What is “Daily Writing”?
Writing takes time, whether it is a research project, poem, dissertation, or the next 500-page young adult novel. Often, a medium to large scale writing project can seem both daunting and exhausting. One way to make large writing projects (or writing projects of any kind) seem less intimidating is to engage in the practice of daily writing.
Daily writing has been something suggested and successfully used by multiple authors, bloggers, and professors. Becca Tarsa, contributor to Another Word, UW-Madison’s writing center blog, explained some realities about daily writing in her article, “More than Word Counts: The Emotional Benefits of Daily Writing”. She writes, “Daily writing gets a lot of good press, and for good reason: it works. There’s strong evidence that daily writers are productive writers. Brian Martin uses the metaphor of athletic training to make the case for daily writing: athletes don’t work themselves to the point of collapse once every few weeks – they achieve their best results by training moderately every day” (Tarsa). Tarsa’s insight supports the reality that mastery of a medium or a topic takes time, and daily engagement with that medium is essential to move towards any end goal. For example, when learning a new language, students who practice small amounts of the vocabulary or syntax of the language daily will develop the language. One cannot assume that they will be able to have attained fluency over a language in a brief period of time. Within this context, writing is both like athletic training and learning a new language. Writing takes time. There are multiple methods to strengthen your writing, but engaging in writing every day is one proven way to both get a lot accomplished and to build writing style. There are easier days where things seem to click, and there are days where all inspiration and motivation lacks. Yet, in those slow and rough days, those are the times that writing is the most imperative. Writing about big and small things, about things that seem relevant and don’t seem relevant, these are practices that add to progress and moving forward.
What to Write?
There are many purposes for daily writing. Some people write daily to help make sense of their lives, to help them process the things that they see everyday around them. Some examples of daily writing that do not have an academic aim include diaries, thought journals, and creative writing. These types of writing allow for personal growth and reflection through writing. While some people use daily writing to better understand life, others choose to use daily writing to work towards a goal: they may write 500-750 words, writing for different projects and papers. When using daily writing for academic means, or for bigger projects, daily writing can seem boring and tedious. To combat this, focus on whatever seems interesting to you for that day. Write ideas and thoughts that strike you, whether or not they seem relevant to one specific aspect of your work. It is highly likely that if you are writing about what interests you, you will be able to incorporate it into your end goal, making it richer and more fascinating. Choosing to write about what we are passionate about will make the time move faster and you can better focus on your end goal. The beauty of daily writing is that it is flexible; all you have to do is build a habit, writing about the same topic or different topics throughout the course of the day. In keeping with my earlier metaphor, learning a language looks different as you practice and study it daily. You’ll need to spend longer times learning the complex aspects of the language. Yet, even within these complex conjugations, vocabularies, or tenses, you can add variety to how you learn it. No two days of learning will look the same. The same principle goes for daily writing: no two days will be the same, and all of the time you put into this practice will pay off.
How To Begin
Now that you’ve figured out what you want to write, there are many ways to implement daily writing as a habit in your everyday life. Whatever you choose to write, write with purpose, beginning with a small, achievable goal. Start off by writing for ten minutes a day, and see how it goes. Form a habit, and make it fun; write when you feel most productive and when you feel most awake. If it helps, have coffee, tea, or a large glass of ice water on hand next to you as you write. Write in an environment where you are most comfortable, using your laptop or your favorite pen and a notebook. I’m a big fan of listening to classical music as I write. Because I know this about myself, I’ve equipped my spotify with a few playlists I use expressly for writing. Knowing how you write best will make this endeavor more fun. Once you’ve set your environment to your liking, write little by little. As you do this, the writing you do will begin to seem much more achievable. Once you find the pattern that works best for you and you’re established in that, it will springboard you into reaching writing goals, and you will grow in the area of writing.
For more insight on Daily Writing, Read Tarsa’s blog here.
Tarsa, Becca. “More Than Word Counts: The Emotional Benefits of Daily Writing.” Another Word. University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center, 16 Mar. 2016. Web.
On Wordsworth and the Current Society
“But Poets do not write for Poets alone, but for men”
William Wordsworth, one of the most prolific poets of the British Romantic era, was an advocate for the dispersion of poetry to a large audience comprised of the common man. During that time in history, writing and literature, specifically poetry, was seen as something only written for an educated upper-class. Wordsworth challenged that paradigm and wrote the above quote, believing that poetry and writing should be both accessible to all and written for a large audience so that it could make a difference in the lives of common men.
