The Power of Confidence in Academic Writing

“If you don’t feel good about your writing, you don’t feel good about you”

The opposite is also true: if you don’t feel good about you, you may not feel good about your writing.

Students and working professionals require strong writing skills, but sharing writing of any kind involves a certain level of vulnerability that isn’t always easy to foster. To explore the issue of why confidence matters to academic writing, my colleague, Aleenah Ansari, and I, held a workshop for at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center. We facilitated a discussion amongst our colleagues about why confidence is important to academic writing.

Confidence matters to writing of all kinds

“Even starting to write on a blank page takes confidence”, said a few of the tutors who participated in our focused discussion group.

I recently wrote my undergraduate honor’s thesis, and that experience could attest to how this is true. In the beginning, I didn’t have a clear plan about how to start, and I felt unsure of myself. Things got better after I worked with my mentors to get a solid outline, which not only helped me see how my thesis was supposed to look structurally, but also helped me figure out what to write.

This is also why it’s important for students to have a positive relationship with their peers, instructors, and mentors, who are often their first point of feedback. 

In order to get help on writing, students first need to feel comfortable sharing their writing, and there are several reasons why a student might not be comfortable with this. Some reasons we identified in our discussion were negative experiences (i.e., bad grades, negative experiences with mental health, lack of knowledge about a topic, negative interactions with others, etc), and other factors, such as having to write in a second language.

In the U.S. those who learn English as a second language face the additional challenge of being asked to conform to the American reading and writing standards. At first, I did not understand why this was such a big deal, but once I started working with writers who spoke English as a second language, I started thinking back to when I was learning Spanish in high school. I’m sure that my writing and the way that I spoke in Spanish wouldn’t ever match up to someone who spoke Spanish natively, and I’m not sure that anyone would expect me to be at that calibre. As someone who grew up in the United States, because my first language was Marathi- not English- and even after mostly speaking English for the last 22 years or so, I still hear the ways in which my English sounds different from other English speakers. Now, as I’m placed in the context of tutoring, it seems strange to me that others who have learned English as a second language would be asked to write it in the same way an native English speaker would, From this stand-point, it’s easy to see why this unreasonable expectation might hinder some students’ confidence, and their willingness to share their voice with the writing world.

Improving your own confidence

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One of the most valuable aspects of being a peer tutor, is the emphasis on approaching writing and writing tutoring from a peer perspective rather than “we who are good at writing” to “you, who needs improvement”- as tutors, we strive to improve both our writing abilities and our ability to empathize with others. With this in mind, Aleenah and I designed this activity to help tutors navigate the task of helping writers improve self-confidence. Now I’ll share it here so anyone can try it:

The activity was to think back to one incidence when your confidence was damaged in the academic setting or elsewhere.

Then, once that incidence was identified, to think about how you responded to it, and how you got from then to now: what changed (or didn’t) about your perspective?

During our discussion, we as tutors found it difficult to share these difficult moments, but also realized that talking about these moments in an honest, straight-forward way, is also where we found strength. This was because in talking about our own adversities, we were also able to identify how we had grown since then.

Discussing Negative Experiences in a Positive Way

The importance of this activity was focusing our attention on finding and understanding the silver lining, and this silver writing is very important, especially in crafting personal statements, creative essays- anything that involves putting more “you” in it.

Most of us face adversity at some point in our lives, but it is the response to it that matters the most. This is why confidence is directly tied to resilience, because regaining confidence means having a positive response to adversity (i.e., making efforts to grow).

Too often, students who have worked so hard in their respective fields to work on personal essays, still feeling hindered by some adversity faced from the past. As tutors, our challenge is to help them identify the silver lining to that event- what changed? How did they grow? How did they get from “there” to “here”?

These questions are not reserved for tutors

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They are also good questions to ask yourself in crafting personal and creative pieces identifying that an adversity is not necessarily the end of the road, but a turning point, is the first step to becoming more resilient and  identifying how you got from “low” to “high” is the first step to rebuilding confidence.

Check out our Powerpoint and notes here!

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to the tutors of the Odegaard Writing and Research Center who participated in our workshop and helped to build this resource. Thank you to the OWRC staff for allowing us to put this workshop together

Want to adapt our workshop?

Email inquiries can be sent to aarti.bodas@gmail.com

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