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Graduate-Level Writing Tips: Definitions, Do’s and Don’ts

professional communicators at work

Debra Davenport, PhD

In your communication master’s program, you will be expected to demonstrate well-honed writing skills in your essays. Your courses will require proficiency in real-world business communications, as well as scholarly writing and the use of APA formatting.

Real-world written business communications may include:

  • Executive summaries
  • News releases
  • Media advisories
  • Company fact sheets
  • Business reports

Academic papers are those you will write in your courses that:

  • Review and discuss the scholarly literature
  • Synthesize theories, models and course readings
  • Present critical analysis, research and scholarly insight in an objective manner
  • Are formatted according to APA standards
  • Are written in the scholarly voice

What Is the Scholarly Voice?

Essentially, the scholarly voice is unbiased, high-level and evidence-based writing that reflects the epitome of good grammar, syntax and tone. Follow the do’s and don’ts below to excel at this format in your graduate school essays.

Scholarly Resources:

  • https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/683/1/
  • http://blog.apastyle.org/
  • http://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/scholarlyvoice
  • http://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/scholarlyvoice/tone

The “Do’s” of Scholarly Writing

1. Use proper syntax. Syntax is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.” Syntax is an important aspect of writing that helps to ensure clarity. Incorrect syntax often results in sentences and paragraphs that do not make sense, and this can pose serious perceptual issues for professional communicators. See this article for a number of examples.

2. Follow the rules of punctuation. Common errors include incorrect placement of quotation marks and erroneous use of the semicolon. As an example, note that quotation marks follow periods and commas, (“The sky is blue.”)

3. Include references, citations and /or footnotes, no matter what kind of document you’re writing. Taking the time to locate sources that substantiate your statements demonstrate your proficiency as a scholar-practitioner and your commitment to excellence. Citations are required in your academic papers, but clients also appreciate this attention to detail. When pitching a project or campaign, the inclusion of reputable sources will support your recommendations and boost your own credibility.

4. Proofread and edit your work. Many errors are missed during the first proofread; be prepared to review your work multiple times.

The “Don’ts” in Scholarly Writing

1. Don’t write in the second person narrative. The second person voice is typically used in articles like this one, where the writer is intending to inform and instruct. According to WritingCommons.org , “writing from the second person point of view can weaken the effectiveness of the writing in research and argument papers. Using second person can make the work sound as if the writer is giving directions or offering advice to his or her readers, rather than informing [them].”

Here is a comparison of second and third person perspectives from WritingCommons.org:

  • Weak: You should read the statistics about the number of suicides that happen to your average victim of bullying! (2nd person)
  • Stronger: The statistics from a variety of research reports indicate that the suicide rate is high among victims of bullying; they are under so much psychological pressure that they may resort to taking their own lives. (3rd person)

2. Don’t rely on software to correct your writing. Certainly, tools such as spell check, grammar check and grammarly have some benefit, but they cannot replace firsthand knowledge and mastery of proper writing. I recall one particular paper I received several years ago that was, quite literally, gibberish. When I inquired about the content of the student’s paper, she replied, “Well, I used grammar check!”

Don’t hesitate to seek writing coaching if you have questions or concerns about any aspect of good writing. As graduate students in a masters-level communication program, writing excellence should be a top priority.

By taking an informed and proactive approach to your writing, you will strengthen your academic performance, hone your professional and communication skills and enhance your career.

Dr. Debra Davenport is an online faculty member for Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

Find out more about what you can do with a MS in Communication from Purdue University. Call us today at 877-497-5851 to speak to an admissions advisor, or request more information .

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.

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15 Tips for Improving Your Writing in Graduate School

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A few weeks ago I submitted an application for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award , commonly known as the ‘F31.’ While the experience is fresh in my mind, I figured I’d share reflections and resources for writing in graduate school. Since I’m certainly not an expert at this yet, I also reached out to friends at my own institution and around the country to see what peers I respect have to say on the subject. While this list leans heavily towards advice specific to grant writing, many of the lessons can be applied broadly to academically writing such as the qualifying exam, the thesis, or publications. Please comment or tweet at us with suggestions of your own!

Getting Started

  • You can’t start too early. I struggle with allotting enough time for big projects like writing and presentation preparations. I make any excuse I can, and sometimes end up cleaning my entire apartment (which I’ve dubbed “procrasti-cleaning”) before sitting down to write. But the reality is that academic writing requires time and revision. And lengthy grant applications often have multiple sections—you don’t want to be one day from submission and discover there is a section you hadn’t noticed before. You’ll also likely find that as you do the background reading that you’ve been meaning to do forever in order to write your introduction, that you might come up with new ideas for experiments. You’ll need time for major edits like this. I suggest setting internal deadlines for yourself, for example, pick a date for sending a draft to friends and actually hold yourself accountable to sticking to it. This will cut down on stress in a big way.
  • Make a timeline & tack on extra days for the non-science sections. My graduate school has grant writing workshops which force you into a timeline of working on specific sections of the application at specific times. I think this was a great idea, although I suggest giving yourself extra time for any non-science sections. Grant applications can have multiple sections other than the actual research proposal. For example, the F31 requires a ‘Facilities and Resources’ document and an ‘Equipment’ document. It may seem like the research proposal is the only part of the application that should really matter, but all the other sections are still part of your evaluation. Whatever time you think it will take to write these sections, add a few extra days—you may be surprised how long it takes you to complete these documents.
  • Motivate yourself with scheduling tricks. Of course, setting internal deadlines is a great goal, but you may still find it hard to get started. Fellow PLOS ECR editor Mary Gearing suggests scheduling specific time for uninterrupted writing. No running a gel or incubating samples at the same time—just writing. She also sent along this link about the “Pebble Rock Boulder” method of timing yourself in increasingly long increments to help you get started and stay on task. For something a bit more whimsical, I suggest you add cats .
  • Take breaks and try new writing locations. This hearkens back to my point about starting early. It’s important to be able to take a break from writing so that you can return to it with fresh eyes and a rested mind. It’s also not a bad idea to try out different locations for your writing. Think about what matters to you in a work spot (outlets, snacks, and a nearby bathroom are the trifecta for me) and then try out places until you see where you work best.

The Actual Writing

  • Read good writing! The more you read the more you will gain a knack for writing like a scientist, and you’ll be able to pick up on things you like and don’t like. My friend Vidur Garg, a fellow PhD candidate at Weill Cornell Medical College, suggests that to get a better insight into the style of science writing for your field, read reviews and previews in the journals your field respects most. These are generally put together by experts in the field, and as Vidur said via email, “They put the scope and results in a simpler format and are also more informal in style with the goal of communicating to a broader audience.” You can set email alerts for these summaries and briefings for pretty much any journal, and if you discover authors whose writing you really respect, you can set a PubMed alert so you don’t miss anything they publish.
  • Know your terminology. Vidur also pointed out that making sense of scientific terminology can be a major challenge for new writers. Word choice and usage can lead to confusion at best and fierce debates at worst. Read as much as you can to get a sense of what terms currently mean in your field (definitions change as new discoveries are made), and if you aren’t sure about something speak up and ask your mentors.
  • Be aware of how different writing training experiences compare and contrast . While working on my grant application, I found that I was treating it like a qualifying exam—discussing the potential pitfalls in great detail to demonstrate I could think critically about the project. This is great for a qualifying exam, but labmates pointed out to me that when you are trying to get funding, you need to focus more on the reasons why your project will work than why it might not work. You still need to discuss pitfalls of course, but be careful to drive home why you have confidence in your plan.
  • Talk to students who have applied successfully . I was fortunate to have this built into my graduate school’s grant writing workshop, as they had surveyed past grant awardees to get their advice for us. Your graduate school likely has kept track of who has won in previous years and can connect you if you ask.
  • The more eyes the better. Asking a friend to proofread a draft is always a good idea, since they introduce a level of objectivity that cannot be achieved by self-editing. They are familiar with science, and maybe even your field, but they don’t know the minute details of your project until they read your proposal. I find it most valuable to ask labmates who are older (and wiser) than I am for advice, and then someone in a different lab or program to diversify my proofreader portfolio. I have found discussing my work with my grad school friends has led to some of my favorite moments of my PhD thus far. Of course, if your work contains proprietary information of some kind, getting proofreaders may be more difficult. And for a qualifying exam, there may be restrictions on who can read your work. Before getting proofreaders, always be sure of any rules in the grant or exam and discuss with your PI who is authorized to read the work.
  • Keep your sources organized.  I remember in undergrad, before I learned to use a citation manager, I tried to keep track of all my sources myself and typed out each citation. Do not do this!! You’re making unnecessary work for yourself and are likely to forget a citation or make other mistakes. I love Mendeley for keeping track of citations, and it’s free too. There’s also a number of programs like Endnote where you can keep track of your citations; some of these programs do cost money, but some university libraries can offer discounts. Try a few until you find one that works for you. I’ve been using Mendeley long enough now that I have a nice record of all the publications I’ve ever used in my writing. This was helpful for my NIH Biosketch, where I had to document previous contributions to science. I was able to easily go back and refresh my memory by skimming through the papers I read for my undergrad thesis.  

Where to Turn for Help  

  • Draw on the resources your graduate school offers. My graduate school offers many programs throughout the year to improve writing, which allow for discussion with peers and provide useful handouts and online resources. Keep your eyes peeled for emails from your institution about workshops or classes, and then actually go. You may feel like you had enough experience writing in undergrad and don’t need further instruction, but these programs can offer great value. My school’s F31 workshop brought in previous awardees from our school to discuss how to apply, and brought in professors who had served on study sections to share advice. If your institution doesn’t have something like this, try petitioning to get one started. It’s in the best interest of the institution to have graduate students winning grants, both from a reputation and a financial standpoint, so there’s no harm in going for it.
  • Look for workshops in your community. If your aren’t finding adequate resources through your graduate school, check for events at other local universities and institutions. For example, the New York Academy of Sciences is having a grant writing event later this fall open to members and non-members alike (for a fee). Agencies such as NYAS and even journals may have webcast events like this as well, so you can tune in from around the globe. Alternatively, you can find online workshops too.
  • Read old applications if you can. You’ll be able to get a feel for good formatting, language, and logical flow. I find this is a good way to get started, since reading the work of others who’ve been there can help you get your head in the game and get inspired. Of course, this should go without saying, but when reading old applications never, ever plagiarize and make sure the format of the grant/exam hasn’t changed since their submission .
  • Carefully read the instructions for the grant. Following from my last point, read the instructions well and be wary of modeling your work off of a friend’s old submission rather than the actual instructions. The NIH and other granting agencies can change the required forms or instructions from year to year. The ‘Funding Opportunity Announcement’ or FOA is dense and confusing to read, but you must slog through it carefully. The NIH also has ‘Grant Writing Tips Sheets’ which can help you prepare.
  • Ten Simple Rules for Getting Grants by Philip Bourne and Leo Chalupa, published February 24, 2006.
  • Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review by Marco Pautasso, published July 18, 2013.
  • Ten Simple Rules for Writing Research Papers by Weixiong Zhang, published January 30, 2014.
  • Ten Simple (Empirical) Rules for Writing Science by Cody Weinberger, James Evans, and Stafano Allesina, published April 30, 2015. Note that this is not an opinion piece, but a survey of literature to see if common advice for writing actually led to more citations.
  • Submit even if you don’t think you’ll win. As Wayne Gretzky (and then Michael Scott) once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Grant writing is not just about winning the funding and the ensuing resume glory. It’s a way to force yourself to sit down and think hard about your project on a grander scale than the daily grind of running experiments. You’re likely to get into some great discussions with your sponsor and your proofreaders which may lead to new ideas. Some of the non-science sections require you to discuss your future plans, so you will have an opportunity to reflect on your goals, which may have changed since writing your grad school application essays. Also, failed submissions may come back to you with useful comments to help you improve. They may also come back with some tough love (minus the love), which has its place too. And you might surprise yourself — but you won’t know if you don’t try.

NIH Individual Fellowships https://researchtraining.nih.gov/programs/fellowships/F31 , NIH, 2016.

Writing Rocks http://www.facultydiversity.org/?page=MM_WritingRocks , Kerry Ann Rockquemore, National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, The Monday Motivator.

Written Kitten http://writtenkitten.co/ , Josh Walcher.

How do I set up auto alerts from PubMed/Medline? https://library.uthsc.edu/faqs/current-awareness-services-email/how-do-i-set-up-auto-alerts-from-pubmedmedline/ , The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, January 30, 2012.

Mendeley https://www.mendeley.com/ .

Endnote http://endnote.com/ .

Workbooks http://www.grantcentral.com/workbooks/ , Grant Writers’ Seminars & Workshops LLC, Training in the Art of Grantsmanship, 2016.

Grantsmanship for Students and Postdocs http://www.nyas.org/Events/Detail.aspx?cid=acfa5398-dfd5-4b3a-a5b4-c1cf68d2d7e1 , The New York Academy of Sciences, 2016.

About https://suwtuesdays.wordpress.com/about-2/ , Shut Up & Write Tuesdays, Siobhan O’Dwyer, 2016.

Grant Writing Tips Sheets https://grants.nih.gov/grants/grant_tips.htm , NIH, March 30, 2012.

Bourne PE, Chalupa LM (2006) Ten Simple Rules for Getting Grants. PLoS Comput Biol 2(2): e12. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020012

Pautasso M (2013) Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review. PLoS Comput Biol 9(7): e1003149. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149

Zhang W (2014) Ten Simple Rules for Writing Research Papers. PLoS Comput Biol 10(1): e1003453. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003453

Weinberger CJ, Evans JA, Allesina S (2015) Ten Simple (Empirical) Rules for Writing Science. PLoS Comput Biol 11(4): e1004205. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004205

Featured image: Photo of the author’s workspace during the writing process of her qualifying exam, modified from her Instagram post .

very nice post this blog is realy helful for me and u reach this blog every day when i open my laptop because this is the blog where we find good though. nice work admin..

[…] Source: 15 Tips for Improving Your Writing in Graduate School […]

Meredith, thank you for these insightful tips! It is always smart to have a plan and be stick to your writing schedule.

When there is a way to bring some extra motivation to your writing, you should use this chance in any case.

WrittenKitten is a wonderful tool, it brings cuteness to such serious process as scientific writing! It helps to stay motivated during the all stages in the writing process. You mentioned that you use Mendeley – I think that it is awesome too. Keeping all your citations in a one place is essential, if you want to create a really well-researched article.

Another tool which I find useful for research purposes, because it gives an honest feedback on your writing, is Unplag https://unplag.com . It is an intuitive plagiarism checker, that have some cool features such as detecting citations and references and ability to exclude them from the similarity report.

P.S. Michael Scott has got the point. Beau Taplin once said: “Better an oops than an what if”. Well said, truly.

[…] Formatting a CV for a faculty job application (Link) 15 Tips for Improving Your Writing in Graduate School (Link) […]

Thanks Christine! I’ll have to check out Unplag. Glad you caught the Michael Scott reference 🙂

[…] 15 Tips For Improving Your Writing In Graduate School – Meredith Wright […]

Thank you for the useful tips, Meredith. Motivation and schedule are the hardest thing for me.

very nice post this blog is really helpful for me

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  • Writing Worksheets and Other Writing Resources

Nine Basic Ways to Improve Your Style in Academic Writing

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academic writing tips for graduate students


Don't say:  "The stepmother's house was cleaned by Cinderella."  (Passive.)

Say instead:  "Cinderella cleaned the stepmother's house."  (Active voice.)

Passive voice construction ("was cleaned") is reserved for those occasions where the "do-er" of the action is unknown.

Example:  "Prince Charming saw the glass slipper that was left behind."

2. Mix it up in terms of PUNCTUATION

Here are a few commonly misused punctuation marks that a lot of people aren't sure about:

The  semi-colon (;)  separates two complete sentences that are complementary.

Example:  "She was always covered in cinders from cleaning the fireplace; they called her Cinderella."

The  colon (:)  is used...

a. preceding a list.

Example:  "Before her stepmother awoke, Cinderella had three chores to complete: feeding the chickens, cooking breakfast, and doing the wash." 

b. as a sort of "drum roll," preceding some big revelation.

Example:  "One thing fueled the wicked stepmother's hatred for Cinderella: jealousy."  

The  dash (--)  is made by typing two hyphens (-). No spaces go in between the dash and the text. It is used...

a. to bracket off some explanatory information.

Example:  "Even Cinderella's stepsisters-who were not nearly as lovely or virtuous as Cinderella--were allowed to go to the ball." 

b. in the "drum roll" sense of the colon.

Example:  "Prince Charming would find this mystery lady--even if he had to put the slipper on every other girl in the kingdom."  


Don't say:  "Cinderella saw her fairy godmother appear. She was dressed in blue. She held a wand. The wand had a star on it. She was covered in sparkles. Cinderella was amazed. She asked who the woman was. The woman said, 'I am your fairy godmother.' She said she would get Cinderella a dress and a coach. She said she would help Cinderella go to the ball."

Instead say: (there are multiple correct ways to rewrite this, but here's one)  "Amazed, Cinderella watched as her fairy godmother appeared. The woman dressed in blue was covered in sparkles and carried a star-shaped wand. Cinderella asked the woman who she was, to which the woman replied, 'I am your fairy godmother." The fairy godmother would get Cinderella a dress and a coach; she would help Cinderella get to the ball."

4. Closely related to this, avoid CHOPPINESS

Don't say:  "She scrubbed the floors. They were dirty. She used a mop. She sighed sadly. It was as if she were a servant ."

Instead say : (again, there are multiple ways to do this)  "She scrubbed the dirty floors using a mop, as if she were a servant. She sighed sadly."


Don't say:  "The stepsisters were jealous and envious ."

Instead say :  "The stepsisters were jealous ."  (...or envious. Pick one.)


Don't say:  "The mystery lady was one who every eligible man at the ball admired."

Instead say :  "Every eligible man at the ball admired the mystery lady."

7. Use the VOCABULARY that you know.

Don't always feel you have to use big words. It is always better to be clear and use simple language rather than showing off flashy words you aren't sure about and potentially misusing them. This is not to say, however, that you should settle for very weak vocabulary choices (like "bad" or "big" or "mad").

8. But also work on expanding your VOCABULARY.

When reading, look up words you don't know. See how they're used. Start a list. Incorporate them into your writing as you feel comfortable and as they are appropriate.

9. Keep language FORMAL and avoid language of everyday speech.

Don't say:  "Cinderella was mellow and good. She never let her stepmother get to her ."

Say instead:  "Cinderella was mild-mannered and kind. She never let her stepmother affect her high spirits ."

So, essentially, when it comes to working on style, there are three things to remember:

Empower yourself with knowledge..

Learn to punctuate correctly, enhance your vocabulary, etc. Give yourself all the tools there are so that you are free to...

...Mix it up!

Avoid repetition of words and sentence structure. Variance promotes good "flow" and is more interesting for your reader.

"Write to EXPRESS, not to IMPRESS."

Above all, write actively, clearly, and concisely.

Amber Carini

Student Learning Center, University of California, Berkeley

©2002 UC Regents

  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Graduate Writing Overview

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This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

Here we present four vidcasts that offer a broad introductory overview of graduate writing. In this context, it is helpful to think about writing as a conversation , a process , a social endeavor , and a disciplinary undertaking . Stay tuned as we continue to publish these vidcasts!

Writing at the graduate level is quite different from writing at the undergraduate level. As emerging scholars, graduate writers will need to become well-versed in the scholarly conversations taking place in the journals and at the conferences within their field. Where undergraduate writers may find themselves primarily writing for their professor as audience and to show mastery of subject matter as a purpose, graduate writers’ audience will be their colleagues in the field, and their purpose will be to engage in conversation with and to disseminate new research to those colleagues. A graduate writer’s identity as scholar requires a concurrent identity as writer.

Materials in this section cover a range of topics relevant to graduate-level writing and to the process of becoming a scholarly writer within a particular field. Two sets of vidcasts fall in the category of Intensive Writing Experience (IWE). An IWE is a concentrated program aimed at a particular group of graduate students (e.g., those new to graduate writing or those writing theses and dissertations). These programs ask writers to learn about and engage with information about and strategies to apply to writing that they can then use in their own work. The Introduction to Graduate Writing vidcast series explores how writing is a conversation, a process, a social endeavor, and discipline specific. The IWE for Thesis and Dissertation writers offers material on how to set goals for and remain motivated during a long-term project. It covers topics relevant to drafting and revising documents, such as reverse outlining, sentence concision, and flow in scholarly writing.

In addition to the vidcasts, this section of the OWL houses a number of handouts specific to graduate writing on topics such as style or organization and on genres such as literature reviews and conference proposals. These materials offer explanations and samples of the particular topic or genre being covered in the handout.

Tips for Grads: The right way to write

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

Writing is unavoidable in graduate school (it feels ironic to be conveying this to y’all through writing). Whether it’s a research paper, personal/purpose statement, funding proposal, or even an email, we’re not going to be getting away from it anytime soon! Some of us take to it naturally, some people only feel confident in a certain style of writing, and some people just don’t enjoy it, or can never seem to make themselves sit down and start. Here are some things to keep in mind, whether you love or hate writing:

  • Figure out your ideal conditions. Everyone has their own specific conditions that make writing easier for them, and those conditions don’t necessarily have to mirror studying conditions. For example, I cannot study with any noise around, and yet somehow, I’ve figured out that I write best when surrounded by people. Things like environment, time of day, or the tools you use to write all factor in. I’ve known more than one person who figured out that they write components of research papers best by hand.
  • Leverage the Writing Center. This is what they’re here for! Whether you are looking for just one or two sessions with an instructor , want a continuous relationship with someone who will get to know your writing over time , or want to peruse their online resources yourself, they are an incredible asset. Their workshops are especially great because they range from brushing up on the fundamentals to how to write a cover letter or apply for funding. They also offer opportunities for writing accountability and support .
  • Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes it happen. Sometimes, just learning to sit down and start writing is the hardest part. And trying to force it can feel like a chore if you don’t start small. Integrating writing as a matter of course in my day came, for me, when I learned to separate the action from the content. Basically, I had to learn to stop judging myself based on the quality of what I wrote or what I wrote about and start to acknowledge the victory of writing at all. Some folks really benefit from having “writing time” marked in their schedule. I personally found my stride when I started journaling whenever I had a quiet moment in the day, which snowballed into writing just a sentence or two of a paper, and onward. Consider participating in something like the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity’s 14 Day Writing Challenge to help you get in the habit, or to force yourself to schedule the time to write.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.

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Our favorite writing resources for grad students.

Even those who love writing will be challenged by the demands of producing written work during graduate school. From papers and essays to the major undertaking that is a thesis or dissertation, you’ll be upgrading your writing skills by necessity.

Luckily, there are more writing resources than ever before to support grad students.

We know your tolerance for adding yet another book to your to-do list may be limited. But the motivation, strategies, and time-saving tidbits in our favorite writing books for grad students are well worth your time.

How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia employs practical strategies to help you structure your time effectively and avoid costly pitfalls. For an academic, having it all means writing it all — and Silva’s recognition that you also need to have a life outside of schoolwork is sure to resonant with overloaded grad students.

The Productive Graduate Student Writer by Jan Allen is a veritable A-Z of tips and tricks for getting your writing done and staying motivated. If you’re anxious about writing or struggle with procrastination and perfectionistic tendencies, this book is for you!

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker uses positive reinforcement and field-tested strategies to make the entire thesis-writing project an enjoyable challenge. Completing a dissertation will be hard work no matter what, but Bolker makes the process as painless as possible.

Complete Your Dissertation or Thesis in Two Semesters or Less by Evelyn Hunt Ogden is a practical and to-the-point guide that will help you approach the dissertation or thesis writing process with confidence and a healthy dose of perspective. Learn to tackle the challenge head-on and keep your diploma in sight.

When you’re short on sleep and juggling multiple projects, these grammar tools will keep your work top-tier and coherent.

Grammarly is a free online writing assistant that can be integrated with basically any online platform to help with everything from email composition to thesis writing.

Grammarly’s automated grammar checker and plagiarism detection capabilities will give you peace of mind. Grad school is full of stressors, but the integrity of your writing shouldn’t be one of them!

Sentence Sense is an interactive learning platform that teaches various grammar topics by taking you through practice writing and self-evaluation exercises. Tips for non-native English speakers are also included.

Washington State University professor Paul Brian’s Common Errors in English Usage website is an expansive listing of common word usage errors that native English speakers make. Even fastidious grammarians are likely to learn something new.

A great number of style guides are in use across academic disciplines. Make sure you know where to turn for questions regarding textual arrangement and style—including the presentation of footnotes or endnotes and the manner in which references are cited.

The MLA and APA style guides can be accessed online courtesy of the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) . The Chicago Manual of Style Online and Turabian Style Guide are also just a click away.

You’ll need to choose a citation tool to track PDFs, citations, and bibliographies, but the benefits of each one aren’t always obvious. Dupré Library has created a handy comparison of the popular Zotero , Mendeley , and EndNote Online platforms.

University Support

The University Writing Center offers easily accessible tutoring for graduate students working on theses and dissertations. Assistance is also available for those working on a paper or essay for a course. Learn more about what the Writing Center offers and how to make an appointment.

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What Is Academic Writing? | Dos and Don’ts for Students

Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in universities and scholarly publications. You’ll encounter it in journal articles and books on academic topics, and you’ll be expected to write your essays , research papers , and dissertation in academic style.

Academic writing follows the same writing process as other types of texts, but it has specific conventions in terms of content, structure and style.

Table of contents

Types of academic writing, academic writing is…, academic writing is not…, useful tools for academic writing, academic writing checklist.

Academics mostly write texts intended for publication, such as journal articles, reports, books, and chapters in edited collections. For students, the most common types of academic writing assignments are listed below.

Different fields of study have different priorities in terms of the writing they produce. For example, in scientific writing it’s crucial to clearly and accurately report methods and results; in the humanities, the focus is on constructing convincing arguments through the use of textual evidence. However, most academic writing shares certain key principles intended to help convey information as effectively as possible.

Whether your goal is to pass your degree, apply to graduate school , or build an academic career, effective writing is an essential skill.

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Formal and unbiased

Academic writing aims to convey information in an impartial way. The goal is to base arguments on the evidence under consideration, not the author’s preconceptions. All claims should be supported with relevant evidence, not just asserted.

To avoid bias, it’s important to represent the work of other researchers and the results of your own research fairly and accurately. This means clearly outlining your methodology  and being honest about the limitations of your research.

