Graduate Studies

Writing Tips

  • What is your writing process?
  • Enter the conversation of your discipline and community.
  • How do you enter the academic conversation?:
    1. Know the critical issues in your discipline.
    2. Problematize and focus a topic.
    3. Fulfill expectations of discipline (university/department format).
    4. Set goals, know limits, and understand deadlines.
    5. Keep your audience in mind.
  • Reading: engage with your material (Literature Survey and Review), and remember that thinking takes place in the margins. Enter into a discourse with your reading material.
  • Uncertainty and fears: all graduate students have them.
  • Be curious and explore topics.
  • Minimize the role of the committee.
  • Misconception of Originality: there is nothing new under the sun.  Your job is to enter into and add to the conversation—or create a conversation.
  • Writing the thesis involves a wide audience of scholars in your discipline (they have published books and articles on the subject) whereas the seminar paper is usually written for a more limited audience (your peers and professor).
  • Start thinking about your thesis now, before you have started all of your coursework, not towards the end when your coursework is almost complete.
  • Your interest and curiosity in a topic will evolve.
  • Brainstorm: What topics interest you? Are there certain faculty members you would like to work with?
  • Peruse the CDR looking for similar topics or professors whom you might want to study with.
  • Form a thesis writing group.
  • Characteristics of a thesis/project:
    1. Problems, situation, or issue significant to your discipline.
    2. Why has the problem not been resolved or adequately addressed?
    3. Listen to what other texts say, even if you disagree.
    4. Understand all the main points.
    5. How can you expand or add to the conversation? Can you debunk existing information?
    6. You don’t have to be original, but you do have to enter and add to the conversation.
  • Proposal:
    1. Explain problem.
    2. Show significance of problem to the field.
    3. Illustrate your familiarity with the field: purpose of the literature review.
    4. Show and explain the need for solving the scholarly problem per the current gap in knowledge.
    5. Present a blueprint for your research.
    6. Provide the structure (outline) for written product.
  • Explore the Dissertation Abstracts Online.
  • Questions should drive your research. You cannot fake curiosity.
  • Just like every good drama must have conflict, every good thesis must have a problem which leads to questions which gives your thesis purpose.
  • What is the jargon, the language, of your academic community?
  • Bartholomae’s notion of “inventing the university”: Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion. The student has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community.
  • You must listen to voices, the conversations, of your field and enter into the discourse community. You must read DEEPLY.
  • Find the problem.
  • Keep copious notes. Keep a log. Blog, even. Track everything.
  • Argument is the essence of the proposal.
  • Read like a writer.
  • It is easy to write about the answers for your rationale, but don’t forget the QUESTIONS.
  • Present the research question FIRST. Herein lies the quickest way to understanding and conveying information.
  • Research writing is argumentative and persuasive. It is the interplay, the dance, the balance, of reading, observing, and thinking.
  • The three’s Cs: Convincing, Credible, and Compelling.
  • Rhetoric: the art of persuasion by any means possible.
  • Heuristic (to discover): elements of research logic.
  • PROPOSAL: 1. Read selectively 2. Make physical observations 3. Reflect: find your lighthouse, your quiet place, where you can think, ponder.
  • You are inventing a problem, inventing research.
  • Choose your words carefully in the problem statement.
  • Don’t be too general in the problem statement. Get to it.
  • Never make value judgments or statements asserting the usefulness of your planned research.
  • All problem statements refer to variables.
  • Research problems should contain in their written expression some potential solution.
  • Remember that it takes time and the constant reworking of ideas to develop research questions from simple questions.
  • Research problems are statements expressing knowledge about what a solution may be and what may explain relevant phenomena.
  • Narrow the scope
  • Introduction: written expression of a research problem—nothing else. 

Academic Writing Links

The OWL at Purdue
The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison
* Check out The Writer’s Handbook

Advice on Academic Writing
University of Toronto(opens in new window)
The Writing Centre University of Toronto Web Resources

Writing Handouts
University of Illinois at Springfield

Materials for Students
Dartmouth Writing Program

Guides to Grammar and Writing
Capital Community College
Common Errors in English(opens in new window)

Scholarly versus Popular Periodicals
UC, Santa Cruz(opens in new window)
CSU, Chico University Publication Guide

Please click here for the thesis editor’s workshop on revision (PDF) and paraphrasing (PDF)

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