$hecky asks: "I teach several sections of a first-year writing course at a small, private college where most of the students are, or plan to be, some flavor of engineer. Right now, I'm planning next year's courses and wondering what has (and hasn't) helped Slashdot readers become better writers. Also, I'm wondering which writing skills you, in your roles as workers and teachers, would most like to see emphasized in first year writing courses. Put another way, where do you see people who have completed first-year writing courses screwing up their writing, and which experiences, practices, and pressures you think have made you a better writer?""First, let's head a couple wagons off at the pass. Let's avoid the vulgar confusion of good writing and good grammar. Horrifying grammar is a common problem, but its not a problem I can fix in a semester-long class. About a century of research tells us that native English speakers aren't rule-based parsers, so teaching grammatical rules (like when to use the subjunctive or where to put commas) doesn't improve compliance. The best strategy on those fronts is a habitual reading of clearly-formatted texts and scrupulous multi-stage review of everything you write, both of which are somewhat outside the scope of a semester-long class.
Second, let's say that the chief virtue of good writing is clarity. While some kinds of writing prize being strategically elliptical, and others prize brisk and clever metaphor, most of my students aren't writing grant applications, patents, or poems. So metaphor, however brisk or clever, is out of place if it obscures its subject.
Third, this course is a cultural studies type, rather than a workshop. This means that the course has a topic of inquiry about which all of the students read and write for a semester and that, while being reasonably complex, the topic should accommodate students who are going to become accountants, math teachers, and advertisers. It's common for engineering students to wash out into the business school, and there's a significant contingent of humanities students as well. Anything other than a general interest topic (like the 1960s, ideas about the American West, or fairy tales) isn't an option.
So think back to your writing. What has made you more comfortable with your writing, or eager to improve what you've written? What inspires you to read outside of a classroom or mandated context? Was has impressed on you the importance of revision, or at least of reviewing your writing at intervals? Which parts of which college (or high school) curricula have helped you write better? Finally, which aspects of your students' or co-workers' writing do you find most troublesome?"