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Are You Using Writing Models? If Not, You Should Be. Here is How and Why.

First, you may be asking, “What is a writing model?” A writing model is an example of writing like the one you need to produce.

Allow me to illustrate. Very early in my graduate program, I had never read a dissertation. But I knew I needed to write one. The best advice I received was to familiarize myself with the structure of a finished dissertation. I found dissertations that students in my own program had successfully written and defended under the guidance of my advisor.

Once I had my writing model in front of me, I asked myself questions such as:

  • How long are dissertations? Apparently, they vary quite a bit depending on their methodology!
  • How are dissertations organized? Most had a set, traditional structure with chapters. However, some included a collection of journal articles within a broader chapter structure.
  • How does each dissertation section begin and end? I discovered most dissertations are rather repetitive at the beginning and end of each chapter. They guide the reader about what has come before and what is coming next.
  • How does the writer sound (i.e., tone)? Rather formal, clear, and direct, I would say. This may seem obvious, but it is not to everyone. Knowing your audience expectations is very important.

In using writing models, the mystery and anxiety of what I was supposed to do in terms of structure and expectations – which is a huge part of any writing piece – evaporated.

You can study writing models and use them to guide nearly any type of academic writing (e.g., dissertations, journal manuscripts, book chapters, grants — if you are able to get a copy – and white papers). I recommend Danielle Steven’s, Write More, Publish More, Stress Less! The book includes a chapter which guides you through how to analyze and learn about the genres of academic writing, with templates and ideas – super helpful for guiding your own investigation of writing models.

When you use writing models, you’ll be miles ahead in your writing process. Think about it – would you rather endure multiple rounds of structural feedback from your dissertation committee or external reviewers? Or would you rather have your structure down solid from the beginning? I would much rather have the latter. In fact, having the structure down allows me to focus on my content – the part only you can do (and the most fun!).

In writing journal articles, I found it particularly useful to study articles from journals I was wanting to publish in. In addition, the more I wrote and successfully published in different academic writing outlets, the more models I built up within my own writing that I could also refer to.

I encourage you to become an investigator of the format, length, and tone of a writing model that mirrors what you are planning to produce. This is not about plagiarizing. This is about becoming a student of the structure, conventions, and expectations of academic writing.

So, how about it? This month, go find a writing model and study it. Whether you are a beginning academic writer or a well-seasoned one, you can always use writing models to enhance your writing, productivity, and likelihood for writing success and growth.

Margarita HuertaDr. Margarita Huerta’s passion is to help aspiring, established, and everything-in-between academics find joy, community, and success in their careers. With over 20 years of higher education experience, Dr. Huerta founded Real Academics to do just this.