Blog post

6 basic writing principles for grad students

May 12, 2022
By GradProSkills
Source: GradProSkills

Graduate students are excited about the fieldwork phase of their research. It is thrilling to interview people, dig into archives, crunch numbers, and observe experiments in a lab. Unfortunately, when it comes to writing their papers, thesis, or dissertation, many students face significant struggles and lack motivation. But why? 

Science has developed methods to support our wellbeing.

According to the psychologist, Dr. Paul J. Silvia - specialized in creative production and arts - writing is not fun but actually painful and frustrating. This difficulty happens because thinking about ideas is much easier and faster than writing about them, he states in his book How to Write a lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing.

Dr. Silvia also states that writing is not a gift but a skill you can learn. However, this is the challenging part of the equation. He argues that grad school focuses on training students on research methods and teaching skills, but not to become strong writers. He advises all grad students to embrace writing as a self-development project. Dr Silvia argues that persistency and following a writing routine, getting feedback, and editing will make students stellar academic writers. His other suggestion for students is to proofread their peers' work to learn from their mistakes or powerful writing. 

We have selected six basic writing principles to help you hone your writing skills during graduate school:

1. Know Your Audience

Know your readers to define your text's style and tone. In academic writing, the experts in your field, professors and other researchers, will read your work with  certain expectations.  They expect written fluency on relevant theories and your expertise to demonstrate your mastery of the research topic. 

Depending on the research field, there are differences in structure and style, citation, and forms of explaining concepts. Papers in engineering and science have more graphs and experiments to describe, and in humanities and fine arts, students, often deal with abstract ideas and image analysis. However, in any case note taking techniques are key to start writing confidently. 

a person writing in a notebook in front of a laptop in a soothing place

2. Be Accurate

Use jargon and technical words when necessary and consistently throughout your text. Briefly explain specific terms to situate your reader. Avoid borrowing fancy words outside your field as they are out of their original context. 

If you are a non-native speaker, hone your grammar and sentence construction to express ideas accurately. GradProSkills offers language competency workshops: English Grammar 1 and English Grammar 2. In case you are a native speaker, be mindful of those readers whose English is the second or the third language. 

3. Be Brief 

Go straight to the point and prioritize the necessary background to contextualize your ideas. Use short sequences with appropriate punctuation to avoid distracting your readers from your key arguments. Remember that good writing is simple and deals with what matters. Learn techniques to write crispy texts with our workshops Writing Compelling Abstracts and Writing your thesis proposal.    

4. Be Clear

Ambiguities can frustrate your readers, so it is crucial to master grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation rules to convey your messages. Use short sentences but also explain your ideas precisely. A well-thought syntax will define if you have a messy or a powerful text. In academic writing, avoid the passive voice - with a few exceptions - because it conveys a vague idea about who is responsible for the action. Stick to the subject-verb rule, so the person or thing responsible for the activity always comes first in the sentence.

a woman writing in a notebook in front of a laptop with hr hand under her chin and thinking

5. Think and Write

Start brainstorming about your topic as soon as possible, so you are not stuck with a blank page as the deadline approaches. Whenever you have a good idea about your paper subject, quickly take notes or record a voice message on your mobile. Our best ideas often appear when we are exercising, cooking, or taking a shower, so as soon as possible get them down on a piece of paper. 

6. Edit Fiercely

Read your text at least three times, and be ready to edit it with critical eyes. You can use some free online tools, like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor, to review grammar mistakes. However, coherence and clarity is your responsibility, and you can get support from Concordia’s Writing Assistance at the Student Success Centre.  

If you are in the middle to later stages of writing your thesis or research papers, you may know about writing principles but your writing may still need a boost. Worry not! You can join the Thesis Boost Writing Retreat, hosted in a supportive and motivating setting to help you to take a leap towards finishing your writing project.
Interested in publishing and advancing your writing competencies? 

Keep an eye on our upcoming workshops.

Udemy - free to Concordia students - offers a few courses on boosting your writing like Double Your Academic Writing Quality7 Lessons on Writing for Becoming a Standout Writer, and more.

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