7 Writing Tips I Learned at Oxford
1. Research. Research. Research.
If there’s one thing I remember VERY CLEARLY from my study abroad, it’s that I spent a good portion of the week with my nose inside the books at the Trinity College library. Rather disappointing that I wasn’t at the beach, I know. It’s disappointing that we now read so many news stories that have no research to support their reports. It’s become a race to see who can put the story out first. In a way, we’ve lost the purity of the journalistic approach to seek out the story and have first-hand encounters with the subject matter. I encourage you to interview people, read, LISTEN.
2. Explore outside the library (or your desk, cubicle, wherever you write).
As much as I loved the intellectual ambiance of the Trinity library, I actually found much of my inspiration exploring the city of Oxford, the garden and having reading and writing sessions down the road at Blackwells Bookstore. The more time you spend in a confined space, the less your writing has the opportunity to grow beyond the walls. Open the window and challenge yourself to get out of those conventional spaces. Draw from the many resources, sights, and sounds at your disposal.
3. Don’t write in a rush (assuming you have time).
If there’s one study abroad guilt I have (No, it has nothing to do with partying. At this point, you’re wondering why I took the “study” portion seriously), it’s that I rushed through some of my papers because I couldn’t wait for the weekend’s trip to Barcelona (true story). I find that many, including myself, hate reviewing multiple drafts of their writing. We want to get it done in one fell swoop. More often than not, we end up hurting ourselves by not taking the time to develop our ideas and thoughts. It’s like watching a movie that has little character or plot development. If you tend to get overwhelmed and frazzled in the writing process, try writing out a schedule of writing sessions, breaks, and revisions. This way, you can hold yourself accountable and you’re also allocating time to take a break if you hit that dreaded writer’s block.
4. Read it out loud.
I remember my roommate walking in our Harry Potter common room telling me that her professor had made all of the students read their essays out loud. Don’t think that’s intimidating? Try it in front of someone who’s grading you on whether your essay is publishable. While I think my roommate was mortified, it helped us tremendously in the long run. Think of it as putting your writing on speaker phone. You’ll be able to determine if your sentences are too long and if they make any sense at all.
5. Is that what you really mean?
You have no idea how many times I’ve written and then read my writing out loud and asked myself if any of it made sense. It didn’t. Sometimes we get so caught up in using big words that those big words swallow the entire sentence. Write as much in your natural tone because you can go back and make it look pretty later.
6. Peer review.
Never underestimate the power of a good editing session with one of your colleagues. They’ll notice things that you didn’t, and they’ll be able to provide valuable insight from a reader’s perspective. The importance of this process is that you’re able to evaluate your writing through more than one lens.
7. No matter how hard you try, you’ll probably never write as well as an Oxford professor.
Just kidding. Sort of.