Taking Ownership

By on


I really enjoyed Clive Thompson's discussion of public writing in the "Digital School" chapter of Smarter Than You Think. It's really interesting how the high school students described in the book treated writing in an online public forum completely differently than writing a paper for a teacher's eyes only. The most compelling difference for me was the ownership the students took over their writing when they knew it could be read by the public.


The idea of strangers reading their writing caused the students to be more interested in writing in general, work harder to perfect their posts in terms of grammar and style, and even helped them better understand what it means to write for different audiences, as evidenced by the example of the student who commented (in a discussion about the New Zealand rugby team), "People in America won't know what the 'All Blacks' are" (186) on his peer's post, indicating his understanding of a global audience (Thompson calls this "digital citizenship" [188]). And the students' writing really did show improvement in test scores, which, as Thompson notes, are what matters in the educational system. Public writing works.

all blacks

My own experiences agree with Thompson's example. I've found that I automatically take more ownership of my writing when I know that it will be available to the public. In the English department at Clemson, many professors require students to post on a public or semi-public forum weekly (this class is an obvious example). This act of writing about what we are reading or studying for an audience of our peers, at the least, and possibly a much wider audience, always inspired me to try harder to say something intelligent or insightful (or at least get my facts straight) than I might if my professor was the only audience. Writing something when you know lots of people will read it brings a certain amount of "pressure" along with it, and helps us take more pride in our work, which I think is a great thing.


tpom13's picture

I completely agree with what

I completely agree with what you said! Writing for a public audience definitely increases a desire to write well. The quote you used about the students commenting on each others work and helping each other improve is also a great point. Peer review is a good way to encourage learning.
Good Job!

kgthoma's picture

Hey Amber

It is very true that we are more conscious about what we write when we know it will be viewed publicly. I know that I check my tweets like three times before I post just to make sure that there are no errors. I alos loved your link about blogging!

kglasso's picture


I definitely agree with your post! I said a very similar thing about writing styles changing when you know what audience you are writing for!

Gavin Oliver's picture

How writing for a larger

How writing for a larger audience generally increases a person's desire to excel in writing is a simple yet true concept. Also, many people have bouts with shyness when it comes to writing for the public. A current sports editor of a newspaper who went to Clemson told me he initially struggled with this but overcame that anxiety through lots of writing for The Tiger. Writing for a public audience is both good motivation and practice for those not used to doing so.

Valerie Smith's picture

I am pretty much on the same

I am pretty much on the same page as you when you mention that your writing varies based on the audience that reads it. For example, I think that many students check there grammar thoroughly when posting a blog for this class. Great job!

mkozma's picture

Hahaha Amber

First off I like your picture of the soccer team. I struggled to find a good image to depict this, but you definitely thought of something clever. Nice....

Also, I truly understand how sometimes it's important to remember that you don't need to make yourself sound more profound in order to be a good writer. Personally, as an editor, I think simple is better--sometimes--but there are some people that cannot do this very well. I think that in the English department sometimes it's a competition to see who can throw around the most big words and this is something that sometimes makes me want to throw a dictionary at those types of people.

Like one of those big Norton Anthologies or something.