Just when you think you’ve reached the end of the semester,
you receive a Canvas notification reminding you of a 2,500 word paper due within the next three days or sooner. For some, this notification is all they need for motivation. For others, such a notification might come as a major stressor to them. The stress could stem from the research process, the writing process, the grading criterion or all of the above. As an upper-year Political Science student and avid writer, over the years, I have realized that academic writing is a skill that does not have to be as stressful as we make it out to be in post-secondary student culture. Rather, it is a wonderful opportunity to make scholarly contributions to the theories and concepts we are working with throughout our academic journey.
While this may seem like a daunting task, it can become a wonderful learning process if done with care and within your physical and mental means. We have all heard our peers say something along the lines of “diamonds are made under pressure” when referring to an essay they are to write in order to meet a fast approaching deadline, but we often forget that diamonds need time and the appropriate environment in addition to pressure. This is not to say that you should be planning all your papers weeks in advance as it is not realistic, however it could be a good idea to plan according to the scope of the work that you will be doing. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy task for some people.
Persuasive writing will be a vital skill in any field of work or career that you engage in. It is almost a form of art that people are encouraged to master. Persuasive writing is a skill that allows you structure your ideas in a manner that effectively and clearly delivers your argument. While it remains a useful skill in our careers, it also comes in handy in our day to day lives. Have you ever found yourself in a position where you needed to convince someone to agree with your perspective or idea? Have you ever had to write a cover letter? If you have replied ‘yes’ to any of these, then you know the importance of selling your idea to the best of your ability. That being said, these tasks come with pressures that require you to be familiar with the writing process.
I can attest to the fact that writing can be both challenging and rewarding. In my first year, I found myself struggling with my academic essays despite being familiar with the course material. There came a point where I felt heavily discouraged by the results I was receiving despite sacrificing many nights of sleep and hours of leisure. It quickly became clear that my writing technique needed some improvements. As I took the time to assess the comments left by my professors, I began to observe a pattern throughout their commentary. According to the commentary, I was not a bad writer, rather, I struggled with structure and clarity. My professors had no trouble understanding my writing, rather, my lack of structure and clarity usually clouded the deliverance of my argument. In this case I was urged to seek support from various on-campus resources. Although such feedback was challenging to take in, I knew I had to work towards further developing my academic writing technique in a manner that provides a structured argument that is grounded in research.
As I look back on the progress that I have made, it has become difficult to pinpoint the milestones in my writing journey. I remember reaching out to the Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication, upon receiving one of my POLI 100 papers, in the hopes of getting an idea of how I could possibly end the cycle of below average essay results. I was offered wonderful resources and was given useful feedback on a couple of papers I was in the process of writing at the time. Beyond that point, I do not remember reaching out to any other writing resources. For this reason, I’ve had some trouble identifying the real change makers in my writing journey. Today, I see myself taking on a career in writing and storytelling but I would have never imagined seriously considering it as a career path in the past. Now that I am in my 4th year, I have come to understand the period in which I was developing my writing technique and skills as the cocoon period. I have also realized that I most likely possess no recollection of the shift in my writing proficiency because I was unaware of the subtleness of my progress.
Writing is a form of art and like any other art, it takes time, more writing and more reading to master it (or at least become comfortable in the writing process). As a student studying the humanities, I always found myself in environments that encouraged writing and although it often didn’t feel like I was actively improving my writing skills, my environment and perseverance made all the difference. When we find ourselves facing challenges we often desire an immediate change while forgetting the change has already begun, it is just hard to see it in those moments, in the cocoon stage. This kind of pressure can become troubling to our mental health while creating other physical stressors that can overwhelm us or hinder our ability to treat ourselves kindly in the pursuit of our academic or creative goals. So how do you treat yourself kindly while keeping yourself accountable to your writing goal?
In my case, I had to learn to enjoy the research and writing process in all its stages. I spent many nights journaling with the goal of understanding my writing style and my thought process while I write. Although I still found academic papers to be challenging, immersing myself into the literary world, to my liking, made a huge impact on my perception of writing. I learned a large number of persuasive writing techniques from authors and storytellers that told stories they were passionate about. In return, their stories taught me how to captivate a reader. I was then able to incorporate some of their persuasive writing techniques into my academic writing. I believe that this is where I began to make the most out of my cocoon period.
Now this isn’t to say that you should abandon all practical resources available to you and rely solely on luck. It is just important to recognize that you have more control over your learning and environment than you think and such a realization can be quite powerful. As I encourage you all to seek effective academic resources, I urge you all to learn more about your learning preferences and understand that your ability to write persuasively is never a reflection of the amount of knowledge you hold. Even the most avid writers face the challenges that come with persuasive writing.
If there are a few pieces of advice that I feel comfortable sharing, they would be:
- Learn to understand your optimal learning environment
- Be patient with yourself
- Do not be afraid to ask for help
As mentioned in the text above, your learning environment makes all the difference and although reaching a greater understanding of that environment may be challenging, it helps to use your passion for writing as a means of gaining clarity. Know that you are always moving forward with every small achievement. It is also important to understand that you do not have all the answers and your ability to identify the moments in which you require mentorship or consultation is vital to your success. Finally I would encourage you to look for connections and commonalities between different instructors’ feedback. Taking the time to identify some patterns that impact the quality of your writing may be quite helpful.
In the meantime, if you are in need of academic support or persuasive writing resources, the UBC Center for Writing and Scholarly Communication has some great resources to help you through the roadblocks you may be facing. I have also found Purdue Owl to have some useful resources that pertain to writing structure and referencing.