While test-taking is a major part of university life, it’s not a skill that translates directly into real-world applications. Writing, however, is an ability that students will need for almost any career. We all know that good grammar and spelling are important, but it takes a lot more to produce a well-crafted paper.
1. Give yourself time.
Many students say they work better under pressure, but when it comes to writing, this is rarely true. Sure, you may produce a paper faster at the last minute, but it’s rare that the quality will be higher. Students may feel it’s easier to churn something out at the last minute because they don’t have time to think critically or to doubt their arguments. Start your paper early, and revisit it over several days. Writing takes practice, and that means making a real investment of your time. In an ideal world, students would work at writing every day—like practicing a sport.
2. Make writing your top priority.
If you have a paper to write, put it on the top of your to-do list. Writing is hard work, so you should do it during the part of the day when you are the most productive and the most alert.
3. Start with notes.
The first things you write are never the final form. It’s better to get all your ideas down on paper before you start on the paper itself. That way, you’ll have a much better opportunity to figure out which of your ideas stand up and discard the ones that are flimsy.
4. Limit your topics.
Consider the length of the assignment before you start to write. Pick the number of arguments and topics to be discussed that can be fully articulated within the space allowed. It’s much better to fully explore a few topics, rather than mention many different ideas without unpacking them, and exploring their implications.
Since it’s better to begin with more material than you need and cull your best ideas, editing is extremely important. If possible, it’s good to get someone else to read your work while you’re still revising. After all, that’s the whole idea behind peer review, an academic staple of most graduate programs. Take breaks while editing your paper, so you can look at it with fresh eyes.
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