On Academic Writing: Some Helpful Tips

As I was browsing through my Facebook, I came across this fascinating quotation:

“Life is like a camera…

Focus on what’s important,

Capture the good times,

Develop from the negatives. And if things don’t work out,

Take another shot…”

Suddenly, I thought this beautiful quote may also serve as an excellent guide not only for living our lives well, but also for improving one’s writing skills. Writing is such an important life skill to learn; in fact, outside school, a student like you has to write a great deal — when you write to your family or friends back home, update your superiors on what is happening to you in your present life away from your home community, when you apply for a scholarship or student loan, or even just to post something on your social network site such as Facebook, or Twitter. More importantly, writing comprises a great deal of a student’s academic life, so there is no way to avoid it. Surely, you would like your message come across clearly, and interestingly, as well.

Let us see then how each pointer can help you craft an excellent piece of academic writing.

  • Focus on what’s important. As you think of your topic, you also think about your main point, the central point that you would like to communicate regarding your topic. This is usually termed as the controlling point because it controls the flow of your discussion letting you avoid getting around the bush, or totally going out of your topic. When you think of the details to add “flesh” to your discussion, you just select what is important to make your meaning more clear.
  • Capture the good times. I should say, in terms of academic writing, this would mean that in discussing your main points, it is much better to think of the positive aspects of your topic; then write about them. On the other hand, if you are presenting an opinion, state it well in a positive statement rather in the negative. In this way, you will be able to have a lot of room for defending your view. Moreover, writing on the good points of an idea, place, thing or person that you are writing about, leaves a positive feeling on your readers. Stating your opinion in a positive statement can easier make your readers see your point and let them agree with you.
  • Develop from the negatives. In photography, pictures are developed from the negatives. In academic writing, these are the mistakes you make in form, structure and content: grammar, sentence and paragraph structure, choice of words and ideas that do not help communicate clearly what you want your readers to understand. In other words, as you go through each writing stage, you should patiently revise and edit until your composition is perfect. A helpful way to help you check out for the negatives and develop your topic from there is to discuss your initial draft with your peer, that is, with your classmate. Perhaps, you may ask your professor to take a look at your draft so he/she can give you feedbacks on how to better handle your discussion.
  • Take another shot, if things don’t work out. In taking photos with our cameras, we discard shots that do not capture well the scene we would like to have. This is especially easy to do nowadays with digital cams and phone cameras. Likewise, in academic writing, after you have spent a considerable amount of time on your paper, and you seem not able to get your points clearly mapped out for your readers, then it is time to start writing all over again — on the same topic, or on another. If you re-write on the same topic, you may have to consider looking at it from a different perspective or controlling point,  or try using a different approach in presenting it. Usually, for many students, it means looking for another topic that they can easily work out on a clean slate.

Each of these pointers, if followed patiently, diligently and with care, will surely give your readers a very interesting, clear and well-detailed picture of your ideas. Indeed, to paraphrase — writing is like a camera!   

Note: I refer to these pointers as general rules to follow, and students should be aware of the other writing requirements needed for their specific task. (Teacher Marichu)