Mayo's Clinics

Dec 14, 2018, 3:04
Reading to Improve Writing

Reading to Improve Writing

Help students overcome their fear of writing while encouraging well-written papers by asking students to read aloud and presenting them with short, quality pieces to evaluate.

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

Last month, we discussed encouraging students to read more broadly and widely beyond their regular assignments. This month, we will discuss reading aloud as a technique to encourage attention to clear and logical writing.

Reasons to Read Aloud
One aspect of reading aloud is the power it has to help students read carefully and notice what an author is saying and how he or she makes points. Hearing a document read aloud often helps a person – student, faculty member or layperson – notice the use of words and the flow of sentences and their structure. The more students read documents aloud, the more useful this activity will become. If you have any doubt, try reading this article out loud and you will notice some of the elements that you might not pay attention to in reading it silently.

Benefits for Students
There are several purposes to reading aloud. One is the way it helps students both hear what they have written and notice what does not make sense. Another is the practice of slowing down when reading and helping students pay attention to what they are reading. Somehow, the act of reading aloud makes people notice elements of writing such as word choice, transitions and arguments. When students stumble over reading something out loud, they can discover unclear logical progressions, missing evidence or a lack of clear statements. Therefore, remind your students to read their papers out loud to themselves before they hand them in. Chances are good they will hear mistakes and work to improve them before handing in the paper.

Reading Arguments
One of the toughest writing strategies for some students to learn involves making a coherent and logical argument. The skills of marshaling an argument, using evidence carefully and thoughtfully, considering the opposite points of view, and concluding with a strong statement are often not taught in schools. However, if we want our students to make persuasive and solid arguments, we need to teach them how to construct a clear and forceful case for a new program, policy or equipment purchase. One way is to show them solid arguments and encourage them to read them aloud – either alone or in small groups. We can also invite them to find strong logical arguments and share them in class.

Reading Beginnings
For some students, starting to write a paper that is open ended, such as a term paper or a project paper, where they select the topic can be very scary and frustrating. Even accomplished writers describe looking at a blank page as a daunting task! One way to help students formulate the beginning of a paper is to read introductory paragraphs in newspapers, trade journals, novels and essays. Even looking at the beginning of chapters in any book – textbook, novel or short story – can be a way to notice good approaches. This practice can extend their repertoire of ways to start their own papers.

Reading Transitions
Noticing how an author ends a paragraph and begins another one can help increase students’ awareness of the role transitions play. Reading only the endings and beginnings of paragraphs in an essay will help them notice ways to summarize one paragraph and lead to the next. It will also show them the structure of several paragraphs as well as provide them with multiple examples which may trigger ideas for their writing or provide examples to borrow.

Encourage your students to read aloud, give them short pieces that you think are well written, and ask them how it helps in overcoming their fear or reluctance to writing. You may find that this experience – and the acknowledgement of writing challenges – can be very releasing and encouraging to students. Hopefully, it will help them improve and give you well-written papers to read.

Next month, we will talk about making presentations and using the skill of reading aloud to prepare better presentations. If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics.

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.