I know how most students write papers. I have had extensive practice myself. I’ve been a student for over two decades, and most of those years have involved writing papers. My writing skills were much like those we see in our student’s lives.
So how do most writing skills look for students? Well, see if this sounds familiar. We think many students write papers the way I wrote papers for years:
- Step 1: Realize you need to write the paper.
- Step 2: Start writing the paper.
- Step 3: Make sure the topic fits the assignment.
- Step 4: Hit “word count” to make sure you’ve written enough (adjust font size if too short).
- Step 5: Turn the paper in; go play Frisbee.
It’s the “ready, go, set” approach to writing skills for students.
But are those the type of writing skills that are going to carry students into the next level academically? Probably not.
Writing skills for students often seem like a hassle. Well, to the students. They think writing skills won’t really save time. They won’t really change how you perform. They’ll just be new things to do. They’ll just steal your evenings and weekends.
Effective student writing skills, however, aren’t really extra time. They’re ways to save time.Writing skills for students are meant to prepare them so that they can apply the maximum amount of writing creativity in a minimum time.
And that’s a huge key: preparation.
And it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be super simple. Our philosophy is the easier the better.
Here are three effective writing skills for students to try. Too few students use these writing skills, but we’re confident they’ll boost your speed and performance. We think you’ll find that writing skills for students don’t have to be difficult.
Three effective writing skills for students
1) Create a thought outline
Notice the words “thought outline.” This isn’t a regular outline. We may have just made up the term, actually. But we want to make a distinction between your normal outlines for class and the outlines we’re talking about here.
When it comes to thought outlines, we are aiming for rough. The rougher the better, in fact. We are just talking about a few key thoughts, phrases, and perhaps an idea or two you think could go well in your paper. The goal is to give some sort of mental structure to your stream of consciousness.
That’s right – stream of consciousness. We’re advocating a type of free-writing here. Get all those ideas on paper. Sure, some of them will stink. And – I’m afraid to break this to you – some of what you write (even after editing) won’t be that great.
But at this stage we don’t even care about quality. All we care about getting thoughts on a page. Most of them you’ll end up deleting. Once those thoughts are on the page, though, you can shape them. You can mold them. You can delete them. You can reshape them.
And that’s why step one is super important. If you don’t have a rough outline, you’ll never be able to form up your ideas. Your stream of consciousness will be wasted. You won’t actually develop effective writing skills. You’ll just develop a lot of random material.
Try it; you’ll like it.
2) Don’t allow yourself to use the backspace button
Bring on the stream of consciousness.
(Again, at the risk of repeating myself, that’s why the first tip is so important. If you already have a rough outline of where your thoughts are heading, you’ll be able to flow with the thoughts as fast are they’re coming.)
Some will be bad. Some will be misspelled. Some won’t make sense. You might even offend yourself. And all of that is fine. The goal at this stage isn’t prettiness. Ultimately, the goal is to communicate. Prettiness helps with this in the long-run.
But right now we would rather have a full, ugly page than an empty, pretty page.
If you want to communicate well, you have to have thoughts out there that you can shape, and craft, and hone, and simplify, and clarify. That means you need them on the page, not in your brain.
Get them out there to fill in the rough outline you’ve already constructed. Then move on to step three with your ugly-looking writing skills for students.
3) Edit only after you are finished with a rough draft
Editing kills your creative process.
Now, editing is a needed writing skill for students. But if you are attempting to edit while you write, you’re hurting yourself. Editing is just a different part of the brain.
When you’re trying to get a paper written, your first step is to get something you can fix. You want to allow the creative juices to flow; the more open, and loose your thinking is, the better. And only afterward are you allowed to gather those thoughts into a pretty format.
If editing a paper is like taking it from Freshman year to high school graduation, step 2 is like those awkward middle years.
All beautiful, confident, composed college graduates have to go through a rough year or two. My awkward phase was 7th grade. I only know this because of the pictures. I have no memory apart from what I see in pictures. Was it bad? Was it good.? I have literally no idea. All I know is that I made it through, and (based on the pictures) it’s probably a miracle that I got through that awkward patch.
This goes back to the goal of all writing skills for students: clarity.
We write for communication. And communication needs clarity; without it, you aren’t communicating. You may be talking or writing, but you aren’t communicating. There is a difference. A key to developing effective writing skills for students is to get these three lesser-used tips down. They’ll pay serious dividends down the road.
Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments section.