Many students feel intimidated at the thought of writing an academic paper. They feel constrained by the many writing advice myths that abound about college writing. Our education system has depicted academic writing as an impenetrable forest. Writing advice myths prevent students from learning how to write academic essays effectively and with confidence.
Definition: Writing advice myths
Before you compose your first essay, you will have absorbed many English grammatical rules with numerous do’s and don’ts that will remain with you during your time at university. Some of these rules vary, but most are widely accepted – and are included in our guide to writing advice myths. However, the truth is that many of these practices are actually writing advice myths. We’ve debunked five of the most popular writing advice myths below so you can write with greater freedom.
5 common writing advice myths
Debunking these writing advice myths can help you become a better writer:
Writing advice myths: A thesis sentence should be one sentence long.
Although we can frequently use one sentence as the thesis of a piece, it would be a mistake to believe that all essays should always consist of one sentence as the thesis. Clarity and comprehensibility are of greater importance. This rule can be broken if two or three sentences are required to express your ideas. A complex argument may even use a paragraph to explain its opening statement.1
Writing advice myths: Always avoiding the first-person pronouns “I” and “we”.
Using personal pronouns in some circumstances is ill-advised in academic writing, although there is no formal rule. Students are often taught that academic writing should aim to be as objective as possible, whereas first-person pronouns indicate subjectivity. Moreover, using the third person enables the author to easily convey that anyone exposed to the same sources would reach the same conclusion. Therefore, the first person should be only used for stating personal opinions; the question is whether there is ever room for this in academic writing.
Writing advice myths: Using advanced words only.
The widespread belief that adorning academic writing with little-known phrases, obscure literary devices, and suchlike will impress the reader needs to be amended. For example, using complicated language strewn with archaic or unnecessary embellishments might make it appear impressive on a surface level but it will certainly irritate a professor jaded by years of exposure to similar pretensions. Keeping things as simple and coherent as possible is of the utmost importance.
Writing advice myths: Summarizing everything in your conclusion.
You might have learned this myth back in the days when you were writing those five-paragraph essays at secondary school. Your conclusion in those days likely contained the same information as your introduction, although slightly paraphrased. However, you want to leave the reader with a powerful conclusion for longer, more complex academic papers. To achieve this, consider the overall purpose of your paper and the message you want to convey to readers. Is there a way to express this in your conclusion? If your research uncovered new questions that could be explored in future research, include this in your conclusion.
Writing advice myths: Using the 5-paragraph method always works.
Again, at high school, many of us were taught the standard five-paragraph format for writing an essay: an introductory paragraph, followed by three supporting paragraphs, and ending with a concluding paragraph. This is one of the most pernicious writing advice myths – many students erroneously think they should adhere to this format for their entire time at university. We were taught the five-paragraph format to comprehend the basic structure of an essay. However, once you need to write papers at the tertiary education level, you will need to compose lengthier and more complex arguments, so more than three paragraphs are required to express your thoughts. Of course, you still need to include an introduction and conclusion, but feel free to use as many paragraphs as required to share your research and deliver your argument.
Other writing advice myths and bad advice
Writing a research paper is frustrating.
There is a widespread belief that if writing is enjoyable, it isn’t a real job: it doesn’t count as labour that could be tiring, deserves to be paid, or deserve respect. Friends and family, random people on social media and large corporations all espouse these common writing advice myths — but none of them are writers, so they don’t have much experience or evidence, so take these writing advice myths with a pinch of salt.
Inserting quotes without giving context
It is your responsibility to provide your reader with context for the quotation. The context should set the introductory scene for when, where, and under what circumstances the quote was spoken or written.
Only citing direct quotes
Citing your sources in the correct format recommended by your institution is essential for establishing credibility and avoiding claims of plagiarism.2
Thinking that proofreading and editing are unnecessary
Even the best writers or scholars stand to benefit from professional editing and proofreading services. Sometimes, gifted writers may need editing services the most – this is one of our writing advice myths that you should disregard!The main reason for this is that writing an academic paper or a book means the author is inherently profoundly involved in the writing process; necessary to produce an exceptionally well-written essay, but it is challenging for the author to step back and objectively assess the quality of their own writing.
Is the statement that academic writing is a highly demanding profession one of many writing advice myths?
No, although not as physically exhausting as some manual jobs, there is no denying the fact that academic research and writing is intellectually very challenging and taxing. This is not one of the many writing advice myths.
No, in common with many writing advice myths, this is not true. Most academic writers edit their work several times before completion and are always open to new ideas.3
No, most readers of academic works prefer writers who are willing to delve into complex issues
1 Inez, M. Susan “Creating a Thesis Statement: 5 Myths to (sometimes) ignore.” Kibin. December 16, 2019. https://www.kibin.com/essay-writing-blog/creating-a-thesis-statement-myths/.
2 WriteOn. “’The Top 10 Academic Writing Myths.” Simpli Learn. April 21, 2021. https://www.servicescape.com/blog/the-top-10-academic-writing-myths/.
3 Saint Louis University. “The 10 Myths of College Writing.” Key Differences. October 14, 2017. https://www.slu.edu/life-at-slu/student-success-center/academic-support/university-writing-services/pdfs/myths-of-writing.pdf.