Competent Writing: A Definition

At a recent conference on college writing, professors from several disciplines were asked to describe in a single word their conception of a good student essay.  "Clear," "unified," "organized," "structured," "focused" were the most frequent responses. A braver soul ventured "powerful" and "interesting."  Competent college writing has more to do with the first set of adjectives than with the second.  Of course professors would like a steady diet of "powerful" essays, but they are realistic enough to understand that not every student can consistently produce such work.  But professors, and employers, have every right to expect and insist on competent writing.

If competent writing is not necessarily "powerful," it is not, on the other hand, merely functional.  At Hartwick College, it involves more than the ability to construct a simple sentence, write a five-sentence paragraph, or compose a one-page business letter.  The competent college writer can also put together an essay of at least ten pages which either persuades or informs, which focuses on a single point and supports it, which has one purpose.

Unity, then, is central to competent writing.  To achieve unity, the writer must be able to sustain and support an idea through several paragraphs linked by logic