Christoph Zepeda, M. A., Winter 2011
For anyone who is trying to write an assignment that is ruining their life, here is a small bit of advice I will give about writing—and this is coming from someone who struggles with both dyslexia and ADD:
1) Don't feel the need to sound overly academic. I'm not saying use slang or colloquialisms, but, to some degree, write in a similar manner to how you talk. What I have found is that when writers do this, it helps them to relax just enough to get the words out naturally as opposed to forcing them out in a constipated fashion. Even if your initial comments sound mediocre, you can always revise and improve them; I think it's a lot easier to work with something small than nothing at all.
2) Try to find a voice that feels comfortable to you. Not every human being instinctively worships the histrionic semantics of multi-syllabic, diacritically-infused declarations asserted from the magnitudinal energy composed of the delirium of sleep-restricted psychological states, erupting only as a consequence of imbibing excessive measures of potent potables such as Red Bull. Communication is supposed to clarify; eschew obfuscation. Sometimes simplicity is what makes language so beautifully powerful.
3) Understand the importance of REVISION. And when I say revise, I mean after you have written and re-read your paper once, try reading it aloud and think about how it would sound to someone else. Do you stumble over your own words when you hear yourself speak? If so, then your reader is probably hearing you stumble when you write, which is almost like listening to someone tone-deaf sing a song they don't know at a Karaoke bar…drunk. Think about it.
If you are really lucky, I would even recommend grabbing someone else and forcing them to read what you wrote back to YOU. See if they can they read it aloud without any confusion, and ask yourself if you understand what they are saying, even though they are reading what you wrote. If it sounds choppy, then you might have to smooth it out.
4) Recognize that not all revisions are equal. Each time you "re-read" your paper, try to consider different weaknesses each time. In one read, you may consider sentence construction; in another, you may consider subject-verb agreement. Just don't try to do everything at once.
5) Another tip I would recommend is to attach a strong thesis statement to the opening paragraph of your responses, a single sentence (or two) that summarizes your entire argument. You definitely want to provide as much detailed evidence as possible, but if your overall argument is not clear or obvious, then your evidence might overshadow your argument, making your paper seem like a long, senseless ramble without any direction.
Just try to be clear and make sure your reader understands what you are trying to say. And remember, it really is okay if you don't write the perfect masterpiece this time, even if graduate school sometimes makes you feel otherwise. Writing and critical thinking skills don't happen overnight; at least they didn't for me. This being said, here is one other practice that gave me hope in my darkest hours: If you finish early enough and you feel you are done, put the paper away for two days and don't look at it, don't even think about it. After the two days are over, if you were lucky enough to finish it early, read it again and see if you feel comfortable with it and go from there. You may either laugh at some of the mistakes, or feel even more confident when you turn it in.
Good luck. I believe in you.