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Academic Coaching & Writing

V. The Importance of Recognizing Your Strengths As a Writer

Apr 16, 2015 by Amy Benson Brown

If you have a low sense of self-efficacy as a writer, you probably have trouble clearly perceiving the troublesome areas of your writing and how to improve in those areas. But you may also be unaware of your strengths as a writer. A vital step to increasing your sense of self-efficacy as a writer is to become conscious of and able to name your strengths. The assets you bring to writing, though, may be hard for you to see for two reasons.

  • You assume the things that come easily to you are things most everyone does well.
  • You tend to focus largely on what’s negative or problematic.

You may assume that the things that come easily to you are things most everyone does well. But that’s not the case. In my years of working with academic writers, I’ve observed that writers bring diverse skills to the table. For example, some have a gift for synthesizing large amounts of information and articulating the big picture. Others are excellent at clearly analyzing details or offering close readings of texts. Still others are gifted in making intellectual leaps to identify meaningful connections between seemingly unrelated factors. And, very often, these authors are not even aware of the aspects of their writing that are working well.

Another reason you may be blind to your own writing strengths is the human tendency to focus largely on the negative or what’s problematic. Psychologists who study how attention works call this “negativity bias.”  The tendency to devote the lion’s share of our attention to looking for trouble is probably hardwired into our brains. The very survival of early humans, after all, required hypervigilance to possible danger. The fact that we all tend toward negativity bias means that both writers and the people providing writing feedback are pulled subconsciously to focus on problems.

Though negativity bias may be hardwired into the way we think, it is possible to overcome that bias. Simply becoming aware of this tendency is the first step to expanding your ability to see your writing more fully and accurately—to recognize your strengths as well as your challenges.

I’ve found in coaching writers that helping people understand their strengths is a catalyst for changing their sense of self-efficacy as a writer. It jumpstarts discussions of the craft of writing that, as I discussed in Blog IV, is neglected too often in graduate education and in mentoring relationships.

Getting clarity on your strengths ultimately helps you improve weaker areas of your writing. Start by identifying the aspects of your writing that are good and the elements of craft that make those aspects effective. Recognizing your strengths and why they enhance your writing provides a foundation for discussion of areas you need to improve. Then, you are better able to address those areas and expand your repertoire of writing skills.

Clarify What You Value and Aspire to Do in Your Writing

Being able to assess your own writing more accurately also requires clarity about what you really value in writing and what you aspire to do in your writing. So, I suggest the following exercise. Identify three articles (or books) published in the last decade in your discipline that you consider to be models of good writing. Next, spend an hour with each “model,” trying to analyze how it is written. Look, for example, at some of the following aspects of writing craft.

Argument. What kind of phrasing does the author use to set up the argument in the introduction?

Junctures. Examine the junctures in the argument—the subsections or places where the author moves from one topic to the next. What language (or other signals like subheadings) does the author use to help the reader see how the new topic relates to that which precedes it?

Flow. Pick a paragraph that, to you, flows particularly well. What do you notice about how it is built?  Do the sentences vary in length, for instance?  Does the author use transition words to key the reader into how a sentence relates to the one it follows?  How about the verbs?  Are they all in passive voice (using forms of the verb “to be”)?  Or do some feature active verbs?

Counterarguments. Does the author introduce potentially opposing ideas or counterarguments and address them? Where does that happen in the manuscript and what kind of phrasing does the he or she use?

Conclusion. How does the author develop the discussion section?  What types of issues or reasoning does he or she bring in here? And again, what kind of phrasing is used to convey those points accurately?

Then, reflect on what aspects of the writing in the models you’ve analyzed you also do well and what aspects you’d like to emulate.

Finally, to begin to more accurately understand your own writing’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s helpful to lighten up about the whole process. Try to replace judgment with curiosity. In that spirit, the next blog offers quizzes you can take to help you more accurately evaluate both your writing and your writing process.

  • Garry Franklin says:

    Mar 11, 2017 at 11:38 am

    This article proved to be very helpful. I'am a new student in a writing class. Thank you. Garry Franklin

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