Research into the act of writing over the past 50 years has revealed to us that writing is an almost entirely unique cognitive act, an entirely unique form of thinking. It is different from the thinking that we do when we mull a problem in silence, different from the thinking that we do when we discuss a problem with teachers or classmates, and different also from the thinking that we do when we read another person’s account or analysis of that very same problem. Writing is thinking. But a unique form of thinking.
If, in the midst of writing a paper for a class, an e-mail to a friend, a journal entry for your future self, or anything else, you’ve had a little ‘aha’ moment, and turned your writing in a new or slightly different direction, or realized something that you hadn’t ever realized before, then you have experienced the unique mode of thinking that takes place when we write. Neurons fire in our brains when we write that do not fire at any other time. May you have many returns of those pleasant, and sometimes profound, flashes of insight. As you write.
Mastery of all forms of thinking—-the mulling, the discussing, the research, and the writing—-are necessary to succeed within our cutthroat, ever-evolving modern economy, and necessary to participate fully in our contentious, high-stakes modern democracy. All of these forms of thinking are necessary to enjoy a high quality of life, no matter what type of life you intend to pursue. Writing though is perhaps the most difficult of these forms of thinking to master. Writing is also unique in terms of how it preserves our thinking. Even the most scintillating conversations, the most thrilling reads, and the most pleasant thoughts may eventually fade in our memories. Writing persists. It preserves memory and thought, so that we can move forward and build upon our knowledge.
Whether you believe it now or not, writing is essential. If I had one or two dollars for every time that I sat next to a fellow traveler on an airplane who, once we got to chatting, told me that he wished he was a better writer—-well, I might not be retired on a beach, but I’d have a really shiny boat. Ask any geologist, doctor, businessperson, manager, advertiser, any you-name-it who is at the top of their field, what it is that separated them from less successful people in their field and they will—-inevitably—-refer to their superior writing and communication skills. It is not enough to be an expert. You must eventually become an expert who can communicate his or her expertise through effective speech and writing.
Every profession requires writing. College requires writing. And engaged, active citizenship requires writing. Students, however, do not always believe this. This anthology has been created to demonstrate to students that all majors and professions require writing, and that effective writing in each discipline may look dramatically different. This anthology has also been created for instructors, so that they can have concrete examples of effective writing in the major to share and discuss with students, pointing out what is laudable in the writing and what students should strive for in their own work.
In this anthology you will see outstanding examples of writing from a variety of departments and majors across Western Carolina University. Each of the pieces here have been selected because they are particularly effective examples of good writing in their respective disciplines. Each piece of writing has been selected for inclusion here by experts in each discipline.
It is my hope that this will be the first of many editions of Writing Across Western, and that as more and more departments submit outstanding texts we can move to a printed edition of the anthology. In the interim, I hope that students and instructors alike will utilize this important new resource for WCU.
-Nate Kreuter, Cullowhee, August 2015