Academic Coach Target Areas: Writing Skills

We’ve covered three major areas for academic coaching to target with adult learners, including Academic Expectations, Communication Skills, and Grammar Skills. It can be easy to consider grammar and writing as the same strategy for improvement, but it’s an important differentiation for students, faculty, and coaches to value. Writing skills directly influence stronger communication skills, and in that we focus on flow, articulating thoughts, and presenting information effectively.

It’s a natural tendency for academics to want students to focus on APA, MLA, Chicago, or whatever the formatting style is for that institution. It is important, but frankly, not the critical point as adult learners are goal oriented to achieve a degree to empower their career. Nobody in their career is going to care about the neatness of their formatting, but all of them will deeply care about the quality of the writing.

I’m sure you’ve been there … a 10-page paper that was perfectly formatted and the same thing could have been said in a single page. Or, the 1-page paper that wasn’t formatted in the slightest but was clear, informative, and concise. Neither extreme is the best scenario, but our students are in better shape for their careers if they providing the latter.

Does the writing make sense? How could it be stated better? Do the thoughts build on each other? How are you introducing the context? Are you assuming anything out of the reader? Is there a call to action or a clear summary? These are all questions that can only create improvement for the students with practice.

Action for any academic coach, but especially a facilitating coach or a learning coach can benefit from the Socratic method of questioning the learner for better writing.

My poor PhD chair performed this with me regularly.

Marian, what in the world are you saying?

Oh, well … [three sentences later]…..

Why didn’t you just say that?

Erm …. *toe plays with sand*

After a year of that, I’m still working to become more concise. Something that stuck with me was her advice:

If you can’t make your point in less than 60 seconds, then you’ve lost them.

Yes. And we need to help our learners adopt the mindset of simple, clear communication. The more complex the writing of my students, the more I assume that they really don’t get it, and that is the juxtaposition to explore with them!

Another method that helps students become more concise is the refinement process of other people’s writing, and then their own. Start out complicated and refine it based on what the underlying message is perceived to be. This activity, done multiple times, helps students become comfortable with their own voice and understanding clear writing.

Here is a classic example.

Complex: My vision is to develop and facilitate a transformative learning experience that engages everybody both cognitively and emotionally, initiating a long-term growth mindset that transcends into a learning organization.

Clear: I want to change the way people think so that learning becomes a part of them.

The complex version certainly has all the right searchable buzzwords, but the clear version is something that people can grab a hold of and embrace. Here’s another example.

Complex: It is our need to have a systemic approach to developing workshops and learning experiences so that you can provide the foundation of what the people need through the curriculum, and be sensitive as a facilitator, coach, or whatever you call yourself to tailor that curriculum into a transformative opportunity.

Clear: We need to build effective training fast.

Students, professionals, really so many of us think that the complex communication proves our intelligence and knowledge, but I’ll let Einstein provide the bottom line:


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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.