How to…

…be successful in the modularized graduate writing course.

Participate. Contribute. Write. Understand.

Our research on how students adapt to and succeed in graduate schools in American universities shows that students take less time to achieve more success when they participate actively, contribute to discourse communities, value and practice writing and communication skills, and are proactive in learning and understanding writing as a vehicle of success in graduate school.

We originally designed this platform for international graduate students and then updated especially the for-credit modules offered through our university’s Blackboard course management system in order to serve the needs of all graduate students. Especially if you decide to take for-credit modules, we encourage you to read about the four areas below in which we will help and reward your efforts.

We hope that those of you who are only completing the non-credit modules from here can use these strategies in your own contexts, not just for individual or online courses but for enhanced academic transition into and/or success in US academe and graduate school.



Especially for newer (international) graduate students, it is important to participate in classroom discussions, whether that is in person or online. Active participation is key to a smoother, quicker transition. And, of course, active participation can accelerate success for all graduate students.

It is natural at first to listen more than you speak, observe more than you share your thoughts and perspectives. So we’ve designed modules fitting newer students to help them introduce themselves, share what they learn by exploring resources and talking to people, comment on videos and other students’ discussion posts, and ask questions.

For more advanced students, we have additional or more advanced opportunities to engage with other students, with us, and within your own department and discourses communities–through, and while using/improving, writing.

Especially when challenges overlap–such as when you are an international student who is adjusting to or navigating the American higher education culture/system, tackling challenges of academic writing and communication in graduate school that all graduate students face, and trying to fit an online writing skills course into your busy schedule–the first step is for you to be aware of the challenges and then to develop strategies to overcome them, using your strengths and and finding the resources necessary.

To maximize your learning and credits received in the course, read as many discussion forum threads as you can, posting comments where you can ask (or practice asking) thoughtful questions and posting a quick response even when you can’t find time for a longer response, so the conversation can move along. Ask questions–and answer other people’s questions.

Say something about the resources, including videos when you can comment; that will help you practice your writing and interaction skills. Make appointments to see the instructors; students meeting with professors is not only a significant feature of American college/university but also an especially useful strategy for success in writing and communication courses. Come ready to ask questions, get feedback on a draft, discuss comments provided by instructors on your writing, plan the next writing assignment, etc. Pick one or more webinars and attend them. Students in the for-credit course can interact with instructors/hosts and other students/participants.

Academic writing in graduate school is taking intellectual positions, responding to existing knowledge by presenting your ideas orally or in writing, and developing a research/scholarly agenda as a scholar with your own identity and voice/expertise. Active participation in a course that is designed to teach you writing and communication skills based on exploring the university, reading and research skills, and engaging with fellow students and other members of the university can help you develop a variety of tools for success in graduate school. That success begins with active participation. We hope you will participate actively and get full credit in this area because this is one solid step toward quick transition and great academic success (especially if you are an international student). The social nature of this course–and of scholarly communication in U.S. higher education in general–requires students to learn and use writing as a networking tool.

The time you spend in actively participating–in this course and in your department or university–will pay off very well. So, we hope you take the opportunities to participate through writing as a way to practice writing, to connect with people, to start taking intellectual positions, to develop a voice of your own as a scholar.



Write regularly. Especially if you don’t write excellently yet. You’ll get there. Use this course as an opportunity to do different kinds of writing. Write consciously. Think about how the style and tone of your (and other students’ and instructors’) writing in discussion forums is different from those in journal articles. Read new types/genres of writing analytically, trying to take notes about common patterns, conventions, format, reader expectations, and the dynamics of power and relationships in the discourse community. Think about how technology shapes the writing, what is different in the way people write the same thing in different cultures and disciplines, why writers use certain rhetorical strategies to either follow or break with convention.

Writing regularly isn’t easy in an online course. So, mark your calendar for recurring events to sit down to read and respond to discussions, to study the subject behind an assignment you find useful and write (about) it, to brainstorm and outline your ideas for the next assignment, to draft what you’ve outlined before it’s too close to the end of the half month segment in your personalized course schedule, to revise what you wrote last time, to edit what you’ve revised, to request your peer reviewer or instructor for feedback, and so on. Find a study partner and/or peer review partner, someone to talk over the readings and assignments with and keep you on track. While this is easier if you’re on campus, it is not difficult to find an online study partner through email and Blackboard. Take note of the fellow students that you enjoy working with in discussions and reach out to them.

