Writing Is a Conversation

An Introduction to College Writing as an Act and Medium of Communication

Johannah Rodgers


We often do not think of writing as a conversation because of the all too obvious absence of any concrete audience to respond to when we write.  And yet, just as we think of spoken communication as happening in two directions simultaneously, such bidirectional communication is also occurring in writing, albeit non-simultneously.  When we write, instead of a concrete audience or respondee, there is a virtual one. Although many college writing students often do not consciously think about the importance of audience in their writing, they have been unconsciously attending to this audience in all of their spoken and much of their written communication to date.  When a student writes a text message to her best friend asking her to meet her for dinner, what thoughts are going through her head as she is composing that text? When a student writes an e-mail to her mother, is she not thinking about and hearing, perhaps even visualizing her response? Writing does not occur in a vacuum. Writing is always writing to someone about something.  It is in just this way that writing is, just as much as talking, a conversation.  

Before you have a conversation with someone, you need to introduce yourself and the manner in which you do so depends on what you know about that person and your purposes for interacting with that person.  What is more, the manner (style, language, tone) in which you introduce yourself and conduct that conversation is determined by who it is you are talking to and your purpose for talking with them.  You have been using verbal language and conversing with people all of your life.  You may have even, at times, found yourself unable to stop talking.  You have also had conversations with individuals with whom you are not entirely familiar.  And yet, you have figured out how to communicate with these people.  To the extent that writing is communicating a message to someone, it functions, at times, very much like speaking.  Although there are some important differences between written and spoken communication and we will explore these, both are often used as a means of communicating information between a speaker and an audience. 

Reading and Writing Assignment: What Are Your Strengths as Communicator?

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