Reading and writing are key components of life, curiosity, inquiry, and learning. Writing, in particular, is an important skill that is at the foundation of graduate student learning and professional life. However, writing is not easy; it is a lifelong adventurethat involves feedback, iteration, frustration, annoyance, and sometimes, boredom.
Writers are not born; they are cultivated throughout their lives from select lived experiences that enhance their ability and capacity for effective writing. In graduate education and beyond, I believe that we neglect the importance of writing cogently and coherently. It is true that our ability to write is tested in graduate school courses, but it is rare to find mandatory training embedded in graduate school that improves our ability to write. This observation is especially problematic for graduate students who genuinely want to use writing as a tool for social good.
In this blog post, I will share four pieces of advice that have served me well as strategies to writing effectively, which, in this case, I consider as cogent, coherent, consistent, argumentative, powerful, and appropriate to the topic. These strategies are: prewriting, outlining, researching, and reviewing.
If you are like me, you start and end your day with reading and writing. Too often, however, I feel that I am not in the right headspace to begin writing; I am distracted, I have no thoughts, I have too many thoughts, I feel uneasiness, etc. As such, prewriting techniques may allow your mind to get into the headspace of reading and writing.
Reading is actually an excellent prewriting technique. Sometimes it helps to read an article or excerpt from a book in your particular area of research interest. Reading allows your mind to get into the movement of reading, reflecting, consolidating, and expressing thoughts. In some cases, reading is so helpful that it is the prompt your mind needs to begin writing.
However, in some cases, reading is not enough to give your mind the jolt it needs. There are other, more deliberate, prewriting techniques that I use sometimes, especially when reading does not work. One technique is called freewriting. I look on my Twitter feed to find the first topic that intrigues me. Then, I just…write. But I keep in mind that the objective is to write as much as possible without editing or reviewing what I have written. I continue writing for 10-minutes. If I cannot continue for whatever reason, I force myself to write something even if does not make sense or makes me feel uncomfortable. Oftentimes, the writing that emerges from uneasiness or discomfort transforms the way I think, believe, and represent what I am writing.
Other techniques you can find by clicking here.
Whereas prewriting is an important strategy to begin writing, outlining is vital to continue the writing process. Too often have I encountered the situation whereby I am in the right headspace, but I cannot seem to fully or effectively express ideas that are compelling, cogent, and appropriate for my purpose. This situation is most often due to my lack of preparation. On this note, it is important to understand that the preparation piece of writing should take much longer than writing itself. If you have created a compelling and clear outline and conducted comprehensive research (see next point), then you should be able to write 1000 words in less than 30 minutes (depending on your typing speed).
Outlines can serve as an overview of the intended writing piece or comprehensive review that includes the exact words and references to relevant work. The type of outline you create will depend on your style and approach to writing. I encourage you to try different types of outlining and methods. I also recommend that you seek feedback from experts and non-experts on your outline. Feedback on your outline may help to enhance the strength of your ideas; whereas feedback on fully written pieces may focus on enhancing flow, style, tone, and word choice.
Personally, I create two types of outlines for each piece: overview and comprehensive review. The overview provides me with the overall structure of ideas and thoughts and how they fit with each other. The overview also allows me to consider the logic and soundness of my ideas and how I intend to represent them. On the other hand, a comprehensive review provides me with the comfort, knowledge, and information I need to make those connections with different ideas during my writing sessions. This type of outline contains exact wording, order of assertions and evidence, and references to substantiate evidence. In other words, an overview allows me to envisage my piece from 30,000-foot view; a comprehensive outline enables me to create that piece in the end.
In many disciplines, good research emerges from a systematic, comprehensive, and representative review of the existing literature. Literature reviews are conducted to ensure that we have a good grasp of the topic before we begin writing so that we write in a way that is novel, compelling, and not reinventing the wheel of academia (something that happens too often).
Like outlining, research is also an important preparatory step. In fact, outlining and research should go hand-in-hand, both informing each other as you prepare to write your piece. Like a good outline, comprehensive research will allow you to spend more time framing your ideas during writing sessions than looking for foundational research and ideas for your piece. It is important to note that you may reveal more research than you will use. There is certainly more knowledge on your topic of interest than you can capture in one piece. But it is important to obtain a foundational grasp of the knowledge available because it may still influence your approach, methodology, and orientation to the topic instrumentally.
Reviewing and editing your writing are essential components of the writing process that come into play when you are polishing and finalizing your work. After organizing your ideas in an expository format, it is important to review your writing to modify how your ideas are framed for the audience, context, and topic of interest. On this note, the following strategies are important to keep in mind for effective reviewing and editing:
- Review your drafts multiple times on different days and times of the day.
- Look for coherence, grammar, style, and structure.
- Consider the audience and tone of your intended piece.
- Solicit feedback from peers and colleagues (both experienced and lay individuals).
- Review your writing by reading aloud each sentence.
- Print out your writing and spot inaccuracies and mistakes using a red pen.
There are many other suggestions and techniques to improve your ability to write effectively. I have only capture a few major ones. Do you have any strategies you use to write effectively?