Student Writing Isn’t Getting Worse

by Frank

Dear fellow writers, embrace the chaotic first draft! I know it’s the beginning of the semester and your writing can look like a mess. Getting started can be overwhelming and when you finally get something on the page, it might look like someone spilled soup on it.

Don’t be dissuaded by the mess! Hey, it’s a place to start. And if you’re stuck or need some inspiration, stop by the WC and book a tutor. We know what it’s like getting back into the swing of things. For many of us, we have to yawn, dust off our critical lenses, and give our literary muscles a good stretch.

You might be tempted to pin this momentary panic on vague fatalistic notions like: college writing is awful and has been going steadily downhill for a while. You don’t have to be an English major to overhear complaints such as, “students just don’t know how to write.”

Listen, these generalizations seriously underestimate your ability to write a strong paper.

A recent study shows that student writing hasn’t gotten any worse over the last 100 years.  After analyzing thousands of student papers and comparing the results to similar studies ranging from 1917 to 2006, Andrea and Karen Lunsford found that,“[s]tudent errors are not more prevalent—they are only different” (360).

Since writing technology tends to incorporate spell check, teachers aren’t running into spelling errors very often. Instead, word choice has become the most common issue. This issue has replaced spelling because writing itself has changed. For instance, instead of the being asked to write personal essays, these days students are more likely to write argument and research based papers. Not only have expectations for papers changed, but students are writing more pages than in previous generations (Lunsford 352-353). Although the types of papers we write have changed over different generations of writers, the quality of student writing hasn’t. Rather, student writing has only changed to incorporate the new ways people write.

Writing isn’t static and it doesn’t come out perfectly all at once. Errors will exist as long as people write, they are a natural part of the writing process. But don’t think you have to handle working through a paper alone, that’s what the WC is for.

A summative article that also provides a link to the study can be found here:


Work Cited

Lunsford, Andrea A. and Karen J. “‘Mistakes Are a Fact of Life’: A National Comparative Study.” St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing. Ed. Cheryl Glenn and Melissa A. Goldthwaite. Boston: Bedford, 2014. 342-364. Print.