By Kayla Skarbakka, Writing Consultant
Every so often, we tutors receive e-mails from students expressing concerns about writing in English. “Some of my issues are related to translation,” a student recently noted. “My first language is Spanish, so you can imagine how difficult it is to write a paper in English.”
As someone with an embarrassingly limited knowledge of other languages, I certainly can imagine the challenge. There’s no way around it: scholarly writing is tough. The sophisticated vocabulary, tone, and structure needed to write clearly about complex ideas can prove arduous even if you’re writing in your first language. When you’re writing in a second (or third or fourth) language, the challenge is, of course, all the greater.
Monday, June 18, 2012 Expert Advice
By Julia Cox, Writing Consultant
American writer Isaac Singer once lamented, “The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.” Even though we now have a metaphorical wastebasket via the delete button, Singer’s sentiment remains true. Sometimes the best route to a good piece of writing is a truly horrible and scattered first draft.
There is a grand illusion that writing of any kind is a singular event—that The Great Gatsby was written in one sitting, or that Will Smith composed the lyrics to "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" on a whim. All forms of writing take time and revision, academic papers included. Setting aside the pressure to produce an immediately perfect piece can actually create a more effective drafting process. Here are some tips for getting that first draft down—minus the pressure:
By Matt Smith, Writing Consultant
To attain a graduate degree, especially a terminal degree, is to specialize in a chosen field. When you begin your study, you move from the general (an interest in teaching, let's say, or psychology) to the specific (enhancing your classroom methods with differentiated instruction, for example, or studying the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy in treating substance abuse).
Developing your capstone project necessarily involves the discovery of new scholarly terrain, and it makes sense that, as an explorer in the wild, you would strive to be as resourceful as possible in these efforts; after all, you have no idea whether there’s water or sand over the horizon. In this spirit, students working on their capstones or other large projects often want to use work they’ve already created (course papers, capstones from prior degrees, etc.) as building blocks for the work they’re really interested in.
For example, rather than rereading Bandura’s writing on social-cognitive theory, which you read two semesters ago and wrote a five-page paper about, you might want to reuse your ideas from that paper and get down to business researching the cutting-edge stuff recently published in major journals. As an intrepid explorer, you must have faith in your powers of deduction and reasoning—after all, that’s how you managed to navigate your way to this new territory in the first place.
However, your understanding of something—anything—shifts over time and depends greatly on your perspective and circumstances; how you think about a place you’ve never been to is inherently different from how you think of it once you’re there. In other words, you should avoid relying on your previous work because the way you look at a subject now will almost certainly be different from the way you looked at it before.