Using Active Listening to Better Your Writing

By Ash Thoms


Have you ever listened to one of your friends ramble on about classes and life and  responded only with the occasional “uh-huh? Yeah. Of course.” They continue to recount the happenings of their lives as you mutter occasional agreement. Eventually they ask, “Are you even listening to me?”
We all do it at some point. There are conversations that we tune-out of, things that we just can’t keep our attention on.

The opposite of this is active listening. Active listening is being entirely engaged in a conversation. It is concentrating on and absorbing the words being spoken. Active listening means that you are doing more than just waiting for your turn to speak, you are absorbing the conversation.

I’m sure, at this point, you’re wondering why I’m talking about listening on the University Writing Center’s blog. The point of this post is active listening not only enhances your communication but also your writing skills.

You likely already know that active listening is great for communication. Imagine if you took in all of the information from every conversation you’ve had. Think about the connections you would be able to form. Think about the incredible relationships that would come from it. Think about the concepts you would be able to put together in your brain if you were actively engaged in conversation or actively engaged in listening to your professor speak.

Now, take all of that information—how would you be able to transfer it to your writing?

If you are an active listener, you’ll (potentially) be able to:

  • Take the information from conversations and use it in your written work.
  • Take the information from your professors and classes and use it in your written work.
  • Make connections between concepts you may not previously have understood.
  • Recall more of the information you hear and use it in your written work.
  • Listen to what your prompt says and the arguments for and against it.
  • Write better papers.

I probably grabbed your attention with that last bullet, right? “Ash, how would being an active listener allow me to write better papers? That seems a little far-fetched.”

Stick with me, I’ll explain.

Besides giving you information and connections between information that you may not have otherwise had, you also get incredible insight into the stranger parts of the English language. Think about it for a minute: how much of the English language—or any language—would you understand if you had never heard it? Sure, you can learn from a book, but with any language the best way to learn is to listen and speak. Talking with, and listening to, native speakers gives you information about the language that you would not have any other way. The little (or not-so-little) parts of the language that you would not otherwise understand come across in the conversational aspects of them. If you’d never heard a pun before, would you understand how absolutely atrocious (or awesome) they are? Probably not!

Actively listening to conversations and discussions allows you to better understand the language. Having a better understanding of the language allows you to better use the language in your writing.

So, the next time you’re in a conversation, discussion, class, or any situation in which you could practice active listening—give it a go. Put all of your attention into the conversation that is occurring and see what you can get out of it!

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