Thoughts on writing

A number of professional writers (fiction) have been in the news over the past few years with their thoughts on writing. Look here, here,  and here  (not to mention these notables 1 2 3  and last but not least) have been in the news over the past few years with their thoughts on writing.

With our pre-sessional programme in full swing here are some thoughts on academic writing.


1: Use your word count. Academic writing is about content, and that means research. I can’t remember ever writing “you’ve got too much content” here. That said I have said you need to focus more (Point 2). So read around your topic try and find several sources that deal with your assigned/chosen question directly. You won’t be wasting your time even if you don’t use that article for that assignment.

2: Answer the question. Answer it directly and completely. Don’t spend time discussing details around the topic or in parallel fields this is wasting your word count. When you are writing, (and reading, researching, revising, editing & proofreading) keep that question in mind. Post it up on your wall, set it as your screen saver, and include it as a header on every page if you need to but stick to that question/topic.

3: Writing is a process. Don’t expect to get a good mark, (or even get away a pass) with a single draft written the night before it’s due. Good writing takes time, start early and you’ll be sure to give yourself that time.

3a: Revise your writing, once you have a draft. Read it through and ask yourself is there anything in it that shouldn’t be there. If yes cut it, even if it’s interesting and fantastic. (Make a note of this for future topics/work but cut it from this paper.)

3b: Proofread – you may want to do this several times first for clarity, then once for grammar, a second time for spelling, another for referencing lastly for style… then once again for readability. Do this for every draft.

3c: Go back to the question/topic. Do you answer it completely and directly? It’s alarmingly common for assignments to drift from their intended focus.

3d: Get feedback. When you’re writing something you can get ‘too close’ or too familiar with it. Show it to a friend, (ask them to be critical but kind). If it doesn’t make sense to them then you need to revise it.

3e: repeat steps a-d as many times as you need to.

4: Don’t settle for ok. It might mean skipping a night out, or an afternoon sunbathing, but if you put the work in to your writing, doing everything you can to write well, you will do better. And incidentally improve your writing while you are at it.

5: Don’t hope it will work out ok. If you’re not sure how to meet an assignment’s requirements go see the tutor, or at least send them an email asking short specific questions that will help you clarify the topic.

6: Writing is work. Nobody is born able to write, and while we pretty well all learn to speak young enough that we don’t realise how much work it takes, we all need to learn to write. training-wheels

Nobody goes from training wheelsspedo water-wings to the Tour de France in a day, nor can you go from water wings to swimming the English Channel.

Expect it to be work, prepare for it to be work, give yourself the time to work on it.

7: Shouldn’t you be writing? Yes now. Time is often wasted when there are assignments to write.

So time to ask yourself… “Shouldn’t I be writing?

Idris Elba writing