• The "Who Cares? " Test

    by Owen Williamson

    In every piece of academic, technical or professional writing you produce, apply the "Who Cares?" test. In other words, ask "Who cares" about what I am writing? Be frank with yourself. If the answer is "Nobody!" then DON'T write it!

    So what do you do when you are stuck with a writing assignment that at first glance does not seem to pass the "Who cares?" test?

    1. If possible, make it important to you by choosing a subject (or an aspect of the subject) that you, yourself are interested in, or can get interested in it for the moment. Or, find a specialized aspect of the assigned subject that may interest either you or your audience. If you're assigned to study the election of 1880, probably you don't give a toot about it, but perhaps the professor does. (Of course, the professor who assigned it probably knows all the basics of it already, so just going back over those basics most likely won't pass the "Who cares?" test.) Always serve your audience, so find something about the election that might interest either you, the professor, or some other audience. If you can't interest yourself, at least serve your audience, and serve them obsessively. Or else toss it out.

    2. If it's for a grade, maybe it's the grade itself that makes you care about it. Let that thought of the grade propel you into making the best, most interesting paper you can.  But, always try to add some extra "plus," some "spice" in the paper that will go beyond simply getting the grade or doing the minimum to fulfill the assignment.

    3. If you can't find any aspect of the assigned subject that you can get interested in, maybe it's just too boring, but more likely your own "boring" filter is set too high. Most probably, the problem is that you have chosen to set your personal interest filter too narrowly. If the ONLY thing that interests you in this whole world is duck hunting, sports and coaching, Harleys, differential equations, sex, Belgian waffles, the poetry of Spencer or playing Scrabble, you can always choose by your own decision and your own will to become interested in other things. It'd certainly help your own education, growth and maturity. The more things you can get interested in, the better off you are! The narrower your knowledge and interests, the more boring you yourself are (and the less employable on the job market and the less enjoyable as a friend or a lover).

    4. Remember, grammar, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary errors can be fixed, but boring can't be fixed! So ALWAYS apply that "Who cares?" test to all your writing.  Even the most important, vital, exciting piece of writing with technical errors needs to be fixed up to be valuable, but a perfectly proofread, grammatically correct piece of writing that says nothing is utterly worthless, no matter how correctly written. 

    Author Tim Albert, in his book, A-Z of Medical Writing, puts it another way: "Effective writing achieves the purpose we set for it." It is not written to satisfy some urge or itch within the writer. It is not an abstract art form, but rather a tool to achieve a given goal. If you want to get it published and it is published, you have achieved your goal and it is good writing no matter how the grammar, spelling or rhetoric are in the text. If you want an "A" and get a "C" you have fallen short of accomplishing your goal, no matter how perfect your writing.  "The principle is that writing is your servant, not your master. If you define in advance what you want your writing to do [not just what you want it to be], you can also define in advance how to measure it." The best university-level writing is never written simply for a grade (though that's certainly one purpose for it!). It is written for you to learn, and, one hopes, for the audience (the professor, other students, or a larger real audience) to be informed, interested, entertained or persuaded. If you learned nothing and have neither informed, entertained nor persuaded your audience, your writing does not pass the "Who cares?" test and should be tossed into the trash.

    OW rev 1/09

     For educational purposes only.  .


    Owen M. Williamson - Education Bldg 211E - phone: (915) 747 7625 - fax: (915) 747 5655
    The University of Texas at El Paso - 500 W. University Ave. - El Paso, TX 79968
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