I began working on my doctorate in the fall of 2013, and I was pretty confident in my writing abilities when I entered the program. After all, I had two masters degrees and had a couple of PhD level courses under my belt. However, I quickly learned that there is a stark difference between masters and doctoral level writing.
My MSW program helped prepare me to work in social service agencies, schools and clinical settings. Further, while at Temple I spent a good deal of time learning about how poverty can influence academic outcomes, how and why some students “make it” while others falter, and how to diagnose a person with a mental disorder. However, when I reread my old MSW papers I cringe. At the time I wasn’t interested in developing my literary prose, I just wanted to meet the requirements of the assignment and get an A.
I finished my MSW in 2006, and immediately headed back to the seminary to finish up my MDiv/MSW. The degree largely seeks to prepare ministers to work in churches, faith-based organizations or even the pastorate. I found that theological writing was much different than sociological writing (MLA vs. APA).
Regardless, as a seminary student I really just wanted to show my professors that I read the material, knew how to think critically about an issue, and had taken the time to “grapple with the text”. I did the best I could, but when I reexamine my seminary papers I realize that I some of my work was lacking.
This brings me to my main point: when I entered my doctoral program I found that I had to learn a somewhat new style of writing. From the onset it was painfully clear that my professors were not going to just let me slide if my papers were not up to par. Doctoral writing is all about arguing or making a point. I had to learn how to convince a professor that a study needed to be done or that a particular intervention showed promise. I had to learn how to write persuasively. I realized I had to figure out which information to include or omit in an introductory paragraph, when to use introductory phases, and how to add commas to make my work flow better. To this end, I studied various writers to learn how they constructed complex sentences and concluded their paragraphs.
Last summer I decided to really work on my “game”. I worked on my writing in the same way that basketball players practice their jump shots in the off season. I spent hours reading and rereading the work of different scholars and erudites, and was particularly impressed with Prof. Tyrone Howard’s journal article How Does it Feel to Be a Problem? Black Males Students, Schools and Learning in Enhancing the Knowledge Base to Disrupt Deficit Frameworks. I literally went over that piece line by line. I was interested in his subject matter, but more importantly I was interested in his ability to write convincingly and persuasively.
Thankfully, my writing has improved over the course of my program. I still have a long way to go, and my work certainly isn’t perfect. However, I don’t think I have as many non sequiturs and other glaring errors in my work anymore.