Learning to Write


Building Good Writing Skills
Good writing is not a talent; it's a skill acquired (or learned) through practice and dedication. On the road to becoming an effective writer, you will learn to give and receive constructive criticism and you will learn how to find time to write. You will also work hard to overcome obstacles, like writer’s block, that may prevent you from writing.

Give and Receive Constructive Criticism
Writing is an iterative process with many drafts, reviews, and revisions. Along the way, the feedback you give and receive will strengthen your writing. Peer reviews, both formal and informal, offer opportunities for you to address unclear areas, provide alternative viewpoints, and offer suggestions for improvement. While critique can be intimidating and seem extremely personal, constructive criticism is perhaps the most helpful tool for you to understand the scholarly writing process and produce a scholarly product. Above all, remember that critiques are not personal attacks.

Beyond offering advice about technical issues like grammar and punctuation, peer reviewers provide a thoughtful critique of content and offer insightful examples. Of course, some people are more skilled at providing feedback than others. Remember that just because the reviewer offers feedback does not mean you must act on it. Critically reflect on the reviewer's comments and incorporate feedback into your writing as you see fit. If multiple reviewers offer a similar criticism, however, be prepared to revise your manuscript to aid clarity. If you choose not to incorporate criticism from conference or journal reviewers, be sure to explain your reasoning in the letter to the editor.

Establish your own peer group to review one another’s manuscripts: you will improve your own writing and your ability to provide productive feedback.

Find Time to Write
With your teaching obligations, you may have difficulty finding a large block of time to write. Rather than dwelling on the scarcity of time, find pockets of productivity. You can be structured or unstructured with your time. Sometimes the most opportune times are the easiest to overlook, such as using commuting time to write, read, take notes, and edit manuscripts. 

Creating a broad or narrow plan for completing writing projects is also an effective tool for staying motivated and focused. To resolve competing priorities, schedule writing time as you would schedule other appointments and meetings. Then honor those commitments to write.

Manage Writer's Block
Writer’s block might be the single largest impediment to completing your thesis or dissertation. Learn to manage writer’s block now to avoid frustration later. Preparing a scholarly manuscript is somewhat like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. A few pieces might snap into place. However, when your manuscript does not take shape quickly, you may become overwhelmed, frustrated, and blocked. The more you try, the more difficult writing becomes, creating confusion, anxiety, and self-doubt. Here are some helpful ways you can manage writer’s block and successfully complete your project:

Set your project aside. You can gain perspective on your manuscript, or a particular problem, by relaxing or changing direction. Unexpectedly, another piece might snap into place and you can resume writing. You will experience writer’s block more than once, but with patience and persistence, you will complete the manuscript.

Take a break. Sometimes we get writer's block because we are burned out or have read too much. Take care of yourself. Stress, exhaustion, and unrealistic expectations can also lead to writer’s block. Nourish your mind and body through sleep, exercise, and healthy food.

Still the inner critic.
Sometimes the inner critic unleashes writer’s block. And other times, we experience writer's block because of perfectionism, low self-confidence, fear of failure, or fear of rejection. Try to silence the inner critic that criticizes every word or sentence.

Try mind mapping or free writing to still the inner critic and get words on the page. What you write is not as important as that you are writing. Writing just fifteen minutes a day helps you set good habits that often result in breakthroughs and movement toward finishing the manuscript.

Talk about your work. 
Unblock your thoughts by talking about your ideas. Like freewriting, a conversation may be the best tool to free your thinking. You can make notes or record your conversation for later review and writing.

Express Your Scholarly Voice
The emerging scholar may rely on excessive paraphrase or quotes from other authors. Perhaps attributable to the imposter phenomenon, the scholar reliant on another’s voice to make her point does not trust her own voice to join in scholarly conversations. The scholar who has found her voice, on the other hand, demonstrates a solid argument that will add to the knowledge base. Trust yourself—you are capable and worthy of participating in scholarly conversations.

Being scholars means approaching everything with curiosity, continually questioning what we read, making new connections, and looking for gaps in the knowledge base. If what has already been written and published could never be challenged, eventually the scholarly flame would be extinguished.

Kostopulos Nackoney, C., Munn, S.L. & Fernandez, J. (2011). Learning to write: Wisdom from emerging scholars. In T.S. Rocco & T Hatcher (Eds.), The handbook of scholarly writing and publishing (pp. 26-43). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.