The Writing Process
Here are some helpful tips for writing academic papers from the
Center for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Texas at
Austin (my alma mater)
1.GETTING STARTED: Brainstorm on problems and issues you
would like to examine that might fit the assignment.
2.EXPLORATION AND REHEARSAL: Talk about your ideas in small
groups: read as believers and doubters. Use expressive writing (idea
log, freewriting, idea-mapping) to plan your ideas.
3.DISCOVERY DRAFT: Write like the wind, focusing on getting
your ideas clear on paper. Forget about grammar and mechanics for
4.REVISION OR "SEEING AGAIN": Look with fresh eyes on your
draft, focusing on the organization, unity, anD coherence of your
arguments. This is a good time for seeking outside advice, such as
through peer critiques or consultations at the Writing Lab.
5.EDITING: Polish your draft by scrutinizing the content,
clarity, and precision of your prose. This is also the time to focus
on surface features, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation,
Click on the topics below for more helps:
[Getting Started] [Writing the
[Content] [Writing Style]
NEED A PAPER IDEA? TRY THIS
1.What type of paper has your instructor asked you to
write? Describe the assignment in your own words:
2.Did your instructor emphasize any additional specific
requirements for this paper?
3.As spontaneously as you can, try listing below some
topics that you might be interested in writing about (you need not
use complete sentences or even complete ideas).
1.Write down as much information and as many questions as
you can about your subject. Don't worry about how the ideas sound or
2.Look for (circle) main ideas or sentences which contain
3.Make a list, grouping ideas that you think go together.
Try several different arrangements of your ideas.
4.Read through your information and questions, looking for
ideas and sentences that will support the main ideas. Mark main ideas
that need examples or further support.
5.Write a preliminary statement which explains what you are
trying to accomplish in the paper. This will become your thesis or
claim, although it may not fully take shape until you have written
some of your paper.
WRITING THE DRAFT:
1.Using the information and questions you have from step
one and other ideas you have had, start filling in the sections of
your outline. Focus on getting your ideas on the paper in some sort
of order rather than making each sentence sound good. Continue until
you have written down some ideas for each section.
2.Read over what you have written so far. Is your outline
working? If not, try rearranging sections or ideas.
3.Look at each of your sections. Separate each larger idea
in each section into paragraphs.
4.Mark paragraphs that you think are underdeveloped or
overdeveloped. Can the overdeveloped ones be separate into two
separate points? Can the underdeveloped ones be combined or expanded?
Can you tell from the length of each paragraph which ideas are most
important or central to your claim?
Read through only the topic sentences in your paper, or
assemble these into a second document on your word processor.
Does each sentence follow logically the one proceeding
Do they form a reasonable mini-essay in themselves?
Do you like the sequence of ideas?
Are similar ideas grouped together?
If necessary, move ideas -- whole paragraphs, sentences, part
of text -- around like blocks to improve organization.
Ask yourself whether sentences and paragraphs flow smoothly and
logically. If necessary, tell your reader what point you're
discussing, what you'll talk about next. You may need to write some
new sections, transition sentences or whole paragraphs.
When your instructor comments on the organization of your
writing, here are some things to consider as possible sources of
- Clear Statement of Purpose: Have you made it clear what you
are trying to accomplish in this assignment? Somewhere near the
beginning there should be at least one sentence which states your
purpose. Can you find it? How easily? Maybe you need to make it
stand out more from the rest of the writing.
- Accurate Information: Do you have all your facts straight
and accurate? Can you document those facts?
- Have you included all the appropriate footnotes and
references? Recheck what you have said about an idea if the
instructor questions your information. You may have misinterpreted
the original or confused it with something else.
- Correct Analysis: Is the position you're taking one which
is justified by the evidence you present? Are you making any
logical leaps which are not based on the information you're
providing? Write out your analysis in one or two paragraphs
without the evidence to see if the ideas make sense by
- Points Made and Supported: This is one of the most common
errors students make in writing assignments. First, the points you
want to make should be just as clearly stated as your original
statement of purpose. Can you find those points in the midst of
your writing? Then each time you make a claim or generalization,
you should provide data and examples to support that statement.
Have you provided that support for each main point?
- Logical Sequence of Ideas: Your sequence of points should
build to a "therefore" statement near the end of the assignment.
