If there is one thing I’ve learned from pursuing a career in writing, it is the fact that words can come from all over. Everyone has the ability to create something meaningful via his or her own language, background, culture and experience. I like being surrounded by writers because we each bring something unique to the “universe” that is the written word. Writing is a method of communication, used formally in medical journals, newspapers, magazines, and of course, literature.
It can be overlooked at times, but reading other people’s writing is the best way to expand your own horizon of knowledge. If you think about it, nothing is completely objective. There is always a tone present, lightly detected or not, that can reveal an author’s true feelings about his or her subject.
I never considered how many sources and types of people that various writings could come from—until I was surrounded by writers on a regular basis. It started when I took my first creative writing workshops away at school, attended a summer writer’s institute, and began interning at a literary magazine in my hometown. I didn’t understand how much variety there was in literary works because I had been constricted to what I read as a child and what I was assigned later in high school.
Working at the literary magazine has solidified this realization. As an intern I am partly responsible for reading and voting on submissions from various writers all over the country and abroad. I have read pieces written by college students, published authors, MFAs, and professionals who never studied writing but love it all the same. Then I have read work from people who are a mixture of these categories. It’s amazing to see how one method of communication, widespread as it is, takes its own form within just one person’s imagination.
Then there’s the other side: us, the receivers—the interns, the editors, the outside readers who volunteer their input, and everyone else who helps out. There is a variety even within our small group. We have different educations, have attended different schools, are from towns from all over, and have experienced vastly different lives. Yet we all get along, and I feel that a large part of this is due to our passion for words. (Of course, we’re all a fun-loving group anyway, but the writing aspect is still quite important!)
I think the most valuable thing I can take away from what I have experienced, being surrounded by writers and readers, is that variety is a very good thing. Without it you can miss out on so many perspectives that have the ability to alter your own lifestyle and values. Without it would be like living in a secluded society of your own, where you can only learn from people just like you. I value the new people I have been exposed to since I started college because it has helped me grow as a person, a student, and a writer. Working at the magazine just marks the beginning of that growth—seeing as I have quite a few more years ahead of me.
The same goes for being away at school. Dip your toes into the water that keeps changing temperature; don’t stick to what you’re comfortable with. Take it from me, it’s worth it.
Ask any one of my buddies. When I have to write a paper, I want to literally shoot myself in the face & end it all. I’m dramatic and whiny but I always get it done, correctly and on time. I can’t make the process any more enjoyable but hopefully these tips can take your paper to the next level.
#1 Don’t worry about filling up pages. This is the number one way to get a C or lower on a paper. It leads to rambling repeated ideas rephrased and a lack of coherent structure. Instead, try to find more facts to back up your thesis statement or main points. Include graphs, charts, figures or anything else that will reinforce the message you are trying to get across. Nobody can argue with the facts; words are wind.
#2 A great way to avoid #1, determine the scope of your paper. Scope means the size of the question you want to answer.
I’ll give you an example of a prompt I received in an ethics and public policy paper.
“Which is more important: maximizing happiness or minimizing rights violations?” The reading for the paper was 200 pages and the scope of the original question is HUGE. A doctoral thesis could be written on that question alone and I only have 3-5 pages to work with. So I change the question. Instead of addressing everything, I answer ‘maximizing happiness is more important that minimizing rights violation when conditions A, B and C exist. Boom, thesis and scope knocked out in one fell swoop.
Which naturally leads to step…
#3 unpack your ideas. Focus on two or three points for a paper of 3-5 pages and then thoroughly argue them. How do you achieve this? Think of every objection you can think of to the point you are trying to make and address those weaknesses and objections. Addressing counter arguments makes your thesis stronger, not weaker and it builds up to that page limit constructively while leaving the writer with only a few points to address well. That is, in a nutshell, what unpacking is.
One last word of advice, it is such a rookie mistake we have all been guilty of at one point or another, and it will bite you in the butt every time. The thesaurus is not a data mine for you to intellectualize your paper with more eloquence. The thesaurus is to tease out nuances for an idea you are trying to express (ex. I don’t just want to beat my opponent, I want to hammer him). Use with caution!
Good luck, I hope this helps! Questions are welcome in the comments section.
I’m reading Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections