I was just emailed by a friend (and fellow Fuller student) who asked me to name my top two or three writing mistakes I see while grading papers and what can be done about it. He’s doing a speech on the topic and wanted to get some feedback from other teacher’s assistants. Here are my three and I am wondering if anyone else has anything they’d like to add?
First, I can’t over stress the importance of academic writing while in grad school. With the dawning of the internet, blogging, and instant messaging, it is very easy to slip in to casual-writing-mode for final papers. Avoid this at all cost by writing a really strong thesis, making and framing your arguments well, using headings and sub-headings, avoiding flowery and unnecessary verbiage, and jamming your footnotes full of academic jargon helps to show you are someone who apparently knows what they are talking about.
Second, I would say you can’t spend too much time on mechanics, other than of course spending so much time that you never turn the paper in. But I have seen many papers that have never been edited, hardly had the spelling checked, and seemed to be missing some of the basic uses of grammar necessary for a strong paper. If you’re not a strong writer like me, then find someone who will help you edit your paper, fortunately I am married to an English teacher. Luckily there are many starving students who will do just about anything for a Spudaritto at Rick’s.
Third, writing should be fun, and the papers you write for your class should be focused on something that interests you. This is where creativity comes in handy, you will sometimes need to be very creative in the way you spin the paper topic in order to keep it interesting, but trust me it can be done. For instance, I have been interested in Quaker history and theology since I left undergrad. While I was working on my MA at Fuller I literally wrote something about Quakers in every single paper of mine except for one. Sure, sometimes it was a stretch to fit George Fox’s ideas into my Hebrew intensive but it’s always worth a shot! Professors and TA’s love to see you engage the material in a creative way, it not only helps the paper stand out but in the process you will learn how to apply useable content to any number of academic questions and concerns.
Also related to grammar is the use of quotation marks, you’ll definitely want to check out this website for some tips on what not to do.