Today, our society is saturated with text, writing, and information. From a young age, children are surrounded by the internet, newspapers, and books. They are interacting with varieties of texts daily. So, Wordsworth’s hopes seemingly came true. Writing is so much more accessible to the common man. Even so, his thoughts about audience are still deeply relevant. All authors have a specific audience in mind when they write. For example, bloggers write for specific audiences, such as gourmet food enthusiasts or people interested in new and innovative technologies. Books are written to be read by a target audience. In real-world contexts, writers know their audience and write with them in mind. So, this concept of audience and writing to be read has merit to be explored.
On Writing in the University and the Classroom
Even though we live in a world where writing so often has an audience, there are some situations where audience can be limited. Many assignments for university courses and secondary classrooms are only ever read by the teacher who created the assignment. Students write with their teacher in mind and do not share their writings any further than that. This, to me, is a travesty. Once they enter their career paths, these same students will be asked to write in real-world contexts with a specific audiences in mind. Social workers will need to write reports for families and for the government, scientists will have to write for journals to disseminate their research, and business men and women will have to create presentations and write strategic plans for their companies. These writing contexts will have real ramifications and real audiences that are important. When students frequently do not have their writings read by more than one person, real life will not be modeled. Not having the long-labored work that students produce read more widely than one teacher does not fit with many real-world writing tasks.
Though this occurs at many levels of education, there are multiple opportunities in place for students to have their writing read, if they know where to look. Peer tutoring, literature groups and circles, and writing centers provide students with a chance to share their writing, get feedback, and have more than one person read their writing. Other platforms, such as literature magazines or student journals provide chances for students to get their writing published. Also, starting academic blogs or even having a time in class to share student research and writing are ways that students can present to their peers. These small ways to get writing read more widely are ways that students can improve as writers and begin to think about the importance of audience, modeling a much more realistic context for writing. Students will be able to see that writing is read and understood in different ways by different people, and a rich depth of readership will help them become better writers.
On the Connection to Undergraduate Research
Connecting the idea of audience to undergraduate research is important. Having writing read is a key part in the reality of undergraduate research, as the idea of writing being disseminated is an integral part of the undergraduate research process. Though an audience is clearly outlined for many undergraduate research students within the process of dissemination, it still is important for students to have multiple people reading their writing before their research is presented to councils, peers, and professionals in any given field. The more feedback that students get on their writing, the better it will become. When students see the multifaceted nature of how writing is received, the importance of having many people read, respond to, and interact with writing will be highlighted. To connect this to similar situations in the academic world, many professors have their colleagues read and respond to their research before publishing it in a notable journal within their discipline. This gives them feedback and the ability to revise and reconsider their work, polishing it and making it even more accessible to their audiences. Undergraduate research students should have similar opportunities, through working with their mentoring professor, peers, and programs such as ours, where writing mentors have conversations about their research. All of these factors will make for a more polished project, but also give students more insight into learning the process of writing.
Undergraduate research at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is an amazing opportunity for students to pursue, is celebrated by faculty and staff, and helps many students to explore their passions through research. To learn more about their program, visit the URP homepage.
As a student, I know that research can be appealing not only for the personal interest that it provides but also for the practical experience that it can contribute to future professions. One of the practical questions that students who want to begin in the undergraduate research program ask is, “what do I want to research?”
Creating a research question is one of the first ways to get started with undergraduate research. So…how do you pick a research question? What constitutes a good research question? Beginning to think about these questions is essential for students wanting to step into the world of undergraduate research.
What is a research question?
To start thinking about what would be an appropriate research question to ask, the definition of a research question must be explored. A research question is essentially a clear, focused, concise, and arguable question that you can focus your research on. This can and will look different for each person, as people are not monoliths: they each have different interests, ways of thinking, and ideas for their research.
Find a topic that interests you
To begin thinking about what you want to research, think about a field or topic that is particularly interesting to you. For example, if education and personality are two topics of interest, you could make a list of ways in which those two topics could intersect. To take my example above, you could examine introversion and extroversion in the classroom, how personality affects where students choose to sit in a lecture hall, or how the personality of the teacher affects student perceptions of the subject being taught. These are just examples, but beginning to write out some options helps immensely in the research process. Also, it is key that you are interested in your topic, since it is plausible that you will invest a good amount of time into writing proposals, research, and dissemination.
