How to Approach Academic Writing in Graduate School

How to Approach Academic Writing in Grad School

By Heather Verani

It is said that one constant in life is change, and in graduate school, another constant is writing academically. Academic writing can become more complex and demanding the further one progresses in their educational career. However, the daunting nature of starting a new project, literature review, or thesis can be reassured by identifying and addressing the different aspects of academic writing. In this brief overview of the first chapter of Academic Writing for Graduate Students, we will address the different considerations in academic writing and reflect on the personal writing process.

Academic writing is comprised of different considerations such as audience, purpose, organization, style, flow, and presentation. A successful writer (such as yourself who is reading this blog) needs to acknowledge each of these areas when writing, as the absence of one could create an unbalanced text. Before going in-depth on each of these different areas, quickly reflect on your own writing strategy. What is your main writing strategy, and why do you use it?

After deciding on your writing strategy, the first area to consider is who your audience is. Although all of these areas flow into one another, there is an order in which they need to occur. This consideration should happen before your writing, as understanding your audience will affect your tone and content. Some possible audiences you will encounter in graduate school include thesis committees, advisors, and professors. After you have identified your audience, consider the purpose and strategy of your writing. These two areas are interconnected with one another, as the writer’s purpose changes based on how much or little the audience knows about the topic. If the audience knows less than the writer, the purpose of the writings are to be more instructional; however, if the audience knows more than the writer, the text needs to reflect a sense of expertise and familiarity.

Once audience and purpose have been identified, the organization of the information must be considered. With most types of academic writing, there is a predictable pattern of how the text will be organized. Writers can use these established patterns to their advantage, as structured organization allows for readers to easily follow the information presented.

The organizational structure flows into the style of your writing, as both should be consistent with one another regarding the appropriate choices of each. For example, if a writer chose a formal organizational structure but an informal writing approach, it could potentially confuse the reader. Formality and informality in academic writing can seem complex, as it is difficult to differentiate between what is considered academic and what is not. Although this issue is debated amongst many, there are a few ways to make style more academic. The focus on language such as grammar, vocabulary, and stylistic conventions within your field can enhance the academic formality.

The flow of the writing can also enhance the information presented, as forming a clear connection between ideas is important to help the reader understand and follow the text. One way to establish flow in your writing is using the “old-to-new” information flow. Presenting older information earlier in the text allows for a content connection and establishes context for the newer information.

The final consideration when writing academically is the presentation of your text. Errors that could have been avoided in proofreading but remain within your writing such as an incorrect homophone, misspelled words, and basic grammatical errors are considered unacceptable. To avoid these mistakes and to receive a more positive response to your writing, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the information flow in an expected manner?
  2. Did you consider the overall format of your work?
  3. Have you proofread for grammatical accuracy?
  4. Have you checked for misspelled words (even if spell check is on)?

Taking into consideration each of these areas when writing academically will not only enhance your writing process, but also ease any worries that may arise when taking on a new academic project.