Four writing tips to help students with final projects and papers

graduate student writing tips
Pre-writing can help students write more cohesive papers

As graduate students, you know that the end of the semester means that final projects and papers are almost due.

You most likely need to conduct research and organize your findings into cohesive thoughts whether you are writing an academic research paper, a creative writing piece, or the results of a scientific study. The fundamental rules of good writing apply to all of these possible projects and more. You can use these four tips to help you maximize your writing and most likely earn a better grade:

Pre-writing: Think before you ink

Remember that you are writing your paper to be read. Consider what you want to say before you begin researching and writing. You will save considerable time during the process by keeping your work focused. Your writing will also show greater clarity for you and the reader.

You can use the questions below to help you think, otherwise known as a pre-writing exercise. The point is to consider what you want to say before you begin.

· What do you want the reader to understand from your piece of writing?
· What kind of paper are you writing? Paper categories can include: persuasive, informative, compare and contrast, narrative, and analysis.
· What is your main idea or point of view? Be sure to state it clearly in your introduction.
· Are your thoughts in a clear order?
· Have you completed your research? Do you have your sources organized and ready to cite?
· Do they support your main topic?

First drafts are never final drafts

Now that you’ve thought through your paper, you can start crafting your first draft. First drafts are never final drafts. Write down everything you want to say, and then step away from it for a day (more or less).

Be sure to review your work after you have completed a first full draft. You will want to review for typos and grammar errors, as well as clarity and the strength of your message. These require different skill sets and thus, requires two separate reviews.

I suggest starting with the actual story or paper components. Have you made your point clearly? Do you have supporting evidence? Will the reader be able to follow your train of thought? Then, check for grammar and typos. For impeccable grammar, you can use Grammarly to check for possible errors.

Cite your sources properly

Citing your sources is university policy at every university or college, and not citing your sources properly is plagiarism — whether intentional or not. ALWAYS cite your sources, including photos. You can use these guides to help learn citation rules, but you should check your course syllabus or student handbook for your professor’s (or university’s) preferred citation style. The most common citation styles include APA from the American Psychological Association and MLA which stands for the Modern Language Association.

Less is more

Once you’ve written your first draft, try trimming your words down. Many times, writers can say the same thing using less words, making it easier for the reader to understand. Here are some tips:

Use the active tense to bring your writing to life. For example:
• Passive: The video was edited by a guy named Frankenstein.
• Active: A guy named Frankenstein edited the video.

Avoid wordiness when possible. Content creator Ann Handley provides a useful list of wordy phrases and their suggested revisions in her book, Everybody Writes (Wiley, p. 36). Here’s a few of them:

• Ways by which = ways
• Continues to be = remains
• In order to = to
• There are times when = sometimes
• Despite the fact that = although, though
• At which time = when
• In spite of = despite
• When in comes to = In, when
• A number of = some, few, several

Did these tips help you? Let me know in the comments below.

Ophir Lehavy is an adjunct lecturer and success coach for the Masters in Mass Communications (MAMC) program at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can find her at www.ophirlehavy.com or on LinkedIn.

Strategic communicator, writer, and educator who is teaching students at the Univ. of Florida the art and science of reaching local and global audiences.