Writing advice for undergraduates

I am in the middle of grading stacks of undergraduate essays. If I could give one piece of advice to the students, it would be that they should read their essays aloud to themselves when preparing the final version.

For each sentence, they should ask:

  1. What is the argument I am trying to make with this sentence?
  2. Do I make my point clearly?
  3. Is there any way I can make the sentence simpler or more specific?

Most essays I have looked at have included sentences that no person would leave unchanged after reading them aloud. All the essays have featured sentences that are unnecessarily convoluted or too vague to express much of anything.

Particularly when your essay is destined to end up in a stack to be assessed by a grad student teaching assistant, it is essential to make sure that your sentences are comprehensible and advance the overall argument you are making.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

6 thoughts on “Writing advice for undergraduates”

  1. Also – if the topic of your paper isn’t made clear in the first paragraph you’re doing something wrong.

  2. These are good suggestions for sure. If you have a clear thesis, it also helps you to formulate effective arguments and unobscured messages. Too many words often mean that you are not clear what you want to say or what position you are taking. that said, some literary masterpieces do not follow this formula at all. Faulkner comes to mind for me.

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