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, so you should push yourself to develop your writing skills beyond the undergraduate level. Here are a few tips to turn “good” writing into “great” to help you succeed in all your grad school courses.
1. Be direct
Avoid 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.
2. 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.
3. Use strong transitions
You'll 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.
4. 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 grad 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.
Essays, analyses, arguments, message board responses, dissertations—don't be surprised by the amount of writing you'll have to do as part of your graduate program, whether's it's in person or online. Just remember these four tips and you'll bump your skills up to the grad school level. Good luck and happy writing!
Find more tips and tricks to help you survive your grad school classes, assignments, finals, and more in our Graduate School section.