Unlearning What I’ve Learned


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As a student in high school, I was convinced I was God’s gift to the writing community. The thesaurus was my best friend and my sentences were littered with fancy adjectives whose meanings I didn’t actually know.

My “writing god” status disappeared my first term of college when a professor had the audacity to tell me my writing was garbage. “It’s like an obstacle course of words,” he informed me. This was my first experience of unlearning what I had previously learned.

Now, four years later, I’m back where I started on that first day of college. I’m the proud owner of an SOJC education, but my internship is reminding me that I don’t know it all when it comes to writing.

One of the first conversations I had with my internship adviser was discussing tones in writing. “During your internship, you’ll chat with mountain men who use ‘hey, y’all’ in conversation, and a few minutes later, you’ll pitch a story to a high fashion writer in New York. I need you to effectively communicate with both types of audiences with ease.”

During our conversation, a fleeting sense of panic swept over me with the realization that my writing has a very consistent tone. While I’ve learned to drop cluttered language from my pieces, I have yet to master the art of adaptability.

I’ve learned that writing with a formal tone has its place, but it can easily come across as condescending or insincere. An article by Write-Better-English.com explains that if you can’t cater your writing to different audiences, you risk alienating your readers.

As silly as it seems, it has been a challenge for me to write in a tone that sounds conversational and genuine. To combat this problem, I mumble to myself what I would say in normal conversation and transfer it to the computer. This way, I can hear how it sounds before the words hit the page. Call me crazy, but I promise this will help give your writing a more natural tone.

-Ayni Hailicka

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About hailayn

2012 University of Oregon graduate (public relations) who's currently teaching English in Istanbul, Turkey.
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4 Responses to Unlearning What I’ve Learned

  1. sarahbrown90 says:

    I can definitely relate to how you feel. I have always thought of myself as a really good writer as well, but also like to add a lot of fluff that isn’t necessarily needed. With my internship I have to write social media updates for clients that range in their tones, anywhere from a snarky hipster hotel to a local politician. Finding the ability to really zone in on the culture of the specific brand I am working on was difficult at first, but through research and looking at past projects done for each client really helped me get to know each brand better. Now writing in an appropriate tone for the different clients gets easier each time. Practice may not necessarily mean you’ll be perfect, but with that practice your skills will definitely improve.

  2. cmckee2 says:

    I really like the advice you give at the end of your post. It can be easy to spew your thoughts onto the computer without considering how it sounds. Reading what I write aloud allows me to catch clunky language and edit it out before I submit my work.

  3. pdxsx says:

    Good post, Ayni! You aren’t the only student who is about to graduate and has to unlearn some of what they thought they knew. In fact, I’ve heard from many, many Professional Partners who want to know why UO is teaching students “that way” when they want their young employees to do it “this way.” Adaptability and the willingness to learn something new will be the key to your success.

    ~J

  4. katshannon says:

    This post gives some really good insight on writing. It’s honest, and you’ve obviously learned a lot about writing since high school and are still learning. Keep it up!

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