The formal style used in academic writing ensures that research is presented consistently across different texts, so that studies can be objectively assessed and compared with other research.

Because of this, it’s important to strike the right tone with your language choices. Avoid informal language , including slang, contractions , clichés, and conversational phrases:

  • Also , a lot of the findings are a little unreliable.
  • Moreover , many of the findings are somewhat unreliable.

Clear and precise

It’s important to use clear and precise language to ensure that your reader knows exactly what you mean. This means being as specific as possible and avoiding vague language :

  • People have been interested in this thing for a long time .
  • Researchers have been interested in this phenomenon for at least 10 years .

Avoid hedging your claims with words like “perhaps,” as this can give the impression that you lack confidence in your arguments. Reflect on your word choice to ensure it accurately and directly conveys your meaning:

  • This could perhaps suggest that…
  • This suggests that…

Specialist language or jargon is common and often necessary in academic writing, which generally targets an audience of other academics in related fields.

However, jargon should be used to make your writing more concise and accurate, not to make it more complicated. A specialist term should be used when:

  • It conveys information more precisely than a comparable non-specialist term.
  • Your reader is likely to be familiar with the term.
  • The term is commonly used by other researchers in your field.

The best way to familiarize yourself with the kind of jargon used in your field is to read papers by other researchers and pay attention to their language.

Focused and well structured

An academic text is not just a collection of ideas about a topic—it needs to have a clear purpose. Start with a relevant research question or thesis statement , and use it to develop a focused argument. Only include information that is relevant to your overall purpose.

A coherent structure is crucial to organize your ideas. Pay attention to structure at three levels: the structure of the whole text, paragraph structure, and sentence structure.

Well sourced

Academic writing uses sources to support its claims. Sources are other texts (or media objects like photographs or films) that the author analyzes or uses as evidence. Many of your sources will be written by other academics; academic writing is collaborative and builds on previous research.

It’s important to consider which sources are credible and appropriate to use in academic writing. For example, citing Wikipedia is typically discouraged. Don’t rely on websites for information; instead, use academic databases and your university library to find credible sources.

You must always cite your sources in academic writing. This means acknowledging whenever you quote or paraphrase someone else’s work by including a citation in the text and a reference list at the end.

There are many different citation styles with different rules. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago . Make sure to consistently follow whatever style your institution requires. If you don’t cite correctly, you may get in trouble for plagiarism . A good plagiarism checker can help you catch any issues before it’s too late.

You can easily create accurate citations in APA or MLA style using our Citation Generators.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

Correct and consistent

As well as following the rules of grammar, punctuation, and citation, it’s important to consistently apply stylistic conventions regarding:

  • How to write numbers
  • Introducing abbreviations
  • Using verb tenses in different sections
  • Capitalization of terms and headings
  • Spelling and punctuation differences between UK and US English

In some cases there are several acceptable approaches that you can choose between—the most important thing is to apply the same rules consistently and to carefully proofread your text before you submit. If you don’t feel confident in your own proofreading abilities, you can get help from Scribbr’s professional proofreading services or Grammar Checker .

Academic writing generally tries to avoid being too personal. Information about the author may come in at some points—for example in the acknowledgements or in a personal reflection—but for the most part the text should focus on the research itself.

Always avoid addressing the reader directly with the second-person pronoun “you.” Use the impersonal pronoun “one” or an alternate phrasing instead for generalizations:

  • As a teacher, you must treat your students fairly.
  • As a teacher, one must treat one’s students fairly.
  • Teachers must treat their students fairly.

The use of the first-person pronoun “I” used to be similarly discouraged in academic writing, but it is increasingly accepted in many fields. If you’re unsure whether to use the first person, pay attention to conventions in your field or ask your instructor.

When you refer to yourself, it should be for good reason. You can position yourself and describe what you did during the research, but avoid arbitrarily inserting your personal thoughts and feelings:

  • In my opinion…
  • I think that…
  • I like/dislike…
  • I conducted interviews with…
  • I argue that…
  • I hope to achieve…


Many students think their writing isn’t academic unless it’s over-complicated and long-winded. This isn’t a good approach—instead, aim to be as concise and direct as possible.

If a term can be cut or replaced with a more straightforward one without affecting your meaning, it should be. Avoid redundant phrasings in your text, and try replacing phrasal verbs with their one-word equivalents where possible:

  • Interest in this phenomenon carried on in the year 2018 .
  • Interest in this phenomenon continued in 2018 .

Repetition is a part of academic writing—for example, summarizing earlier information in the conclusion—but it’s important to avoid unnecessary repetition. Make sure that none of your sentences are repeating a point you’ve already made in different words.

Emotive and grandiose

An academic text is not the same thing as a literary, journalistic, or marketing text. Though you’re still trying to be persuasive, a lot of techniques from these styles are not appropriate in an academic context. Specifically, you should avoid appeals to emotion and inflated claims.

Though you may be writing about a topic that’s sensitive or important to you, the point of academic writing is to clearly communicate ideas, information, and arguments, not to inspire an emotional response. Avoid using emotive or subjective language :

  • This horrible tragedy was obviously one of the worst catastrophes in construction history.
  • The injury and mortality rates of this accident were among the highest in construction history.

Students are sometimes tempted to make the case for their topic with exaggerated , unsupported claims and flowery language. Stick to specific, grounded arguments that you can support with evidence, and don’t overstate your point:

  • Charles Dickens is the greatest writer of the Victorian period, and his influence on all subsequent literature is enormous.
  • Charles Dickens is one of the best-known writers of the Victorian period and has had a significant influence on the development of the English novel.

There are a a lot of writing tools that will make your writing process faster and easier. We’ll highlight three of them below.

Paraphrasing tool

AI writing tools like ChatGPT and a paraphrasing tool can help you rewrite text so that your ideas are clearer, you don’t repeat yourself, and your writing has a consistent tone.

They can also help you write more clearly about sources without having to quote them directly. Be warned, though: it’s still crucial to give credit to all sources in the right way to prevent plagiarism .

Grammar checker

Writing tools that scan your text for punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. When it detects a mistake the grammar checke r will give instant feedback and suggest corrections. Helping you write clearly and avoid common mistakes .

You can use a summarizer if you want to condense text into its most important and useful ideas. With a summarizer tool, you can make it easier to understand complicated sources. You can also use the tool to make your research question clearer and summarize your main argument.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Use the checklist below to assess whether you have followed the rules of effective academic writing.

  • Checklist: Academic writing

I avoid informal terms and contractions .

I avoid second-person pronouns (“you”).

I avoid emotive or exaggerated language.

I avoid redundant words and phrases.

I avoid unnecessary jargon and define terms where needed.

I present information as precisely and accurately as possible.

I use appropriate transitions to show the connections between my ideas.

My text is logically organized using paragraphs .

Each paragraph is focused on a single idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .

Every part of the text relates to my central thesis or research question .

I support my claims with evidence.

I use the appropriate verb tenses in each section.

I consistently use either UK or US English .

I format numbers consistently.

I cite my sources using a consistent citation style .

Your text follows the most important rules of academic style. Make sure it's perfect with the help of a Scribbr editor!

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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Graduate Student Resources

The unc writing center provides five major services for graduate students:, we support graduate student writers..

Individual writing coaching. Individual appointments may be available to help with any writing project you’re working on–whether it’s a course or conference paper, a proposal, thesis or dissertation writing, or application materials. See our Appointment FAQs for details.

Dissertation Boot Camp. We also host a week-long intensive writing camp several times a year to help graduate writers make substantial progress on their dissertations and to develop a supportive community of other writers from across the campus.

Accountabilibuddies. We’re happy to promote a student group that meets each weekday from 9 to noon. They welcome all grad writers who would like to have company and accountability for their writing. Register for the link and join as your schedule allows. Contact us with any questions, and we’ll put you in touch.

How I Write and Learn Blog. Our blog offers first-person accounts on a variety of specific topics, including writing, productivity, tools and strategies, and focus .

We provide online resources for you and your students.

We provide online handouts on common graduate writing tasks in the Writing the Paper and the Specific Writing Assignments or Contexts columns of our Tips & Tools page. Graduate-focused handouts include:

  • Academic cover letters
  • ADHD and graduate writing
  • Building your writing community
  • Conference papers
  • Dissertation strategies
  • Diversity statements
  • Finding your field
  • Goal setting for graduate writers
  • Grant proposals
  • Journal article publication letters
  • Responding to student writing
  • Teaching statements
  • Writing groups
  • More to come!

Peruse the full collection of handouts and multimedia writing strategy “demos” for use as teaching tools or as additional resources for your students.

Find more resources and join the online community of UNC graduate writers at The Write Place . Join the Zoom room to write with other grads for motivation and accountability.

We host workshops on graduate writing and teaching with writing.

We offer a series of workshops focused on common graduate-level texts, on productive writing habits, and on strategies for using writing in classes you teach. Grad Student Workshops .

We offer English language support for international graduate students.

We facilitate academic and social communication at the graduate level through free courses, facilitated writing groups, and intercultural speaking group. Learn more on our English Language page .

We offer classroom visits.

We are happy to visit your class to introduce ourselves and our services to your students. If you would like to arrange a visit or tour, please submit a request .

Writing Center

Graduate Student Writing Resources

Writing at the graduate level can involve new challenges. Here are suggestions, exercises, and resources graduate writers have found useful.

Research Writing at the Graduate Level

Resources for graduate student writers, research writing tips for graduate students.

Graduate research writing differs from undergraduate writing in that it requires:

  • an increased depth and breadth of research/evidence;
  • a comprehensive understanding of your subject, its history, and the questions it raises for your field;
  • presentation of your work in a professional, scholarly writing style, using the citation format required for publishing.

In sum, research writing at the graduate level is an apprenticeship for developing and demonstrating expertise, with the aim of furthering the field’s understanding of your subject. Whereas undergraduate papers are often written for specific course requirements, graduate papers can be viewed as your participation in the wider dialog between professional peers about the important questions of your field. 

To engage in this discussion, you’re expected to use research as a tool for analyzing current debates and develop original ideas or conclusions, and then prepare your ideas for publication. It’s therefore crucial to contextualize your work by considering texts by key scholars who have shaped and/or continue to influence the field’s thinking on your specific topic. While research approaches, writing and citation styles differ between academic disciplines, some common expectations are shared by most scholarly fields.

Appropriate Sources for Graduate-Level Research

Research is a crucial tool for developing your claim or conclusion. You are expected to create your own opinions, ideas, and questions about your sources and explain how they lead to or support your claim. The specific research approach(es) you use should be recognized by your field and appropriate to the question you are trying to answer. Research approaches fall into two categories— primary and secondary —with graduate-level writing often requiring the combining of both types.

Primary research is information you gather from original sources. Primary research includes:

  • first-hand observation & investigation, such as field work
  • laboratory experiments
  • study of original historical documents, artwork, literary texts, film

Secondary research is an examination of studies completed by other researchers. Because you already have a basic foundation of field knowledge, your secondary research should begins with more specialized sources than undergraduate research. Some examples of specialized secondary research starting points are:

  • Specialized encyclopedias/dictionaries : e.g. Dictionary of Literary Biography, or Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics .
  • Academic indexes : e.g. the Anthropological Index, Philosophers Index, Modern Language Association (MLA) Index. These indexes are increasingly found as CD or online databases.
  • Bibliographic indexes on a single subject. E.g. the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database is an online bibliographic database, while the Bibliography of Modern Arthuriana (1500-2000) is a hardcopy volume.
  • Specialized scholarly and fact books e.g. Historical Statistics of the United States.
  • Dissertation abstracts : usually located using academic indexes or Dissertations Abstracts International.

Specialized research resources are typically found at university libraries (as opposed to general public libraries). The indexes are often accessed online through a university library’s website.

The Importance of Using Academic Style

As with all kinds of writing—from business to scholarship—the professionalism of a document is important to the acceptance of your research and conclusions. Because research writing at the graduate level is training for publishing in your field, you need to pay attention to issues of academic style, which includes language usage , document format , and attributing (citing) sources .

Language Usage and Document Style

Language usage—from vocabulary to appropriate tone and voice—is often learned informally by reading the publications in key journals or books in your field, or through feedback by your professors.

Explanations for document format, including citing formats, can be found in the standardized style manual used in your field.  You’ll need to determine which style guide is used by your academic discipline.  For example, MLA (Modern Language Association) style is used in English, and sometimes linguistics and history. History usually uses Chicago style or one of its variations, such as Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations. APA (American Psychological Association) style is used by most social sciences and psychology. 

The writing conventions within styles can vary greatly. For example, psychology journals use APA style, which requires a thesis statement, but some fields don’t require a thesis. It’s important to check with your instructors on which style they prefer; when submitting a paper to a journal, ask the publisher to confirm which style they prefer if it’s not clear from reading.

Citation Style

Every quote, paraphrase, and summary of sources informing your writing must be given attribution. You’ll need to refer to the appropriate style manual for your field to know when you must cite sources, how to cite them in your paper (for example, using footnotes or parenthetical format), and how to format your bibliography or works cited page (for example, APA requires a bibliography page, while MLA requires a works cited page). While citing every source can seem like a tedious detail, it’s a crucial part of proving your claim to your peers. Thorough citations establish your credibility by

  • demonstrating your expertise via the breadth and depth of your research,
  • presenting accepted scholarship to support your ideas, and
  • providing the means for others to verify your research.

Also, by including the different voices in your field’s discussion of your subject, your research can help your peers continue to build upon your research and ideas.

Common Myths about Citation

One myth about citing sources is that it’s always best to quote—and the more quotes the better. Because the goal of graduate-level work is to bring your idea(s) to the forefront of your paper—with the research acting to inform and support your ideas—most fields discourage excessive direct source quotations. Most prefer that information be paraphrased (that is, the source material should be restated using your own words). When paraphrasing, aim to represent the basic gist of your sources, using direct quotations briefly and infrequently.

Another common myth is that paraphrasing and summarized materials need not be cited. You must always attribute your source materials, even if it’s not a direct quote, unless the information is considered common knowledge to your field. What constitutes common knowledge varies by field, however, so refer to the appropriate style manual to learn when to cite, as well as how.

Online Writing Guides: General Resources

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has resources specifically targeted for ESL students, including writing guides, vocabulary tools, online dictionaries, and more. http://writingcenter.unc.edu/esl/resources/

Monash University offers a wide range of materials, including a section on literature reviews. Some of it is more general, other parts are subject-specific. https://www.monash.edu/student-academic-success/learnhq/excel-at-writing

Organizing your Social Science Research Paper is a research guide from the University of Southern California: http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide

Online Writing Guides: Scientific Writing

Here is an article on how to write well for the sciences: https://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~swanson/papers/science-of-writing.pdf

From Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, advice in all areas of graduate writing, primarily for Computer Science majors. http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/user/mleone/web/how-to.html

Penn State has a great collection of guidelines for graduate students in Engineering or Sciences when writing or presenting. https://www.craftofscientificwriting.org/

Handbook for writing in Engineering from the University of Toronto http://ecp.engineering.utoronto.ca/online-handbook/

From Virginia Tech, a guide for writing in the medical sciences. https://guides.lib.vt.edu/get_published

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) has online modules for writing for the World Health Organization. http://colelearning.net/who/guide/page1.html

Thesis and Dissertation Resources

Here is a list of sample dissertation proposals from a variety of disciplines: http://www.ut-ie.com/s/sample_diss.html

Books: General Academic Writing

Canseco, G. (2010). Inside Academic Writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. A comprehensive textbook on many aspects of graduate writing. Types of writing include a biographical statement, a research interest essay, a summary, a problem-solution text, a comparative structure paper, and a commentary. http://www.press.umich.edu/323421/inside_academic_writing#sthash.a5kslk5...

Evans, D., Gruba, P., & Zobel, J. (2011). How to write a better thesis. Melbourne Univ. Publishing. A book that gives step-by-step instructions on how to write a thesis or dissertation.

Swales, J. M. (2000). English in today's research world: A writing guide. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. This textbook looks at a wider range of genres, including research publications and practical texts, such as emails to academic colleagues.

Swales, J. M. & Feak, C. B. (2004). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills (Vol. 1). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. This book works on typical functions, such as defining or classifying, and text structures, such as literature reviews, in academic writing. Aimed at second language writers it reviews relevant language structures, but can also be a useful tool for native speakers who would like to understand the genres of academic writing better.

To find specific information on writing in different disciplines, try the “Short Guides to Writing in the Disciplines” books from Oxford University Press. Writing in Engineering Writing in Political Science Writing in Sociology Writing in Biology

Books: Business Writing

Ellet, W. (2007). The Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases. Harvard Business Publishing.

Locker, K. & Kaczmarek, S. (2013). Business communication: Building critical skills (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Sardegna, V. G., & Slutsky, J. (2009). The practiced business writer: An ESL/EFL handbook. Richmond, VA: Briefings Media Group, LLC.

Books: Scientific Writing

Glasman-Deal, H. (2009). Science research writing for non-native speakers of English. World Scientific. A textbook specifically for multilingual writers about how to write up scientific research.

Hofmann, A. H. (2014). Scientific writing and communication: papers, proposals, and presentations. Oxford Univ. Press. A popular reference guide to scientific writing and oral communication.

Schimel, J. (2012). Writing science: how to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded. OUP USA. A book focusing on writing up research that has many good suggestions for writing, in general.

Weissberg, R., & Buker, S. (1990). Writing up research. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. An excerpt can found here: http://www.uefap.com/materials/history/wur.pdf

Resources On Language:

MICUSP (Michigan Corpus of Upper-level Student Papers) has a database full of example upper-level papers from different disciplines. http://micusp.elicorpora.info/

The “Academic Phrasebank” from the University of Manchester has a large collection of phrases that can be used in a variety of academic contexts. http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk

"Word and Phrase .Info" from the American Corpus at BYU is a great way to search for chunks of academic language and learn vocabulary in context. https://www.english-corpora.org/coca/

The collocation dictionary at ozdic.com not only teaches you the definition of a word, but also how to use it. http://www.ozdic.com/

Just the Word is a website where you can see the frequency and common collocations of a number of words. http://www.just-the-word.com/

Phraseum is a database of searchable phrases, categorized according to use. There are some that can be used for writing emails, but these are mostly for spoken English. https://www.phraseum.com/

The OWL at Purdue website has a wealth of resources about APA, MLA, and Chicago styles of citation, as well as other information about assignment types and writing strategies. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/2/

Leeds University Library provides an exhaustive list of sample bibliography entries for different citation systems, including Harvard, APA and numeric. http://library.leeds.ac.uk/skills-referencing

Citethisforme.com is a free online citation tool and bibliography builder that works with Harvard, APA, and MLA. https://www.citethisforme.com/

Bibme.org is a free online citation tool and bibliography builder that works with APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian. Sign-in required. http://www.bibme.org/

Zotero is a research tool that allows you to add sources by clicking on them. Downloadable desktop and online tool. https://www.zotero.org

/images/cornell/logo35pt_cornell_white.svg" alt="academic writing tips for graduate students"> Cornell University --> Graduate School

Research and writing tips, an introduction to tech transfer at cornell: what you as a grad student should know.

Over lunch on April 25, 2017, graduate students met with Cornell Technology Licensing (CTL) directors to discuss commercializing their research. 

Did you know that a good first step is to contact CTL before you present your research at a conference? (It impacts your ability to patent or license internationally…but not in the U.S.)

The CTL directors discussed the resources available to Cornell faculty and graduate students in the licensing and patent process. (You don’t have to go it alone!)

Students were particularly interested in jobs with a university licensing office. (No J.D. or Ph.D. required!) The directors described their paths from graduate students to working for Cornell as licensing specialists. An essential first step is to consider an internship at a university licensing office, including Cornell’s CTL. 

Need information about CTL’s internship program? Visit the  CTL website .

Writing a Teaching Statement, from the Academic Job Search Series

On July 12, 2017, Colleen McLinn, director of CIRTL at Cornell , presented on how to approach writing a successful teaching statement for the academic job market. Here are some tips on what to include—and what not to include—in your teaching statement:

  • Include details about  what  courses you have taught or TA’d that are relevant to the position you are applying for
  • Show  how  you propose to structure the courses they expect applicants to teach, with examples on what you might do
  • Mention your major objectives for different types of student audiences and ways you assess if students develop those skills or that knowledge
  • Mention your lack of teaching experience or gaps in your skillset
  • Make unsubstantiated claims (don’t just  tell  them you are innovative,  show  them)
  • Use unfamiliar jargon about teaching approaches
  • Get too philosophical about teaching – keep it tied to helping students learn in your discipline

For more tips and takeaways from this event, see postdoc Giovanni Sogari’s blog post , and please email [email protected] for slides or a recorded presentation. You may also wish to download the Chronicle of Higher Education  Vitae resource,  How to Write a Teaching Statement that Sings .

From the Graduate School's Fellowship Application Writing Workshops

  • Many fellowship competitions list either faculty, reviewers from previous years’ competitions, or current fellowship recipients who may be contacted to answer your questions. 
  • Seek out advanced graduate students in your field (or a related field) who have applied for the same fellowship competition. 
  • Ask peers and friends for feedback on your essay drafts. 
  • Use Cornell’s  Graduate Writing Service  for additional help. 
  • If you would find it useful, you can review sample fellowship applications, submitted by Cornell graduate fellowship recipients, in 350 Caldwell Hall. 

See more fellowship writing tips

What Academic and Other Writers Need to Know About Writing, Publishing, and Working with Editors (and Agents)

Betsy Lerner, New York City-based author, agent, and former editor at Doubleday, recently spoke at a workshop for graduate and professional students to discuss writing and publishing for non-academic audiences.

She offered advice (and encouraging stories) for writing, publishing, and securing and working with agents and editors. The Graduate School provided copies of her book,  The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers , which offers practical advice, insider observations, and trade secrets about writing and publishing.

At the workshop, Lerner encouraged students to “Find your voice and tell your story…including the story revealed by your research.” She told them she would love to read a book about research: “I’m a deeply curious person, but you’ll have to write in such a compelling way that you help me understand it.”

View Betsy Lerner’s blog and website

Overcoming Your Writing Challenges

At the Pathways to Success Symposium on January 23, 2018, Michelle Cox, director of the  English Language Support Office , discussed common writing obstacles and strategies to overcome them.

Strategies for tackling each stage of the writing process: 

1.  The  invention , or generating, phase

  • Write even when you’re not inspired 
  • Push forward with the first draft—it doesn’t need to be perfect 
  • Create a writing environment that will help you succeed 
  • At the end of your writing time, leave yourself notes for next steps when you return 
  • Take a short break to let your mind percolate 
  • Free-write to work out whatever it is you’re stuck on 
  • Talk to someone about what you’re working on 
  • Read a mentor text about a similar topic 

2.  The  revision , or re-seeing, phase

  • Share your draft with someone in your field for questions and comments on the general content and direction of the paper 
  • Share your draft with someone outside your field who can ask you questions about the content and point out areas that need clarification 
  • Take some time away from the draft before you dive back in 
  • Focus on organization, noting what each paragraph is about and how each paragraph functions in the paper as a whole 

3.  The  editing , or fine-tuning, phase

  • Share your draft with someone in your field again, with specific questions or concerns for them to keep in mind 
  • Share your draft with someone outside your field again, asking them to pay close attention to sentence structure, wording, grammar 
  • Locate places in your draft where you are unsure of the wording and use mentor/outside text examples for guidance 
  • Check to make sure you vary your writing style throughout, e.g. that you don’t start each paragraph with the same words or phrase

Further, Cox emphasized the importance of keeping these three activities (inventing, revising, and editing) separate rather than attempting to do all three at once. The most painful and slow writing process is when the writer tries to come up with the idea while putting it into prose and perfecting the word choice and sentence structure. She also talked about writers who are using English as an additional language may use additional strategies during the writing process, particularly analyzing sample texts to see how the writer made decisions related to language, organization, and structure.

Learn more about the  writing support programs  offered by the Graduate School.

From the 3MT Presentations

Finalists of the 2018  Three Minute Thesis  received this information before the big event. Will it help you with your job talk?

  • Think about your audience. By the time you are on the job market, you need at least three versions of your research talk. One presentation is for your audience of experts, such as your audience at a conference or job interview. A second is for an “elevator speech,” a brief description of your research for a non-specialist audience, the one you would give if you found yourself in an elevator with the university president, provost, Meryl Streep, or anyone else you want to impress. The third version is a talk for a “skeptical audience” – someone doubtful whether your project has relevance to solving a problem or promoting important knowledge. They would say, “Convince me of its value!”  
  • Your 3MT presentation should be a hybrid of the second and third versions, a talk to a bright but non-specialist audience, who might need some convincing. Especially in this case when, at the end of the 3MT event, you could be awarded $500, $1,000, or $1,500!
  • Consider your presentation title. Is it descriptive, understandable, AND intriguing (attention-getting)? (At the regional competition in April we are going to place adjacent on the program Cornell’s 2018 winner, My “Theces” about Feces with Concordia University’s 2018 winner, Why We Drink. Did I just get your attention?)
  • For the 3MT competition, you can’t use notes. It’s like a Ted Talk; no notes and engage with the audience. For a job talk where you might be using notes, be familiar enough with your presentation that you regularly look up while continuing to speak. You do that to emphasize a point, to engage the audience by asking a question, or to check that they are awake or still in the room.
  • Try not to be nervous! Consider the message your demeanor and body language sends, and identify some strategies to help you overcome your nerves. Breathe deeply. Relax your muscles. Practice, practice, practice so you have the confidence that you know the material. One of the things that works for me is to smile in the minutes before I start. Then smile at the audience before you start speaking (if you feel natural and comfortable doing this). A smile to the audience signals that “I’ve got this,” that you are confident…even if you are not!

From Proposal, Thesis, and Dissertation Writing Boot Camp

From the January 2019 session with Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Jan Allen.

  • Just write. It is easy to postpone writing to read more, conduct more research, analyze more data, etc., and to tell yourself that there is not enough information collected to write, but the best way to know what you do not know is to begin writing.
  • Find a way to hold yourself accountable. Whether it is by writing in the company of a friend or group of peers or sending a nightly email to someone of the next day’s writing plans, finding a method of accountability makes it more likely that you meet your goals.
  • Realize you do not have to write your entire thesis or dissertation at once. Start small with an outline, then gradually add more information until you are ready to write. Once you begin writing, set smaller goals, such as a paragraph or chapter. Each smaller step will come together to form a full draft.
  • Write daily. Even if for only 15 minutes, be sure to write every day. Block out an amount of time on your schedule to hold you accountable. Fifteen minutes alone might seem short, but over time it will add up.
  • Reflect on your writing process. Figure out what does and does not work for you, whether it involves motivational sticky notes, finding a new writing environment, or restricting internet access during designated writing time. If one method is not successful, take note of it, and find something that works best for you.

