CGU Professors' Advice on Writing

Compiled by Writing Center Staff Writing Pedagogy

This information is based on notes taken on Talking about Writing workshops and faculty interviews. Professors were asked what they do when they write and what suggestions they have for student writers. This is a compilation of some of their ideas organized around the basic stages of the writing process - inventing, outlining, drafting, and revising.

We hope this page will be useful both for instructors looking for some helpful tips to pass on to their students and for students who seek to benefit from the advice of experienced scholars.

General Advice

Find good models and find out why they are good.

Look at professional journals in your field, and follow the conventions.

History professor: "Your body tells you when to write." In the morning with a clear desk and a cup of coffee, perhaps. Set up a routine that works for you.

Set aside large blocks of time to write.

"Force yourself to write even if you don't feel like it."

When a professor offers to read over a first draft before the paper is due, take advantage of the opportunity.

Set artificial deadlines, especially if you are a procrastinator.

Education professor's process: spew, organize, write, criticize, revise - again and again.

Inventing

Write down ideas all the time. Keep a journal. If you're an oral person, you might tape your ideas. These practices keep you in touch with what you are thinking.

Politics and Policy professor:" The first conversation is with yourself. Once it's on paper, it has a life of its own, but you don't know if it will work until it's written down."

Economics professor: "Research is a big conversation." Don't research and write in isolation. Talk over ideas with your colleagues and make notes.

The purpose of the literature search is to motivate your own inquiry. Know what you want to say, and focus your search. Engage the literature; don't just summarize it. Ask, "So what?"

Before drafting, do a "mind dump" first. Then clear the screen and start writing the paper. One professor advises, "Throw away whatever you start out writing. The first stuff is just to get you going."

Outlining

History professor:"Outlining is the thing on which you grow the paper. It enables you to have the paper before you have the paper."

Outlining is highly recommended by some professors and used more informally by others. But they caution, "Be flexible." Often your ideas will change as you write. Don't rule out new ideas you discover just because they don't fit the outline.

Drafting

Don't research and read too long and start writing too late.

Write regularly. Begin each day rereading yesterday's work. Be your own devil's advocate. Sometimes real progress is just revising yesterday's writing.

Anticipate your audience - what it knows and what it needs to know.

Write the introduction and conclusion last.

If your topic is well focused, you should be able to tell what the paper is about in one sentence.

Don't get bogged down in data. Get to your point.

Use placeholders when you get stuck, and move on.

Use signposts - transitions, headings, or organizing sentences.

Bullets and headings are recommended in some fields; be sure the context and the connections among the points are clear.

Show respect for positions you criticize.

Revising

Don't turn in a first draft as a finished paper.

Set a draft aside for awhile (a day, sometimes a month) so that you revise it with a fresh perspective and see it as a reader would.

First revise the content; then edit the sentences and words.

When editing, read your writing aloud. Notice sharp stops. Also watch for sentence breaks, lengths, and rhythms. Finally, edit for elegance - precise and concise wording.

Share your writing with a constructive, critical reader. You might form a group of fellow writers for this purpose, or use the Writing Center.


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