What makes a good writer? Is it knowing how to do a works cited page accurately? (Probably helps) Maybe it’s having a deep imagination? Or maybe it’s just practice.
Fiction icons like J.K. Rowling elevate writing to an art form by using language to draw the reader into a magical new world. However, for most students, being a good writer means producing work that’s clear, well-constructed and grammatically correct. This might not sound as much fun, but there are lots of easy ways you can make sure your academic writing is the very best it can be—even if it’s unlikely to be made into a blockbuster movie and merchandise franchise anytime soon.
Know When To Break The Rules
Grammar forms the essential structure of language, and without it, there would be no writing at all. However, it’s not a perfect system. At school we learn certain grammar rules such as ‘never end a sentence with a preposition’, but language evolves over time, and sometimes the old rules have to be broken. For example, nowadays we’re much more likely to ask ‘who were you talking to?’ than ‘to whom were you speaking?’ Having a good grasp of grammar means not only knowing the rules, but also knowing when you can break them.
Consider Your Audience
The way we use language and grammar can also change depending on our ‘audience’. When you chat to your friends it’s unlikely that you follow all the grammar rules to the letter. But in a formal academic context, showing that you can produce work that is grammatically correct and well structured becomes much more important. If in doubt, ask a friend, parent, or teacher to proofread your paper. It’s also easy to run your finished paper through a grammar checker to pick up on any mistakes you may have missed.
Similarly, the level of detail and explanation you need to put into your work will depend on the level of understanding you expect your reader to have. For example, a paper intended for your lecturer could assume a more advanced level of ‘common knowledge’ than a presentation you’re delivering to your classmates.
Use Online Tools As An Extra Check
With free online tools available to check your grammar, spelling and punctuation, there should be no reason to ever drop a grade for the basics—even if you’re not quite sure of the difference between a colon and a semicolon! However, these should be used in addition to your own checks, not instead of.
While computerized tools are great for extra peace of mind, they don’t always pick up on the context of writing, and may not recognize all the words you need to use, particularly if you are dealing with technical terms. If possible, you should also get a third party to proofread your work with fresh eyes, to hopefully pick up any errors you’ve gone blind to.
Cite It Right
Whether you are required to create an in text citation for website references, a full bibliography, or cite in MLA or another citation format, it’s crucial to signpost your reader to any quotes or paraphrased passages in your writing. Not only is this good practice, it can also mean the difference between scoring an A for your hard work or an F for plagiarism, whether it was intentional or not. Check out Cite This For Me for free and easy to use tools that can create a bibliography, an APA title page, a works cited page, a Chicago style in text citation, and citations in thousands of styles.
Be Both Creative And Critical
Academic essays and papers require both creative and critical thought to be applied at certain stages of the writing process. Knowing when to be freethinking and when to get seriously focused can help to ensure your work benefits from the best of both. Prewriting is a great habit to get into to get those initial ideas flowing. But you also need to have that critical eye ready for the evaluation and editing stages. Remember that your first draft is exactly that—a rough copy to be improved upon.
Also, don’t confuse creativity with over-complication. A research paper should be succinct and clear, so don’t use complicated language for the sake of it, and never use two words when one will do.
Getting into good writing habits won’t necessarily make you the next award-winning author, but they can help you score higher on your research papers and essays. Remember that practice makes perfect—the more you write, the more confident you’ll become!
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