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Learn to Write - Practical Advice for Students

As a teacher, I know that the foremost thing in any pedagogical practice is to teach students to learn, research and write. Without these things, unfortunately, they cannot develop skills for self-education and critical thinking that are crucial for any profession and activity. From my 4-year experience in teaching political science and research methodology, I acquired a firm belief that any research and writing starts with a self-discipline.

Learn Write

First, students ought to know and follow rules for structuring the content of their papers. Each academic paper type be it essay, thesis or report has its unique structure that should be followed. To these ends, I send detailed writing templates for my freshmen which they need to follow to have good grades. These templates define basic rules, conventions and idioms for making a readable essay. In particular, I teach students to start their papers with a well-formulated thesis that should frame their arguments and conclusion. Such approach may sound too strict and rigid, but it is effective. By strictly following academic writing conventions and structure, students acquire skills of logical thinking, structuring and organization. As soon as I see that students advanced in these things, I relax requirements and allow for a more liberal writing style.

Another important thing is to teach students how to research academic subjects. A freshman's approach to research is to google 2-3 sources, copy-paste or retell their content and dilute it with a highly subjective and unsubstantiated opinion. This is an entirely bad academic practice. In my lectures, I teach students how to find and filter good academic sources, how to quote them, abide to academic honesty rules and how to make them work for students' own contribution and creativity. These things are not so easy to teach, but they are worth of it. One approach to teach students good research skills is to ask them to write a comparative literature review. Normally, I provide students with 5-7 peer-reviewed academic papers pertaining to the same topic and ask them to find similarities and differences between them. Students should provide with a brief overview of each article and a thematic analysis of their content. It is crucial that their reviews are built around certain idea or concept that is explained, critically reviewed and developed using insights from the sources. By making comparative literature reviews students acquire critical thinking skills and become more creative. Another effective approach is writing group projects. In group projects students learn to research collectively. The idea behind group projects is that by discussing, brain-storming and sharing responsibilities for specific research tasks, students gain many crucial insights into the mechanism of a research process.

What about writing? How to teach students to deliver quality and insightful writing samples? A minimum requirement for this is good language skills, including proper grammar, spelling and sentence structure. These writing skills are not something pre-installed and static. They evolve with students' critical thinking and research skills. If a student has good knowledge and reliable research skills, it is easier for him/her to flesh ideas into words. Writing is good when ideas are clear and a paper's structure is transparent. Therefore, by teaching students proper research skills, you help them acquire good writing abilities as well. Good research and writing work in pair contributing to the overall educational development of students.