Academic writing doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, students who follow these basic writing skills for college find their higher education experience to be easier, get better writing assignment grades, and realize this type of skill translates to other professional areas in life. For example, make sure you follow a style guide. Maybe it’s MLA or APA format. Or, maybe you have a writing style that you personally stick to. Following a structure makes it easier for you to develop consistency and know what to look for when you revise a college paper.
If high school was the last time you had to do any real form of writing, develop these habits now. They’ll translate to useful writing skills that last. And, if you’re currently a college student, double-check to make sure you’re using these tips for good writing skills as part of your process.
Have A Writing Process Checklist
When you have the same process you follow for any type of writing assignment, it helps to keep you organized and structured. Here is a list of skills you should use in your writing process every time you write.
Skill #1: Make An Outline
Before you sit down to start your assignment, make sure you have an outline. If you start writing without the clear direction that you get from an outline, you’ll have the tendency for your thoughts to wander and for you to stray away from your primary topic or idea. Start with your thesis statement or a descriptive summary of what the paper is about. Then list the topics or ideas you want to cover in your paper.
Skill #2: Cite Your Sources
Make sure you know the requirements your instructor expects as part of your assignment. It will typically be MLA or APA format. You should have organized notes for your references from your academic research. When you have your essay outline complete, you should have an idea of where you’ll insert these citations as you write. It’s better to do it early on in the writing process so you don’t have to find ways to cram the citation into the paper later. And, if you’re doing your research online through a national library like PubMed, it allows you to quickly copy the full citation in the article.
Skill #3: Follow A Format
You should know if you’re following APA, MLA, or some other format. Know the clear guidelines for this style of writing. Post a concise list of the style guide somewhere as quick reminders for you. For example, these two formats use the Oxford Comma–the serial comma used before “and”. Then, in any type of writing you do, like an email or notes, always use your Oxford Comma and other rules of the format. This gets you into the habit of consistency, and it also gives you something to look for when you revise.
Skill #4: Know How To Revise
Before you sit down to revise your paper, make sure you have taken a break from the content first. It’s incredibly difficult to revise your own work. But, the chances are, that’s all you have. If this is the case, make sure there are about 24 hours between the time you finish your paper and when you go to revise it. If you don’t give yourself time, you’ll miss mistakes. Also, use a revision tool like Grammarly to assist you in the first pass of revision. There are other writing apps to use and some will let you modify the style of your writing. This way, it only picks up grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes that follow the format you use.
Develop Good Writing Habits
The next set of skills is about the habits you use while writing. Students who develop good writing habits early on have less work to go through when it comes time to write an essay. This will help you automate sentence structure and organize your ideas more clearly.
Skill #5: Know The Difference Between Formal & Informal Writing
It should go without saying that how you text versus how you write is completely different. There should be no abbreviations in formal writing. Additionally, you’ll want to avoid slang or colloquialisms (phrases used to talk casually).
Skill #6: Be Concise
College-level writing should be concise. Although you might have a word count requirement for your paper, don’t add in unnecessary words to hit the word count. Your professor will pick up on it. Further, extra words dilute the power and meaning of your paper. Avoid using words that weaken your statement or don’t add to the statement. For example, steer clear of:
Make sure any adjective you use enhances the understanding of the statement.
Skill #6: Use Transitional Phrases
You want to be concise, but you want the paper to be understandable, with the reader being able to link two thoughts together. This comes through the use of transitional words and phrases. Do not use them in excess, only when you are trying to join to related but separate thoughts. Examples of transitional phrases include:
- In fact
- On the other hand
- In comparison
Skill #7: Avoid Passive Tense
Passive tense is a sentence structure type that makes it difficult for the reader to follow. Avoiding this type of grammar is good practice regardless of whether you’re writing a college paper, doing business writing, or even blogging. The passive tense is when something happened to the subject, rather than the subject doing something. Here are some examples:
- Passive: The writing assignment will be finished by me every Sunday
- Active: I will finish my writing assignment every Sunday
For most college students and people in general, this can be difficult to spot. However, you can adjust settings in Word or Grammarly to flag passive voice.
Other Habits To Develop Writing Skills
The first two sections included direct activities to improve your writing. However, there are other habits you can form to improve your writing skills over time.
Skill #8: Read More
The more time you spend reading, especially good essay papers, the more your writing will improve. Expose yourself to good writing examples or ask your professor for papers with good college writing.
Skill #9: Revise Peers’ Papers
Offer to do a quick revision on a classmate’s paper. Because it is not your own work, it will be easier to spot needed changes. In return, they can review your work too.
Skill #10: Practice These Skills Everywhere
Start paying attention to how you write in emails, notes, and texts. Although it might seem strange to spell out “You are” rather than “UR” in a text, it can be helpful. It will get your brain in the mindset of good writing skills. Perfect practice makes perfect. So, use these skills as much as possible in everyday writing scenarios.
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