Introduction to Academic Writing

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Writing1: The Writing Process

The Writing Process, Planning, and KPU Resources

Academic Writing

This section offers suggestions on how to handle the demands university places upon you as a writer. The general techniques you will learn will help you succeed on any writing task–from an hour-and-a-half midterm exam to an in-depth research project over several weeks.

Putting It All Together: Strategies for Success

Writing well is difficult. Even people who write for a living sometimes struggle to get their thoughts on the page. Even people who generally enjoy writing have days when they would rather do anything else. For people who do not like writing or do not think of themselves as good writers, writing assignments can be stressful or even intimidating. And of course, you cannot get through college without having to write—sometimes a lot, and often at a higher level than you are used to.

No magic formula will make writing quick and easy. However, you can use strategies and resources to manage writing assignments more easily. This section presents a broad overview of these strategies and resources. The remaining chapters of this book provide more detailed, comprehensive instruction to help you succeed at a variety of assignments. College will challenge you as a writer, but it is also a unique opportunity to grow.

Using the Writing Process

To complete a writing project successfully, good writers use some variation of the following process.

The Writing Process

  • Prewriting. In this step, the writer generates ideas to write about and begins developing these ideas.
  • Outlining a structure of ideas. In this step, the writer determines the overall organizational structure of the writing and creates an outline to organize ideas. Usually this step involves some additional fleshing out of the ideas generated in the first step.
  • Writing a rough draft. In this step, the writer uses the work completed in prewriting to develop a first draft. The draft covers the ideas the writer brainstormed and follows the organizational plan that was laid out in the first step.
  • Revising. In this step, the writer revisits the draft to review and, if necessary, reshape its content. This stage involves moderate and sometimes major changes: adding or deleting a paragraph, phrasing the main point differently, expanding on an important idea, reorganizing content, and so forth.
  • Editing. In this step, the writer reviews the draft to make additional changes. Editing involves making changes to improve style and adherence to standard writing conventions—for instance, replacing a vague word with a more precise one or fixing errors in grammar and spelling. Once this stage is complete, the work is a finished piece and ready to share with others.

Chances are, you have already used this process as a writer. You may also have used it for other types of creative projects, such as developing a sketch into a finished painting or composing a song. The steps listed above apply broadly to any project that involves creative thinking. You come up with ideas (often vague at first), you work to give them some structure, you make a first attempt, you figure out what needs improving, and then you refine it until you are satisfied.

Most people have used this creative process in one way or another, but many people have misconceptions about how to use it to write. Here are a few of the most common misconceptions students have about the writing process:

  • “I do not have to waste time on prewriting if I understand the assignment.” Even if the task is straightforward and you feel ready to start writing, take some time to develop ideas before you plunge into your draft. Freewriting—writing about the topic without stopping for a set period of time—is one prewriting technique you might try in that situation.
  • “It is important to complete a formal, numbered outline for every writing assignment.” For some assignments, such as lengthy research papers, proceeding without a formal outline can be very difficult. However, for other assignments, a structured set of notes or a detailed graphic organizer may suffice. The important thing is that you have a solid plan for organizing ideas and details.
  • “My draft will be better if I write it when I am feeling inspired.” By all means, take advantage of those moments of inspiration. However, understand that sometimes you will have to write when you are not in the mood. Sit down and start your draft even if you do not feel like it. If necessary, force yourself to write for just one hour. By the end of the hour, you may be far more engaged and motivated to continue. If not, at least you will have accomplished part of the task.
  • “My instructor will tell me everything I need to revise.” If your instructor chooses to review drafts, the feedback can help you improve. However, it is still your job, not your instructor’s, to transform the draft to a final, polished piece. That task will be much easier if you give your best effort to the draft before submitting it. During revision, do not just go through and implement your instructor’s corrections. Take time to determine what you can change to make the work the best it can be.
  • “I am a good writer, so I do not need to revise or edit.” Even talented writers still need to revise and edit their work. At the very least, doing so will help you catch an embarrassing typo or two. Revising and editing are the steps that make good writers into great writers.

Tip

The writing process also applies to timed writing tasks, such as essay exams. Before you begin writing, read the question thoroughly and think about the main points to include in your response. Use scrap paper to sketch out a very brief outline. Keep an eye on the clock as you write your response so you will have time to review it and make any needed changes before turning in your exam.

Managing Your Time

When your instructor gives you a writing assignment, write the due date on your calendar. Then work backward from the due date to set aside blocks of time when you will work on the assignment. Always plan at least two sessions of writing time per assignment, so that you are not trying to move from step 1 to step 5 in one evening. Trying to work that fast is stressful, and it does not yield great results. You will plan better, think better, and write better if you space out the steps.

Ideally, you should set aside at least three separate blocks of time to work on a writing assignment: one for prewriting and outlining, one for drafting, and one for revising and editing. Sometimes those steps may be compressed into just a few days. If you have a couple of weeks to work on a paper, space out the five steps over multiple sessions. Long-term projects, such as research papers, require more time for each step.

Tip

In certain situations you may not be able to allow time between the different steps of the writing process. For instance, you may be asked to write in class or complete a brief response paper overnight. If the time available is very limited, apply a modified version of the writing process (as you would do for an essay exam). It is still important to give the assignment thought and effort. However, these types of assignments are less formal, and instructors may not expect them to be as polished as formal papers. When in doubt, ask the instructor about expectations, resources that will be available during the writing exam, and if they have any tips to prepare you to effectively demonstrate your writing skills.

