Graduate Level Essays

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

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!

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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If academic writing is a distant memory for you, or perhaps something you've never done, the prospect of starting to research and write an academic essay can be intimidating. If you're a new graduate student, please click here to hear a short pep talk from Theresa Bell (Writing Centre coordinator). Before you start working on a specific assignment, please view the resources linked below to receive an introduction to academic research and writing at RRU:

Now that you're ready to begin the process of writing a specific assignment, this guide will take you step-by-step through the process of researching and writing an assignment with resources, tips, and suggestions from both the Library and the Writing Centre. You can work through each step by using the "next" navigation on each page, or you can use the list below to jump into a particular topic. To begin, click on the first link below.

  1. Understand the assignment
  2. Create a preliminary document plan
  3. Draft your thesis statement
  4. Research the topic
    1. Become familiar with the information landscape
    2. Select the appropriate search tool
    3. Develop effective searches
    4. Beyond keyword searching
    5. Evaluate your resources
    6. Read and absorb the information you find
    7. Use a citation manager to organize your research
  5. Finalize your document plan
  6. Double-check your research
  7. Start writing the first draft
  8. Overcoming writer's block
  9. Revise the draft
  10. Edit the draft
  11. Prepare the final version
  12. Submit the assignment

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