You're Engaged?! -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

You're Engaged?!


Photograph of Sarah Prince
By Sarah Prince, Writing Consultant

Recently, my two nieces came to our house for a slumber party. After our very late night and the ridiculously early morning that followed (only 7-year-olds think it is fun to rise before the sun), I was thoroughly exhausted. For close to 48 hours, I had been assaulted with all sorts of hard questions. Why do I only walk the dogs on some days? How come I don’t know how to make pancakes? What is my favorite Disney movie? Who do I think is cuter, Justin Bieber or Joe Jonas?

Watching the girls ride off in my sister’s minivan early Sunday morning, I remember thinking two things: (1) Any day of the week, Joe Jonas is cuter than Justin Bieber, and (2) I wish there was some way I could channel those kids’ enthusiastic curiosity. That curiosity seems to be a special gift only children possess. They want to know why things are the way they are, how things came to be, and what their own place is within the existing order. They ask questions, they categorize, they seek out patterns and connections. In this way, children are always actively engaged with the surrounding world.

At some point in our lives, this natural ability to engage and connect seems to be lost. Our childhood curiosity is forced to take a back seat to adult job responsibilities, family duties, etc. So when instructors tell us to read a textbook, a journal article, or a website critically, we stare at the words with partial interest—our minds geared toward the obligation to complete the assignment and the responsibility to do well in the course. What is often missing in these kinds of academic or professional reading experiences is that genuine curiosity that all children naturally apply to learning new things.

Unlike the child versions of ourselves, as adults we often fail to commit important information to memory because we no longer critically evaluate, assess, and engage while reading for class. Instead of looking for patterns, seeking common themes, or finding glaring flaws in the study’s rationale, we tend to take the author’s words at face value.

Losing the easy confidence of a child, we assume our questions—Why does the author only talk about x when y is also an important component of this issue? Why did he choose a qualitative methodology when a mixed methods approach is better suited for this study topic?—are invalid or unimportant. Unfortunately, when we ignore these questions and refrain from active involvement with the text, our writing often translates into a flat summary of the assigned articles or books instead of critical analysis.

By trusting ourselves to ask questions and demand answers—those methods we so easily engaged in as children—we begin to critically engage with texts. And it is this process of asking questions and generating our own answers that not only creates new critical analysis but also functions as the engine of new scholarship. So before you read that next article, work to channel the curiosity of a child. As you read, refuse to take “because I said so” for an answer, work to identify common themes, and look to uncover a hierarchy or order. In other words, trust yourself to actively and critically engage with the text at hand. And if you need a break, there is always the who-is-cuter-Justin Bieber-or-Joe-Jonas question to contemplate.


  1. Great way of connecting ideas and encouraging critical reading and writing!

    1. Thanks so much!! :):) So glad you found this info helpful.

  2. Great piece Sarah, the analogy used makes it so easy to understand and apply.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Shariff! So glad you found this insight helpful. :)

  4. Thanks, Maurice! How are you using Sarah's advice to make your writing more engaging? What types of projects can you use this advice to improve?

    Keep Writing! Keep Inspiring!