4 Writing Tips I Wish I'd Known as a Freshman

I was the girl who aced every paper I wrote in high school. So the second one of my first college professor slapped my paper with a “D,” back in freshman year, I was aghast.

“I don’t write D papers!” I claimed. But now that I look back at it (and any other Microsoft word documents dated around that time) I realize that I did, in fact, write D papers.

I’ve come a long way since then in the writing department—and to get there, I’ve picked up a long list of helpful tips and tricks. Maybe they’ll save someone out there the grueling trial and error process and sky rocket them straight into A-paper territory.

1. Keep It Short and Sweet

Something about huge, complex sentences just looks so…academic. But you shouldn’t take a simple idea and stretch it out if it’s not going to add depth.

If you’re completely unable to shorten the idea, try to trim the fat in other places.

Words and phrases like, “seemingly,” or “perhaps,” are hollow. If you need to cut out words somewhere, start here. Consider cleaving compound sentences when possible.

Ideally, each sentence should have its own easily identifiable purpose.

2. Give Your Verbs Power

It can be tricky to pull off, but many prefer to see you use concrete verbs rather than ones that end in –ing. You can’t always avoid this format unless you sacrifice some of your intended meaning.

–Ing verbs lack the power that a more distinct sort has. To say, “She walked,” sounds like more of a commitment than, “She was walking.”

It indicates that something happened at a specific moment. And, overall, this form also makes the sentence more direct and concise; which are both good things in terms of writing.

3. Expand Your Vocabulary

A.K.A. use fewer adverbs.           

Adverbs, in and of themselves, are not bad. Most writers/readers dislike these guys because they get tacked on to general verbs to give them emotion. But there’s usually a verb out there already that conveys both the action and emotion.

 For instance, to say someone frowned uncomfortably does not paint nearly as specific a picture as saying they grimaced.

This tends not to crop up in academic writing as often as it might in creative or editorial, but it never hurts to put more power behind your words regardless of the medium.

4. Don't Be; Just Do

I’m sure you’ve heard it a thousand times: don’t write in passive voice. But sometimes, passive voice is harder to catch—especially the more complex a sentence becomes. So here’s a little trick that one of my professors taught me.

You can usually tell if a sentence is passive if a form of the verb, “to be,” appears in a sentence as a second verb.

So if there’s any, “is, was, am, are, were,” or any other conjugation of the verb, like in the sentence, “It was built,” your sentence is probably passive.

So add agency! I know that I shied away from doing that in academic papers, because I wasn’t always sure who was responsible for some event in history or politics. If I omitted the subject altogether, that wasn’t an issue.

But if you’re doing the same thing, and skimping out on information by giving your information a funny structure, I encourage you to just do that last bit of research. Not only will your writing sound nicer, it will also have more content.

So try out some of these tips on your next paper, they may come in handy. Happy writing!