Writing for Success and Pleasure

Planning diagram for a short story. (Image courtesy of Simon Scott on Flickr.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

The great majority of courses published on OCW have a communications component to them, in no small part because of MIT’s communications requirement for undergraduates. MIT sees communications as an essential component to any career its graduates might undertake, regardless of their area of concentration. Since 2001 (the year when OCW came to life) MIT has required undergraduates to take four communications-intensive subjects “to ensure that the students’ communication training is distributed over several years of study.” Two subjects must be from the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and two must be from the student’s major.

Among the many communications-intensive course offerings in the MIT curriculum are courses devoted to writing. Many of these have their home in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department, which is amply represented on OCW.

The course sites all have assignments designed to ignite the creative spark. Most have ingenious, practical exercises for developing the skills needed to impress and convince readers. You’ll find valuable writing resources with a variety of tips and guidelines about how to write well. And of course there are readings that present admirable models for the genre of writing in question.

Below is a sampler of recently published OCW writing courses:


Professional Writing Courses


“This course offers analysis and practice of various forms of scientific and technical writing, from memos to journal articles, in addition to strategies for conveying technical information to specialist and non-specialist audiences.”  Designed to deal with special problems of advanced ELS or bilingual students, the course has resources that almost any writer would be wise to take advantage of. Eminently practical, it covers writing for the public; emails and memos; job letters; writing up research; conference papers and posters, and two minute “nano-presentations.”


“In our reading and writing we explore the craft of making scientific concepts, and the work of scientists, accessible to the public through news articles and essays. The chief work of the class is students’ writing; assignments include a brief essay and news article, an interview-based or archival essay, and a longer (2,000–2,500 word) researched essay. Students also write a review-essay of a book of their choice from a list provided and make one or more short oral presentations.” Check out the “Resource for Checking Facts and Controversies.”


This course helps writers discover and engage with issues that matter to them. Students write narrative essays, investigative essays, and grant proposals. They examine “different rhetorical strategies that aim to increase awareness of social problems, to educate the public about different perspectives on contemporary issues and to persuade readers of the value of particular solutions to social problems.” Resources include “Exercise on research and note-taking,” “Working with Quotes,” “The Use of Outside Sources in Narrative Essays.”


Personal (“Creative”) Writing Courses


“Writers will craft essays that reflect on their own experience as participants or viewers of a sport that reflect on issues related to sports, and that research and explore a sports-related topic in depth. Revision and workshopping are both an important part of the class’s work.”


“This class will focus on the craft of the short story, which we will explore through reading great short stories, writers speaking about writing, writing exercises and conducting workshops on original stories.”

The site has lecture notes on everything from “What is Plot and How Can It Be Constructed?” to “The Way a Professional Writer Works in the World.” Most topics are accompanied with exercises, like “Where to Start,” “Character,” and “Point of View.” There’s even a guide on how to participate in the course’s workshops.


“During the first seven weeks . . . we will discuss techniques directly related to the assigned stories . . . The second seven weeks . . . will be devoted to workshops of original student stories. Using the vocabulary of technique, every student will participate in workshops leading to polished, finished fiction.”


“This course explores, through reading and writing, what it means to construct a sense of self-and a life narrative-in relation to the larger social world of family and friends, education, media, work, and community.” Most readings have corresponding written assignments. Students also write four main essays, whose assignments are described in detail.

“The very notion of what constitutes race remains a complex and evolving question in cultural terms. In this course we will engage this question head-on, reading and writing about issues involving the construction of race and racial identity as reflected from a number of vantage points and via a rich array of voices and genres.”

How to Share your Achievements on LinkedIn (edX blog)

Did you know that you can add your edX certificates to your LinkedIn profile? The edX blog explains how:

  1. Log into your LinkedIn profile, and go to edit profile
  2. On the right hand side, beneath “You can also add…” press “Certifications”
  3. Enter the Certification Name – this is the name of the course
  4. Enter ‘edX’ as the Certification Authority and the URL at the bottom of your certificate as the “Certification URL”
  5. Leave ‘license number’ blank and press save.

Have any troubles or questions? Send a note over to technical@edx.org.

I’ve added the HarvardX course I completed earlier this year; this is what the Certification will look likes on LinkedIn: edx cert

Where engineering and English majors end up working (Pew Research)

Graphic correlating various college majors to subsequent occupations.

A majority of STEM majors ultimately have occupations outside of STEM. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

The U.S. Census Bureau has just produced a fascinating visualization connecting college majors to occupations, based on data from the 2012 American Community Survey.  As the Pew Research Center reports:

On the interactive version, hovering over a major will show which fields its graduates ended up working in. The thickness of the lines reflects the share of people in each major-occupation combination.

The graphic shown above highlights so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors and occupations. While it may not be surprising that about a third of engineering majors work as engineers, it’s noteworthy that more are non-STEM managers (18%) than computer workers (15%). And only about 26% of physical-sciences majors work in any STEM occupation at all; their biggest employment categories are health care (17%), non-STEM managerial jobs (14%) and education (12%). (We calculated those percentages from the chart’s data table, also downloadable from the Census Web page.)

You can also hover over an occupation to see which majors it hires from, or switch the chart’s focus to non-STEM majors such as business and literature. And in both STEM and non-STEM modes, you can narrow the chart by race, ethnicity and gender — and learn, by exploring the data table, that women account for fewer than four of every 10 bachelor’s degrees in STEM majors.