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How to Elevate Your Writing for Postsecondary

Written by Raven Wilkinson

Photo by Hannah Olinger

Writing in postsecondary isn’t easy, but here are some sure ways to improve your skill! 

As a grad student, I spent four semesters as a teaching assistant. That meant anything from attending undergraduate lectures to leading tutorials or marking assignments and exams. And even though I was a TA for communications courses, strong and effective university-level writing wasn’t an easy thing for many students who were transitioning out of high school. While everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, I found some pretty common issues that students struggled with. While my students didn’t benefit from the funny gifs, I thought I’d share the same tips I gave them.

Start EARLY!!!!!

start early

Even if you can physically write a paper in a day or a few hours, please don’t! Prioritize and manage your time so you don’t have to scramble to write it all at the last minute.

Review the assignment guidelines and answer ALL the questions

aladdin scroll

Read through the instructions and make sure you have discussed all of the required questions, topics, and points. After that, check, double-check and triple-check that you’ve met all expectations.

Avoid generalizations deadpool lazy writing

Please, do not begin your introduction with “Since the beginning of time…” or “In today’s society…” It does not contribute to your paper and there is no sound evidence to back up this claim. Your introduction and all of your points should be relevant to your topic, so it all supports your thesis statement. 

Avoid passive voice

this is good, writing

You want your writing to be engaging and easy to follow. One way to achieve this is to avoid and eliminate all passive language. The subject should be the one doing the action. Therefore, it shouldn’t have the action done to it. This point is tough to explain to students, but once you understand it and can spot it in your own writing, it’s a true gamechanger. Here are a couple of examples:

E.g. “The brakes were slammed on by her” VS “She slammed on the brakes”

E.g. “It is evident that…” VS. “Evidently…”

Which one sounds better? If you choose the options on the right side, then you can successfully identify active voice, woo!

Give yourself time to edit and proofread 

new girl misspelling words

This is a tip from my grade 12 English teacher. Finish your work early enough that you can leave your paper alone for a day or two. That way, when you revisit it, you’ve created some distance between you and your words. This will allow you to see grammar errors and fix confusing sentences easier.

Ask for assistance

the simpsons office hours

Visit your professor’s office hours. Or make an appointment with campus writing services to review your work and help you find a direction for your paper. You can also speak with your TA or ask a question after the lecture. Basically, use the opportunities given to you to discuss your work!

Make sure your paper is clear and concise 

be more specific

Can you explain something clearer? Can more than one sentence be combined to make your idea more succinct? Are there some words you can remove to get to your point quicker? 

Write in your own voice

find your own voice robin williams

Use the language you would use. Trying to “sound smarter” with big words or phrases you don’t completely understand is usually less successful than sticking to what you know (provided that the above tips are followed).

Review your feedback 

feedback

Don’t skip over this one! If you really want to elevate your writing, take the time to read over your strengths, as well as where there may be areas for development. Naturally, this will help you do better in the future. Remember that the main goal is improving more than just your grades. Although if you follow the above tips, then hopefully there will be a rise in grades as well!

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