5 Tips for Winning at Academic Writing

Academic writing is hard.

It’s just not something we do outside of school. Most of us spend our days texting, emailing, and talking – not writing papers.

When it’s time to put our thoughts down on paper, we often find ourselves struggling at the disconnect we experience. Moreover, academic writing comes with its own set of challenges: following APA, MLA and other formats; making sure we produce clear and compelling arguments; and last but not least, proofing, proofing…and more proofing.

Yet there is hope! Here are 5 simple ways to experience an immediate improvement in your writing and writing process.

Be clear. Write to be understood. It sounds simple enough, but we tend to shirk from the work of ensuring that our words accurately reflect our intended meaning. Sometimes we’re not even sure of what we mean to say and our ambivalence is reflected in muddy writing. Do the heavy lifting that is careful thinking before you write. Be clear!

Be concise. We’ve all done it – rattling on in a paper not because we have anything to say, but because we’ve got to meet the page limit requirement and even after upping our font to 14 pt and changing our margins, we’re not there! (BTW, please don’t up your font and change your margins to stretch your paper!) Sometimes, less actually is more. Say what you mean to say in as few words as possible. Use simple sentences where feasible. While it’s tough to see paragraphs of your work disappear, your work will be much stronger.

Let it marinate. Pulling all-nighters is bad news for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that your work doesn’t have a chance to age. Letting your work sit untouched for a day or so and then coming back to it afresh will work wonders for the quality of your writing. You’ll be able to clearly see where your work doesn’t make sense and where it’s not clear and concise, not to mention the typos you’ll inevitably find.

And on the topic of typos: Proof. Proof. Proof. While useful, don’t bank on Spell Check. Proof thoroughly, word by word, line by line. The temptation is to skim through work we think is ‘OK.’ Take your time with it. Proof!

Lastly, be encouraged in your writing pursuits. You can be a better writer – and this can make the difference between the “A” or “B” that is yours and the “C” or “D” you suffer because your writing is working against you.

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