Top 10 Writing Tips for Undergraduates
Most undergraduate students at Walden have been out of high school or college for several years, so academic writing can feel unfamiliar. Just like anything else, though, writing is a skill you will learn to develop with practice. Below are the Writing Center’s top undergraduate writing tips to help you get started.
1. Plan Your Time
Walden courses are fast-paced, often with a paper assignment due every Sunday night. No matter how hard you try, you cannot write a perfect, polished essay at the very last minute. Schedule studying and writing times throughout the week, taking into account your work and family responsibilities. You might find that writing a little bit each day, in chunks, helps manage your assignment load. For more planning tips and tools, see the Academic Skills Center’s page on Managing Time/Stress and the Writing Center’s Assignment Planner.
2. Know the Academic Writing Expectations (AWE)
The School of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Studies created the AWE to help you build your writing skills with each course level. In early courses, you practice writing compelling sentences and paragraphs and integrating evidence. Later on, you learn more about citations and references in APA style, as well as essay-level skills. Consult the AWE for your current course level. Do your abilities match the expectations listed? Use the AWE to create goals for yourself.
3. Use the Assignment Instructions and Rubric
Within your courses, there are several powerful tools to help focus and develop your writing. First, the assignment instructions give you important information about the length of the assignment and the topics you should cover. Use these instructions as an outline as you are writing. Second, the rubric tells you how your work will be assessed. If a certain part of the assignment is worth more points on the rubric, you know you should devote a lot of attention to it. For more tips on writing and revising using your assignment materials, listen to this podcast episode or view our Revising webinar.
4. Get Comfortable With Writing
At Walden, most communication with peers and professors occurs in writing. You are also assessed on your writing via discussion board and essay assignments. This attention to writing can be scary, especially for students who have been away from an academic setting for some time. You might need to start journaling or find a writing buddy to feel more comfortable. See our Writing Through Fear blog post for more tips.
5. Read Your Professor's Feedback
One of the fundamental ways to learn is through the written feedback from your professor. This might seem like a simple statement, but some students do not ever access this written feedback, and so they miss out on a valuable opportunity. When you receive your grades in Canvas, click on the individual assignment title to bring up the professor’s general comments. In those comments, you should see your attached submission with specific feedback embedded. Read our page on Using Feedback for more tips and download a feedback journal as a way to keep track of suggested improvements.
6. Make an Argument
In most assignments, you need to discuss a topic and have a reason for discussing that topic. Rather than just summarizing, you need to analyze and convince your reader of something. For example, if your topic is electric cars, your purpose might be to convince the reader that electric cars are an efficient alternative to gas cars. This means that every paragraph will be part of your overall goal to argue this point. Kayla explores the importance of argument in her blog post Argue Is Not a Dirty Word.
7. Practice Academic Integrity
As an academic writer, you use information from books, journal articles, and trusted websites to support your argument. To present this information ethically and with integrity, you need to give credit to the original source. At Walden, students give credit through APA citations in the text. Citations should accompany any ideas, information, or phrasing from others. You will gain familiarity with citing sources as you progress through your program; for now, see our Using and Crediting Sources playlist for an overview.
8. Organize Your Ideas
All of your discussion posts and papers should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. An introduction provides background on the topic and includes your thesis statement. In essence, the introduction prepares the reader for all of the main points you will be making in the body. The body is where you develop your argument, paragraph by paragraph. Your conclusion acts as a summary and helps the reader understand the significance of the information presented.
9. Develop an Academic Voice
A formal, direct, and precise voice is expected in college-level writing. This means that you should avoid informal language such as colloquialisms, slang, metaphors, clichés, and jargon, as well as questions and contractions. Instead of having a conversation with the reader, you are an authority building an argument. The reader needs to trust in you.
10. Revisit Grammar and Sentence Structure
Because the goal of academic writing is to clearly communicate, you should ensure that your writing follows proper American English grammar and sentence structure rules. Otherwise, a reader might become confused. The Grammar page of our website provides explanation on many common grammar concerns. You might also find Grammarly helpful; Grammarly is an automated program that identifies potential sentence errors and offers revision tips.