The ApplyTexas college application has many different essay prompts—and each of the most popular colleges in Texas has different requirements for which essays they expect students to answer.
So how do you get advice on writing your best ApplyTexas essays, no matter which school you are hoping to get into? Look no further than this article, which totally unpacks all five possible ApplyTexas essay prompts. I will explain what each essay prompt is looking for, what admissions officers are hoping to learn about you, give you great strategies for making sure your essay meets all of these expectations, and help you come up with your best essay topics.
Table of Contents
To help you navigate through this long guide, you can use these links.
What Are the ApplyTexas Essays?
Comparing 3 Similar ApplyTexas Essay Prompts: A, B, and C
Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic A
Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic B
Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic C
Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic D
Dissecting UT Austin Essay Topic S
Dissecting UT Austin Essay Topics N and W
The Bottom Line
What Are the ApplyTexas Essays?
The ApplyTexas application is basically the Texas state version of the Common Application that many U.S. colleges use: it’s a unified college application process that's accepted by all Texas public universities and many private ones. Note, however, that some schools that accept ApplyTexas applications also accept the Common App.
The ApplyTexas website is a good source for figuring out whether your target college accepts the ApplyTexas application, but the best way to confirm exactly what your school expects to see is to go to its admissions website.
Why Do Colleges Want You to Write Essays?
Admissions officers are trying to put together classes full of interesting, vibrant students who have different backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, goals, and dreams. One tool for colleges to identify a diverse set of perspectives is through the college essay.
What does this mean for you? These essays are a chance for you to show admissions officers those sides of yourself that aren’t reflected in the rest of your application. This is where you describe where you come from, what you believe in, what you value, and what has shaped you. This is also where you make yourself sound mature and insightful, two key qualities that colleges are looking for in their applicants because they want to make sure to find young people who will thrive when faced with the independence of college life.
To go deeper, check out our extensive guide to how essays work in the college application process.
Filling a freshman class is like dealing with those Every-Flavor jelly beans from Harry Potter: admissions just wants to make sure to avoid the ones that taste like earwax.
ApplyTexas Essay Requirements
There are 4 essay prompts on the ApplyTexas application for freshman admission (Topics A, B, C, and D), and three essay prompts that aren't on the ApplyTexas application, but are extra essay options for UT Austin (Topics N, S, and W). There are no word limits for the essays, but colleges suggest keeping the essays somewhere between 1 to 1 ½ pages long.
All Texas colleges and universities have different application requirements, including the essays. Some require essays, some list them as optional, while others use a combination of required and optional essays. Several schools use the essays to determine scholarship awards, honors program eligibility, or admission to specific majors. Here are some essay submission requirement examples from a range of schools.
UT Austin essay requirements:
- You are required to write an essay on Topic A.
- You also have to write one other essay on Topic B, C, D, N, S, or W.
- If you're applying to Architecture or the Fine Arts’ Department of Art and Art History, your second essay has to be on Topic D.
- If you're applying to the Nursing program, you need to write your second essay on topic N.
- If you're applying to the Social Work program, your second essay needs to be on topic W.
Texas A&M essay requirements:
- You have to write essays on Topic A and Topic B.
- If you don't meet automatic admission standards, Texas A&M recommends (but doesn't require) that you write an essay on Topic C.
Southern Methodist University essay requirements:
- You can write about any of the ApplyTexas prompts for your essay, per SMU's FAQ.
- SMU also accepts the Common App and has its own online application, so you have the option to pick and choose the application you most want to fill out.
Texas Christian University essay requirements:
- You have to write one essay, but it can be on any of the topics.
- TCU also accepts the Common App and has its own online application, so it's another school where you can figure out which application makes the most sense for you.
Dazzled by her options, she was overcome with hopeful optimism. And cuteness.
Comparing ApplyTexas Essay Prompts A, B, and C
There are three ApplyTexas essay topics that try to get to the heart of what makes you the person that you are in three different ways. But since Topics A, B, and C all focus on things that are essential to you as a person, it can be difficult to come up with a totally different idea for each—especially since on a first read-through, these prompts can sound fairly similar.
So, before I dissect all five of the ApplyTexas essay prompts one by one in the next section of this article, let’s see how A, B, and C are different from one another. This way, you can keep these differences in mind when trying to come up with ideas of what to write about. (Topics D and S are distinct enough from the others that you’re unlikely to have trouble distinguishing them.)
What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood, or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.
Most students have and identity, interest, or a talent that describes them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself.
You've got a ticket in your hand—where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?
How to Tell Topics A, B, and C Apart
One helpful way to keep these topics separate in your mind is to create a big picture category for each one: Topic A is outside, Topic B is inside, and Topic C is the future.
In other words, topic A is asking about the impact of the outside world on you and how you handled that impact. On the other hand, topic B is asking about your inner passions and how those passions define you. Finally, topic C wants to know about where you're going from here.
These very broad categories will help when you’re brainstorming ideas and life experiences to write about for your essay. Of course, it's true that many of the stories you think of can be shaped to fit each of these prompts. Still, think about what the experience most reveals about you. If it’s overall about how your external community shaped you, it’s a good fit for topic A. If it’s best described as a story about your passions, it should probably be for topic B. And if it’s primarily about an event that you think predicts your future, it will work well for topic C.
For more help, check out our article on coming up with great ideas for your essay topic.
That time a spilled crate of stuffed frogs made you want to learn everything there is to know about French cooking? Probably Topic C.
Dissecting Essay Topic A
Now, I will do a thorough deconstruction of everything you need to know about Topic A, the first ApplyTexas essay prompt.
What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.
What’s It Asking?
This prompt wants to see how your external environment shaped you. You can tell from the fact that the prompt is split up into two sentences that your essay answer will have two distinct, but interconnected parts.
