As a tutor and academic editor, I have edited and proofread dozens (possibly hundreds at this point…) of papers that people are getting ready to submit to their teachers and professors to grade. A lot of folks have the mechanics of writing down, they can write coherent sentences and follow a line of thought, and quite a few use the APA guide well and don’t need much help with formatting.
However, I have noticed that some seem to struggle with getting their paper to “flow”. Their writing seems too mechanical, too technical, and too impersonal. It seems that they are trying too hard to sound academic, and end up sounding like a robot.
As I communicated with several of the people I edited for, I have been able to identify some practical tips for helping your writing “flow”. I received positive feedback on these tips and have even seen my return customers improve their writing, which has led their papers to need less editing and rewriting to occur.
After you write your paper, go through it yourself using the following tips:
- Read it out loud. Yes, I know it sounds a little weird and that you will feel weird doing this, but it works. This was advice that was given to me by one of my undergrad professors, and it has been the most useful skill I acquired as an undergrad. Why? You will hear issues in the text that you don’t see. These can include things like proper use of was/were, tense agreement, run-on sentences, and half -finished thoughts.
- If you are using the semi-colon, make sure you actually need it. A semi-colon is used if you can end a sentence but choose not to. This does not, however, give you permission to write run on sentences. In my experience, you shouldn’t use it if you can just as easily create two sentences. I don’t want to be that person, but I will say it: Don’t use the semicolon. At. All. It’s too easy to mis-use.
- Are you sure about your commas? Comma usage is another common issue I see in manuscripts. Either people are overusing them, misplacing them, or not using them at all. Comma usage is an area where reading out loud will really help you out. Don’t take a breath or pause unless you see a comma (or a period), if you find yourself pausing or needing to breath mid-sentence, double check to see if it makes sense for a comma to be inserted where you had to pause. If not, then you have a run on sentence, and need to split the big, long sentence into two or three smaller ones.
- Write with your own, original voice. Don’t try to be someone, or something that you are not. As you read out loud, ask yourself: If I was having a conversation with my best friend/professor/mom/a real live person, would I say it like that? If not, rewrite.Write it like you would say it!
- My final piece of advice is this: Get someone to proofread and edit it that is invested in helping you succeed, even if that means correcting you. Your family and friends will want you to feel good, be successful, and be happy. Be sure that they are aware that you want constructive criticism, not a cheerleader.
Good luck in your writing!