I did writing assignments for my undergraduate degree, so how is writing different in graduate school?

Incoming graduate students often have plenty of writing experience from a range of different contexts, including previous degree work, business contexts, or digital forums. Still, sometimes students have questions about how the writing required in graduate programs may be different from their earlier writing experiences. If you are having these or similar concerns, consider some of the following advice:

  • If you’ve already spent some time in a university, you have probably heard the term “academic writing.” This can mean different things to different people, because disciplines often have specific genres of writing that have been customized over time to fit the needs and expectations of the field. One way graduate level may be different from your earlier experiences is that you may be asked to quickly learn and use these genres in very discipline specific ways. One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with the genres of your field and their nuances is to read published texts in your field. You might also talk to your advisor or mentor about the common genres written in your field and assigned to graduate students in your program.
  • Another important aspect of graduate level writing is a strong engagement with the scholarly conversation about the topic you are writing about. One common way writers engage with the scholarly conversation is through the writing of a literature review. Although a literature review might look different in different fields, often the goal of this type of text is to show the reader that you are engaging with on-going scholarship and how you are contributing to that scholarship. To learn more about this genre by reading our page about literature reviews.
  • Another difference you might encounter is that professors and reviewers often expect graduate level writing to conform to grammatical and stylistic norms in their discipline. As mentioned above, stylistic features are often specific to a discipline or field; reading published texts from your discipline can be very helpful in learning and adopting those features. You can look for things like how authors work with other sources, what sentence styles are commonly used, common terms or phrases, and many others. Some of these stylistic features are closely related to or the same as grammatical features, such as how certain words are used in a discipline. It’s always good to have another reader look over your work—whether they are familiar with your discipline or not—to help identify phrasing or usage that seems unconventional.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

We can guide you through your writing every step of the way.  We can help you find places to look for published texts in your field and help you analyze genres in your field to ascertain common features. We are also able to help you work with sources for literature reviews or any other writing project you might have. We recommend that you come in as soon as you get an assignment, so you can give yourself enough time to work through any problems that may come up as you write.