The next step in the process is to begin doing a bit of preliminary research on the topic. This doesn’t have to be anything extensive but having an understanding of what other research and resources are available to you is a helpful thing. A little pre-research on google or through the library databases can help you see any ways to modify and strengthen your question.
Your question should hold significance, as it must be both meaningful to you and helpful or interesting to those you would be presenting to. For example, if I were to research the impact of collaboration and group work on introverted students in the classroom, this would be interesting to me and informative for both students and educators.
Too broad? Too narrow?
Another aspect to consider when creating a research question is, “is my question too broad or too narrow?” Looking at an umbrella topic, such as childhood obesity, could result in too many options of how to move forward with research. Likewise, looking too specifically at a topic can yield little to no results. Finding a topic that is a manageable size to research is important, saving a lot of time and stress throughout the research process.
There are multiple excellent resources that are available to students who are creating a research question. Below, find two helpful links and one short informational video.
George Mason University’s Writing Center provides multiple quick guides to help with a variety of writing needs. Check out their guide entitled “How to write a research question.”
Grand Canyon University also provides an example of a step-by-step formulation of a research question on their center for innovation in research and teaching website.
Finally, Georgia State University’s Center for Instruction and Innovation created a short video explaining the process of creating a research question. View the video below:
Recently, on social media, a picture of a paper about Rosa Parks circulated. The student opened with an honest and witty sentence of extreme self-disclosure that appealed to a lot of my peers and contributed to the photo’s virility. See the aforementioned paper’s blatantly honest and sassy opening below.
Through the numerous shares and comments that it received, it is clear that this paper struck a chord with multitudes of student writers. I sent this photo to a couple of my friends who are studying to be teachers, and we laughed about the opening statement, while feeling sorry for the professor. We found it impressive that this student was able to encapsulate quite a few thoughts that we have had when composing a paper in one extra-long sentence. Yet, as I have thought about this idea further, a few questions have arisen. Is this, truly, what the writing process is like? Are we forever doomed to long nights and caffeine dependence to just meet the requirements of papers, research, and other writing assignments that we pursue? Is there another way? Is writing something to hold a somewhat disrespectful attitude towards? Perhaps, instead of believing that writing comes only out of an impressive caffeine addiction and sass towards professors, we need to shift our thinking about what actually constitutes the writing process, and examine some core truths about writing.
Debunking Common Writing Myths
There are quite a few myths surrounding writing. It is easy to believe these widely known and highly circulated ideas, and I hope to shed some light on four ideas that are accepted as common and to reveal truths about writing.
- Good writers are born that way. Like anything else in life, some people are better writers than others. However, remember that the vast majority of people who are good writers have put in hours of work and learned through the process of writing.. Also, know that no one is born with a perfect understanding of grammar, mechanics, and idea organization. All of these things may come easier to some, but most writers would say that there is a learning process involved in writing in which they are continually improving. So, when you begin to think that writing is for the select few, remember that J.K. Rowling received multiple rejection letters and still continued to write. The truth is that everyone and anyone can become better writers, as there is always room for learning and improvement.
- Writing is always hard. I’ll be honest. Writing can be difficult and frustrating, taking time, input from others, and multiple revisions. However, when you believe that there is no hope to make writing easier, you’ve lost half of the mental battle. One of my teachers once told me, “write what you are passionate about.” When we are writing about what we know, love, and are invested in, our writing can be interesting and engaging. When this happens, the difficulty of writing begins to fade.
- Writing isn’t always valuable. Writing of any kind has value, because the writer is learning, processing, and practicing as they write. Even if no one else ever reads writing that is produced, the mere experience of putting thoughts down on paper holds value, the value of practice. Therefore, assignments that may seem pointless to students in a college class do actually have value. These assignments are opportunities to engage with writing and gain more practice. Like the earlier photo, the paper on Rosa Parks may have seemed pointless to the student but held value because the student learned, engaged, and wrote what he knew.
- There is a ‘right’ way to write. Everyone writes differently. There is no ideal setting in which inspiration flows effortlessly, so believing this myth can be detrimental. Some people write best at certain times of day, in quieter or noisier environments, with their dog sitting next to them, or a glass of iced tea close by. Ultimately, writers need to find what works best for them, and realize that what works for them in one case may not work for them in all of their writing. Writing is an organic process that looks different every time that you engage with it; learning more about yourself and your tendencies can help make writing less daunting. Yet, it is important to realize that there isn’t a wrong way to engage with writing and that how, where, and why you write can, and probably will, change throughout your life. All this being said, it is true that there are some really helpful resources for writers that can help them along in their writing. Talking through writing, drafting, and examining models of writing can help writers immensely. However, none of these things fit into a perfect formula that help writers produce writing.
