T. R. Girill
Society for Technical Communication/Lawrence Livermore Nat. Lab. (retired)
Technical Writing: Benefits of Writing for Oneself
Why bother to learn how to draft effective, well-designed, nonfiction
text if you will never publish it or even share it informally with
others? Students who don't foresee a career in the research parts of
science or engineering, where publishing is normal activity, may need
some other motivation to learn and practice usable text-design techniques.
Two recent articles specifically address that need for alternative,
nonpublishing motivation: they reveal how writing effective nonfiction
text just for yourself (1) significantly improves how well you
remember and understand information that you have read or seen, and
(2) promotes personal maturity by refining private thoughts, sparking
new ideas, and building professional confidence.
Self-Explanation Promotes Learning
Recent experiments by psychologists Alyssa P. Lawson and Richard E.
Mayer confirm what much other work had previously revealed, the
'Benefits of writing an explanation during pauses in multimedia
lessons' (Educational Psychology Review, 2021, (33), 1854-1885,
doi: 10.1007/s/0648-021-09594-w). College-age mixed-gender students
who viewed a science lesson and, during lesson pauses, wrote their
own explicit explanation of what they had seen and heard--including
those who wrote from prompted keywords and those who rewrote/reworked
a provided explanatory outline--performed significantly better on
delayed posttests of BOTH remembering and understanding the technical
content than paired students who simply read a provided summary or
who did nothing but watch the lesson.
The disciplined, 'generative' process of writing a self-explanation,
even though only for themselves, enabled the writers to enjoy this
cognitive enrichment--gaining more intellectual benefit from the same
lessons seen by others, but who processed them only passively. Thus
when technical content is involved, effective writing enriches writer
understanding, even if the resulting explanatory text is never shared.
Disciplined Writing for Personal Maturity
Beyond these obviously helpful cognitive benefits, writing effectively
designed text just for oneself also pays recognized benefits in
enhanced personal maturity. Holden Galusha's brief summary ('The
personal and professional benefits of writing,' Labmanager.com,
Oct. 3, 2022) itemizes the payoffs in an article aimed at working
technical (but not research) staff, such as nurses or lab technicians.
Refining one's thoughts by writing them down in an organized, structured
way, even just privately, for oneself, leads to several life-enriching
1. Sparks news ideas.
Seeing one's initial thoughts and claims spelled out invites new
connections to arise and neglected facets to be noticed. And revising
the draft text is a method for improving preliminary conjectures or
comparisons, inviting alternative versions or elaborations.
2. Builds confidence.
Especially for ESL writers, committing draft thoughts to paper
strengthens vocabulary and language fluency, and invites adjustments
that more effectively express one's initial claims. This helps
private thoughts morph into more effective versions that one is
then willing, even eager, to share later unembarrassed.
3. Maps possible futures.
Even simple lists of current plans or concerns facilitate private
review and refinement, which in turn suggest new future activities
large and small. This is the self-explanation benefit with the
broadest time horizon, for tomorrow or the rest of one's life.
Thus even students who never have reason to write for others as
adults can still expect specific, practical, personal benefits to
derive from knowing how to effectively write self-explanatory
text that captures their private thoughts, just for themselves.
[Want more background to help ESL students with technical writing?
For more suggestions to improve the helpfulness of student text
see http://writeprofessionally.org/techlit/usability ]