Tips for Grads: The right way to write

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

Writing is unavoidable in graduate school (it feels ironic to be conveying this to y’all through writing). Whether it’s a research paper, personal/purpose statement, funding proposal, or even an email, we’re not going to be getting away from it anytime soon! Some of us take to it naturally, some people only feel confident in a certain style of writing, and some people just don’t enjoy it, or can never seem to make themselves sit down and start. Here are some things to keep in mind, whether you love or hate writing:

  • Figure out your ideal conditions. Everyone has their own specific conditions that make writing easier for them, and those conditions don’t necessarily have to mirror studying conditions. For example, I cannot study with any noise around, and yet somehow, I’ve figured out that I write best when surrounded by people. Things like environment, time of day, or the tools you use to write all factor in. I’ve known more than one person who figured out that they write components of research papers best by hand.
  • Leverage the Writing Center. This is what they’re here for! Whether you are looking for just one or two sessions with an instructor, want a continuous relationship with someone who will get to know your writing over time, or want to peruse their online resources yourself, they are an incredible asset. Their workshops are especially great because they range from brushing up on the fundamentals to how to write a cover letter or apply for funding. They also offer opportunities for writing accountability and support.
  • Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes it happen. Sometimes, just learning to sit down and start writing is the hardest part. And trying to force it can feel like a chore if you don’t start small. Integrating writing as a matter of course in my day came, for me, when I learned to separate the action from the content. Basically, I had to learn to stop judging myself based on the quality of what I wrote or what I wrote about and start to acknowledge the victory of writing at all. Some folks really benefit from having “writing time” marked in their schedule. I personally found my stride when I started journaling whenever I had a quiet moment in the day, which snowballed into writing just a sentence or two of a paper, and onward. Consider participating in something like the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity’s 14 Day Writing Challenge to help you get in the habit, or to force yourself to schedule the time to write.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.