Reading, while considered a leisure activity, is also an invitation to an infinite source of examples of good writing. College students who read, either for their academics or as a hobby, are “refilling their well” as writers with every article or book they finish. At the Writing Center, reading is valued as a part of the writing process, and many sessions begin with reading through your paper-in-progress. This practice may remind you that you are not writing in a vacuum, but writing to a reader. Your most important reader may, in this case, be your future self, checking back over what you wrote!
It is easy to feel as though writing is a formless, unstructured struggle to pull ideas and sentences out of thin air, when in fact all writing stands on the shoulders of giants. Everything from the textbooks you read for class, to the articles in the Retriever, are based upon an experience of reading the work of other writers. Without reading and literacy, good writing has no source material to build up from, so grab a topic that interests you and start on reading! Writing assignments so often ask for your thoughts, your opinions, and your analyses, without seeming to offer a direct roadmap for how you should express or piece together this information. But what if I told you prior reading experience was this coveted roadmap?
Are your thoughts and ideas as a writer based on sheer impulse and imagination… or have you got your nose in the right book or research that will back your writing style with credibility, detail, context, and intrigue? Writing is only half a skill without reading. Let’s take a quick dive into some of the ways your writing style will immediately improve, simply by taking time out of your day to read through your favorite publications!
This may be the most common virtue of reading among the public. Reading materials may be used as templates of excellent writing, but they were created to communicate information about any conceivable subject matter. Consider your major, your hobby, your entertainment, your family history, your culture, your interests, or anything that holds personal meaning or importance. What sort of reading materials have you or would you read about these topics? In the process of learning more about what you care most about, you will also grow familiar with how others have written about these subjects. This knowledge may serve you well in the future, whether it is in writing a personal statement for graduate school or writing a research proposal on your passion.
Technically, reading a dictionary or thesaurus would be the quickest way to expose your inner writer to new words and meanings, but understandably, this pursuit may not be the most exciting or encouraging way to broaden your lexicon. Luckily, any reading material you select will likely introduce you to not only new words, but new turns of phrases, slang, expressions, and poetry. Familiarity with a wide vocabulary will help you specify your ideas and edit your writing to not just make sense, but to sound good. With the right word choice, you’ll say exactly what you mean and nothing else.
The Proofreading Eye
As a proficient reader may read tens of thousands of sentences within several months, it is no surprise that the pages will start to just fly by. When reading becomes second nature, errors in grammar or syntax will become increasingly jarring. Imagine walking into an unfamiliar room. You look around, see nothing problematic, but your friend, who lives in this room, joins you there and reports that the place is missing several important items. Who knew? Now imagine you return to your dorm room, and all of your belongings are just slightly moved around. Immediately, you recognize someone has disrupted the space, and instead of relaxing, you jump to fix the problem. In the first scenario, the place was unfamiliar, so mistakes slipped under your consciousness. But in the second scenario, you were so familiar with your own space, your mind was attuned to every detail, and could solve relevant problems right away. Regular readers view writing as familiar rather than foreign, and therefore have an easier time of locating and analyzing errors on the page. Does reading and writing feel like your space, or someone else’s?
Variety and Voice
If you read across a variety of genres, you will quickly notice that writer’s voice can change drastically. The choice of sentences, word choice, detail, and more varies dramatically from a chapter in a fiction book to the article of your favorite magazine to a how-to book about a hobby you want to learn. You will realize certain ways of writing, while correct in some contexts, do not work in others. You will find as many writing voices as there are real people, communities, and occupations. Reading a variety of writing genres will help you understand what kind of audience the writing is aimed for. Understanding this can help you fine-tune your writing assignments to the right type of reader.
Reading is a life skill that may be taken for granted, or worse, undermined, because many students have been forced to read undesirable materials growing up, or have not been encouraged to read for fun. Never let a previous lack of interest or time get in the way of one of the most rewarding pastimes. As you have learned, reading can help you know what you want to write about, choose the right words, self-check your own work, and know exactly who your writing is geared towards. If you want to improve your writing, reading is an amazing tool to sharpen your writing style and give you credibility. So read what you would want to write. Write what you would want to read. You don’t even have to put pen to paper to reap the benefits.