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How to write a graduate-level essay

Step-by-step guidance and resources for planning, researching, and writing essays as a graduate student.

Suggestions for overcoming writer's block

Here are some ideas you might try. Click to expand each suggestion.

Sometimes the simplest way to overcome writer’s block is to take a break. Taking some time away from writing to have a snack, take a short nap, or go for a walk may help you to feel refreshed and ready to move forward.

If your physical writing space is distracting you, try to change the elements that are challenging you, such as working in a different room or location. Also, consider if the noise around you is providing a distraction. For example, do you prefer to write in silence, with music, or in the midst of ambient noise, such as in a coffee shop?

Use your preferred learning style when writing; for example, introverts tend to internalize information before expressing it, whereas extroverts often synthesize information through talking. If you’re an introvert who is stuck, try spending more time thinking through what you’re trying to express. If you’re an extrovert, try talking to someone. See The MBTI Types and What They Can Learn About Writing for more suggestions.

If you’re more comfortable talking than writing, try Speech-to-text tools to capture your ideas.

Finally, try writing at a time that tends to be high energy and creative for you. For example, do you prefer writing in the morning, afternoon, or evening?

If you’re stuck because you’re unsure of the goals of the document, ask for information from someone who can clarify the expectations (e.g., instructor, advisor, journal editor). See Understand the Assignment for more information. 

Creating a detailed plan for your document (e.g., outline, mind-map) provides a framework to follow when writing so you always know what you need to say in the text. Using that framework, you can write any section at any point in the process, versus having to write the document in sequence in one sitting. If you’re feeling stuck in one section, try writing a different section so you’re still using your writing time effectively. For more information, please see Planning the Paper

If you don’t have enough information to move your discussion forward, please return to the goals of the work and/or your document plan to identify what information is missing. Then, seek out the necessary information, whether that is in your research or other works.

If you have too much information, refer to your document plan to help you decide which information to leave out. While it may seem that every detail is essential, it’s likely that some of the discussion is focusing on supplemental details. When in doubt, take it out; if the removal doesn’t take away critical details, the information isn’t essential.

Worrying about meeting deadlines can cause tremendous stress. Use time management techniques and tools like the Assignment Calculator to keep you on track. Also, use your document plan to determine everything you need to get done, and then make a schedule for how you’re going to achieve those deliverables before your deadline.

A perfect first draft is an unrealistic goal, so aiming for perfection can cause high levels of stress. Also, trying to write and edit at the same time is challenging because an author has to simultaneously create and critique. If you’re feeling stuck, aim for the first draft to simply capture your ideas; subsequent reviews can focus on polishing the text. If the feedback from your spell checker is distracting, turn off the function while you’re typing. Once your first draft is complete, you can turn the function back on and check your text.

If your topic isn’t engaging you, try drawing upon a source of inspiration, such as another work or a personal connection that is related to your topic. Also, everyone needs a pep talk now and then, so try asking family and friends for encouragement.

  • Verbally describe your topic and what’s blocking you to someone else, and invite that person to ask you questions about things that don’t make sense to him or her. It’s likely that the process of explaining your work to someone else will unlock the discussion for you. Make sure that you have a way to record or keep track of the discussion so that you don't forget how you broke through your block.
  • Ask if your instructor or advisor would be willing to provide formative feedback. Feeling more confident about the direction and approach of your writing is an excellent way to overcome writer’s block.
  • Connect with other authors to reduce feelings of isolation. Everyone experiences writer’s block at some point, and other authors will be able to understand the experience as well as share suggestions for how to move past the block.
  • Ask your personal support system (e.g., friends, family, co-workers, colleagues) for encouragement.
  • Contact the Writing Centre if we can provide any assistance on any writing-related matter.