Why You Should be Communicating Your Research with All Audiences

The ability to communicate your research with all audiences is integral, said Professor Bruce Lewenstein during the June Pathways to Success Symposium.

Through anecdotes and examples, Lewenstein’s presentation, “Why You Should be Communicating Your Research with All Audiences,” offered attendees tips for better communication.

  • When communicating your research,  focus on the process, not the findings .
  • Don’t shy away from telling the audience why your work is cool , what inspired you to learn more about the field, or how you got hooked.
  • Share the human side of your work ; we are all hardwired for logic as well as emotion, so be sure not to ignore the latter.
  • Scholarly communication encompasses much more than publishing . Different audiences will read and experience your work differently. All people need practical, civic, and cultural knowledge.
  • There are personal, institutional, and societal benefits –and risks–to communicating your research.

Five Tips for Effective Revision

From Rachael Cayley’s June 2019 Pathways to Success talk, “The Craft of Revision”:

Everyone experiences obstacles to persistent and productive writing. However, learning to write and revise is as important a skill to develop as skills required for research or critical thinking. When sitting down to write, commit yourself to extensive revisions.

When writing, keep in mind that your final product should be reader- and audience-driven. As stated by Joseph M. Williams, “We write the first draft for ourselves; the drafts thereafter increasingly for the reader.”

Here are five ways to make your drafts more coherent, concise, correct, and cohesive:

  • Develop a reverse outline.
  • Use strong verbs.
  • Replace vague references.
  • Use parallelism.
  • Use correct punctuation for clarity.

'Speak and Be Heard': Communication Tips from Eliza VanCort

In less than one hundredth of a millisecond, people make a decision about you based on the way you communicate. Your communication skills can define you beyond your expertise; help you to be well-known, liked, and successful; and can extend your reputation beyond what you know and can do. It’s as much about the way you deliver your content as it is your actual content.

During Eliza VanCort’s presentation at the Winter 2019 Pathways to Success Symposium, she offered graduate students and postdocs the following tips on lifting ideas to become better communicators:

  • High status behavior uses open and expansive body language to command attention. Not moving your head, speaking in complete sentences, holding eye contact longer than normal, and strategically interrupting people are high status moves that, when used appropriately, can help you gain the upper hand.
  • Low status behavior involves using variable hand movements especially when your hands are near your face, looking away, and speaking in incomplete sentences. It also involves making your body as small as possible. Using low status behaviors can prevent you from taking charge of certain situations. However, low status behaviors such as smiling, which demonstrates appeasement, can be used strategically when trying to level out power dynamics or to make someone feel more comfortable.
  • Use silence and own it. Silence is an effective tool that can be both offensive and defensive. Use silence when you are stuck or need to gather your thoughts to appear contemplative. When using silence as a tool, be aware that when speakers adjust their body, people look away and may lose focus. Therefore, try to minimize body movements when using silence.
  • Adjust your cadence. For quick speakers, break your message into fragments and slow down to gain more authority. Speaking at a slower pace can be more effective.
  • Adjust your pitch, lower or higher, to highlight certain information and gain interest. Use caution though, because using a high pitch too frequently can signal insincerity.
  • Your pitch can make you sound confident or nervous. Therefore, be mindful of the pitch you are using, and when and where you are using it since your pitch is always telling a story.

Read more about VanCort’s presentation or watch her TEDx talk .

Four Tips from Fall 2020 Fellowship Workshops

Jan Allen, associate dean for academic and student affairs, compiled the following tips from her Fall 2020 fellowship application writing workshops:

  • Start early. It’s worth repeating: Start early! A National Science Foundation (NSF) program director shared that the biggest problem with applications to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is that students don’t start early enough. How did she know? The reviewers often made statements such as: I wanted to fund this one, but…it needed just a little more elaboration, a little more editing, a little more development of the methodology, a little more of something that could have been accomplished with just a little more time.  
  • Find the right fellowship.  Find fellowship opportunities that align with your own research. One of the best searchable fellowship databases is UCLA’s  GRAPES .  
  • Be competitive.  Make sure you will be competitive. How? Are your faculty advisors able to write very strong support letters? (Don’t ask for a letter. Ask for a very strong letter.) And are you applying for a fellowship that matches your progression through your doctoral program: early stage, research stage, dissertation writing and completion stage fellowships?  
  • Consider broader impacts.  Many fellowship competitions require applicants to write about broader impacts. How do you connect and communicate your science and scholarship to the larger community? Mentoring or tutoring in after-school programs? Advocacy and public outreach? Contacting legislators and other policymakers?

Takeaways from 2021 All-Virtual Writing Boot Camp

Earlier this year, the Graduate School hosted the second all-virtual Writing Boot Camp, open to any writer working on a manuscript, proposal, thesis, dissertation, or other writing project.

Participants discussed obstacles or challenges that slow or stop writing progress: self-sabotage, unproductive habits, binge writing, and ignoring the  three Ss  —  structure, schedule, strategies  —  tailored to individual writing style and needs. During one of these discussions, Dr. Wai-Kwong Wong of Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services changed our writing lives with a revelation about procrastination tendencies.

Procrastination leads us to miss deadlines, write furiously at the last minute under pressure and stress, and produce a manuscript that might not be our best effort. But procrastination can be even worse for our psychological and physical well-being.

Procrastinating makes us feel guilty, ashamed, and even defective. Procrastination is feeling like you are ruining your life for no apparent reason. Piers Steel described procrastinating this way: “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay” (Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination .  Psychological Bulletin, 133 (1), 65-94).

When we write we see the words, pages, and chapters as proof of our productivity, intellect, and persistence. When we don’t write due to procrastination (or perfectionistic tendencies, anxiety, lack of clear expectations, fear of what our advisor or the critical, judgmental voice inside our head will say), the short-term relief from the stress of writing is greatly outweighed by feelings of guilt and inadequacy. 

Can you stop procrastinating? Are there strategies that work for you? If you want more writing tips and strategies delivered by email every other week, sign up for the  Productive Writer  mailing list.

Read more Tips and Takeaways : career tips , entrepreneurship tips , finance tips , tips from the GPWomeN-PCCW speaker series , health and wellness tips , job search tips , mentoring and leadership tips

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Building Graduate-Level Writing Skills

Students enter graduate school with a range of different experiences and skills as writers. It’s normal to encounter assignments that are new to you, and you’re not alone—even if it seems like everyone knows what they’re doing, your peers are also figuring out how graduate-level writing works! This guide summarizes how graduate-level writing builds on the writing you may have done as an undergraduate, reviews strategies you can use in your writing, and provides a glossary of frequently used terms.  

This guide offers general strategies, but part of being a graduate student also includes building discipline-specific expertise. You can build from the information found in this guide by talking to peers and advisors in your specific discipline and by reading scholarship on topics in your discipline that interest you.  

What Makes Graduate-Level Writing Unique? 

As an undergraduate, you may have practiced creating your own arguments (for instance, perhaps you developed an interpretation of a literary work) or conducting research. You may have applied your research (or outside sources provided by your instructor) to another text, study, or event you were analyzing. Graduate-level writing is an opportunity for students to synthesize these skills by joining scholarly conversations.  

In this case, a conversation isn’t a verbal discussion (though scholars in your field certainly talk about their research and ideas in presentations, panels, and more). Rather, this kind of conversation refers to a body of writing on a particular topic or question. Scholars don’t work in isolation: their ideas are informed by and build on previous research. In a face-to-face conversation with a friend, you wouldn’t simply repeat what they said. In addition, you’d likely reference past conversations and shared experiences. Scholarly conversations work in the same way. If you’re a sociologist interested in studying how social media use influences teenagers’ friendship dynamics, for instance, you need to become an expert on what others have learned about this topic before contributing your own ideas. In other words, you’re putting your work in conversation with others’ work by responding to what they’ve already found, and often by expanding, complicating, or providing new ways of engaging with previous work/scholarship.  

In this page you will find the following topics: 

Joining a Scholarly Conversation

Keeping the conversation going, glossary of common terms for graduate writers.

The idea of contributing to a scholarly conversation can feel overwhelming at first. You may wonder, “How can I possibly come up with something new that hasn’t been said before?” A helpful strategy is the CaRS Model developed by scholar John Swales, which many scholars use when crafting introductions to their work (but you can also use it as a thought exercise when seeking a direction for your own projects). CaRS, which stands for “Create a Research Space,” has three “moves” (or steps): 

Move 1 – Establish a Research Territory : Your research territory is the topic you will investigate. Although the word “topic” sounds quite general, be specific when defining your area of focus. For instance, a topic like “Spanish film over the last 50 years” is too wide; you might narrow down that topic to “Pedro Almodóvar’s films with female protagonists.” Establishing your research territory in writing means providing an overview of what’s already known about your topic (in other words, summarizing accepted facts and relevant/recent research). Describing what has already been proven or discussed by other scholars indicates why your topic matters and is worth exploring.  

Move 2 – Establish a Niche : What makes your research different from what others have studied before? Establishing a niche means identifying a “gap” in what’s known or understood about your topic that you will address. You can think about a “gap” in several different ways: 

The gap you identify could be an aspect of your topic that scholars haven’t investigated before (“While previous studies have explored X, little is known about Y”).  

Another kind of gap could be a counterargument (“Although previous studies have found X, that perspective is limited because Y”). Identifying why gaps exist can also be an interesting way of finding a niche.  

Yet another kind of gap could be an area in someone else’s work that you plan to clarify or build on (“Smith’s exploration of X established Y, but further research is necessary in order to fully understand Z,” “Smith’s theory regarding X can be applied to Y in order to Z”). 

Move 3 – Occupy the Niche : Once you’ve defined the gap that your work will fill, you need to explain how you will fill it. Occupying your niche means describing your particular project and approach. What is your research question/goal? How will you address it? Will your work result in a new theory or methodology, or perhaps a solution to a troubling issue or debate? In STEM fields, occupying your niche may also necessitate describing your methods, timeline, and hypothesis. In Humanities fields, part of occupying your niche is stating your thesis.  

To learn more,   check out this resource about the CaRS Model   (which includes a sample introduction using all three moves).  

One final note: The University of Vermont’s Graduate Writing Center provides this important reminder: “In occupying a gap, avoid wherever possible words like ‘neglected,’ ‘failed,’ or ‘ignored’ to critique other researchers in your field. (Those researchers may well be among your readers and, in the case of proposals, your referees!) Try framing your contribution in positive terms: ‘While X pioneered research in..., my work contributes to/supplements/responds/resolves...’” This framing can help you build on previous conversations and can be an additional way to show your familiarity with prior work. 

Following the three moves of the CaRS Model will allow you to position your work in relationship to previous scholarship—but the conversation doesn’t end there. Think of your writing as an ongoing conversation about your topic, and actively participate in that conversation by responding to others’ work/research throughout the body of your text, not just in the introduction. Here are “moves” you can use in your writing to keep the conversation going: 

Identify where you’re coming from : The projects graduate students undertake are often rooted in their personal identities, stemming from a core experience, belief, or goal. If you think your background may influence the perspective you bring to your work, say so! The University of Vermont’s Graduate Writing Center encourages students to “Reflect on your method, on your socio-cultural standpoint, on the values/assumptions you might be bringing to the table, and on your language choices.” Explaining the specific choices you make (e.g., using one term instead of another), acknowledging the unconscious biases that may impact your thinking, and describing how the work of key sources may have influenced your approach helps your readers trust and contextualize your point of view. These kinds of moves are more accepted in some disciplines than others, so if you’re unsure, check with a trusted mentor. 

Forward : Forwarding the work of others means agreeing with them as a way of connecting to or emphasizing your own idea(s). For instance, you might describe a key principle from another scholar’s research that underlies your work as a way of establishing the basis for your argument. Using their research as a starting point, you can show how your findings rely on previously established facts. According to the University of Vermont’s Graduate Writing Center, this move is effective because “you are pulling your audience along with you towards your idea because you’re all on the same side: ‘Yes, X, ... and XY too!’” 

Borrow : One way of forwarding another scholar’s work is to borrow a specific term or theoretical framework that you can apply to your work (presumably a context to which the term or framework hasn’t previously been applied). After reviewing that scholar’s definition, you can explain how their ideas correspond to your particular area of focus (e.g., “Smith coined the term X to mean...In this study, we apply X to Y in order to...”)

Extend : Extending takes borrowing one step further: rather than applying another scholar’s term or theoretical framework as they defined it, redefine it and apply your version. In other words, you might develop, build on, or add to the term or framework; update it to be more current; change, adjust, or cut parts of it; etc. (e.g., “While Smith coined the term X to mean...I propose amending X to Y in this particular context because...”). 

Illustrate : As an undergraduate writer, you likely had lots of practice using evidence to support your claims. “Illustrating” is another way of saying “give examples!” More specifically, you might illustrate ideas that are foundational to your work by tracing trends. If you notice that several scholars make the same point or have proven the same idea, you can provide multiple examples from different scholars’ work to illustrate that experts in your field agree on those issues. You might also include evidence from your own research to show how your work aligns with a particular trend or finding.  

