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Write Now: why writing is the only future-proof skill in a post-pandemic world

23rd June 2020

By Professor Katy Shaw, Professor of Contemporary Writings, Director of Cultural Partnerships and Deputy Head of the Department of Humanities at Northumbria University.

Writing is the only future-proof skill for the post-pandemic world. The lockdown period has taught us that writing, and effective communication more broadly, can shape our understanding of reality, control our behaviour and ultimately save or risk lives. All writing is underpinned by narrative. Narrative offers a structured approach to making sense of the world around us, providing reason and resolution to the exposition and complication of the contemporary period. Narrative has recently emerged as a powerful tool in the Covid-crisis. The ability to master words and the craft of creating a dynamic and authentic story has been profiled in debates about government messaging, public health and national security. With the advent of a digital era, narratives are written and consumed across a variety of platforms. From speeches to tweets, interviews to print media, multiple forms of writing compete for our attention from the second we wake up in the morning to when we finally stop scrolling on our smart phones and switch off the lights at night. Because, at its core, narrative is concerned with society, culture and what it means to be human today. 

In an era of disinformation and fake news, the power to write and to read critically could not be a more vital skill for the challenges that lie ahead of us. The study of writing equips individuals with tools of critical reading and thinking, as well as skills of presentation. Writing skills enable us to become independent communicators, to move beyond fake news to generate new understandings of the contemporary challenges of times, and to write solutions to them. Writing is also a fundamental tool of citizenship, and a skill that is in high demand among graduate employers. Show me the graduate who can communicate complicated information effectively and engagingly, who can write coherently and for a variety of different audiences, and I will show you a highly employable person. Undergraduate and Postgraduate degrees in English Literature, English Language and Creative Writing produce independent critical thinkers who process and communicate diverse data in creative ways, are reflective in their practice, and analytical in their approach. The study of writing creates the skills necessary to help shape the modern world. Students of writing are global graduates, with intellectual prowess and leadership abilities, who are flexible and adaptable to the changing contexts and demands of the modern world.

Today, the study of writing can help to prepare us for a future world of work that we can only imagine. From the freelance challenge and project management, through to portfolio careers and start-ups, the higher level skill of writing can be deployed in a wide variety of employment contexts and is likely to only become more important as machine skills grow. Equipping us for the unknown as we begin to look forward to the rest of our creative and professional lives, the development of effective writing skills needs to be recognised as an investment for the future, one that will enable the next generation not only to adapt and thrive in rapidly shifting contexts, but to become leaders. Covid has shown that science and technology can not stand alone - we need narrative and writing to share understanding of contemporary challenges and to shape how people adapt and change their behaviour in response to these developments.By writing more, for more people, on more platforms, mobilising keyboards as well as paper, we can ensure that more voices join the chorus of representation that will tell the stories that shape the twenty-first century world. Everyone has a story to tell. Through studying the skills of writing, and encouraging creative practice, we can help share unwritten stories, amplify unheard voices and creative a more inclusive society for the future that lies ahead. 

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