Developing Good Writing Habits

Published: Tues., Oct. 29, 2019

As a graduate student, you have a lot of writing to do. This includes your thesis, your dissertation, journal articles for publication, and papers for class to name a few. Being a productive writer is essential to completing all this work in a timely manner. Good writers are not just people who are naturally good at writing. They work at it. They outline, they write, and they revise. No one becomes a great writer overnight, but if you work at you can develop skills to help you be productive as a writer now and in the future.

Schedule your writing time

When you map out your week schedule, find a time that you can regularly plan to write. Put it in your schedule like it is a class meeting. This protects that time so that you will have that consistent time to write and work on your projects. Once you settle into these habits, you will find that it becomes second nature to sit down and write at those times. You may want to start with scheduling an hour at a time for this purpose. Eliminate other distractions and find a quiet place to work. This tip can be particularly helpful if you have a lot of demands on your time that might prevent you from completing your work in a timely manner and need that quiet time alone to work on your projects.

Join or start a writing group

Writing groups usually involve 3-5 people who meet regularly to work on their projects, to review each other's work, and the support each other's needs. Writing groups can be made up of people in your department or friends and colleagues in different departments. The important thing is that you meet regularly to work and that you can provide each other constructive feedback on their work. Start each meeting by sharing what your goals are for that session. Your writing group are your accountability partners and you will all help keep each other on track. If your writing group involves people who are not all in the same city you can meet virtually via Zoom or a similar service.

Work with your natural rhythms

Are you a night owl or a morning person? If you are trying to find times to write and read articles, pick times that you are at your best. If you are not a morning person don't try to read articles or write early in the morning. You will always be more productive if you pick a time that you know you will be more alert and awake.

Use class assignments wisely

If you have a thesis or dissertation to write, don't add to your workload by adding class papers. For each class assignment, see if there is a way to use that assignment to help write a portion of your literature review for your thesis, for example. Some of the most productive writers find ways to use their class assignments or other work to help them get ahead.

Seek advice

No one is a perfect writer. We all have to seek advice or help with our writing. In addition to your advisor, you may also want to have others review your work. One resource at UNL is the Writing Center and they are happy to review work by graduate students. You can also seek out peers who can review your work or provide feedback along the way.

Divide up the work

Writing big projects like dissertations can be overwhelming. Break it down into smaller steps, like writing a small section of your methods section, each day or each time you write. This will help it feel less overwhelming and you'll be able to see improvement every day.

No matter which tips you use to help yourself be more productive, remember becoming a productive writer takes time and developing new habits requires commitment and persistence. Keep working at it and one day you'll find you want even have to think about how to get your writing done.