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Writing for a College Class versus Writing for Publication

By Adam Wesevich


Students are often first introduced to the genre of academic writing when they enter college. Many professors assign academic articles as reading assignments, and students are often called upon to read, digest, and synthesize this information either on a test or in a research paper. Yet, few undergraduate students gain experience in academic writing. This might seem counterintuitive. After all, you have probably written many college essays for class. Yet, writing a research paper for class and writing a paper to submit for publication consideration are vastly different practices. Based on my experience as a research assistant on the Dartmouth Medical Student Study, I share some tips and strategies to offer undergraduate students interested in academic writing.


TIP 1. Writing an academic article takes more time.

Writing an article for publication consideration is a much larger project to take on than a typical college research paper. It requires a significant amount of time dedicated to revision. Most college students submit their research papers without ever revising them. An academic article will go through several revisions before it is ever submitted. For example, in the article I worked on, we went through seven rounds of revision before submitting it for publication.


TIP 2. Embrace collaboration and group work.

Most college students groan when they hear that they must complete a group project, yet that is often what writing an academic article entails: Working in a group to draft, revise, and submit a paper for publication. Few students have opportunities to work in groups for writing assignments. With a college essay, forms of “collaboration” often involve consulting with the professor, teaching assistant, or the writing center. Some students might ask a peer or friend to read their paper for suggestions and revisions.


In contrast, academic writing often requires months if not years of meeting with your directors and supervisors to workshop ideas, develop skills in academic writing, and meticulously revise every aspect of your writing until the finished product is perfected. While this sounds more daunting, it is supplemented by the fact that the topic that you are writing about is important to you and (hopefully) possesses a personal significance. You have more opportunities to express your passion and critical thinking, providing a personal voice to your work far beyond the scope of a typical college essay.


TIP 3. Understand your role as the author and the role of your intended audience.

In a college essay, you write to an audience who already has previous knowledge of the topic, such as your professor. Most college essays and research papers summarize the findings of others, and you are graded on how well you adequately describe and synthesize that literature.


Writing an academic article is different. In academic writing, you are presenting and offering new knowledge on your topic. This creates a different interaction with your audience. In academic writing, you are the expert. As a result, there is no set “rubric” for you to follow when writing as you would expect in a college writing assignment. Instead, you are writing primarily to an academic community of editors and researchers.


To successfully write an academic article, you need to write through the lens of the specific journal you are targeting for publication. It is as if you placed yourself as a writer for that specific journal. All in all, college assignments are an excellent way to initially learn how to conduct literary analysis for research, but to write an academic article, you must take the extra step from one who analyzes experts’ research to one who is the expert on the issue.


Ultimately, I found writing my first article for publication consideration to be exceptionally valuable. I learned more about my academic passions and interests than I ever had writing mandatory papers for class. I developed my writing skills and critical analytical thinking abilities to a whole new level, and I genuinely had a really great time throughout the whole process, with all its ups and downs, as it prepared me to transition my academic persona outside of the classroom and into real-world application.


Want to learn more?

Check out these resources to further develop your qualitative writing practices:

  • Belcher, W. L. (2019). Writing your journal article in twelve weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. University of Chicago Press.

  • Drisko, J. W. (2005). Writing up qualitative research. Families in Society, 86 (4), 589-593.

  • Gopaldas, A. (2016). A front-to-back guide to writing a qualitative research article. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 19 (1), 115-121.


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