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Anxiety about academic writing: I don't know enough

Learn more about techniques and tools to help you if you feel anxious about academic writing

You might be feeling:

  • I don't have anything original to say.
  • I don't know where to start or what I'm supposed to do in my assignment.
  • I don't understand the topic.

What can you do right now?

Emotional strategies

  • Try a reality check with yourself: do you actually not know enough, or are you using that worry as an excuse not to write? If fear is the root of the problem, please visit "I'm afraid" in this guide and consider booking a counselling appointment to work your way through these feelings.  
  • If you need more information, remember that research and reading come first; writing comes second. If you don't know enough to write yet, give yourself permission to learn more.
    • Start by reminding yourself that it's okay to not know everything about the topic you are supposed to be writing about.  You're here to learn, right? The writing process is just one way of learning and then showing what you know.
    • Try to focus on the positives, versus getting stuck in negative feelings. For example, what do you know about the topic so far? What are you curious about with respect to your topic? What questions would you like to answer?
  • Try an approach that previously worked well for you when you felt that you didn't know enough about something. For example, did you talk to someone? Did you start reading about the topic? Did you Google key words? Did you contact your instructor and ask for some guidance or clarification?
  • Talk through your ideas with someone else. Sometimes we get stuck in our thoughts and ideas seem to get frozen, but explaining those thoughts to someone else can often help to unfreeze us.
    • Do you enjoy being active? Walking improves creativity (Wong, 2014), so try talking through your ideas with someone else while you're taking a walk.

Writing strategies

  • Think about how you would explain your topic to someone else who isn't familiar with the subject matter. If you consider your writing is an expression of your thinking, you probably have more to say than you think. It's impossible for you to be an expert on what everyone else thinks, but no one knows more about your thinking than you do.
  • Watch the "Introduction to Academic Writing" (via Academic Writing) and "Writing an Academic Paragraph" (via Paragraphs) videos to learn more about how you can get organized and plan your writing, which will help you find a starting point.
  • Contact your instructor to request a conversation to ask questions about your topic and/or contact the Librarians to ask for help with finding information.

Where can you learn more?

Counselling Services

Writing Centre

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Counselling Services
(250) 391-2600 ext. 4515  
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Writing Centre
(250) 391-2600, ext. 4353 or 1-800-788-8028
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