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Going back to school after a long break can seem daunting, especially when it comes to writing. Check out our tips to improve your writing skills.

6 tips for improving your writing in graduate school

The residencies in our doctoral programs are one of my favorite experiences with students. During this time we get to see each other face-to-face and have solid, uninterrupted time together. Our days are spent getting to know one another and learning about the doctoral journey.

Worried about writing

Inevitably, at the first residency, there is one phrase I tend to hear over and over again- “I haven’t written in a very long time.” Generally, there is some conversation about how many years have passed since they did their master’s program. As the conversation continues, there tends to be a visible tenseness throughout students’ bodies and a clear physical reaction to the idea of writing. To put it simply, many students have fear, trepidation, and concern when it comes to writing.

This comes as no surprise when considering the way many of us were taught to write. In our education system, it was quite common to write from beginning to end, sentence after sentence, with few to no mistakes allowed. Thankfully, we have found that writing can be much more relaxed. This allows for messiness, errors, and jumping around to find the right collection and order of words.

6 writing tips to help you

As a person who writes for fun, work, stress relief, and everything else in between, I want to provide some insight that might help alleviate some of the negativity associated with writing.

Create a basic outline

You do not need to start with complete sentences or at the beginning. Try thinking of key topics you want to discuss in the paper. Use bullet points and short phrases to get you started. If you need a refresher or tips on outlining your thoughts for a paper, check out this article.

Make mistakes

Writing is never “perfect”, but you can’t do much with a blank page staring back at you. Brainstorming is a fun way to get messy and put your thoughts across that white canvas. Set a timer for 10 minutes and just write. Don’t think about it sounding good or grammar- that’s what editing is for.

Play with your writing

Have fun modifying your writing. Write the sections you feel ready to write, then move on to the more challenging sections. Does something seem out of place? Move it. Have you used a word too many times? Find a synonym. Again, none of this is possible with a blank page.

Use friends, family, co-workers, etc.

Have them read your work out loud to you. While our brains often “fix” errors and tease us to think we’ve written something a certain way, we can use others to determine what is truly on the page.

Having someone read your writing out loud to you makes it much more likely to hear that error (if you don’t have friends, computers do this pretty well, too).

APA is easier than you think

Use APA resources, such as Purdue Owl or the APA guide as examples of how to format your papers and references. Make sure to check if your school offers any writing services to students.

Walk away

You’ve all felt it; the frustration, anger, and sometimes even tears rolling down your face. When writing becomes too much, walk away.

Let your brain relax and unwind. Inevitably, you will work through that barrier just by taking a break (I just did, which is why I remembered to write about it).

Overall use a writing process by brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, and leaning on others. Don’t be afraid to explore other strategies that help you while writing.

Learning to enjoy writing

No matter what program you are enrolled in, writing will generally be an expectation. Take the pressure off of yourself and enjoy the writing process. Make sure to ask for help if you need it.

Most importantly, make sure to take a break when you feel overwhelmed. Keep practicing and you just might find that writing can be refreshing, rewarding, and provide a platform for your thoughts — that may even be inspirational to others.


Written by Laura Hurtienne, Ed.D. Laura serves as Assistant Professor for Concordia Wisconsin and Ann Arbor’s Doctorate of Education in Leadership in Innovation and Continuous Improvement program. 

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