Top 10 Reasons to take a Professional Writing Class

By Ling-Xin Chen

Oswald Prize Winner

Professional Writing Program Contest 2005

10. You need a resume

Yes, it is that time: you are about to take off the trappings of careless youth and put on that mean, lean, uber-professional business suit in which you will tackle the world and toss its problems out the window, a la Agent James Bond. The red sweatshirts decorated with a menacing Testudo will have to be put away. And no longer can warm spring days be whiled away in sunbathed idleness on the mall. No, it is time for a career.

But that business suit will never see the light of day if you haven’t got a resume to fly with. Venturing into the professional world without a resume is as impossible as entering Comcast wearing a Duke jersey for a Maryland vs. Duke home game. Not a chance. As is often remarked, that resume is your ticket into the professional world.

9. You don't know how to write a (good) resume

"Of course I know how to write a resume," you think. That's what I thought, too. But it turned out that I knew how to write one, but I didn't know how to write an effective one. Because just writing a resume isn't enough: you want to write a resume that will land the job interview and ultimately, the job. There are lots of services out there where you can go for resume help, but the Professional Writing Program (PWP) is a great way to tailor your resume toward that particular career, or that particular job. And it's free: it comes with an instructor (not to mention an entire class) who will read your resume and help you make it better. A better deal you'll not find elsewhere.

8. You need a cover letter that won’t scare the employer away

If the resume is your ticket into the professional world, then the cover letter is your photo ID. Those folks at the airport won’t even look at your ticket if you don’t have a photo ID. Likewise, if reading your cover letter brings pain to the reader, then the resume, no matter how beautiful it may be, will not be given a glance.

7. You want to get into graduate school

Those graduate school applications usually include a minor detail that causes major pains: the personal statement. And if you’re as skilled a procrastinator as I was, this major pain will not be attended to until it’s far too late to produce something remotely coherent. So rather than crossing your fingers or praying that maybe the admissions committee will be so wowed by your other qualifications that they won’t notice the piece of junk you submitted, why not take advantage of the fact that the Professional Writing class makes you write a personal statement. And, they’ll critique it and help you mold the essay into something that may even help your application.

6. You want to learn about that career you think you want to embark on

Indeed, it is always wise to test the waters before diving in. The PWP’s offerings will let you do just that. If you’re thinking about medical school, for instance, as I was, Writing for the Health Professions (ENGL395) is an excellent resource. The course not only helped me prepare myself for the whole med school application process, it was also a window into the kind of writing that physicians do. We wrote a patient handout and a review article, both of which meant lots of reading in the field. Now that I’m in medical school, the familiarity with the literature of the field has been extremely helpful in presentations and projects. But more importantly, the professional writing classes allow you to try your hand at the kind of work that you would be doing as that professional. In business writing, you would prepare budget proposals, policy change proposals, or press releases just as if you were working on it for your company.

Whether the result is your finding that this is the job for you or that such work isn’t your cup of tea, you are infinitely more informed about your future than you were before.  

5. You aren’t sure when to use “whom” and when to use “who”

If you haven’t taken an English class since high school, as is likely true if you’re one of the many engineers and science majors on campus, your grammar is probably a bit rusty. The professional writing classes include grammar refreshers, emphasizing the most commonly made errors without delving into the esoteric details of the likes of participles and past participles. It is enormously useful to be able to put commas in the right places, and it certainly does wonders for the appeal of your cover letter.

4. You want your writing to be professional

So, like, a teenybopper image here is definitely uncool. The last impression you want to make with your writing is that you hadn’t the least notion that you were in a professional world. The cultivation of professional slang and a few well-placed “big words” will certainly be helpful. But more importantly, in the real world, you need to be able to communicate effectively in writing. Through the professional writing class, you’ll learn how to convey your ideas with clarity, write for particular audiences, make persuasive arguments, communicate research findings, or summarize important points.

3. You want your writing to have that extra oomph

Professional writing classes are also great places to grow as a writer for comfortable writers looking to hone their prose. You can pick up some hints from the pros, or develop a style more suitable for the type of writing you are doing. It was also a great place to practice and make the writing process more efficient. I used to spend endless hours writing a “rough draft” that would usually just end up as my final draft. The professional writing class helped me to write drafts and to write them faster so that it now takes much less time to produce papers.

2. You want to write to make change happen

Writing is aggressive. That was the first lesson that my professional writing instructor taught us. When we write, we are actively attacking the reader; we are setting out to accomplish a purpose, be it to persuade the reader to our point of view, establish some connection, or show the reader how capable or intelligent (and therefore what a great job candidate) we are. In the professional world, writing becomes much more aggressive because the writing that professionals do is so often policy-changing. What amazingly powerful tools our words are. It is well worth the time to develop these tools and make them work for us.

1. You want to graduate

Sometimes, it seemed to me that the professional world was a lot less likable than the university bubble. But at other times, I couldn’t wait to leave. And you need to take this class, so just do it. Really, it’s not as bad as all that. And if you’re wise, you’ll make it worth your while.