The best writing advice I can give

The best writing advice I can give January 31, 2015

As a college professor, I often am asked for writing advice. There are a couple of pieces of advice that I give to almost all of my students. Not only do I try to abide by these guidelines in the professional papers that I write, but also in my comments on my student papers and in any blog posts that I write online.


First, good writing is most of the time modest and makes a small point. But it makes that point clearly and straightforwardly, and it offers good reasons in support of it. This is why I always tell my students to start early on their assignments, and to think about the paper before they begin to write it. That way they’ll have enough time to figure out how to make their papers modest and pointed. The overall clarity of their papers depends a lot on the amount of time that they put into the planning process.


A second thing that I tell my students is to make the structure of their paper obvious by telling the reader what the paper has done so far and what it’s going to do next. I tell them to say things like ‘I will begin by…, Aristotle defends this claim with these two ideas…, further support for his position comes from…, for example….’  I tell them to make the structure of their paper obvious to the reader.


These two ideas go a long way toward making the writing process successful. Sometimes we come up with lots of fancy writing tips and tricks in our efforts to be better bloggers, paper writers, or book writers.  But it’s best to keep things simple. Being modest in one’s ambitions and being careful to tell the reader what’s going on in the writing process are golden principles of clear writing that work equally well for 1st-year undergraduates and for 30-year veteran professors.

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