dependable lifelong skill, but you’ll also be very attractive to potential employers.  

Maybe you want to become an entrepreneur. Unless you’re sitting on a big pot of money – or unless you’ve diligently saved all your spare cash – you’ll need funding. If you want someone to give you a lot of money, you’re going to have to convince them. You’ll need to present a business case. Your business case needs to be based on good research; you need to convince funders that you understand the market and where your idea responds to a particular gap in the market (not unlike writing a literature review). You’ll also need to convince investors how you’ll make a return on their initial investment. Where do you start? You’ll need to organise your thoughts and marshal your facts and figures to present your case; you can’t keep it all in your head.  

Whatever it is you choose to do, the power of writing is undeniable. The written document has played a critical role throughout history. In Linda Colley’s new book, 'The Gun, The Ship, and The Pen: Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern World' (2021), she considers the various contexts in which constitutions, the trademarks of modern nation states, emerged. Colley argues that the growth of literacy and the improved methods of communication that developed in the Modern period, alongside a decrease in the cost of publishing, made it easier for reformers to exchange ideas and push political agendas in the form of newspapers, pamphlets, and books. In this way, the Pen was formidable in birthing constitutional democracies in the modern period. 

As German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546) said "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write" (Luther, 1516). Through his words and writing, he was the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. He reformulated and challenged the basic division of Western Christendom between Roman Catholicism and the new Protestant traditions; a reformation which remains today. Whatever it is you want to achieve, be purposeful in learning to write; do not underestimate the power of being able to articulate your arguments both verbally but also in long-form writing. Most importantly, become intimately familiar with why we write, this will give you the motivation you need.  

Academic Writing