From seminar papers and grant proposals, to dissertations and research publications, graduate education equips you with one of the most highly sought after skills in all careers: excellent writing skills. Master’s and professional students also develop these skills writing papers, reports, and theses. Take time during your degree to write in a variety of genres to prepare for the writing you will do in a future career.

Steps You Can Take

Write a Grant or Fellowship Proposal

Graduate students at Berkeley often write proposals for University or external funding to support their research. Skills in grant writing are vital to success in a variety of academic and professional careers. The act of writing this type of proposal further develops widely valued skills in communicating projects or knowledge for different audiences and purposes.

A good first step is finding out what types of grants students in your department typically apply for. External sponsors of research include organizations such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the Fulbright program, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and many more. For a list of major University and extramural funding sources, see “Graduate Fellowships and Awards,” Berkeley Graduate Division.

Grant writing is its own genre, with successful grant applications often following writing conventions that are unlikely to be specifically required or clearly outlined by the granting body or agency. The UC Berkeley Research Development Office provides a general list of proposal-writing resources and specific information about preparing proposals for major grants from institutions like the NIH and NSF. You can ask your department if they have examples of successful grant applications that you can review, or ask your peers if they are willing to share their successful grant application materials. Also be sure to consult with trusted advisors in your department or field and ask them what you should be sure to include or exclude in your written grant or fellowship application. Field-specific grant-writing resources are often provided by professional associations. Once you have drafted an application according to these conventions, ask your advisors to provide feedback on your proposals before you submit them; asking for feedback from advisors is expected. Even if an advisor does not have time, the request will likely be well received. 

To learn about general grant and fellowship writing conventions, also see these resources:


Develop Skills through Writing Your Master’s Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation

Writing a Master’s thesis or dissertation has payoffs far beyond writing up the findings of your research; it develops transferable skills such as your ability to analyze ideas, synthesize concepts, and communicate knowledge to technical and professional readers. It also helps you develop skills in project management, something needed in most professions. Much advice about how to embark on a large writing project reiterates the writing strategies and effective habits discussed above. This includes, for example, writing for a short stretch every day rather than in periodic marathons, thinking in discrete chapters, sections, or even paragraphs, and leaving your writing at a point that’s easy to pick back up again the next day. Practice these skills from the earliest point of your postgraduate career by treating seminar papers as practice for thesis and dissertation writing.

To gain a sense of what dissertations look like in your field (or, even more specifically, what dissertations your dissertation chair has approved look like), visit the Campus Library’s website on locating Berkeley dissertations written by previous Ph.D. students.

Dissertation and thesis writing can be the cause  of anxiety and self-doubt, as they are long-term projects that can often feel overwhelming, especially when done in isolation. Joining a writing or accountability group can help create structure and a community of support (see above for more on writing groups). Consider other resources for your mental well-being offered by the Graduate Wellness Center and by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). All registered students can access CAPS services, regardless of insurance plan. For more on self-care, see the Self-Care Links page from the GradPro Toolkit website.


Write Abstracts for the Dissertation or Shorter Pieces of Writing

When you submit your dissertation, you will also be required to submit a dissertation abstract. In many fields, dissertation abstracts are also required as part of fellowship and academic job applications. Writing an abstract for personal use provides a chance to synthesize the major claims, methods, and stakes of your project in a holistic way—a useful exercise to undertake and reevaluate at various stages before the entire work is completed.

It may also be useful to maintain provisional abstracts for shorter works—such as dissertation chapters or articles—to help remind yourself of the broad questions and overarching contributions as ideas develop. For more on writing abstracts, see “Abstracts,” (The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill).


Publish a Paper in a Professional Journal

Publications are increasingly necessary on the academic job market, and publishing is also a strong indicator that your professional writing skills are ready for multiple career paths. Opportunities to publish occur throughout graduate school, not just after the dissertation or thesis is complete. Assess your course-related writing at regular intervals and identify contributions that might be ready for submission to journals in your field or related interdisciplinary journals. 

An important step in writing journal articles is reading widely in your field and getting familiar with the way arguments or research findings are structured in published articles, as well as the scope of argument that is appropriate to the article format. Reading widely will also help you identify what journals might be interested in your work, and what conventions that journal follows (focus, style, length, organization). You can see more on the paper publishing process in the Career Preparation and Exploration competency of this guide.

For more on scholarly publishing, see Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks (By Wendy Belcher) “A Quick Guide to Scholarly Publishing,” (Graduate Writing Center, 2017), “Demystifying the Journal Article” (Inside Higher Ed, 2017), and “Adapting a Dissertation or Thesis Into a Journal Article” (APA Style, 2020).


Write for Blogs, Local Media, and Newspapers

A key skill to develop for many career paths is synthesizing complicated or technical information into clear and accessible language for a general audience. To develop and practice this skill set, consider proposing or submitting an article, blog post, or opinion piece for a campus newspaper, departmental publication, or even a national newspaper. Many graduate programs have a student blog, so this can be a good place to start. 

For more on publishing for a general audience, read “How to Cope with a Fear of Public Writing” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2021). For a more detailed guide to this genre of writing, see the guide “How to Write for a General Audience,” from the University of British Columbia.