Writing regularly requires self-discipline, but don’t try to force yourself into someone else’s idea of discipline and time management. You have a lot to balance in addition to adjusting to new demands and situations and perhaps learning a new language. Find your groove. First, ensure that you’ve allocated dedicated time for this course; some types of writing may even required a time when you’re not exhausted or distracted by other things. Furthermore, work for online courses too often gets squeezed into impossible schedules; it’s easy to feel dragged by the course timeline if there’s one, or just trying to do too much right before the timeline. If a writing course is worth 6 hours a week for you at this time in your academic career (that’s the amount of time we expect students to find for all activities per week), you should plan to allocate at least 2 of those hours for writing, however you invest that time.

At the same time, be honest with instructors if you’re having personal or academic difficulties (even if you don’t want to share specific details); we can often make adjustments to help you or at least be more sympathetic and supportive. Don’t feel guilty about saying no to some requests that interfere with your study time or enhance your privacy (this can be challenging if you’re new and are yet to develop the skills/strategies for it).

Second, ensure that you have a space and the material and connection you need to be able to write. Too often, students try to do work for online courses in unrealistic places (in hotel rooms during vacation, at conferences, on board a flight, etc). But just because it is “possible” doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult to do enough and do well. Find a comfortable and peaceful space to write if you need it.

Finally, use the sample action plans that we’ve provided that is closest to your need, adapt it, and make a commitment to follow it (adapting it along the way for better success). Set calendar alerts to stay on or ahead of the schedule. Make a habit of previewing what’s coming up the next week or two, reading the material and starting to work on your next deadline while there’s time. You can use the same amount of time to be far more productive if you can identify what works best for you.

Writing is a multidimensional skill, and it demands a few additional skills if you are an international student who is not only moving up to graduate-level education or a higher level in it but is also moving from one academic culture to another. But whatever your background, if you read slower or tend to have more errors to fix when you finish drafting, it is okay to take the time to improve reading speed or fluency in written language; find and invest the time to actively practice the skills you want to improve so you don’t take too long until you are confident in those areas. What you think is a “language problem” or “bad sentences” may be a result of not knowing enough about the subject, not feeling confident to write about the topic you know well, being unclear about the social or disciplinary context behind the academic issue, or needing more knowledge or skills for using the particular genre of writing. Regular practice–and reading and writing to develop an awareness and knowledge about graduate-level writing–can help you speed up the process of becoming a better, more confident writer.

We’ve designed the course to help you practice different kinds of writing, to educate you about writing and communication in graduate school in the US, to encourage you to explore writing as part of academic communication and disciplinary work in your field, etc. If you can dedicate some time, we are confident that you can take yourself from point A to point “considerable excellence” as a writer. Don’t hesitate to tell us where and how we can help you do that.



As a graduate student–read that as an emerging scholar in your field–almost everything you do is geared toward becoming able to contribute new knowledge to your discipline and profession. You learn to fill gaps in understanding, to solve problems in society, to develop new methods and theories in the disciplines, and to create new or better products or services. And writing plays an almost constant role in that process of both acquiring skills and knowledge and getting things done. The globally expanding knowledge economy requires academic and professional communication skills.

We break down academic writing and communication skills into practice tasks and assignments so you learn how to contribute your understanding and perspectives, your findings and interpretation, your new models and improved methods to the discipline and profession–through writing. Starting with more basic “soft skills,” such as responding to ideas/opinions of published authors and fellow students, we move on to more specific writing skills for accomplishing specific goals, such as publishing your research and job hunting. But we focus on academic writing skills, including reviewing current scholarship, writing abstracts and introductions, framing texts and their parts to help readers see the big picture of your complex ideas relatively easily, revising and editing for focus and flow, and so on.

We’ve designed the tasks to help you learn and practice the above skills as a toolset you will use as a scholar who can contribute new knowledge to your field. So, we hope that you will take every opportunity to practice the skills, knowing that the practice in the supportive community of this class will build the intellectual muscles you need to take clear and strong positions in your discipline.

As you contribute your ideas and perspectives to any discussion, give feedback to other students, write emails to instructors, or even write more substantive comments on a video that you watched, think about the opportunity as a way to practice how to relate to people and their ideas, how to critique issues (not people!), how to take your own distinct position, how to communicate with confidence through writing, and so on. Practice here, perform anywhere!

Also, as you contribute your ideas and support others, take a deliberate approach to the technological applications you use. A discussion forum, for instance, offers you a different set of affordance from private emails. A blog post gives you the opportunity to flesh out your ideas more broadly and deeply. Don’t allow technical glitches to stop you from being an engaged, productive writer, no matter how little or how much you’re writing. Needless to say, you need a  reliable computer with browser (preferably Chrome but Firefox or Safari will also work) and a reliable internet connection. For credit-bearing modules, you need access to Blackboard, active Net ID and SB university email, Google Drive and Documents, YouTube (part of Google application suite if you have an active SB email), SB You blog account, and other university sites and apps. Let us know within the first week of the semester, or as soon as you first need to use a tool, if you face any challenge.

Turn off your phone if that helps. There are also programs and apps that can help you avoid distractions on your computer, like these. Don’t believe in the singular theory that we write better under the pressure of deadlines; that pressure is only one factor and you need many more skills! But if you do find yourself procrastinating, do not freeze up, panic, or feel bad about it. Just pick up and move forward. Fortunately, this course is designed for people to find a level of commitment that they can handle comfortable, as well as giving choice of modules.

Making the transition from onsite to online communication will also pose new challenges, but it also offers new opportunities for you to learn a different skill set. Use the opportunity to socialize and network with other students; take the initiative to follow up on discussion threads, find a little more time that longer emails from instructors may take to read, and ask instructors if or how you could take the lead on certain aspects of the course. We are here to support you as you practice the skills to use writing as a powerful tool for advancing knowledge and impacting society–and that’s not an exaggeration.



Graduate students often take time to understand the many forms that writing as a tool of academic and professional communication takes. They also take time to realize the importance of, and then learn to situate their ideas against, the broader socioeconomic and professional contexts in which academic writing takes place. In fact, some students avoid dealing with the mess of the “other” issues in the background and instead try to focus on the technical content and mechanical correctness in their writing. Such avoidance can slow down the progress of graduate students as scholars, narrowing their scope of their academic skills and even undermining their voice as members of their disciplines.

Based on insights drawn from research on graduate students’ success, we have designed the modules and skills practice within them to help you understand the types and functions of writing in graduate school and in your own departments and disciplines. If you are new to the system, browse through the glossary for terms and concepts that may be new or that you may want to learn more about. If you’re a teaching assistant, go beyond the required tasks where you could learn how to help your students do better reading, writing, or research (well designed writing activities can serve as a powerful instrument to teach all those skills). If you are exploring the publication module, use the resources to understand the dynamics behind the produce that you see when you read a journal article (the process of review and communication, the politics of prestige, the dynamics of funding, etc). How you write when communicating with the many people involved in your discipline and the workforce beyond it will make a big difference in your professional development. As one graduate student put it, “Writing can make or mar your prospects as a scholar.” We want you to define writing as a complex process that is entangled with complex issues in academe and society.

When we reward your writing, contribution, and participation in this course, we will look not just for how grammatically correct your sentences are but how deep an understanding of graduate-level writing your submissions and interactions show. We have tried to indicate where and how you can seek to learn and write “about” writing (“writing about writing” is a robust discourse in the field of writing education).

Learn and write about the conventions and styles that you notice in the texts you read. Learn to read analytically so you understand not just what an author says but also how they try to convince you, what you find effectively done and what not, where the author could have done better and how. Transfer ideas and strategies from reading to writing to improve the latter, as well as from the writing tasks you complete in this course.

Most importantly, in order to understand writing in graduate school and to demonstrate that understanding for a perfect score in this area, explore the ecology of resources and support, people and spaces on campus that will help you accelerate the process of becoming a successful writer and scholar in your field. *** Given that graduate education is decentralize and that the busy schedule of graduate students make it challenging to get out of the limited timeline and space of your graduate work, pick the places and services that you can go and use. Find the fellow students and professors/mentors who can help you and get their help in small and big ways to keep improving your writing skills and the knowledge of the big and complex context in which it works.

Use the University Writing Center, which is located in on the West Campus in Humanities 2007 and is open Monday to Friday; it is also available as a fully online resource for our students taking the course from a distance. Use this online form to make face to face and online appointments, schedule appointments via phone at 631-632-7405, or drop by for an appointment (if a tutor is available).  We’ve found that successful graduate students use and create a network of support beyond formal support available on campus. Create yours. Help others, because that’s another effective way to hone your writing skills. This is true for all graduate students and may have additional value for international graduate students. 

Within the for-credit course on Blackboard, study the website to learn about the modules within the first week, decide what modules you need or want to take, and borrow ideas/text from the sample “action plans” to create your personal timeline. You must complete two modules (or one credit) within the full month after a semester begins, opting for two, four, or six modules.  

Enjoy the process. And please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

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