Halloween Writing Tricks… Or are they treAts?

Academic writing sure can spook me out. First, there’s the pressure. Ugh, another writing assignment. Then there’s the grade, which gives me the feeling that if I do poorly my whole life will be destined for doom. There’s also the actual feedback that can kill my spirit. Combined, these concerns can sometimes make me not want to write at all. But then I remember the rewards, or “treats” of writing, and that allows me to get started and persevere throughout my writing process. Here are some tricks I use to complete any academic paper:

1. Start Early: By beginning every paper far in advance of the deadline, I don’t feel the pressure to perform or have anxiety that I may not finish the assignment on time. I have plenty of time to plan, jot down notes, research, write, rewrite, revise, and cite. Frequently, I set my own deadlines for completing different stages in my process, which means I set my own “due date” before an instructor’s that allows me to troubleshoot if any problems arise.

2. Prewrite/Prethink: Before I begin writing any paper, I start by thinking seriously about the task, rereading and reannotating texts and extracting quotes, conducting outside research, thinking about my topic throughout the day, and jotting down a ton of notes. These practices help me feel “ready” to write.

3. Construct a Rough Outline: Once I have plenty of knowledge and notes on the subject, I create some type of an outline that will give my paper direction. While I don’t create a formal outline in the sense of Roman numerals and special indents, I have something that looks like a handwritten list that serves as a roadmap to my paper.

4. Polish: Although I continually reread and revise each paper as I write, it is so important that I read through the paper multiple times when it is finished to really polish and perfect my sentences. Once I have the ideas and organization of the paper set and have filled in any gaps or resolved unanswered questions, I read my paper again to specifically look at my word choices and sentence structures. I also take another look at my citations. Although these three areas – word choice, sentence construction, and citations – seem minor (and in the grand scheme of things they probably are), I think they help instructors distinguish between a paper that is written to fulfill a requirement and one that is of publishable quality.

5. Ask Questions: When I receive any assignment, I always make sure to review the guidelines to ensure I fully understand what is being asked of me. I actually annotate my assignment sheets. Then, I ask the instructor questions. Sometimes, lots of them. I think it’s important to realize that assignments are not instructions written in stone; instead, they can be a starting point for bigger conversations.

6. Identify Your Audience: This may come as a shock, but your audience should not be your instructor. Sure, you need to consider your instructor’s expectations and input in order to be successful in writing any assigned paper, but at the same time you should think about who your audience for the paper might be outside of the classroom. Any writing you do should be able to exist in “the real world.” So, when I write papers, I try to consider what type of journal, magazine, or book they would appear in and who the readership would be.

As always, you need to think about your individual writing process. Although all of these “tricks” may not work for you, you should at least consider reaching your hand into my virtual Halloween bag that is this blog post and snatching up a few of them. Who knows… one of these tricks could make your grade a huge treAt!

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