  • Counter : Countering another scholar’s work means politely disagreeing. You might disagree with someone’s entire argument, part(s) of their argument, or the ideas underlying their argument. Likewise, you might believe that their work is incomplete or only applies to certain situations or contexts. You might even agree with their overall conclusions but have an alternative (better) way of arriving at the same idea. As when identifying gaps in someone else’s research, it’s important to counter kindly—disagree, but don’t disregard! If you harshly reject another scholar’s work, you risk seeming less thoughtful (and credible).  

This glossary provides brief descriptions of concepts, opportunities, and different types of writing you may encounter during your graduate study. If you’re having difficulty figuring out what an assignment is asking, you can consult our guide to   Understanding an Assignment . Additionally, remember that you can bring writing related to any of the following terms (at any stage of the writing process) to the Writing Center to get feedback from a consultant.  

Abstract : An abstract is a brief summary of a longer piece of writing (such as a research paper, article, thesis, or dissertation). The purpose of an abstract is to give potential readers a clear overview of what the piece of writing is about so they can determine whether it’s relevant to their needs. As a result, it’s essential that abstracts contain key terms that will allow readers to understand the scope of the writing and locate the writing using search engines (which use those key terms to sort results). Abstracts should state the author’s main argument or objective, as well as make clear why the work being described is important. Abstracts often include details about research methods and the author’s conclusions/findings as well.  

Check out this   resource for more information about writing abstracts   (you’ll find an overview of different types of abstracts, tips about how to write abstracts in different disciplines, and models of well-written abstracts).   

Dissertation vs. Thesis : You may hear the terms “dissertation” and “thesis” used in similar ways, as both refer to substantial pieces of writing completed over a sustained period that typically mark the culmination of one’s graduate study. However, there are also key differences. (Keep in mind that “dissertation” and “thesis” can also have different meanings in different countries; the information below focuses on the definitions used in the United States. Different disciplines may also understand these genres differently, so remember to be in conversation with trusted mentors or peers in your field.)

A dissertation grows out of original research conducted by a graduate student (typically a doctoral candidate) intended to fill a gap in their field or build on prior research in a way that hasn’t been done before.  

A thesis (typically the capstone project within a master’s degree program) develops an argument based on previous research conducted by other scholars rather than contributing new research, though this can vary depending on the discipline and specific program requirements. 

Whereas dissertation writers typically defend their research methodology and findings before a committee of evaluators (meaning they give an extensive presentation/discussion), a defense is less common for theses.  

Fellowship : Fellowships are financial awards that help students cover the cost of travel and/or living expenses while completing research, teaching, or other service. Fellowships are typically awarded based on academic promise to support students in meeting their goals and making contributions to their fields. There are a wide variety of fellowships available; some are discipline-specific, while others are open to students working in any discipline. Additionally, some fellowships are based on identity markers (for instance,   Episcopal Church Foundation fellowships   or the   Flagship Scholarship for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students ). Since fellowship applications typically require letters of recommendation, personal statements, and transcripts, it’s helpful to begin the application process several months in advance of the deadline.  

Check out   UMB’s Fellowships page   to learn more about the types of fellowships available and the services UMB provides to applicants (which include helping compile your application, facilitating practice interviews, and more).  

Grant : A grant is funding based on demonstrated financial need (this is a key difference between grants and scholarships, which are usually based on a student’s past academic record or other accomplishments). There are state and federal grants, and some nonprofit organizations also offer them. If you’re applying for grants, you should fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), as organizations that award grants use it to identify your financial need. Additionally, because you can receive multiple scholarships and grants at the same time, it’s helpful to apply for several. Research grants are a specific kind of grant awarded to graduate students to cover the costs of research projects they’re undertaking. The University of Arizona’s Graduate Center Office of Fellowships provides a handy way of distinguishing between fellowships and research grants: “fellowships go to people and grants go to projects.” In other words, when applying for a research grant, students need to demonstrate why their research is important and what impact it will have on their field.

Check out   UMB’s page on graduate research grants   for more information about grants available to graduate students through the University (including those from the Institute for Asian American Studies and the Graduate Student Assembly) as well as external organizations.  

Check out these UMB webpages for more information on specific grants:  

Doctoral students whose dissertation proposals have been formally approved by their committees (or who have received a letter of support from the dissertation committee chair confirming that their proposal will be approved) can apply for   UMB’s Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant Program .  

The   National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program   (NSF GRFP) provides funding for master’s and doctoral student researchers in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. 

UMB’s Transdisciplinary Dissertation Proposal Development Program   provides funding for students who are ready to develop dissertation proposals that draw on inter- or transdisciplinary theories, methods, or approaches. 

If you’re pursuing a teaching career post-graduation, learn more about   Federal TEACH Grants 

Explore GoGrad’s   list of grants available to graduate students. 

Literature review : A literature review is a summary of published sources relating to a particular topic or subject area. In this case, “literature” refers to a group of sources about a topic or within a discipline (for instance, “literature” can be a group of research studies about traumatic head injuries or a selection of scholarly publications about best practices in child psychology). Rather than simply listing different sources and summarizing them, a literature review should be organized in a way that helps readers see connections and patterns (for instance, a literature review may compare research from many years ago to current research or discuss several different perspectives on the same question or issue). The purpose behind literature reviews is to help readers understand the most important accepted beliefs or background information about a topic (rather than passing judgment or analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the sources being reviewed). While literature reviews can be stand-alone assignments, they can also appear within longer pieces of writing before writers discuss what makes their own work distinct.  

UMB’s Healey Library has created this   resource on literature reviews   that includes instructions on how to find published examples of literature reviews that you can use as models for your own work. 

Prospectus : A prospectus is a detailed dissertation plan. Typically, before a graduate student commits to a specific focus, project, or research question that they will investigate for their dissertation, they submit a prospectus to a committee that approves their plan and/or provides feedback. If you’re writing a prospectus, it’s important to make sure you understand the requirements specific to your discipline, department, program, and even your committee. In general, though, most prospectuses include the following elements: an abstract, an explanation of why the proposed project matters and how it addresses a gap in previous scholarship, a literature review, an overview of any work you’ve already completed that will contribute to the project, an overview of your methodology, a discussion of possible challenges you might encounter, a schedule describing when you’ll complete each step of the project, and a list of references. 

This resource provides   examples of prospectuses within different disciplines   (Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences). 

Rhetorical situation : According to Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, the rhetorical situation “refers to any set of circumstances that involves at least one person using some sort of communication to modify the perspective of at least one other person.” In other words, the rhetorical situation is the particular set of conditions surrounding a piece of writing. Rhetorical situations have five elements: 1) The text (genre), 2) the author (person doing the communicating), 3) the audience (those receiving the communication), 4) the purpose of the communication (why it’s being written), and 5) the setting (the context: time and place). As you read different types of writing, try to define the specific rhetorical situation of each piece. Developing your understanding of rhetorical situations will help you learn how to shape your own writing in a way that “meets your audience’s needs.” 

As an example of a rhetorical situation, consider this guide to common terms you might encounter as a graduate writer. 

The text is a glossary providing definitions and links to additional resources.  

The author is a member of the Writing Center’s administrative team with a background in teaching and writing. 

The audience is graduate students seeking writing support or getting oriented to graduate-level writing.  

The purpose is to challenge the assumption that students begin graduate school with prior understanding of frequently referenced vocabulary and writing assignments. This guide aims to help students make sense of this “hidden curriculum” and therefore increase equity and inclusion.  

Finally, the setting is 2023 in Boston, MA in the United States.  

Taking note of these circumstances allows readers to distinguish this piece of writing from, for instance, an article in   The Guardian   (a British newspaper), which would have different “answers” to each of the five elements, as well as understand the reasoning behind the writer’s choices. 

Check out this   resource for more information on rhetorical situations.

Works Cited

“An Introduction’s Three Signal Moves.” Graduate Writing Center, The University of Vermont, https://www.uvm.edu/sites/default/files/Graduate-Writing-Center/GWC%20Guides/Genres/Introduction_Signal_Moves.pdf. Accessed 9 January 2023. 

“CaRS Model: Create a Research Space.” Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo, https://uwaterloo.ca/writing-and-communication-centre/cars-model-create-research-space. Accessed 9 January 2023. 

“Forwarding, Illustrating, Countering, & Taking an Approach.” Graduate Writing Center, The University of Vermont, https://www.uvm.edu/sites/default/files/Graduate-Writing-Center/GWC%20Guides/Genres/Entering_the_Conversation.pdf. Accessed 9 January 2023. 

“Writing Resource: Strong Thesis Statements.” John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, Cornell University, https://knight.as.cornell.edu/writing-resource-strong-thesis-statements. Accessed 9 January 2023.  

“Abstracts.” The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/abstracts/. Accessed 6 January 2023.  

“Elements of Rhetorical Situations.” Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/rhetorical_situation/elements_of_rhetorical_situations.html. Accessed 6 January 2023.  

“Fellowship or Grant? Does it Matter?” Graduate Center Office of Fellowships, The University of Arizona, https://gradcenter.arizona.edu/gcof/articles/2019/02/fellowship-or-grant-does-it-matter. Accessed 18 January 2023. 

“Literature Reviews.” The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/literature-reviews/. Accessed 6 January 2023. 

“Prospectus Writing.” Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale University, https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/writing/graduate/writing-through-graduate-school/prospectus-writing. Accessed 6 January 2023.  

“Rhetorical Situations.” Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/rhetorical_situation/index.html. Accessed 6 January 2023. 

Tretina, Kat and Alicia Hahn. “How to Pay For Graduate School With Scholarships, Grants And Fellowships.” Forbes Advisor, Forbes, 29 Oct. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/student-loans/graduate-school-scholarships-grants/. Accessed 6 January 2023. 

“What is the Difference Between a Dissertation and a Thesis?” Postgrad.com, Postgrad Solutions Ltd., https://www.postgrad.com/advice/exams/dissertation-and-theses/difference-between-a-dissertation-and-a-thesis/. Accessed 6 January 2023. 

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Cover of Academic Writing for Graduate Students, 3rd Edition - Essential Tasks and Skills

Academic Writing for Graduate Students, 3rd Edition

Essential tasks and skills, 3rd edition, look inside.

  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction to the Third Edition
  • Sample Unit 1


Like its predecessor, the third edition of A cademic Writing for Graduate Students explains understanding the intended audience, the purpose of the paper, and academic genres; includes the use of task-based methodology, analytic group discussion, and genre consciousness-raising; shows how to write summaries and critiques; features Language Focus sections that address linguistic elements as they affect the wider rhetorical objectives; and helps students position themselves as junior scholars in their academic communities.

Among the many changes in the third edition: *newer, longer, and more authentic texts and examples *greater discipline variety in texts (added texts from hard sciences and engineering) *more in-depth treatment of research articles *greater emphasis on vocabulary issues *revised flow-of-ideas section *additional tasks that require students to do their own research *more corpus-informed content *binding that allows the book to lay flat when open.

The Commentary (teacher's notes and key) (978-0-472-03506-9) has been revised expanded. 

Supplemental Materials

Video: Learn what's new about the third edition

Video: Chris Feak talks about Unit 1 of the new edition   

Email Appendix (updated from 2nd edition)

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Introduction to Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Welcome!

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Guide Contents

On this site you will find resources to help you with your assignments for ESL/Wr 107, Wr 109, and SEC 111.

Interpreting Citations - how to use the Library to find a cited source.

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  • Last Updated: Oct 27, 2023 9:56 AM
  • URL: https://library.caltech.edu/academicwritinggrad


  • Teaching Tips

Teaching Graduate Students How to Write Clearly

Almost every English boy can be taught to write clearly, so far at least as clearness depends upon the arrangement of words. Force, elegance, and variety of style are more difficult to teach, and far more difficult to learn; but clear writing can be reduced to rules. — Rev. Edwin A. Abbott (1883), preface.

Writing the academic paper should be easy. Unlike novelists, academics do not need to worry about character development, description, dialogue, back story, and symbolism. All academics need to worry about is writing clearly — and according to the Reverend Abbott, this merely requires the mechanical application of a set of simple rules.

This perspective on academic writing may sound too good to be true. Graduate students generally struggle for years to overcome their writing problems — can this learning process really be accelerated by the application of a set of simple rules? My experience in teaching graduate students suggests that it can: Academic writing skills can be tremendously improved with only a little instruction. This is hardly surprising when one considers that most students — and, in my experience, most tenured professors — have learned about academic writing only through trial and error , a method of learning that is often painfully slow and inefficient.

To illustrate how instruction can help students write more clearly, the next section lists 10 guidelines, all of which are motivated by a single underlying principle: In order to write clearly, academics should make the life of their readers as easy as possible.

Guidelines for Graduate Students

In their first papers, graduate students are likely to violate several of the guidelines outlined below. A good writing course makes students aware of these guidelines, and lets students experience how they can use these guidelines to write more clearly. For the writing course at the University of Amsterdam (developed in association with Jos van Berkum), my feedback for students generally falls into the following categories:

1. State the goal of your paper explicitly, and state it early. Do not test the patience of your academic readers by letting them know what you are up to only at the very end of the introduction. Students tend to write lengthy introductions in which they summarize all of the literature that is remotely relevant. This is bad form, but boredom quickly turns into annoyance when the writer altogether forgets to state whether the paper contains experiments, a literature review, a formal model, a new statistical method, or some combination of the above.

