Julia Freeman

Julia Freeman Faculy Lecturer, McGill School of Environment 

Q: What advice do you have for students about developing their academic writing skills?

A: Academic writing takes time, and so we need to give it time. I learned this lesson when I was writing up a chapter of my dissertation for publication. It marked the transition from sharing my work with a supportive doctoral committee for feedback, to submitting this work to the wider world. It required that I refine my thinking and make the relationships I was describing much more explicit than I had done previously. Taking a position in an active debate and going on the record was at once exciting and daunting, and I rewrote the chapter repeatedly that year as I learned how to articulate my thoughts more clearly and develop my authorial voice.

A few points to share emerged from all those rewrites:

Clarity is crucial. Stake your claim and state your position using accessible language.

Again, recognize that writing takes time, and give yourself time to write. This means providing yourself with ample occasion to work before the pressure of a deadline kicks in. It also likely means making a modest but regular schedule for writing. Most of us are much better served by writing for a little bit every day than by taking on exhausting marathon sessions.

But perhaps most importantly, writing takes perseverance because it takes time. As such you should anticipate the editing process. Share your work with peers and colleagues, so that you can reflect upon and incorporate their feedback into your work in order make it stronger. Acknowledge that precision often requires revision. And be sure to celebrate when you achieve your goals!  

Photo credit: Alex Tran