These myths are pervasive in our culture. The Rosa Parks paper does connect with students on many levels like revealing frustrations about writing. Though there are days when every writer has his or her frustrations, the truth is that writing can be more interesting than we believe. When we see writing as a chance to grow, a chance to build our writing skills and our knowledge, and a chance to see things from a new way, our motivations change. Writing can accomplish so much; it can build worlds, inspire, inform, and engage. When we begin to think about our audience, our ability to learn through the process of writing, and our opportunity to have a chance to inform audiences and make them think, our writing may take on new nuances. Student writers, by changing their perspective, can use writing powerfully.
When I think of science writing, I don’t often consider it to be anything riveting. Yet, I’ve seen that science itself can be interesting (just think Mythbusters). However, when science meets writing, the exciting parts of science seem to lose their appeal. Science writing has multiple negative stereotypes associated with it; it is often critiqued on the grounds that it isn’t interesting, that it is confusing, and that scientists are simply bad writers. If these beliefs are true, researchers, students, and patrons of the sciences have little hope for their writing. In 2013, Judy Swan, the Associate Director of the Princeton Writing Program, gave a TEDx talk entitled “In Praise of Technique”. Her talk highlighted many of these negative beliefs and voiced a new perspective on scientific writing. Through this post, I hope to break down some of Swan’s main points about scientific writing and apply them to students participating in scientific undergraduate research.
Seeing text from the reader’s perspective
One of Swan’s main points was the need for scientific writers to begin to change how they think about writing. She asked writers to consider the text from the perspective of readers. This is because not every reader of scientific research has a strong background in scientific thought or verbiage. The exposure of readers to science could be anywhere on the continuum of relatively small to relatively great. Therefore, scientific writing that assumes that every other reader of their work will hold the same understanding of the sciences that they do will lose a large readership. If scientists begin to see the text from the perspective of their readers, they begin to engage more deeply, explain, and passionately draw the reader into their work.
Is passive writing bad?
One of the stereotypes of scientific writing, as I said earlier, is that it is simply bad writing. Often, scientists choose to write in the passive form and are frowned upon because of this choice. Indeed, some people believe that passive writing is bad. By passive writing, I mean sentences such as: “Heart disease is considered the leading cause of death in the United States.” This sentence, far from being confusing or unclear, brings the subject forward as heart disease and leaves the researchers who discovered this out of the picture. Swan highlights these ideas in her talk, bringing up the fact that the passive voice can not only be intentional and useful, it can also bring the materials and the science being explored to the forefront. Thus, researchers and human agents fade to the background and the materials and science being studied are the subjects of the work.
Whose story is it anyways?
When thinking about scientific writing, Swan argues, one should first consider the audience, but also whose story the writing conveys. Instead of the research being about something that Dr. X has found, it is instead about the medicine for heart disease, the endangered species of the marshland, or the patterns of the milky way. Passive writing allows science to come to the forefront of the text. The story of science is conveyed to the audience. When considering science to be a story, the arguments and stereotypes against scientific writing begin to be replaced by a much more engaging narrative. This story has and will captivate an audience. Beginning to see scientific writing as more than a mere dissemination of findings can be transformative. The story of science can provide voices for cells, DNA, and other voiceless parts of the world. When scientists change their perspective and consider the story of the science they are studying, their writing not only will become better writing, it will also be more engaging for audiences.
Connecting Swan’s TEDx talk to undergraduate researchers
This TEDx talk is specifically relevant to undergraduate research because it combines two things that are often needed in scientific research: disseminating research findings and good writing. Swan’s ideas regarding thinking about audience can give research students a better focus on how to write their findings. This is deeply advantageous for students who want to present their findings to do: it can help build focus and foster creativity. Also, Swan’s talk reveals the value of writing in the passive form. Naysayers to this style don’t see the inherent value of bringing science to the forefront of the writing. However, a shift in perspective can make all the difference. Ultimately, this TEDx talk is a valuable one for both students of science and students of writing to watch. This is because it helps students in the sciences to think about their writing differently, and for students of writing to see the profound impact that scientific writing can have. Swan argues in defense of scientific writing. Scientific writing is a story worth reading.
Want to hear the talk for yourself? Check out the the video, found below: