Graduate-Level Writing Tips: Definitions, Do’s and Don’ts
In your communication master’s program, you will be expected to demonstrate well-honed writing skills in your essays. Your courses will require proficiency in real-world business communications, as well as scholarly writing and the use of APA formatting.
Real-world written business communications may include:
- Executive summaries
- News releases
- Media advisories
- Company fact sheets
- Business reports
Academic papers are those you will write in your courses that:
- Review and discuss the scholarly literature
- Synthesize theories, models and course readings
- Present critical analysis, research and scholarly insight in an objective manner
- Are formatted according to APA standards
- Are written in the scholarly voice
What Is the Scholarly Voice?
Essentially, the scholarly voice is unbiased, high-level and evidence-based writing that reflects the epitome of good grammar, syntax and tone. Follow the do’s and don’ts below to excel at this format in your graduate school essays.
The “Do’s” of Scholarly Writing
1. Use proper syntax.
Syntax is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.” Syntax is an important aspect of writing that helps to ensure clarity. Incorrect syntax often results in sentences and paragraphs that do not make sense, and this can pose serious perceptual issues for professional communicators. See this article for a number of examples.
2. Follow the rules of punctuation.
Common errors include incorrect placement of quotation marks and erroneous use of the semicolon. As an example, note that quotation marks follow periods and commas, (“The sky is blue.”)
3. Include references, citations and /or footnotes, no matter what kind of document you’re writing.
Taking the time to locate sources that substantiate your statements demonstrate your proficiency as a scholar-practitioner and your commitment to excellence. Citations are required in your academic papers, but clients also appreciate this attention to detail. When pitching a project or campaign, the inclusion of reputable sources will support your recommendations and boost your own credibility.
4. Proofread and edit your work.
Many errors are missed during the first proofread; be prepared to review your work multiple times.
The “Don’ts” in Scholarly Writing
1. Don’t write in the second person narrative.
The second person voice is typically used in articles like this one, where the writer is intending to inform and instruct. According to WritingCommons.org, “writing from the second person point of view can weaken the effectiveness of the writing in research and argument papers. Using second person can make the work sound as if the writer is giving directions or offering advice to his or her readers, rather than informing [them].”
Here is a comparison of second and third person perspectives from WritingCommons.org:
- Weak: You should read the statistics about the number of suicides that happen to your average victim of bullying! (2nd person)
- Stronger: The statistics from a variety of research reports indicate that the suicide rate is high among victims of bullying; they are under so much psychological pressure that they may resort to taking their own lives. (3rd person)
2. Don’t rely on software to correct your writing.
Certainly, tools such as spell check, grammar check and grammarly have some benefit, but they cannot replace firsthand knowledge and mastery of proper writing. I recall one particular paper I received several years ago that was, quite literally, gibberish. When I inquired about the content of the student’s paper, she replied, “Well, I used grammar check!”
Don’t hesitate to seek writing coaching if you have questions or concerns about any aspect of good writing. As graduate students in a masters-level communication program, writing excellence should be a top priority.
By taking an informed and proactive approach to your writing, you will strengthen your academic performance, hone your professional and communication skills and enhance your career.
Dr. Debra Davenport is an online faculty member for Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.