Seize agency. Realize your potential as a thinker, researcher, writer, & collaborator. Reflect on the importance of writing to personal, academic, and professional success. Keep your eyes on the prize: your apprenticeship as a writer may seem endless, but at the end of the day all of your effort maximizes your value in the workplace and enhances your personal development.

Literacy is

  • “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute” (UNESCO 2006).
  • “the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential” (National Center for Education Statistics)
  • “the ability to read and write in home, workplace, and community settings.” (See World Bank,

Related Concepts: Critical Literacy; Semiotics: Sign, Signifier, Signified

Strictly speaking, literacy is being able to read the symbols, to understand the commonplace meaning of a text, to engage in symbolic thinking.

[ Semiotics: Signified & Signifier ]

More broadly, literacy–broadly conceived of as reading and writing–is empowering, both professionally and personally. Engaging in literacy practices further develops your cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies. These are the core competencies you need for success in education, work, and life.

Literacy Equates with Agency, Power, and Success

Becoming literate is not a trivial matter. Literacy requires a multitude of competencies (e.g., the ability to navigate composing processes, engage critical reading, and apply stylistic principles).

Ultimately, according to The National Academies of Sciences, all of the competencies involved in literacy practices–the competencies that enable us to think and communicate as humans–can be subsumed under three major clusters of competencies–or what the Academy calls three knowledge domains:

  1. Cognitive Competencies
  2. Intrapersonal Competencies
  3. Interpersonal Competencies.

As the Academy illustrates below, reasoning/argumentation and communication are such immersive activities that they require all three of these core competencies:

Personal Development:

Writing facilitates your personal development in meaningful ways. Engaging in writing about your goals can help you determine 

  • who you are
    • develop your cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies;
  • who you will be
    • affirm a Growth Mindset, take authority and ownership of your life;  
  • how you can
    • think independently & be an agent for change; and 
    • make the world a better place

When you write something down on the page, you assist memory and empower reflection and metacognition. By transforming your thought into text, you create an opportunity to return to that thought and reflect on it. This affordance of writing to help you record a thought for later reflection frees you from the tyranny of a moment-by-moment existence.

Writing from the heart, sharing your experiences, can be important to our personal happiness. You can keep a journal to reflect on your writing processes, obstacles, and ambitions. 

When you read the work of other people who have different values, experiences, religions, and world views, your own knowledge and perspective may evolve. 

While conducting research for writing, you are likely to come across ideas, places, and concepts that you otherwise might not consider. 

While collaborating on documents, you may obtain insights from your co-authors regarding your strengths and weakness as a researcher, writer, and collaborator.


Writing enables us to forge connections with family and friends as well as people we may not otherwise meet in face-to-face situations.

Via handwritten notes to posts on social media, writing affords the possibility of connecting with friends and sharing insights and aspirations. Our writing can create rich social networks that give us a sense of meaning and connectedness.

Cognitive Development

Your ability to have agency in the world — to respond appropriately, thoughtfully, and creatively to the rhetorical situations life brings your way — is tied to your cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies. As you write, you are likely to make surprising connections among ideas. The act of writing promotes synthesis. Most importantly, writing engages deeper thinking which enables you to generate ideas. That’s why professional writers often report they write in order to discover what they really think about a topic.

Academic Success

Writing fosters deep learning. Writing about a topic can deepen your understanding of difficult concepts and enable you to share what you’ve learned with readers, from instructors to peers.

In school contexts, research has found when people write about a topic as opposed to multiple-choice quizzes, they learn about the topic in a deeper way. They recall the topic over time.

Professional Success

Writing well is foundational to workplace readiness. Each year NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) surveys employees in the U.S. regarding job readiness. Invariably, written communication skills are identified by employers as critical to success in the workplace.

For instance, in 2019, 90.3% of the employers identified communication skills as essential to workplace success. That said, the employers believe only 44.3% of the college graduates had proficient communication skills. Management positions, in particular, require effective communication abilities because managers must often write to instruct and evaluate people who report to them and to their own bosses. Often strong writing competencies are required to write proposals that attract clients and additional business.

Improving your communication skills also develops other valued workplace competencies. Problem-solving, collaboration, leadership, work ethic, analytical/quantitative skills, initiative–these highly desired competencies have been identified by NACE as the most desired competencies sought by employers, as depicted below. All of these qualities are clustered around the larger competency of communication.

Literacy is Power

Your ability to have agency in the world–to respond appropriately, thoughtfully, and creatively to the rhetorical situations life brings your way–is tied to you cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies.

Ultimately, being able to write well is tied to your agency, your personal, social, and professional power. Writing (and communication in general) empowers you to articulate the need for change and action. Informing, persuading, and entertaining other people about your thoughts and insights empowers you to provoke changes you deem important.

Ideally, Writing Commons will help you realize your creative potential as a human being. Being an effective communicator goes beyond success in school or the workplace: it’s critical to your empowerment. Strong communication skills will enable you to fight for changes you deem important and help you develop your goals and personal mission.

Literacies Evolve!

“One hears a great deal of protest today about the lack of interest in reading. Much of this protest is justified, but the implication which it often carries is not, for it often implies that matters used to be greatly different, that educators a hundred years ago or more did a better job of teaching both reading and writing. That they did is by no means certain. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence indicating quite the opposite. Bad as we are today, our predecessors were very likely even worse.”

Walter Ong.

Definitions of literacy are constantly evolving. In the early 1700s being able to sign your name was a notable act of literacy. Later on, literacy was defined as being able to read a bus pass or a daily newspaper.

Manipulating photos, subscribing to and publishing podcasts, moving content across digital platforms, and writing in .html are now considered to be basic literacies.

Consider, e.g., the following billboard that was posted by Electronic Arts to advertise job vacancies for programmers. Can you read the code? It says “Now Hiring!”

Source:  Prensky, Marc,

Types of Literacy

Functional Literacy

At the national and international level, world governments focus on functional definitions of literacy–i.e., how well citizens can understand words and sentences and how well they can interpret, make inferences from, and act on what they read across multiple texts. For instance, can citizens understand a newspaper? Can they understand an airplane or bus schedule? Can they read the job announcement and submit a job application.

Seven Key Skills Sets
White, S., and McCloskey, M. (2003). Framework for the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2005-531). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Critical Literacy

In educational contexts, critical literacy, rather than functional literacy, has been a robust field of scholarship.

Critical literacy is concerned with rhetorical analysis of power relationships. Critical literacy engages students in metacognition and self reflection about the Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose of knowledge claims.

Digital Literacy

New communication technologies (e.g., the pen, pencil, printing press, internet) alter how people collaborate, design, edit, invent, organize, research, and revise documents. As communication technologies evolve, they create new media and new genres.

Digital literacy concerns how individuals navigate and employ digital tools to consume and produce information.

Information Literacy Perspectives & Practices

Information Literacy Perspectives & Practices are

  • critical points of view, theoretical lenses, that shape one’s perceptions about consuming and producing information.
  • core competencies associated with identifying, finding, evaluating, applying, and acknowledging information.

Quantitative Literacy

Quantitative Literacy refers to the ability to understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute numerical information

Visual Literacy

Visual Literacy refers to the ability to understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute numerical information

Works Cited

UNESCO. (2006) Education for All: A Global Monitoring Report. Chapter 6: “Understandings of Literacy.” p. 147-159,