How to improve your undergrad writing

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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How can you improve your undergrad writing? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.


How can you improve your undergrad writing? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.

I have a question from Syeda Mahnoor Raza, a student based in Islamabad, Pakistan. Here’s what she’s asked by email…

“I’m a recent high school graduate and I’d like to improve my writing skills before I get to university. In particular, I’m wondering how I should go about conducting my initial research and making an outline in the most efficient way?”

Thanks for your question, Syeda. Moving from high school to university is a big transition. I think you’re really wise to get your writing skills in good shape. I’ve already done lots of videos on researching and I provide links to three of them in the show notes below.

Meanwhile, however, let me give you my top 5 tips for undergrad writing.

1 – Don’t procrastinate! Just focus on accomplishing a little bit of work every day. When you get assigned a paper, start on it the same day. You don’t need to spend hours on it. Just 15 minutes should be enough. But start.

2 – Have one piece of software to store all of your research. And make sure this software will also create your citations for you, which is why you shouldn’t rely on Google docs. Two pieces of software that will do both of these jobs for you are called Mendeley and Zotero. See links in the show notes. Both are free.

3 – Start keeping a research diary. This is separate from the actual research you save and it should contain your thoughts, feelings and opinions. I’ve done a separate blog post on this topic, see link below.

4 – Break the habit of editing while you write. While editing is important — even the most important step of the writing process — it’s something you need to do separately. Get as many words on the page or screen as fast as you can. You can worry about quality when you’re editing — later.  I’ve done a separate blog post on this topic, see link below.

5 – Don’t ever outline before writing. I know, your high school teachers probably insisted on outlining — but they were wrong. I suggest mindmapping, instead. It’s a lot more creative and engaging and fun. Writing doesn’t have to be hard painful work. It can and should be enjoyable. Mindmapping will help make it that way. See link in the show-notes below.

I remember struggling with my own habits relating to undergrad writing many decades ago. How I wish I’d known then what I know now.

Finally, let me wrap up with the words of productivity expert Neil Fiore: “There’s a myth that time is money. In fact, time is more precious than money. It’s a non-renewable resource. Once you’ve spent it, and if you’ve spent it badly, it’s gone forever.”

Syeda, many students who need to do undergrad writing approach the task with a combination of horror and dread. You’ll be doing yourself a big favour — and increasing your chances of success — if you see your writing as a way to express yourself. Writing needn’t be a drudgery.


If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.


How to juggle research with writing (video)

How to improve your research (video)

How to make your research more productive (video)



Why you should consider keeping a research diary

Stop editing while you write

Blog posts & videos on mindmapping

Your Happy First Draft  

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