By: Sam Li
Hi, Marauders! Today, we’re exploring best practices for reading and writing in university. All students have to read academic texts and communicate ideas through some form of written component (report, paper, reflection, etc.).
If you want to pick up more tips for efficient reading and writing, be sure to sign up for the webinar happening tomorrow, July 27, at 5:00 p.m. EDT.
I worked hard to improve these skills when I entered university, and I discovered ways to make this process more efficient. Here are a few general tips to help you with the transition to reading and writing in university.
Sam’s reading tips
The biggest adjustment I had to make was doing more intensive research before completing assignments. As well, my readings generally used more complex language and took longer to complete. Over the years, I learned how to read and research more efficiently using these tips.
For my readings or any assignments that require research, I sometimes overestimate the time it takes to complete them. This is because I like to account for instances when I might get confused about what I’m reading, and I need to spend extra time consulting other resources to clarify certain concepts. Don’t delay — start early.
Instructors often have certain expectations for the sources that you can use to support your written ideas in assignments. Read the assignment instructions and the syllabus carefully.
The McMaster Library staff can point you in the right direction. Check out these awesome resources about how the library can help you research for your project.
It’s helpful to start by asking questions about the material as you read. This encourages you to view the material objectively while creating connections with the ideas in the text.
These questions can include:
- What is the text’s purpose? Is the author achieving this?
- What evidence does the text highlight? Does this substantiate the author’s claims?
- Does the text make any underlying assumptions?
- What makes sense or doesn’t make sense to me?
Try noting these ideas on a separate sheet of paper or document (depending on your note-taking method). Clear up any areas of confusion with your instructors and teaching assistants (TAs) or through your own independent research.
This strategy is especially important for long textbook readings. Try to think about how the text is connected to what you’re learning in your lectures and tutorials — or even past courses you’ve taken. Establishing these deeper connections with your readings can help you remember the content more easily during an assessment.
This especially applies for assignments where you need to persuade the reader, but it can also be beneficial for textbook readings. Being aware of other arguments will strengthen your writing and broaden your perspective on the topic you’re learning about.
Sam’s writing tips
I also had to make adjustments to my writing during the transition to university. Here are some tips to help you with that process.
For me, it’s helpful to have a rough idea of the beginning, middle and ending of my written piece before writing. I usually create headings for the main sections of my assignment, with some point-form notes of the key ideas I’d like to cover in the specific sections.
Even if they’re just rough ideas, I put them on the page, rather than editing the initial ideas until they’re “perfect.” Doing the latter isn’t efficient — and it really limits my creative thinking when I’m creating an outline. Let the ideas flow!
In my experience, I spend more time revising drafts than actually writing them! Try to make revising one of your top priorities, and give yourself ample time.
Compared to the initial writing stages, the revision process is when you can be critical about your work. Zone in and clarify your writing, arguments and organization. Then, you can focus on grammar and spelling.
As well, be sure to use your rubric to guide you.
A huge part of improving your writing is getting feedback from others, especially when it comes to the clarity of your ideas. Don’t wait until the day before the assignment’s due. Have check-in points with yourself and others. I encourage you to connect with your teaching assistants (TAs), peers and services to get this feedback.
You can also book 50-minute appointments with writing advisors at the Writing Centre to help you identify areas of improvement. Book an appointment on OSCARplus > Student Success Centre > Appointments > Academic Skills.
Signing off (with a personal reflection)
I hope this post has boosted your confidence for reading and writing in university! These skills complement each other, and they’ll continue to be useful far beyond your university career.
I was a Life Sciences gateway student in my first year, so I wrote more lab reports and fewer essays, as compared to other students. I wrote direct and unembellished assignments, and I had to search for key points in several academic papers during my research. However, eventually, I had to write multiple applications to clubs, scholarships and graduate schools, which require a different style. Writing really is a lifelong skill, and it pays off to learn a logical, effective workflow for synthesizing a piece, regardless of the format.
About the Academic Skills Prep Series
Throughout the second half of July, join us for live webinars as we share what it takes to be a university learner and how to advance your skills in time management, note-taking, reading, writing and much more!
Enter for a chance to win
This summer, make sure to follow @MacSSC on Instagram for all of our Academic Skills Prep Series contests! We also have one grand prize to finish the series off right! The grand prize is a $250 gift card to Best Buy, with a second and third prize of $100 and $50.
How to enter: Write a 250–300-word response that refers to at least three webinars, sharing what you found interesting and new in the Academic Skills Prep Series and how it may help you prepare you for your first year of university. Email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11:59 p.m., August 6, 2021. This contest is only open to incoming first-year students.