It was easy enough to ask five people to describe how a “good student” writes, as I share an apartment with five other girls. I approached each of them, either solo or in groups.

Sarah was washing the dishes.

“Sarah, describe how a good student writes”.

She responded that it helps to read a lot, and also practice often to get better. Good, strong vocabulary.

“Do you mean things, like, sentence structure?”

Sure.

“Well, that type of thing, too”.

Maddie, Maya, and Colleen were huddled over their homework in a bedroom. I was going to ask them individually, but decided to just open up the question to the group as a whole. Maddie was at a blank, and needed time to think about it. Maya and Colleen both answered that a good student writes in a neat and organized way. Maya originally thought the question was aimed around note-taking. When I asked her, ‘how do you know a good paper when you see one?’ she added that it’s done thoughtful and concisely. Maddie finally responded that a good student will engage the reader in their writing.

Gill was in her room. She said factually, organized, and concise. 

“I’m a bad writer, so anything I wouldn’t do.”

I noticed that everyone was frazzled by this question. I had to clarify or narrow the question (create a constraint, I suppose) for each person to feel comfortable to give me an answer. It seems that everyone used themselves and other students as a focus point for what makes good and bad writing. Gill, a math major, was particularly hard on herself!

I find it interesting that most of the answers have to do with form, and not content. Organized, neat, and concise. 

I liked how Sarah answered the question; she told me how good students seem to become good writers. The OGFWT talks a little about this in the Common Misconceptions of Writing Instruction. Is reading and then writing about great literary works a good way to teach writing? My mom always tells me that if I want to write, I need to read first. I can understand how reading good writing by great writers can serve as an example of what to do, ourselves. Not only in form, but also in content.

I think my own answer would be somewhat like Maddie’s: To engage the reader. This is a big part of it. I also believe that a good student will answer the question in their writing, whatever that question may be, asked or not. I think clarity is important, and all my roommates said. A good student writes to answer the question, or maybe prove a point, in the most clear and concise way possible, while engaging the reader.

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