2. Use concrete examples. When you start your article with “Resolving competition between two operations invited by a stimulus configuration requires a form of cognitive control,” you’ll do well to follow this up with something like “For example, the operations of word reading and color naming come into conflict in the standard Stroop (1935) task, in which naming the color of a written word is slower than naming the color of a neutral stimulus, such as a row of Xs. To resolve the conflict experienced in this paradigm, the powerful tendency to read the word must be overcome in favor of responding to the color dimension.” (Bub, Masson, & Lalonde, 2006, p. 351)

In general, abstract theoretical concepts need to be clarified with concrete examples. For many readers (especially the lazy ones) the phrases “for instance” and “for example” seem to attract attention almost automatically. Concrete examples work well in every section of a paper — they can be used to clarify the introduction, the method section, and the discussion section.

3. Combat wordiness. Do not say “It has been suggested that the mood someone is in influences the level of creativity this person displays. Specifically, it has been hypothesized that affect and creativity correlate positively.” Instead, say “Previous work suggests that people are more creative when they are in a good mood.”

4. Avoid statistical prose. Do not say, “A significant positive correlation between the amount of dissociation and satisfaction of one’s sex life was found.” Instead, say “Participants dissociated more when they were happy with their sex life than when they were not.”

5. Integrate the presentation of your results and their interpretation. Students often use the result section to summarize their findings (i.e., they provide a lengthy and sometimes unstructured list of experimental effects and associated p values). These students postpone the interpretation of their findings until the discussion section. Although this procedure may appear to be objective and scientific, it does not help the reader. The reader wants to know what the results mean. The reader does not want to be forced to work hard and come up with his or her own interpretation (which might furthermore be mistaken or irrelevant within the context of your work). Try to integrate your results and their interpretation as much as possible, providing maximum guidance for the reader. Use the discussion section to summarize what you have found, deal with alternative explanations, and transition to the next experiment.

6. Add structure through consistent constructions. First example: When you state in the abstract that you will discuss topics A, B, and C, retain this order throughout the entire paper. Second example: When you start a paragraph with the statement “Our first hypothesis was confirmed…”, the reader expects a future paragraph to start with “Our second hypothesis was [not] confirmed…” In general, academic writing is clear when it delivers information in accordance with what the readers expect. Do not set up false expectations.

7. Add structure through subheadings. Graduate students are often hesitant to add subheadings in their introductions, results sections, and discussion sections. Yet, few revisions add clarity as effectively as informative subheadings (e.g., “Analysis of accuracy” followed by “Analysis of response times”).

8. Add structure through transitional phrases. In a clearly written article, several paragraphs will start with transitional phrases such as “However”, “In contrast to”, “To this end,” or “In sum,” connecting what has been presented earlier to what will be presented next. Academics use these transitional phrases much more than novelists do. This is perhaps because transitional phrases leave little to the reader’s imagination, as their main purpose is to provide structure by setting up strong expectations. Lazy readers will be on the lookout for a transitional phrase all the time. You’ll do well to oblige them.

9. Do not express more than one or two ideas in a single sentence. Sentences can be too long because they are wordy, or they can be too long because the writer wanted to express multiple ideas in a single sentence. Consider the following example: “Our findings suggest a practice-induced tradeoff in auditory processing rather than a general improvement that benefits perceptual dimensions relevant for survival at the expense of those that are less relevant.” In such cases, Strunk and White advise “…do not try to fight your way through against the terrible odds of syntax…the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more shorter sentences.” (Strunk & White, 2000, p. 79). Accordingly, one could rewrite the example sentence as follows: “Our findings suggest that practice does not lead to a general improvement in auditory processing. Instead, practice leads to a bias that speeds up processing in some dimensions (e.g., pitch) only at the cost of delaying processing in other dimensions (e.g., loudness).”

Admittedly, some writers produce long sentences and still write clearly. For instance, the novelist Friedrich Dürrenmatt has produced a 123-page murder mystery in a mere 24 sentences (Dürrenmatt, 1988). Those academics who write as well as Dürrenmatt may try to follow in his footsteps. Others do well to use considerably more than 24 sentences for their papers.

10. Start sentences with old information, and end with new information. When a sequence of sentences has flow, one sentence seamlessly transitions to the next. A text that has flow makes life easy for the reader — each sentence provides information that the next sentence elaborates on, so that the reader is never confronted with unexpected changes in topic or emphasis.

In order to achieve flow, the main rule is to start sentences with old information, and end with new information. Consider the following example, taken from Williams (2007, pp. 76–79):

“Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying black holes in space. A black hole is created by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.”

Note that the sentence in bold is in the passive tense. Rewriting it in the active tense (generally a good idea) yields

“Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying black holes in space. The collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble creates a black hole. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.”

It is evident that the second fragment lacks flow, because the information is presented in exactly the wrong order. Present the information in the right order: first the old, then the new.

It is evident that graduate students can greatly benefit from taking a class on academic writing. But considerable benefits await you, the teacher, as well. First, students are easily convinced that your course enhances their chances of academic survival, and this tends to increase their motivation. Second, students will start to notice improvements in their writing almost immediately, and this shows them that your course is worthwhile. Finally, as a result of teaching a writing course you are likely to improve not only your students’ writing skills but also your own. Unfortunately, it is not trivial to design and teach a good course on academic writing. The next section lists tips for those who would like to do so.

Tips for Teachers

The decision to teach a graduate course on academic writing is not one to be taken lightly. Designing a writing course is hard work, as it is unlikely that you are already up to date with the relevant literature. In addition, a certain amount of creativity is required to keep your course from becoming boring. Below are 10 specific suggestions that may help you set up a successful and rewarding course on academic writing.

1. Control your work load. A proper writing course needs writing assignments, and these need to be commented on and graded. This can be a lot of work. To keep your work load manageable: (1) try to limit the class size, (2) share the burden with one or two TAs who write well (I prefer to work with the star students of the previous year), and (3) provide a strict upper limit on the number of words for each assignment (I prefer 400 or less). Often, a few paragraphs of prose are enough to identify key problems in writing style and clarity of communication.

2. Make students realize that writing clearly takes effort. One of my students, Bob, had been watching me rewrite his text at pace of about one paragraph an hour. After a few paragraphs, Bob told me “I didn’t know writing takes this much effort. If I were to put in this much time and energy, my writing would be incomparably better.” Students need to have the right expectation of the effort and dedication it takes to write clearly.

3. Motivate your students. It is easy to make students realize that their writing skills are important for their future careers, either inside or outside of academia. It is also easy to have students experience firsthand that writing skills can be learned. Together, these insights make students want to invest considerable energy in your course.

4. Give advice that is practically relevant. Students sometimes do not realize how much time they can save by, for instance, starting the writing process only after they have discussed and agreed on a detailed outline of a paper with their advisor. Use your academic experience to provide concrete and helpful advice.

5. Follow the structure of the empirical paper. At the University of Amsterdam, my classes cover, in turn: the abstract, the outline, the introduction, the method section, the results section, the general discussion, and the review process (i.e., how to produce a proper revision and a compelling cover letter). This provides students with structure and it also highlights the research-oriented focus of the course.

6. Choose a good course book. According to Stephen King (2000, p. 11), “(…) most books about writing are filled with bulls**t.” Most, but not all. For writing on a detailed, sentence–by–sentence level I recommend “Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace” (Williams, 2007). This book can be considered an extended version of the classic text by Strunk and White (2000), which Stephen King identified as a “notable exception to the bulls**t rule” (King, 2000, p. 11). For writing on a more global, what-information-goes-where level, I recommend “Guide to Publishing in Psychology Journals” (Sternberg, 2000). This book largely follows the structure of the empirical paper and is therefore a good companion to a course that does the same.

7. Read and discuss empirical research papers in class. Reading is the most fun part of learning how to write. Pass out a set of abstracts and have students discuss the quality of the writing in small groups. Then discuss each abstract at a time, and indicate in concrete terms what is good and what could be improved. For this exercise, I recommend using articles published in Psychological Science , because the writing is generally above par and the research topics are accessible to non–experts.

8. Discuss students’ writing assignments in class. In a “fun with sentences” section, I present the entire class with 5 to 10 educational sentences selected from their previous writing assignments. The selected sentences do not work — it is the job of the class to figure out what is wrong and propose improvements. Students pay keen attention when their sentences may be up for group discussion. Don’t forget to point out that the sentences have been selected because they illustrate a point of general interest. Also, do not reveal the names of the students who authored the defective sentences.

9. Focus on clarity, not on grammatical details. A class on academic writing can easily escalate into a class that focuses solely on grammar and syntax. Do not make this mistake. Your job is to teach students to communicate clearly. A student that does all the right things for clarity (see the above guidelines) might occasionally slip up and use a split infinitive or produce a sentence starting with “But” (see above for an example). This is relatively unimportant; in academic writing, clarity takes precedence over grammatical correctness.

10. Mix things up. To keep your writing course from becoming monotonous, you need to vary the pace. In class, use a mix of different activities: have students discuss papers in groups, include a “fun with sentences” section, discuss the writing exercises in the Williams book, and give a lecture on the central topic.

Abbott, E.A. (1883). How to write clearly. Rules and exercises on English composition. Boston: Roberts Brothers.

Bub, D.N., Masson, M.E.J., & Lalonde, C.E. (2006). Cognitive control in children: Stroop interference and suppression of word reading. Psychological Science , 17 , 351–357.

Dürrenmatt, F. (1988). Der Auftrag oder vom Beobachten des Beobachters der Beobachter. Novelle in 24 Sätzen. Zürich, Switzerland: Diogenes Verlag.

King, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft. New York: Scribner.

Sternberg, R.J. (Ed.). (2000). Guide to publishing in psychology journals. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Strunk, W., Jr., & White, E.B. (2000). The elements of style (4th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman.

Williams, J.M. (2007). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace (9th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman.

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I found this information very useful and will apply it to my writing.

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It’s been many years sinse I have been in school but this will help tremendously. I liked the examples used to illustrate thins.

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This is a very good tool for me to master in order to be successful in this writing class. It has been a while since I left School. Thank

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The information provided in this topic was very enlightening, It would be nice to have a writing class designated for all college curriculum’s and majors.

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About the Author

Eric-Jan Wagenmakers is associate professor at the Psychological Methods Group of the University of Amsterdam. He received his PhD in 2001 and his academic interests include quantitative modeling and Bayesian statistics.

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Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Classification and Tips

Mar 25, 2022 by PESTLEanalysis Contributor

Graduate students are pretty well acquainted with academic writing, and it would seem that it wouldn’t pose any difficulty for them. However, graduate-level writing is much more challenging than the assignments from previous semesters in college. You’ll have to complete thorough research, draw from complex and obscure sources, express your thoughts convincingly, and draw your own conclusions.

Hence, no wonder that despite their experience, many still struggle with graduate papers. If you’re planning to become one of the graduate students, you should know what papers you’ll write, as it will prepare you for your studies. Furthermore, by responsibly working on developing relevant skills and improving your abilities, you’ll ensure a bright future for yourself as a graduate student.

Types of Graduate-Level Academic Writing

If you’re getting a graduate degree in the USA, be prepared to write a lot of various papers. You should also remember that they will be more challenging than before, and prepare for studying, researching, and training your writing skills. In the beginning, it might seem difficult, but with time you’ll notice the benefits of practice for your professional development.

Some types of custom papers you’ll have to write will depend on the degree you pursue. For example, aspiring managers review business cases to learn how to work with a customer, while literature students would read and reflect on books from different eras. However, there are several types of texts that you’ll have to develop anyway, so let’s take a look at the most common.

  • Personal statements and application essays

When you apply to a university to become a graduate student, you’ll have to write personal statements and other papers to describe your current qualifications and demonstrate your motivation. Making them engaging and informative is vital since the quality of these papers might determine whether you’ll be accepted into your degree program.

  • Academic essays

As during previous years, you’ll have to develop essays on different topics. However, they will be much more complex this time as you will be on your way to becoming an accomplished researcher in your own right. To develop a top-quality paper, you’ll have to complete thorough research, analyze the topic much more profoundly, and demonstrate a deep knowledge of the subject matter.

  • Thesis papers

A thesis paper is a long and challenging text that demonstrates that your abilities and skills are enough to receive your degree. In this paper, students show that they have embraced new knowledge and improved their talents. Usually, this type of writing deals with some innovative question or problem and includes extensive research on the topic, such as literature reviews.

Tips for Graduate Students on Improving Their Academic Writing Skills

As you can see, academic writing skills are critical for getting your graduate degree and growing as an expert in your field. However, what should you do if you want to improve as a writer but don’t know where to start? We understand your plight–after all, so many students have met this issue! Hence, we’ve decided to select the most effective methods to improve your academic writing skills: take a look and decide which ones suit you best.

First, reading academic literature is vital for understanding the standards of this type of writing and improving your style. Select the articles on interesting topics on a reliable website, choose books that will be helpful for your studies, and you’ll be able to grow as a writer while pursuing your other interests simultaneously! Next, you should practice–and this part is vital for solidifying your knowledge and skills, while creating your original writing style. Developing your own written articles from scratch is also free–another advantage of a practical approach. Both reading and writing also help you polish your English skills, which is especially important if you’re an international student.

