Writing for Academia: General Tips

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If there is one thing that college has taught me, it’s that everything that I knew about academic writing was wrong. Professors will give you strict and specific instructions about what they want, how you want to write it, and what it is that you are supposed to do. And if you don’t follow their guidelines… Well, the class is not going to be easy, that’s for sure.

Here are five quick tips that I have picked up within my semester and a half of college, and hopefully it will help make writing essays easier in general! I know keeping all of these things in mind have helped me to find motivation and made the writing process happen a lot faster and easier for myself.

Always Give the Instructor What They Want

The instructor is paid to help you and to teach you something throughout the course of the class. That’s why it is only fair that you give the instructor what it is that they are asking you to do. For the most part, instructors will be very clear in what they want to do – how to structure your argument, what you should argue, and what your topic should be. If it’s open ended, it’s usually more difficult to do, but that just means that you can’t be afraid of asking questions of your instructor.

However, the most important tip to remember: be specific. There is nothing worse for your argument than to speak generically. Generalizing, while it may be a habit to do, can create too many abstract or weak ideas that your audience may not be able to support – thereby, they won’t be supporting you, as a writer.

When writing an essay, you must always be able to answer the question “So what?” during any point in your argument/essay. Your goal is to make the audience care about what it is that you are saying; if they don’t care, at least they’ll be interested in your topic, otherwise they would have stopped reading during the introduction. (Unless they are your professor, that is. Then they have to keep reading.) Being specific helps to clear up any confusion that a reader may have while reading through your essay, and it will keep your essay clear and focused. It’s as easy as that.

Break Down the Prompt/Instructions

The professor will give you anything you need to know within the prompt itself. It is all just a matter of breaking down the instructions and figuring out what direction you want to take your argument in. The prompt will give you a loose framework or guiding hand for when you sit down to outline that essay of yours. Remember – the prompt and the professor are there to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Know Your Audience

When writing, you are always working within a set of constraints or a set of focuses that help to define your writing. One of the most important concepts to keep in mind is your audience. Audience is anyone who reads your paper, interacts with your argument, and could be influenced by what you have to say. Through analyzing who your audience is, you will be able to hone in on diction, figure out how much you need to summarize a story or define terms, and how to organize your essay. The audience is the single most important constraint to your writing, and you must keep them in mind if you are to uphold a strong front.

Know Your Purpose

After audience, purpose is one of the other imperative parts to the puzzle. Purpose will also help to drive your essay and help to create a stronger foundation for yourself. This can be found from a variety of things – the prompt itself, your basic outlined argument, and from the audience. If you know who you are writing for, then it’s simply a matter of pinpointing the best points of an argument that fulfills the needs of the audience and the prompt. Once these two things are flushed out, writing an essay becomes a piece of cake.

Outline, Outline, Outline

If there is one thing I hate doing, it’s outlining. It was always the chicken scratch I made on my AP Exams, the step I usually skip over while working on my fiction pieces. However, outlining is imperative when it comes to essay writing. Outlining is your best friend in college, especially when you have to go back and completely rework a paper once or twice or three times.

I know we all groan and hate it, but it’s next to impossible to write an essay without having an outline to back it up. Through an outline, you are able to see the loose structure of your essay, quickly move pieces around, and flush out what evidence you are and aren’t using. After all, having the skeleton makes it easier to flush out the body.

One of my favorite writing strategies is to past my outline into my essay document and build up around there. With the evidence lined up in the way that I want it, it’s easy to simply write in my explanation and analysis around the quotes. Using my analogy from before, I literally take the skeleton and fill it out where necessary. I even used this strategy to write an essay today, and it all but cut my essay writing time in half.

In Conclusion

Writing essays is not an easy thing to do. At all. As an English major, I can attest to that, especially since I write one essay every one to two weeks. However, after learning more about this breakdown, writing essay’s has definitely gotten easier and faster for me.

All you need to remember is this: Focus, Be Specific, Outline. Those three things along can do so much to help you improve your overall writing and arguments in general.

That about wraps up this post! I do plan on writing more about essay writing, and I’m thinking about making this a blog series titled “Writing for Academia”. I don’t know when the next post will be coming out or how often I will be able to add to this, but it definitely is in my agenda!

Thanks for reading, and see you next time.

*****

“Never say more than is necessary.”
― Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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