Academic Writing AdviceAcademic, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Overcoming Academic Writing Anxiety


Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in either universities or scholarly journal publications. Writing tasks like these are usually the end task of a project, a work of research, or a deep examination of experts' work. If you are faced with a task of academic writing, it can feel like a big contrast to the informality of writing a text to a friend or a post on social media. To some, the stakes are super high – maybe you're submitting your first academic study for publication, and this is huge for your research career. Maybe it's your master's thesis, and you feel a lot of pressure to impress your mentor and department staff. Writers can face endless opportunities, and the pressure not to screw it up can be pretty daunting! Here are some steps you can take to keep yourself feeling grounded and calm when facing this significant task.

Identify the source of your anxiety

What's making you the most anxious with regard to your writing? Try out the following ideas and see if any resonate with you. If there's a thought you hadn't realized was bothering you, these suggestions can help you pinpoint the problem more clearly.

  • You feel that you don't have the right training to create a polished piece of writing: Do you think that you lack the skills to create an effective piece of writing? Your feelings of inadequacy can be intensified by the thought that your professor, your future audience, or the journal you're submitting to is expecting you to know how to write eloquently and persuasively. You're an expert in your field, but you're also expected to be a skilled writer?
  • You don't have enough time to finish your work to a satisfactory standard: The deadline is looming, and no sane individual can finish this text while also keeping up with all other areas of life!
  • You have writer's block: You have a great idea and such good content. But how do you express it to your audience? The words can sometimes get stuck, or your brain can feel fuzzy. Or maybe you've written out your introductory paragraph 10 times and deleted each one, feeling like none of them are just right.
  • Your mind is on other issues: Are you dealing with stress in other areas of your life and struggle to stay focused on your writing? It's hard enough to write a stunning piece of text, even when everything in life is peaceful!
  • Your audience is known for being tough or critical: Maybe you've submitted something to this journal or this professor before, and they rejected you hardcore. How do you know the same thing won't happen again?
  • You fear your ideas (or you as a person) aren't good enough: This is a tough one, because it causes you to question your very worthiness even to be writing the paper. Plus, if you know you're going to get some negative feedback, you might feel that if your writing is terrible, then you are a terrible student/researcher/person. Who's got the confidence to withstand that?

Take a minute and give yourself some love and license

Your fears and feelings are real. You're not being foolish; this is an important task, so it's natural to feel at least a little nervous about it. Often, when the writing process is going badly, we get the urge to berate ourselves for being a bad writer or even for having those paralyzing feelings that keep us from making progress, but giving ourselves a little love can help ease those anxious feelings, even if just a little bit. Remember also that the outcome of submitting your writing does not define your worth. A rejection from a journal does not mean rejection of you as a person. An A grade does not define you as superior. Your worth goes way beyond your performance on this text, and so its significance is separate from yours.

Seek support

If supporting and accepting yourself feels good, then the benefit from support from others will help you even more! Go visit with your teacher or advisor about your assignment or thesis. Contact a mentor to help you with your journal article. Those with experience can help you navigate unknown territory or even just let you know you're not alone. If emotional support is all you need, reach out to a friend or family member for words of encouragement or a listening ear. Those who love you want you to succeed!

Shift your mindset

Ready for some tough love? Those feelings of stress are coming from your own thoughts. That means you have the power to change your perspective completely. It's easier said than done, but you can shift those panicked thoughts into motivation. Try to change your thought, "I can't do this; I've never done anything like this before!" into "This is a great opportunity for me to forge new paths and gain valuable experience." According to Nancy Sommers and Laura Saltz, the most inexperienced writers are the ones who are most capable of learning new skills. If you're spiraling into self-doubt, spend some time focusing on what makes you great. If you're feeling inadequate with expressing your ideas, remind yourself that you're awesome at math or the best at interpreting a literary text. You have a gift to share with your audience!

Equip yourself with the data you need

Academic writing requires a good deal of preparation. Maybe your feelings of stress are coming from the realization that you aren't as prepared as you thought you were. Go re-read the prompt or rubric for your text to make sure you have a clear, informed idea of what's expected. Don't have a rubric or outline? Contact your professor for more info on what's expected from this assignment. With a clear idea of what you need to do, you can revisit your reference texts and take good notes so you have the data you need to help formulate your thoughts on paper. Then, start creating outlines, mind maps, abstract art – whatever helps you clear the cobwebs from your brain and get yourself running again.

Confront the true gaps in your knowledge

If the topic you're writing about is stressing you out, there could be some room to enrich your knowledge about it. Ask questions and seek out the answers. If the writing process itself is the source of terror, get yourself next to someone who does who can help you. So many resources exist at your university, online, and out in the world created by experts who have gone before you. Identify those skill gaps and start working on them. Look for a tutor or reach out to a trusted mentor to help you get the resources you need. Expanding your mind and abilities will help mitigate those anxiety-laden writing sessions in the future.

Create a peaceful environment

If you're still feeling anxious after addressing your specific writing-related fears, it can be helpful to treat general anxiety by creating a haven for yourself. Start by designing a workspace that inspires you. Surround yourself with colors you love and objects that bring you peace and joy. Next, play some music that calms or inspires you. ServiceScape has several resources for good writing music to satisfy people of all artistic tastes. Start with The 50 Best YouTube Music Channels for Writing and Concentration to get an idea of what's available. You're sure to find something that helps you relax while you're writing.

Take a break

There's immense value in taking a step away from the writing task to refresh your mind. Go for a walk, spend time with your family or friends, take a nap, or give yourself a minute to meditate and clear your head. Having a break away from writing could give you some clarity regarding what's really bothering you, which can help you seek out the right tools to resolve your stress.

Academic writing is often a decisive factor in our success in higher education or a research career. That means it carries significant weight, so, inevitably, academic writers can feel a great deal of pressure when creating a paper or article to submit and then wait for their fate to be decided. Unfortunately, not everyone's field of expertise includes training in writing, so it's natural to feel inadequate when writing your paper. Use these tips to help navigate the stormy seas of academic writing and get you back to a peaceful state of mind.

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