Tips to Take Your Writing to the Graduate Level

Test Prep Tutor and Writer,

Jun   2012



Most graduate programs require you to do a lot of reading and synthesizing information on your own. You’ll likely have to write at least one major paper per class, and should push yourself to develop your writing skills beyond the undergraduate level. Here are a few tips to turn “good” writing into “great” writing!

Be direct

Grad WriterAvoid any kind of wishy-washy qualifying language in your graduate school essays. Your tone needs to be forceful and confident, like an expert’s. You are pursuing a graduate degree after all—trust your abilities! Remove words like “could be,” “might be,” “perhaps,” “maybe,” etc. from your work when you proofread. Go through scholarly business articles and/or other students’ essays to work on your proofreading abilities, and highlight phrases that particularly stand out to you as impressive, well-wrought, and cogent. Make a list of your favorites and try to incorporate them when appropriate in your own essays. Don’t shoehorn them in if the specific assignment really doesn’t call for it, but the act of even researching and putting together such a list will really get you headed in the right direction!

Avoid unnecessary first person tense

There’s no easier way to sound less self-assured than to pepper your thesis papers with “I think” and “I believe.” Of course you believe it, you’re the one writing the essay after all! Referring to yourself does not add anything generally, and mainly distracts the reader from your argument. Keep the focus on the points you are trying to make. If you would like to use an example incident from your own life, find a scholarly way of incorporating it, and don’t let your tone become too casual.

Use strong transitions

You will need to steer the reader from paragraph to paragraph while always holding the thread of your argument together. The best way to do this is to use good transition words and phrases. Try to beef up these words and avoid common clichés. If you are just beginning to practice, it’s better to be clear and use words like “firstly. . .” and “secondly. . .” when you set up a transition rather than have no transitions at all, but as you get better at them, try to mix it up. Invest in a good thesaurus.

Control your sentence structure

Longer isn’t always better. Remember how you could procrastinate as a college freshman and stay up all night writing your term papers? Don’t take those bad habits into graduate school! Be wary of your sentence structure meandering out of your control and getting wordy, redundant, or just plain pedantic. Don’t get so lost in the description of your examples and primary sources that you forget to clarify how they support your theses. It’s better to be succinct and clear than to prove you have an extensive vocabulary and lose sight of your argument.

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About Vivian Kerr

Vivian Kerr

Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005. She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep companies including Kaplan for whom she taught ACT, SAT, ISEE, GRE, GMAT, and did admissions counseling. She is a contributing blogger at Beat the GMAT, and currently blogs, tutors, and writes content for the online test prep company Grockit, which focuses on making standardized test preparation affordable and accessible for students around the world. She loves to see her former students succeed in grad school!

You can find Vivian's profile on Grockit or subscribe to her CollegeXpress blog