Intriguing Factoid

Whenever I attend an academic conference, I learn a lot, although what I learn is not necessarily the subject-matter of the conference itself, or the papers that are presented. Often, it’s the “happenstance” nuggets and accidental insights that are most interesting.

I have now unpacked from the recent conference in Detroit, and “debriefed” by sorting through the papers and notes and handouts that accumulate during such meetings, and was reminded of an observation made during one presentation–a research finding that was intriguing, to say the least. The study found a positive correlation between writing proficiency and “engaged and knowledgable citizenship.”

The research was alluded to in passing, and no explanation was offered. I suppose the easy answer might be that people who are bright and well-educated are more likely to write well and more likely to be engaged, informed citizens. But that seems too facile. I know people with degrees from prestigious institutions who can’t write clearly, and I know others with those same credentials who somehow missed elementary civics and government.

Of course, I didn’t see the research and didn’t get a citation, so it may well be that the study was flawed. But if it wasn’t, how might we explain this correlation? What would be the connection between the ability to write with clarity and grace, and the possession of above-average civic knowledge? Why would these two particular skills/understandings be correlated?

Any ideas?


  1. I believe it is the individual’s mental level of curiosity, the ability to differentiate between fact and opinions, the seeking of information above and beyond what is presented to us, that makes up much of the difference. Education levels too often depend on financial ability but I lost my all-encompassing awe of the highly educated after working with too many not-very-smart college graduates. The natural curiosity of young children is often hampered or smothered by being kept within what is considered the boundaries of the educational “norm” for their age. I dropped out of high school my senior year and waited 28 years to get my GED; I believe I am acceptably well-spoken because my family was and is. My grandchildren are the ones seeking higher education but my children are all manual laborers whose skills are as valuable as those in administrative positions. Their level of knowledge is higher in different areas than white-collar workers but their level of civic awareness and communication skills seems higher than many of our elected “leaders”. No answers in this; merely my observations and comments as usual.

  2. Tough to tell without seeing the paper, but count me somewhat skeptical.

    Still, since you ask I will propose something. If there is any correlation between writing proficiency and engaged citizenship it may be because both are skills that must be worked at. Perhaps the chances that a person works hard to develop proficiency at writing are similar to the chances that one is an engaged citizen (politicians, not so much).
    What I am skeptical about is that the correlation between them is strong enough to make blithe claims about the two.

  3. I’m thinking that it may have to do with the complexity of thought that goes into the writing process and the understanding that you frame your writing to suit a certain audience and politicians and elected officials also are masters of framing their public positions.
    The writer also has to consider a variety of outcomes that may be possible with a character’s decision which may make it easier for them to see beyond the soundbites.
    The writing process also forces one to become a bit of an investigator and inquisitor in the world around them which may carry over into civic issues that may be important to to that individual.
    Have you emailed the speaker and requested more information on the research yet?

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