As in point 3, write out just the statements of main points and
read them to see if they flow logically. Examples of logical
- From generalizations to the specific situation you are
- From specific situations to an overall generalization
- One position on an issue, then a contrary position, then
a synthesis of the two
There are many other possibilities. Just be sure your
writing has some order to the sequence of points.
- Transitions Between Ideas: If you have a nice sequence of
main points, you should highlight the logical movement of the
argument from one point to the next. This is done by having
transitions between the points. Transitions are phrases like "In
the first place," "in the second place," "If...., then," "on the
other hand." They are also logical transitions. You can't simply
launch into an argument without giving some hint as to how it ties
to the one before it and the one after it. Begin paragraphs with
sentences which tie the preceding thought to the one you are about
- Good Opening and Closing: An old axiom for communication
is "tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; and tell
them what you told them." The same applies to writing assignments.
The opening should catch the reader's attention and give him or
her an idea about what the paper is going to accomplish. Then you
proceed with the body of the paper. Finally you have a big finish
which wraps up all the main points and reiterates the original
statement of purpose. Both the opening and closing should be
written with powerful images that leave the reader feeling
energized and convinced of your brilliance.
When your instructor comments on the writing style of your
paper, here are some things to consider as possible sources of
- Appropriate for the Audience: Every time you write a paper,
you should have a clear idea of who the probable audience is.
Different audiences require you to use different styles. Some
require a formal style; some an informal style. Some audiences
require more explanation of basic concepts than others. A hostile
audience will require more evidence and logic than an audience
which is already on your side. An informal audience would call
more for anecdotal evidence and personal color. Be sure you match
the type of style you use to the intended audience of the paper.
If you're not sure what that style is, check with your instructor.
Reading some of the literature in a given field will also give you
an idea of the style which is typical for that type of
- Clear and Concise: You should be able to state your point
and illustrate it with one or two examples or elaborations. You
should also be careful to say what you want in the fewest words
necessary to convey the full meaning. Don't digress too often or
ramble. Think of what you would like a professor to do in a
lecture: be clear and concise, and then base your own discussion
on that model.
- Adequate Vocabulary: Every field has its technical terms.
Learn to use the ones appropriate to the paper you are writing and
use them correctly. Try to use variety in the words you choose,
but be sure that those words mean what you think they mean. Using
"big words" incorrectly is worse in most instructors' opinion than
sticking to simpler words and using them correctly.
- Mature Sentence Structure: Sentences can be short. Or they
can go on at great length with several prepositional phrases and
modifiers plus dependent clauses which interrupt the flow of
thought until the reader can't remember what the original purpose
of the sentence was. Neither type of sentence alone makes for
mature sentence structure in writing. You should strive for
variety in sentence length and structure. A few sentences in a row
with the same structure (I came; I saw; I conquered) can build a
rhythm which will heighten the effectiveness of a series of ideas,
but too much parallel structure becomes boring. Sentences which
are very short will sound simplistic unless they are mixed in with
more complex sentences. Overly complex sentences, on the other
hand, only make it hard for the reader to follow your thinking.
- Voice: This is a technical term in writing which refers to
the overall style a writer uses. It includes the concepts of
formal versus informal writing, the active versus the passive
voice, and past, present and future tense. Each discipline has its
own characteristic "voice" in writing. The best way to develop an
ear for the voice of your discipline is to read the writing of
professionals, such as in the journals or books prominent in the
field. Voice manifests itself in the word choice, the sentence
structure, the use of pronouns, the type of vocabulary and several
other less well-defined variables. It is sort of like speaking
with an accent; once you develop an ear for the voice of a
discipline, you start to write like a sociologist or a chemist or
someone from any other field.
- Mechanics: There is no easy way to overcome problems of
grammar, punctuation and spelling. It takes simple hard work,
patience and attention to detail. On the other hand, with all the
spelling and grammar checkers, handbooks, and dictionaries
available today, there is no reason for making simple mechanical
errors. In most cases it comes down to taking the time to do it.
The best suggestions for overcoming problems with mechanics are:
a. Start writing early enough to give yourself
time for proofreading
b. Get a good grammar handbook and dictionary and
c. Stick to words you know and sentence
structures you can punctuate
d. Be patient and persistent
e. If you don't know, ask someone
Remember that the way you present information has as much to do
with the impression it makes as the information itself. Don't let
your message be overcome by the medium.