EXAMPLE: Each Monday in Crystal’s Foundations of Education class, the instructor distributed copies of a current news article on education and assigned students to write a one-and-one-half- to two-page response that was due the following Monday. Together, these weekly assignments counted for 20 percent of the course grade. Although each response took just a few hours to complete, Crystal found that she learned more from the reading and got better grades on her writing if she spread the work out in the following way:

Setting Goals

One key to succeeding as a student and as a writer is setting both short- and long-term goals for yourself. You have already glimpsed the kind of short-term goals a student might set. Crystal wanted to do well in her Foundations of Education course, and she realized that she could control how she handled her weekly writing assignments. At 20 percent of her course grade, she reasoned, those assignments might mean the difference between a C and a B or between a B and an A.By planning carefully and following through on her daily and weekly goals, Crystal should be able to fulfill one of her goals for the semester.

To do well in college, it is important to stay focused on how your day-to-day actions determine your long-term success. You may not have defined your career goals or chosen a major yet. Even so, you surely have some overarching goals for what you want out of college: to expand your career options, to increase your earning power, or just to learn something new. In time, you will define your long-term goals more explicitly. Doing solid, steady work, day by day and week by week, will help you meet those goals.

Using KPU Resources

One reason students sometimes find university overwhelming is that they do not know about, or are reluctant to use, the resources available to them. Some aspects of college will be challenging. However, if you try to handle every challenge alone, you may become frustrated and overwhelmed.

Universities have resources in place to help students cope with challenges. Your student fees help pay for resources such as academic advising, personal counselling, and The Learning Centre. The following are some of the resources you might use if you find you need help:

  • Your instructor. If you are making an honest effort but still struggling with a particular course, set up a time to meet with your instructor and discuss what you can do to improve. He or she may be able to shed light on a confusing concept or give you strategies to catch up.
  • KPU offers Academic Advising  for
    • Course planning & selection
    • Program choices
    • Course prerequisites
    • Program & graduation requirements
    • Academic regulations & policies
    • Educational planning for career goals
  • KPU Learning Centres: For students, the four Kwantlen Learning Centres are facilities where any Kwantlen student can find individualized learning assistance and assessments, help with study skills and learning strategies, and free one-to-one and small group tutoring in a range of writing, math, and content areas. Our online tutoring program offers students academic writing help from home, work, or school. Print and electronic resources are also available.
  • KPU Virtual Writing Centre: This site was created by Dr. Betty Anne Buirs, English Department, and contains many excellent resources on grammar, the writing process, and writing for different purposes.
  • KPU Career Counselling: If you are a registered Kwantlen student, you can also make an appointment with a counsellor on an individual basis to discuss your career concerns, such as career choice, transition from school to work and career management.
  • KPU Personal Counselling: Kwantlen’s professional counsellors are fully qualified to do personal counselling. We work with students on a wide range of issues – basically, anything that affects their academic performance or general well-being. Examples of common concerns include: adjustment to post-secondary studies; anxiety, depression and stress; relationship and family problems, including domestic violence; and perfectionism and procrastination. In addition, Counsellors assist students in crisis and make referrals for specialized help.
  • KPU Early Alert: The Early Alert program is an online service that enables instructors to identify students who are at risk of falling behind. Rather than hoping that students in difficulty will seek help, instructors are able to refer students so that they can get timely and targeted support. The Early Alert team consists of representatives from Kwantlen student services departments, who will identify resources that can assist and will contact the student by email or phone to discuss the situation further. An instructor may identify at-risk students because they have missed or failed assignments, have underdeveloped study skills, are unprepared for course rigour, are not writing at university level, do not have the course materials/texts. Other reasons students might be referred to the Early Alert team include sleeping in class, arriving late to class, being absent from class for three or more classes, missing too many classes to be successful, leaving class early, being disruptive in class, appearing to be distressed in class, a change in demeanour (which might indicate anxiety, aggression, depression, or distress), or comments of concern from other students.

Students sometimes neglect to use available resources due to limited time, unwillingness to admit there is a problem, or embarrassment about needing to ask for help. Unfortunately, ignoring a problem usually makes it harder to cope with later on. Waiting until the end of the semester may also mean fewer resources are available, since many other students are also seeking last-minute help.

Overview: Academic Writing Skills

You now have a solid foundation of skills and strategies you can use to succeed in college. Other sections of this open, online textbook will provide you with guidance on specific aspects of writing, ranging from grammar and style conventions to how to write a research paper.

For any academic writing assignment, use these strategies:

  • Plan ahead. Divide the work into smaller, manageable tasks, and set aside time to accomplish each task in turn.
  • Understand the assignment requirements. If necessary, clarify the requirements with your instructor. Think carefully about the purpose of the writing, the intended audience, the topics you will need to address, and any specific requirements of the writing form.
  • Complete each step of the writing process. With practice, using this process will come automatically to you.
  • Use the resources available to you. Remember that most colleges have specific services to help students with their writing.

For help with specific writing assignments and guidance on different aspects of writing, you may refer to the other sections in this book.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Following the steps of the writing process helps students complete any writing assignment more successfully.
  • To manage writing assignments, it is best to work backward from the due date, allotting appropriate time to complete each step of the writing process.
  • Setting concrete long- and short-term goals helps students stay focused and motivated.
  • A variety of KPU resources are available to help students with writing and with other aspects of college life.

Adapted from Successful Writing.

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