Scholarly vs. Undergraduate Writing

Academic writing takes on many forms depending on audience, purpose, and the education level of the author. The process of composing academic texts also varies based on these factors. By the time they reach university, many students have perfected a method of writing term papers that allows them to compose a passable text in their heads and then type it out the night before the deadline. Few of them write outlines, drafts, or any first pass at the paper. Meaning, however, is not necessarily made during the first draft. Revision is where meaning is made: “Experienced academic writers know that they create meaning through the messy business of writing and rewriting” (Cameron, Nairn, & Higgins, 271).


Many graduate students begin a master’s or doctoral program unaware of how the requirements for academic writing will change from what they experienced as undergraduates. They mistakenly believe that the writing processes they used as undergraduate students will still work during graduate school. Elizabeth Noll and Dana Fox (2003) discussed this issue in their article on providing writing support for new graduate students:


Many university students find writing for academic purposes (e.g., literature reviews, research reports, and conceptual papers) a difficult and intimidating challenge…. Even students who were competent writers as undergraduates often find they lack the knowledge, skills, and experience for the kinds of writing expected by both graduate school professors and scholarly journals. (p. 332)


Becker (2007) also took up the topic with the students in his seminar on professional writing. He described the class’s exploration of the differences between writing as an undergraduate and as a graduate student in Chapter 1. Becker (2007) stated that most students in his class used this process to write term papers as undergraduates:


You write a term paper by doing whatever reading or research is required throughout the term and working out the paper in your head as you go along. But you write only one draft, perhaps after making an outline, usually the night before handing it in. (p. 10)


Please answer the following questions.

  • How does this compare to your experiences writing as an undergraduate and as a Master’s student?
  • Becker (2007) claimed that writing in graduate (i.e., doctoral) school is different. How? What is your response and/or experience?
  • How do you plan to modify your writing process as you continue through a doctoral program?

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