APU Online Learning Original

How You Can Avoid the Various Pitfalls of Academic Writing

By Dr. Mark Friske
Faculty Member, Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business

As students progress through their academic programs, they commonly find that writing papers, case studies or other assignments increase in their coursework. Some students think that academic writing is easy, and others find it more difficult. Most students will see a general increase in academic writing late in their undergraduate programs or as they start their graduate work.

Writing a paper can seem easy, but academic writing on a specific topic is more difficult. Remember some students do not have much initial knowledge of a particular subject, and this is just one reason why they take classes.

Related link: Why It’s Useful to Be Published in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Academic Writing Is a Process

Very few of us can sit down and write something of academic quality, even those of us who have extensive degrees. Remembering to follow the writing process is essential, which involves finding a topic, doing research on that topic and writing the paper. It’s also necessary to check how logic flows throughout the paper as well as use correct grammar and American Psychological Association (APA) formatting in academic writing.

Academic Writing Takes Time

Often, some college students will sit down the night before an assignment is due and expect to write a top-level paper. However, good papers take time both to write and edit.

Writers need enough time to completely develop their thoughts for a paper. A lack of time might lead to the submission of either a partial paper or a weak paper.

Good Academic Writing Does Not Include Shortcuts

It might be tempting to take some shortcuts with academic writing. But in our world today, taking a shortcut in writing can be detected through technological tools such as Turnitin and usually tracked back to the original source. There are several ways for students to take a shortcut in their academic writing, including:

  • Finding a paper on a cheat site – Sadly, there are many sites out on the internet out there that tempt students to use another person’s work, but these sites are trackable and easily found by instructors and schools. Most universities are already aware of the existence of these sites. They have specific software to find any potential problems with submitted assignments and to provide proof of plagiarism to faculty.
  • Copying and pasting research directly into a paper without quoting or citing the source – This practice is considered by instructors as weak writing, depending on how much information is copied and pasted into a written assignment. A small amount of unattributed information that clearly comes from another source might be accepted by an instructor, who might simply deduct points from a student’s grade. But if a large amounts of non-cited information is used in a student’s academic writing, that would be considered a case of plagiarism, which has severe academic penalties.
  • Reusing prior work from past classes – Instructors know that coursework builds upon previous work, especially in degree programs. It might be very easy for students to consider reusing prior work with some minor editing for current assignments. But again, any possible problems with academic writing can be easily found by faculty and universities, especially if the contents of a previous academic paper have been reused. It’s important to note that students can take ideas and expand upon or discuss them in future classes as they move forward in their education; this practice is accepted.

Other Academic Writing Issues

There are also other issues that student writers might have. For example, it is all too easy to forget to save a paper on a computer. Papers can be permanently lost when computers freeze up or programs close unexpectedly.

I always recommend to my students to save early and often when they are writing their papers. Also, it’s useful to have a good file storage system and to give your papers a meaningful name that clearly identifies the paper. No one will appreciate all the work you put into a writing assignment if you cannot find the paper on your computer.

Related link: Podcast: How to Write a Well-Crafted Paper for a College Class

All of Us Can Improve Our Writing

In the beginning, all of us start out as weak writers, and it probably takes us more time to write something at first. Most of us struggle with our academic writing at some point, too. But with practice, we get better at writing. We learn more about what good academic writing should be and continue to develop our skills along the way.

If you do not think this statement is true, go back and look at some of your previous work when you started your education. I reviewed my previous academic writing and was amazed by how far I have come with my own writing skills. You will probably also feel the same way, too!

Dr. Mark Friske is a part-time instructor for the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business. He holds a B.A. in pre-law from Bob Jones University, an M.B.A. in business administration from Capella University and a Ph.D. in organization and management from Capella University.

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