If you still struggle with academic writing, you should try turning to professional help. For example, you may ask your professors for additional recommendations or see if your university offers cheap writing classes and training. Furthermore, you can buy individual examples from specialized companies, like CustomWritings academic writing services . With the help of professional writers, you’ll be able to understand the instructions for any assignment you receive from your university and avoid mistakes in your writing.

Finally, the crucial part of writing successful and engaging graduate papers is carefully checking them before submitting them: you can rely on your grammar skills or use specialized services like Grammarly . This rule applies to all grades, but proofreading is especially important for graduate students since they deal with more complex topics. By finding and eliminating errors before you send your essay to the professor, you can significantly improve your grade and create an impression of a diligent and attentive learner.

The Benefits of Academic Writing for Graduate Students

Sometimes students struggle with graduate-level writing, so they wonder: why do we need to develop so many complex papers? Wouldn’t life be easier if our studies were less difficult? However, academic writing is an integral part of the education process: especially for graduate students, who deal with much more challenging topics than their younger counterparts. Let’s consider the main benefits of this approach to comprehend the importance of academic writing in graduate studies.

Firstly, finding and analyzing information, which is involved in writing graduate academic papers, will do a good service to the student’s understanding of the discipline. This approach helps you memorize the information and use it in the future. Furthermore, by practicing in research and reading complex papers and books, you practice for more challenging assignments and projects that you’ll encounter in your academic career.

Moreover, writing and submitting papers is necessary for your professors to evaluate your knowledge adequately in order to offer you a fair grade. Finally, the process of writing is an important part of learning how to express your opinions in academic writing. The practical approach is vital for your studies and career success since writing plays an essential role in different areas of life.

Being a graduate student is no easy task–but that issue shouldn’t and doesn’t discourage you from pursuing your dreams. After all, developing your writing skills is something you can control: with enough determination, you’ll be able to become a successful academic writer. You can employ various methods to learn how to express your opinions in writing, memorize the rules of academic writing, and develop your personalized style, so don’t hesitate.

There are different types of challenging papers you’ll have to complete as a graduate student. However, they all serve one ultimate purpose–making you a better researcher and writer. With determination, you’ll succeed no matter which approach you choose: asking assistance from your teachers, purchasing a paper sample online from a company, or practicing by yourself.

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3 Tips For Writing A Grad School Essay

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academic writing tips for graduate students

3 Tips For Writing A Grad School Essay was originally published on College Recruiter .

Portrait of a serious young student writing an essay in a library

Portrait of a serious young student writing an essay in a library. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Applying to graduate school can be a stressful process, and one reason is that it can get personal. Once you’ve completed your undergraduate education, your transcript isn’t going to change—from a numbers perspective, you’ve done your job. But when applying to grad schools, you’re faced with the tricky task of framing that job while presenting yourself and demonstrating your accomplishments in the most appealing way possible.

In this process, one of the biggest chances applicants have to express themselves is in personal statements and essays. They vary in nature depending on the program one is applying for, but they’re almost always present in some capacity. Here are a few tips on how to best represent yourself in these essays.

Simplify The Introduction

We all want to start our application essays with a bang. There’s a temptation to impress right off the bat. However, there’s a lot of advice from experienced people and publications telling you to do just the opposite by keeping the intro concise and to the point. You can always go back and add a little expression to it later, if you have the space. However, as Delece Smith-Barrow of U.S. News pointed out in a 2013 article about business school essays, a concise intro makes you less likely to ramble. As a result, you’re more likely to answer the prompt! This is advice well worth considering as you’re starting out.

Hopefully these tips help you in creating the best possible essay for your grad school application. Good luck!

Know How To Address Weaknesses

Often applicants will be asked to address failures or weaknesses, and this is never easy. Most of us want to be honest and humble without revealing any actual weaknesses! But in tackling this topic for grad school applicants, Menlo Coaching’s Alice van Harten makes a strong argument for delving into a genuine challenge or failure. She argues here that if you skirt around the topic or spin a failure into being something you did well, you’re less likely to engage the reader. Instead, when faced with a prompt like this, it’s best to make an effort to express a true setback you’ve faced in life. This answers the prompt honestly and gives you a valuable opportunity to show how you learned and grew from a negative experience.

Use Facts, Not Language

This is a crucial concept to keep in mind as you present yourself in the context of your ambitions and professional interests. USA Today’s Billie Streufert uses the example of an applicant with an interest in law who merely articulates that interest, as opposed to demonstrating work toward that interest (such as previous work at a law firm or in student government). Of course, you can’t use experiences you don’t actually have and you want to be careful not to simply repeat bullet points from a résumé. However, in elaborating on your own interests, you can demonstrate passion and drive more effectively through experiences than through pretty language about how deep your interest is.

This is a guest post by freelance writer Patti Conner. She holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business and lives in Seattle, Wash. with her husband. When she’s not writing her latest article, she can be found at her local library and kayaking through the Puget Sound.

Writing Tips for Students

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What is Plagiarism?

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, plagiarism is defined as:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.

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Whether you’ve just finished your undergraduate degree or you want to pivot your career, grad school may be the next logical step in your educational and professional development.

But how do you apply to graduate school so you have the best chance at receiving that coveted acceptance letter? Read on to learn how to submit the perfect graduate school application to impress admissions officers. For information on due dates and a printable timeline, check out our  grad school application checklist .

How Grad Schools Evaluate Your Application

The exact criteria for  graduate school admissions  vary depending on the school and program. Still, there are certain qualifications, including GPA and grades from specific undergraduate courses, that all admissions officers consider. Most graduate programs look for a minimum 3.0 GPA.

A Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score of at least 318 is considered strong and can help your application. A professional resume with work experience related to your program is often helpful or required. Programs typically ask for letters of recommendation and a  graduate school admissions essay  as well.

Are You a Good Fit for the Program?

Whichever program you apply for, you must first make sure it’s a good match. Consider the following questions before submitting your application:

  • Do you love the field of study the program you’re applying to focuses on?
  • Do you have an undergraduate degree or work experience in an area related to your graduate school program of choice?
  • Will earning this degree help you advance your career or earning potential?
  • Do you have the resources to pay for graduate school, either through your own funds or through loans, grants and scholarships? For more information about this, see our guide on  how to pay for graduate school .

Taking time to reflect on these questions can help you decide whether graduate school is right for you. You can also reach out to professors, students and alumni to get a better feel for your prospective program. You might even schedule a tour of the campus before applying.

Do You Have Relevant Internship or Research Experience?

Internships and relevant work experience may not make or break your graduate school application, but they can help set your application apart from the rest. Once you’re in a graduate program, you may be required to complete an internship or research work to graduate.

What Does Your Statement of Purpose Demonstrate?

A statement of purpose or personal statement tells admissions committees more about you. This essay should touch on your interests, especially as they relate to the graduate school program. The statement of purpose should also describe what you can bring to the program and why you want to be a part of it.

What Do Your Letters of Recommendation Demonstrate?

Letters of recommendation are important for graduate school because they show that credible academics and professionals think highly of you and believe you would be a good asset to the program you’re applying to.

An effective letter of recommendation is written by someone who knows you well academically or professionally, such as a professor, mentor or work supervisor. It should include titles of relevant research articles you’ve written, academic awards and honors and relevant academic activities like projects, presentations or research studies.

What Do Your Undergraduate Transcripts Show?

Simply put, official undergraduate transcripts verify that you attended the school you said you did and maintained a GPA that’s consistent with the program’s requirements. Undergraduate transcripts also allow admissions officers to see whether you took courses relevant to your prospective course of study.

How Are Your GRE Scores?

Most graduate school programs require students to take the GRE as part of the application process. An overall score of 318 or higher is considered a good score, so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to study and retake the test if needed before your grad school application is due.

Is Your Prior Academic Experience Relevant?

While you don’t always need an undergraduate degree in the same field as the graduate program you’re applying to, admissions officers typically consider relevant undergraduate coursework, research projects and work experience when reviewing applications.

Statement of Purpose Tips

Your statement of purpose gives you the chance to show some individuality and let your personality shine through. You should aim to leave a memorable impression and craft a well-written, concise statement of purpose to boost your application. See our tips below for writing a statement of purpose.

Follow the Prompt Carefully

Be sure to answer all of the questions in the prompt to give admissions officers all the information they need. Additionally, make sure to follow any guidelines for things like style, font and file format. While these factors may seem small, incorrect formatting can lead to your application being disqualified.

Get Personal

This is your chance to tell your story. Write a statement of purpose that only you could write. Does your passion for medicine date back to an injury or illness you had as a child? Did you grow up watching Law & Order and feel inspired? These details remind graduate admission committees that you are a well rounded person with much to offer.

Discuss Your Goals

Aside from how your own personal and career goals relate to the program, you should also touch on how you can contribute to your school or program of choice. Do you plan on collaborating with colleagues or contributing to your institution’s research goals? Make this known in your statement of purpose.

Know Your Audience

What is the culture of the school or program you’re applying to? What does the institution value? Spend some time on its website and social media accounts to find out. You can even reach out to current students and alumni to get a better idea so you can tailor your statement of purpose accordingly.

Proofread and Revise as Needed

Don’t just write your first draft and send it off. After writing it, take some time to sleep on it, then come back and read and revise with fresh eyes. You should also have someone like a professor or tutor read your statement of purpose and provide feedback.

Interview Tips

The interview is a big part of the graduate school application process if your program requires one. Make sure to come ready and prepared.

Do Your Research

Read up on the university and program you’re applying to so you can sound knowledgeable and interested during the interview. Answer questions such as, how big is the program or school? What have its graduates gone on to do? What are the program requirements?

You can also read up on any academic articles or research professors in your program have created.

Prepare Questions for Your Interviewer

Remember, this isn’t just about the school interviewing you. You’re also interviewing the program to determine if it’s a good fit for you. What career and network opportunities are available to students and alumni? What about grants and scholarships? Will you be paired with a mentor or an advisor?

Practice With Mock Interviews

Practice makes perfect. Look into common graduate school interview questions, and practice with a professor, classmate or friend. You can even practice solo using these  20 Graduate School Interview Questions .

Bring a Professional Portfolio

Depending on the nature of your work, it may be helpful to bring in a professional portfolio, such as if your speciality is print graphic design. Other subject areas like writing or research lend themselves to online portfolios, which you can send to your interviewers ahead of the scheduled interview.

What Does a Grad School Application Look Like?

In addition to your transcripts, test scores, statement of purpose and portfolio, your graduate school application will require some basic background information about you.

Biographical Information

  • Full legal name
  • Any previous legal names used
  • Age and date of birth
  • Social Security number

Ethnicity Information

Ethnicity information about applicants and current students is used by the university to see if it is meeting diversity quotas and to share with stakeholders. You may select one particular ethnicity, or choose options like “other,” “multiracial” or “decline to state.”

Military Status

Scholarships, grants and special services can be available to active-duty and reserve military service members and veterans.

Contact Information

  • Current mailing address
  • Current phone number
  • Current email

Program Selection

  • The program you’re applying to
  • Any speciality or concentrations available as part of your program

Academic Interests

  • Specialities in your program that you want to focus on
  • Research topics or projects you want to pursue

History of Education

  • Undergraduate degree and major
  • Academic achievements and awards

Standardized Test Information

  • *GRE scores (Check with your program as some may no longer require or accept GRE scores )
  • Scores from any other required tests

Financial Aid

Deadlines for financial aid often coincide with deadlines for admissions. Make sure to submit the FAFSA to ensure you qualify for as many financial aid resources as possible. Visit the  Federal Student Aid  website for more information, and check out our guide on  how the FAFSA differs for graduate school .

Previous Employment

  • Relevant work history related to your program
  • Internship or research experience related to your program

Do you speak the primary language spoken in the area where your campus is located? Do you speak more than one language? These are things admissions officers will want to know.

Supplemental Information

  • Certifications or special licenses or training
  • Special Awards

Reference Information

  • Contact information, like phone numbers and emails, for professors, mentors and work supervisors who are willing to provide a reference

Upload Documents

When submitting your online application, make sure to upload all required documents so your application will not be disqualified.

Application Fee

  • Graduate school application fees can range from around $60 to more than $100. You must pay this fee before you can submit your application.

Confirm and Submit Form

  • Finally, make sure to confirm that all your information is correct and all necessary documents are uploaded before you submit your application.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com on Feb. 3. 2023. Author is Ryah Cooley Cole, and Editor is Brenna Swanston.

academic writing tips for graduate students

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AI and Scholarly Writing: Ethical Concerns

Location : Virtual

This session is part of a virtual series, AI and Your Graduate or Postdoctoral Career , which will address two issues critical to all graduate students and Postdocs: (1) the ethics of using AI in their writing, and (2) using AI tools in one’s career exploration or job search. 


ChatGPT and other AI resources can be valuable tools in writing, but their use also comes with a range of ethical concerns. Is it ethical to use AI to generate text when it can’t be listed as an author? What are the expectations of journals and publishers around the use of AI in scholarly writing? How can you use AI both effectively and ethically as you continue to develop as an academic writer?


Dr. Linda C. Macrì , Director of Academic and Professional Development, the Graduate School 

November 30, Thursday, 4-5 PM, via Zoom 

Registration Link


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    to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own. to use (another's production) without crediting the source. to commit literary theft. to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source. In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about ...

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