University Writing Center Blog

By: Lauren W.

As part of my Capstone project this semester, I distributed a #WritersofIUPUI survey with the intent of discovering how students of IUPUI felt about themselves as writers, writing itself, and writing in context of the IUPUI institution. Below are the results of my research.

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Image depicting #WritersofIUPUI with the UWC logo

When I made the #WritersofIUPUI poll and survey, I went into the project expecting to gain insight into how students view themselves as writers through their own lens. What I ultimately ended up learning, instead, was how that lens has been molded by academic and professional institutions and the consequences this has on student’s confidence in their own writing abilities

Writing can be an ever-changing enigma. As writers in academic or professional settings, such as IUPUI, we often find ourselves molding our writing to fit that of a specific class or professor for the sake of a grade. For those of us who also engage in personal or creative writing, it may feel as though we are constantly morphing between two different species of writers. This semester, I wanted to see how the Writers of IUPUI felt about writing and their thoughts on how academia has influenced how and what they write. 

Over the course of the semester, the UWC distributed a poll and a survey I created with the intent of addressing these questions I had. I asked writers to explain what they liked about writing. Overall, the responses leaned towards freedom of expression, control, building stories and constructing sentences, and communication. When asked what they disliked about writing, many cited the dreaded writer’s block, the amount of time they felt they needed to dedicate towards writing, as well as anxiety and perfectionism. What responders enjoyed about writing, then, seemed completely at odds with what they disliked. How can a writer both enjoy the freedom of writing while worrying about perfectionism? Considering the disconnect between writing as a personal and creative endeavour versus what writers have come to expect when writing for a class was one phenomena I wanted to observe from the responses to the survey. 

Approximately 58% of respondents considered themselves writers, while 25% did not, and 16% qualified their answer with reasons why they did not feel they were a legitimate writer. Writer’s shared their personal opinions on how they envisioned a “legitimate” writer. Several respondents considered writers to be those who were professionally published with a firm grasp on the rules of writing. One respondent found themselves conjuring an image of someone in a coffee shop, typing away on a keyboard or scribbling in a notebook.  A few considered a writer to be anyone who utilized language. When deciding whether or not respondents considered themselves writers, these mental images of what they believed to be legitimate writers can explain why they do or do not consider themselves a writer. Writing, to some, is an activity for the few elite professionals with impeccable grammar and published works. Writing, to others, is simply the process of using written language to express themselves or communicate their thoughts with others.

This written expression often came with a routine, and many respondents went into great detail to describe the steps they take to get themselves in the writing “mood”. Most respondents felt the need to do some sort of preparation for writing such as making coffee, making an outline, considering the guidelines, or going to a library or coffee shop. Few just launched into their writing without some sort of general first step. Those who identified as a writer tended to have a more elaborate writing process than those who did not, suggesting that the ritual of their writing process helped to put them into the mindset of what they considered to be a writer. Along with this, many were working on a variety of different academic and personal writing projects, though a few stated they were not currently working on any project they would deem to be a form of writing. Whether or not an individual considered their work to be “writing” also seemed to affect whether they considered themselves to be writers or not. 

Respondents tended to lean towards the creative side of writing, while fewer expressed their preference for academic writing. Poetry, creative fiction, and creative non-fiction seemed to be the overarching preference for many respondents. Many defined writing as a way to express themselves and to communicate with others and creative styles of writing outside of academia tend to be considered more open to creative expression. The majority felt disconnected from writing when the language seemed inaccessible or they themselves found it difficult to communicate what they wished through writing. The disconnect, then, seemed to come from the institutionalized ideals of academic and professional writing. These institutionalized ideals led many respondents to feel shackled to a certain expectation for writing. 

Many writer’s found there to be limitations to how academic and professional settings expect us to write as they expressed they felt too pigeon-holed into “Standard English” or specific expectations. These specific expectations can be those ingrained from years of traditional schooling or from specific professors or classes. One writer expressed that they believed writing has begun to be treated as a right-sided brain activity of logic and facts when writing is also a left-sided brain activity that requires creativity and self-expression. One writer also discussed the limitations “Standard English” puts on those who were not raised to adhere to “Standard English”, especially in school or in their home life. Overall, respondents seemed frustrated and discouraged by the current expectations that academic writing rests on their shoulders and they could not find the joy of self-expression they receive from personal writing endeavors. 

Perhaps it is time for academic institutions to consider the writer behind the essay and truly consider what it means to be the #WritersofIUPUI.  Part of the beauty of writing, for myself and for the respondents, was the freedom of expression and ability to communicate unique thought. As writers who exist outside of academic institutions, I believe these institutions, such as IUPUI, will be serving their students more effectively by considering writing as a personal and unique experience for each individual writer, and not a collective standard meant to tidy students into neat boxes.