At a recent staff meeting here, the topic of students' writing ability came up (yet again)! Why are our engineering students and physics students just so bad at writing in whole sentences, using correction punctuation and using consistent tenses? Why can't they string four relevant sentences together to make a paragraph that actually makes a point? In short, why can't they make themselves clearly understood in written form?
We have lots of stories of despair, and much of it is directed at 'the secondary school system', or lecturers in other departments not doing their job properly, or the rise of txt spk.
But there's a very obvious point that we have to pay attention to: Have we actually taught the students how to write? Have we shown them how to put sentences together that make a coherent argument? It's very easy to say "not my job – mine's to teach thermodynamics, or materials science, or differential equations, or whatever". But if the assignments a lecturer sets demand that the students have good writing ability, isn't it the responsibility of the lecturer to ensure that the students have been taught how to write?
I'm not saying every paper that a student does has to contain writing skills in it, but if we want to have students exit their degrees with the ability to communicate about their area clearly in written English, then we must make sure that somewhere they have opportunity to develop those skills. In short, don't complain about students' lack of ability in things that no-one has actually taught them.