You will be asked to write. Think about your writing process carefully and be open to new ideas about how to approach it.
Writing is, at a minimum, a two-step process: you write, you edit. Writing and editing are distinct steps. Don’t try to edit your writing as you write your first draft; you’ll trip over your own creativity. Get your ideas down, then edit. Then get more ideas down and edit them.
Ideally, you would repeat the writing-editing process several dozen times to further refine your prose. After you’ve written and edited your work, you’ll need to share your draft with others, who will edit it and rewrite portions of it. Set your ego aside. Focus on improving the writing and, through that experience, your default writing style.
Newcomers to writing nonfiction research—often new PhD students—may find the research process and the formal structure of research documents daunting. Here are a few resources both on research writing and on the writing craft itself that I found useful when I was starting to hone my skill. And, yes, writing is a skill; you can improve your writing through practice.
Above all, seek out and be open to feedback. Anyone who is willing to offer honest feedback on your writing to help you improve it is valuable.
Microsoft Word is more than a blank sheet of paper; it’s sophisticated software that can help to apply consistent, professional, and attractive formatting to your documents. But if you don’t learn a few key features, Word will be cruel to you and you won’t understand why. Honestly, Word may still be cruel to you… it’s that kind of software.
Failure to follow some citation style in your writing will lead to accusations of theft of ideas—known as plagiarism—a very serious offense in communities where reputations and careers are built on the strength and originality of your ideas. Plagiarizing can prevent you from receiving an academic degree, lead to already awarded degrees being revoked, book deals being canceled, books being pulled from stores, and job loss, especially if your having been offered the job was based on a degree you received that is revoked.
This 70-minute lecture by Charlie Kaufman— Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich— on screenwriting applies equally well, I think, to being an educator. Consider the following excerpt, but replace screenplay with learning— for the student perspective— or even teaching!
A screenplay is an exploration. It’s about the thing you don’t know. To step into the abyss. It necessarily starts somewhere, anywhere, there is a starting point, but the rest is undetermined, it is a secret, even from you. There’s no template for a screenplay, or there shouldn’t be. There are at least as many screenplay possibilities as there are people who write them. We’ve been conned into thinking there is a pre-established form.
While I sometimes found it difficult to distinguish quotations from his original thoughts, I found both to be engaging and inspiring.
Education researchers have shown that the most powerful way we learn is by trying to articulate what we know, believe, and feel (Connally, 1989). The creative process of transforming what is inside our heads into a form that can be shared with others is difficult but absolutely necessary for meaningful learning to take place. How many times have you passively listened to someone (ME!) talking about a topic thinking to yourself how boring it was or how obvious or how random, but when you later tried to explain it to someone, you found it nearly impossible to do so? Continue reading “Don’t be ‘a writer’. Be writing.” ~ William Faulkner→
We often find ourselves commenting on students’ writing and acting as editors rather than critical readers: we indicate line-level edits, such as missing commas and poor word choices– as if fixing the mechanical errors would make the paper acceptable. In reality, most student papers we see are first drafts, often written the night before the assignment is due and unedited by anyone, including the author. (See my post concerning the design of assignments, coming soon.)
While talking with a friend recently about his writing, he confessed that he didn’t know any other way to write. He asked me to show him another way and I’ve decided to take him up on the challenge. Continue reading Write Like a Graduate Student→