"HELP! I’ve been out of school for 20 years. Now I’m in graduate school, and I feel lost. It’s been so long since I’ve written a paper that I feel like I’ve forgotten everything!"
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, rest assured that it will be ok. And, congratulations! You’re doing an amazing thing by going back to school! You’ve already shown that you have the courage and skills to get this far. You also do already have a degree, so you must have known what you were doing at some point, right?
That said, you do need to be aware of and prepared for the writing expectations you will face as a graduate student. Graduate level writing expects you to more deeply analyze and synthesize the research while keeping your own voice, rather than rehashing the research. You are also expected to successfully paraphrase your sources rather than simply quoting them; this shows your depth of understanding.
Overall, you should use a formal, academic tone, which means avoiding the use of cliches, contractions, first person, and passive voice. For each assignment, truly make sure you understand the prompt, with no questions lingering. Do you know exactly what your professor wants you to do? Who your audience is? What types of sources you need to incorporate? What style (APA, MLA) will be required? Clear up all questions or ambiguity immediately, rather than hoping to figure it out later. Plan your paper early, and make deadlines for drafts. This will ensure that you stay on track, have time to take breaks from the writing, and allow time to revise and edit.
Yes, the expectations can feel intimidating, but relax; you are in good hands, and we have some resources and tips that we hope you find immensely helpful as you navigate your graduate school career:
Seek out the professionals.
Check out online resources.
We hope you find these tips and resources valuable as you embark on this exciting journey of graduate school, and we look forward to being a part of it with you.
Nicole Dow, MA
Nicole works as a writing coach/ESL specialist and also teaches ESL here at APU. She holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts and an M.A. in English, with concentrations in TESL and Rhetoric and Composition. She cares deeply for her students and writing center clients and aspires to encourage confidence, authenticity, and success.