As we embark on the beginning of fall semester, many students are taking their first college-level English class. Students can benefit from taking what is called a “writing inventory.” A writing inventory, according to St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, is simply an analysis of your own writing. Just like you would take inventory of merchandise in a store, a writing inventory requires you to take stock or critically analyze your writing. Analyzing your writing will allow you to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a writer so you can set specific goals for short-term and long-term improvement.
Beginning writers learn from feedback. We compose a draft, our instructor offers comments, and sometimes places a grade on our writing or offers the opportunity to revise. However, many instructors complain that often students don’t read their feedback or even peer group feedback, and only flip through the essay to find their grade. Are you nodding your head?
Reading – and responding in subsequent drafts – to written comments is one surefire way to quickly improve as a writer. Students who refuse to read written feedback are typically the students who make the same errors over and over, and wonder why their writing (and grade) never improves.
According to St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, the majority of instructor comments most often fit into three categories:
1. Broad content issues
2. Organization and presentation
3. Surface errors
Research suggests that students can improve by taking inventory of their writing within these 3 categories. Comments concerning broad content issues might be, “This point is underdeveloped,” or “line of reasoning isn’t clear.” Comments related to organization and presentation issues might say, “Need to include transition,” or “paragraph lacks focus around one topic.” Surface errors can run the gamut from comma errors, by far the most common student punctuation error, to word usage errors, to dangling modifiers. If you’ve received feedback of numerous comma splices and are unsure what that means, your textbook should have an explanation with examples. If not, visit Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab to clarify and for practice worksheets.
Writing Inventory Checklist
1. Gather copies of your first writing assignments which have written comments from your instructor, your peers, or both.
2. Read through your writing, adding your own comments about its strengths and weaknesses.
3. Examine all comments carefully, comparing with your comments.
4. Next, group all comments into the 3 categories listed above.
5. Inventory your own strengths in each category.
6. Inventory your errors carefully or suggestions for improvement, categorizing according to the list.
7. Study your textbook for more detailed help in these areas.
8. Make a priority list of 3 or 4 specific writing problems and write an action plan for improvement (ex., visit the Writing Center once a week).
9. Note at least 2 strengths as well and continue to build on these.
10. Keep a writing log throughout the semester to track your progress. (St. Martin’s 5th Guide to Writing)
Taking a writing inventory is a great way to analyze and improve your own writing. When you get each essay back with comments, study the feedback carefully and take note of areas that need improvement. If you are ever confused about written comments, ask for clarification from your peer group, or make an appointment with your instructor. A little effort now will go a long way later, and by the time you get into advanced writing classes, hopefully you’ll have achieved your writing goals.