A major outcome of graduate education is the ability to write well in a variety of genres to different audiences. 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. Take time during your degree to develop writing skills in a variety of genres to prepare for the writing you will do in a future career.

Steps You Can Take

Participate in a Writing Workshop, Writing Group, or Course

Start early. From the outset of your graduate program, think strategically about the resources that can help you develop your writing skills.

The Graduate Writing Center (GWC) offers workshops for all stages of the graduate career, from “How to Write an Academic Grant Proposal” to “Writing the Dissertation: Strategies and Pitfalls.” The Center features workshops on writing proposals for specific grants such as “Applying for a Fulbright-IIE Grant” and prepares students to conduct responsible research through its two-part series on “Human Subjects Research: What is it? How Do You Navigate through the IRB Process?” Each spring semester, the Center also offers a 2-unit seminar course (GSPDP 320) on Academic Writing for Graduate Students. The Center also offers writing groups, writing boot camps, and a limited number of individual consultations.

You can also hone your writing skills and receive peer feedback through a weekly writing group hosted by Berkeley’s Humanities and Social Sciences Association geared to early career researchers (including graduate students, postdocs, and visiting scholars) affiliated with the University.

Whether you are seeking feedback from peers or faculty members, it’s important to articulate what type of feedback you are seeking for a particular piece of writing: see “How to Get Better Writing Feedback and Make Better Use of It,” Academic Coaching and Writing (2015).

For advice on how to start a writing group, see “The Writers’ Workshop at Work,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2011). For tips on establishing and maintaining a regular “writing date,” see “The Writing Date,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2008).


Write a Research Prospectus

Doctoral students may be required to prepare a formal research prospectus as part of their progress to degree. Even if the prospectus is not required, there is intellectual and professional value to be found in writing them. A research prospectus, like a grant proposal, shows that you know how to define the scope of a project, understand the steps needed to complete it, and recognize the kind and scale of resources needed—skills valuable in academic and professional careers.

Guidelines and expectations for the research prospectus vary by field, but many include or address the following types of categories: research problems, research questions, assumptions, theoretical issues, literature review, general research plan, anticipated difficulties, anticipated contributions. Your department may retain a file of prospectuses submitted by previous students, or you may wish to consult more advanced students to track down samples.


Write a Grant or Fellowship Proposal

Skills in grant writing are vital to success in a variety of academic and professional careers. Graduate students at Berkeley often write proposals for University or external funding to support their research. 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. The act of writing this type of proposal further develops widely valued skills. It provides opportunities to frame your project for different audiences and purposes—a process that helps further illuminate your research methods and findings.

For a list of major University and extramural funding sources, see “Graduate Fellowships and Awards,” Berkeley Graduate Division. 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. Field-specific grant-writing resources are often provided by professional associations.

See also these resources:


Publish a Paper in a Professional Journal

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. A publication is increasingly necessary on the academic job market, and it is also a strong indicator that your professional writing skills are ready for multiple career paths.

One of the most important steps in seeking publication in a professional journal is assessing “fit,” or selecting the right journal for submission of your particular paper. Reading back issues of journals will enable familiarity with the journal’s conventions (focus, style, length, organization) and it is important to tailor your paper to fit a journal’s specifications, which are usually listed on their websites.


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 your ability to analyze ideas, synthesize concepts, and communicate knowledge to technical and professional readers. It also helps you develop transferable skills such as problem solving and project management. Much of the advice about how to embark on large writing projects ultimately boils down to various strategies for making them more manageable: writing for a short stretch every day rather than in periodic marathons; thinking in discrete chapters, sections, or even paragraphs; leaving your writing at a point that’s easy to pick back up again the next day; and so on. Some recommend practicing these skills from the earliest point of your postgraduate career by treating seminar papers as practice for dissertation writing (see “Your Dissertation Begins in Your First Seminar,” Chronicle of Higher Education 2016).

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


Write Abstracts for the Dissertation or Shorter Pieces of Writing

In many fields, dissertation abstracts are required as part of fellowship and academic job applications. Even when this is not the case, 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.

See “Abstracts,” The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill