We are never finished learning to write. Instead, it is a skill that we are always learning to improve upon, no matter how good we are at it or how long we have been doing it. And, it is something we learn best by doing, not by being given a list of rules and processes and templates. Just as we can become better researchers and critical thinkers by doing research and thinking critically, so too do we become better writers by continuing to write and to learn a little more from each writing experience. With that in mind, there are a few things you can do to help yourself out.
Visit Your University’s Writing Centre
One of the best ways to learn how to write is to get regular feedback on your writing and to discuss your drafts with others. University writing centres are spaces for students to get feedback on how their writing is received by a reader, to learn helpful strategies from other writers, and to get information that can help them make their own decisions about their revisions. Remember, however, that while utilizing these services can help inform how your work is structured and communicated, you are always ultimately responsible for your own writing and editing.
Read Read Read
It is no accident that most good writers are also prolific readers. Reading helps us to pick up on things like grammar, syntax, punctuation, tone, structure, language, and flow. If you are hoping to improve your academic writing, however, it is important to read academic sources and to pay attention to how the authors of these sources write and how their writing may feel different than that in other types of sources, like blogs or news articles. In addition to reading for content, also start paying attention to the rhythm, structure, and language of scholarly writing. Soon, you will get a sense of what kind of academic style and voice you like best, and over time, you will start to be able to emulate it in your own writing.
Review Feedback on Your Work
Lastly, pay careful attention to the feedback you receive on written assignments and essays. Professors take considerable time to include this feedback to help students understand why they got the grades that they did. If you tend to get papers handed back with question marks in the margins or comments like “unclear” or “please explain”, it is a sign that you can expand further on some of your ideas or that some of your phrasing is unclear. If you tend to get papers back with comments like, “okay, but what about…” or “this is contrary to…,” it may signal that you can strengthen your next paper by taking more time to consider potential counterarguments or that you may want to meet with a librarian for your next paper to help you ensure you take into account more of the available research. Whether you are satisfied with your grade or not, reading these comments and considering how you would make revisions based on them goes a long way in helping you further develop your academic writing skills and scholarly voice.