Writing classes do not solve your problem

I'd like to clue you in on something. I know it's disappointing, and most people probably don't want to hear it. But the truth is that writing classes don't work. Here's why.
  1. Everyone's writing ability is different. 
  2. Everyone has a different purpose in writing. 
  3. Everyone makes different mistakes in writing. 
  4. Everyone's understanding of the English language is different. 
  5. Writing often needs revisions, not corrections, and because of this, everyone needs to improve their writing skills in different ways. 
You might ask about mistakes. What kind of mistakes could there be? Do you mean grammar mistakes? What is a mistake anyway? What is an error? Well, mistakes aren't really the problem. The problem is writing, and here are some problems with writing:

Writing might have grammatical errors. Much of the time grammar errors are the easiest part of writing skills to deal with because they are easy to identify and isolate. You can refer to a grammar error by name. Grammar forms are more concrete because they represent identifiable patterns: someone can always explain grammar forms. Quite often, grammar is what people think about when it comes to improving writing skills. But grammar is easier to deal with than other writing problems because, unlike grammar, other writing problems do not represent identifiable patterns. So if grammar is not the real problem, then what is?

A sentence or a phrase may be correct, but it might not mean what you want it to mean. Now, if a sentence doesn't mean what you want it to mean, people can, often, still understand what you mean to say. But you should understand that they're being cooperative by not misinterpreting your sentence. Also, it could be that they don't recognize the other meaning: the meaning you did not intend for the sentence. Still, isn't it better to write sentences that mean what you want them to mean?

Here's something that's really difficult to work with sometimes. It's not so much that this is difficult to work with, however. The problem is that it's difficult to explain. Sometimes phrases are grammatically correct, but that's all they are: grammatically correct. So what could be wrong with a phrase that's grammatically correct? I mean that despite being correct, a phrase might not communicate a thought or an idea in a way that is typical or usual for English. Phrases can sound strange or awkward at times even when they are correct. Now, if that's not enough to complicate matters, here's something else. Strange or awkward sounding phrases sometimes occur in combination with sentences that are packed with too much information. Please, read the next paragraph.

Sometimes writers try to pack too much information into one sentence, which then makes a sentence difficult to follow and understand. To compound the problem, the phrases and the clauses may all be correct, but, somehow, they just don't go together in a logical way. I refer to this as having to untie a knot, and it's not easy. Sometimes writers have no idea what they're doing or what's going on when it comes to sentences like this. However, some writers might not take the time to really notice and think about what they've typed. You have to read what you've typed and decide whether your thoughts and ideas are connected well. You have to decide whether your sentences really make sense and whether they mean what you want them to mean. After assessing your writing, you have to make it better. It could be that you have to fix it. Taking these steps may not be easy. However, you need to take them, or you just might be forever in need of someone to revise, correct, and edit your writing. A good writing tutor will tell you what you need to do and will tell you the steps you have to take to improve your writing skills. Your progress depends on this. Maybe, "tutor" is not the right word. Maybe, writing guide, writing coach, writing consultant, or writing advisor are better words for this.

What about punctuation and capitalization? Some writers seem not to care much for paying attention to punctuation and capitalization. This can, however, be deadly. Before you click "send", check your email for punctuation and capitalization. Do you know how unprofessional your business emails look when you ignore proper punctuation and capitalization? You don't? Well, that makes two of us. I don't know either. But I'll bet the people who receive your business emails know. Maybe, it's best to talk to them about this to get an idea of just how unprofessional business emails can look when there are some very basic mistakes in punctuation and capitalization. You know that this is something that usually just requires writers to proofread: it takes a little more time, a little more effort, and some thought. Maybe, writers should just be a little more careful about punctuation and capitalization. It's well within their grasp to do so, and the readers probably see it that way, too. By the way, do you know who reads your business emails? Of course, people send email, and they forward email. They copy people on email, too.

What about register? Have you heard of that? Register refers to how formal or informal language is. It has to do with how serious or casual language is. Register refers to how you speak to the person who reads your communication. Remember that being too formal could make a writer (a person) seem, to some degree, unapproachable or too distant. Then again, communicating in a way that is too informal could cause a minor offense. Writers have to be aware of who their readers are. Writers have to be sure that they understand the people who read their writing, and this means that writers have to speak to their readers in the right way. After all, no one wants to be too formal, too informal, too serious, too casual, too direct, or too indirect.

It's important to use the right degree of politeness. For example, if you need someone to complete a task, it could be better to, somehow, tell the person to do it, or it could be better to ask the person to do it. Or maybe a combination of telling and asking is better. How direct should you be when speaking to someone in a business email? When you write to someone, you are really speaking. How much force should you use to make the reader understand what you mean to say? It could be that the answers to these questions are not that complicated. Still, each situation is different, and each writer is different.

Here are some comments on this idea from Rod Mitchell.

"In written language, there is always going to be the difficulty of understanding language in the same way we understand spoken language - paper just does not give us the other cues (intonation, tone of voice, emphasis) - though it can give us another important clue - context.

It is amazing how well we can predict tone of voice from the context built up in a written context. Or maybe not really that amazing, but simply a product of our automatic desire to transfer the written word to the spoken understanding - to read context into words on paper." Rod Mitchell - linguist/EFL teacher/teacher trainer/Director of Studies

So what I would ask is this: Can you be sure that you don't write anything that someone might transfer to an understanding of spoken language in a way that you do not intend? Simply put, are you sure that no one will take something you write the wrong way?

This sort of thing might come up from time to time, and I might find myself saying something like this: Look, I don't know the relationship you have with the people you work with, but this "phrase" could be taken the wrong way. Maybe, it's a good idea to change it, and then again, maybe, it's not. Does your question sound as though it has a tinge of impatience to it? Are you making a request, or are you telling someone to do something? Maybe, it's a combination of both. How forceful, or strong, do you think your language should be in order to be clear about what you want to say?

So grammar does not rank high all the time. It's better to not offend even just a little than to watch out for every preposition or every article (the, a, or an). Still, of course, grammar is important. Good communication is about balancing perspective and taking everything together.

Writers must know what is important. And this does not mean, for example, that writers should be concerned about splitting infinitives. Yes, I'm well aware that, to some people, I've made a serious error by splitting infinitives in this article. Let me assure you that the so-called "split infinitive" is not an error. At least, read the usage note in the American Heritage Dictionary so that you can have a balanced viewpoint regarding the idea of the so-called "split infinitive".  Now, then, if your writing tutor is paying too much attention to so-called "split infinitives" and not giving enough attention to more important matters about your writing, that could be bad news. Has anyone ever told you to not split infinitives? Well, either way, that's not really the bad news.

The bad news is that writing is not always easy to deal with. In fact, it can be downright difficult to deal with. The good news is that people who want to improve their writing can, in fact, improve their writing, and they should improve their writing. It's just that a writing class with six to twelve other writers in it might not be the best way to go about doing it. People who want to, and have to, improve their professional writing skills need one-to-one professional training to make it happen.