Bad Writing Habits

3 Bad Writing Habits You Developed In University And How To Fix Them

Bad writing habits can be rooted in good intentions.

In university, you are repeatedly rewarded for writing choices that may not serve you well later. The positive reinforcement of good grades makes those writing choices stick with you.

But when your audience is no longer limited to professors and teaching assistants, it’s imperative to break free of the rules of university writing. Because they limit your creativity and create unnecessary walls between you and readers.

To write more engaging content, and enjoy the writing process more, you need to make a few adjustments. I recommend:

  • Changing from third person to first person,
  • Learning to jump into the meat and potatoes of your topic faster, and
  • Loosening your grip on proper grammar and punctuation.

????Please note that this article is for folks who write online content, like blog posts, articles, etc. If you write fiction, narrative voice choices may be more complicated. And if most of your writing is academic, stay the course. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Keep getting those As!

That said, assuming that you’re writing more online content than novels…

Let’s dive deeper into those bad writing habits and how to make adjustments.

Bad writing habit #1: Favouring third person narration

Every piece of writing has a point of view. It’s the position the writer takes in relation to the content. University papers favour third person narration because it feels more objective.

Example: “This paper examines the way blah, blah, blah impacts on world events.”

When you write in third person, it’s like you’re sitting on a mountain, looking down at the topic and describing it. YOU are not part of the action. Your readers are not part of the action. Quite literally, the words “you” and “I” aren’t used.

But in real life, when we talk about our opinions and share information with others, we usually speak in the first person.

For instance, if you were describing that paper to another person, you might say something like, “In this paper, I examine the way blah, blah, blah impacts on world events.”

First person narration is more intimate. It takes you off the mountaintop and lets readers feel your presence. It’s conversational and creates a sense of connection.

Bad writing habit #2: Following the prescribed format of introduction + one paragraph per point + conclusion

This format makes it easy for university professors to tick the boxes and see if you’ve covered the topic the way they want you to. But it’s the WORST POSSIBLE LAYOUT for anything you write online.

In the world of screens and clicks, you need to hit readers with something big and splashy. Your introduction must grab their attention. And the next paragraph has to generate enough power to keep them engaged.

I often use a format called The Inverted Pyramid: ????

You share the important stuff FIRST, then add lesser points. That way, even if the reader leaves and clicks on something else, you’ve managed to share the most valuable bits with them.

Bad writing habit #3: Sacrificing your creativity to the grammar Gods

Do you need to spell words correctly and follow the basic etiquettes of written communication? Absolutely. Otherwise, your writing is hard to read and understand.

But let’s be honest. When we talk to each other, we definitely take some liberties with sentence structure. In conversations, we use sentence fragments. We start sentences with conjunctions. And we use contractions WAY MORE OFTEN than not.

So long as you don’t go overboard, you won’t lose readers by bending the occasional grammar rule. In fact, your writing will likely become more interesting and distinctive – and your voice will begin to emerge.

The best writing habit to develop is CONFIDENCE.

Once you get those As (or Bs or Cs – no judgement) and graduate, YOU get to decide how to write. That’s the bottom line.

Sometimes, you may want to use third person. The Inverted Pyramid layout may not suit your purpose. And contractions may sound too casual. So long as YOU are making deliberate choices, you’re golden. Your writing will get better and better. Your voice will find you. And you’ll become more confident about your writing abilities than you were back in university. I promise!

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Kim Scaravelli

Kim Scaravelli

Kim Scaravelli is a brand voice coach, writer, and author Making Words Work. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her unruly family, a sweet dog named Stevie, and a sarcastic cat named Winnie.