1. Describe Your Environment
The first part of the prompt is about identifying and describing the overall environment in which you grew up. Of course, you'll need to hone in on particular aspects of your environment to keep your essay from being too vague. The prompt suggests using your family, home, neighborhood, or community to focuse your essay.
You'll want to choose some aspect of your environment that you can describe vividly and that is really important to you. It doesn't necessarily have to be important in a positive way, but it does have to have had a significant impact on your personal development. It should also be some aspect of your environment that has been or was a part of your life for a long time. You're describing where you were "raised," after all.
2. How It Shaped You
You shouldn't just describe your environment. You also need to discuss how that environment impacted you as a person. How did the aspect of your environment that you selected to write about turn you into the person you are now?
It's best if you can think of one or two concrete anecdotes or stories about how your environment has shaped you. For example, don't just say that your family made you a hard-working person—describe in detail how watching your mother come home from a full day of work just to get ready to go to nighttime classes helped show you that working towards goals is worthwhile even when it's hard.
What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?
Being a tomato in a peapod was hard on Frank, who could never really quite understand the peas' obsession with photosynthesis.
Readers are looking for two main things. First, they want to see that you can be mature and thoughtful about your surroundings. Are you sufficiently curious about the world around you? If you have really observed and engaged with your surroundings, you will be able to describe the people and places that have impacted you as you have grown up in a nuanced, insightful way.
Second, they want to see how you stand out from your own environment. This can be accomplished in two ways: first, you can emphasize how you are somehow different from your environment and how that impacted you. Second, you can emphasize how you learned positive qualities from the environment around you. Basically, how did your environment turn you into a special, interesting person?
How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?
So how can you make sure your essay is really answering the question? Here are some strategies.
When You’re Planning
Pick a specific aspect of your environment. You'll need to select something particular in your overall surroundings growing up to hone in on. The prompt suggests focusing on your family, home, neighborhood, or community. You could take most of these suggestions in several directions.
Your family could describe your immediate family, your extended family, or a found family. Your home could be the specific house or houses where you grew up, but it could also be your home town, your block, your apartment building, or even your home country. Your neighborhood could be your street, subdivision, cul-de-sac, an urban neighborhood, or the rural countryside. Your community could be any community you've been a part of, from your school community to your church community to your city.
When you consider what aspect of your environment to choose, think about significant things that happened to you in connection with your environment. Remember, you'll need to get beyond just describing how the setting is important to you to show how it makes you important.
How did it make you special? Then you need to consider what about your environment turned you into a person who stands out. Again, this can be about how you overcame some aspect of your environment or how your environment positively fostered qualities or traits in you. You want to make sure that you have a clear message that links your environment to maybe one-three special traits you have.
Think about specific stories and anecdotes related to your interactions with your environment and thoughfully analyze those to consider what they show about you. Important adults in your life can help you brainstorm.
When You’re Writing
Think of the essay like a movie. Like a good movie script, a college essay needs characters, some action, and a poignant but ultimately happy ending. When you’re planning your personal statement out, try thinking of the story you’re telling in movie terms. This way you can make sure your essay has:
- Setting. Since you are describing your environment, taking some time to vividly give a sense of place is important. This could be accomplished by describing the actual physical surroundings, the main "characters" in your community, or some combination of both.
- Stakes. Movies propel the action forward by giving characters high stakes. You know: win or lose, life or death. Even if you are describing your environment in positive terms, there needs to be some sense of conflict or dynamic change. In the anecdote(s) you've selected to write about, what did you stand to gain or lose?
- External conflict resolution. If there is an external conflict of some kind (with a neighbor, a family member, a friend, a city council, etc.) you do need to show some level of resolution.
- Internal conflict resolution. Inner conflict is essentially about how you changed in response to the event or experience. You'll need to clearly lay out what happened within you and how those changes have carried you forward as a person.
Did you feel ALL the feelings? Can you even name all of these feelings? Oh, yeah? Then what's the one on the bottom right called?
Add details, description, and examples.
For example, imagine Karima decides to describe how learning to navigate public transit at a young age made her resourceful and helped her explore the city environment where she grew up, and how exploring the city impacted her. How should she frame her experience?
I was nervous about taking the El by myself for the first time. At the station, there were lots of commuters and adults who seemed impatient but confident. At first I was very afraid of getting lost, but over time I became as confident as those commuters.
I felt a mixture of nerves and excitement walking up the Howard red line turnstile for the first time. What if I got lost on my way to the museum? I was worried that I would just seem like a nuisance to all of the frowning commuters who crowded the platform. If I needed help, would they help me? Was I even brave enough to ask? When the metal doors opened, I pressed my nails into my palms and rushed in after a woman with a red briefcase. Success! At least for the first step. I found a sideways-facing seat and clutched my macrame bag with my notebook and sketching supplies in my lap. A map hung above my seat. Pressing my finger to the colorful grid, I found my stop and counted how many I still had to go. I spent the entire train ride staring at that map, straining my ears for everything the conductor said. Now, when I think about the first time I rode the El by myself, I smile. What seemed so scary at the time is just an everyday way to get around now. But I always look around on the platform to see if any nervous kids linger at the edges of the commuter crowds and offer them a smile.
Both versions set up the same story, plot-wise, but the second makes the train ride (and because of this, the author) come alive through the addition of specific, individualizing details:
- Visual cues. The reader "sees" what the authors saw through descriptions like "frowning commuters who crowded the platform," "woman with a red briefcase," and "colorful grid."
- Emotional responses. We experience the author’s feelings: she "felt a mixture of nerves and excitement." She wonders if she's brave enough to ask for help. The train ride was "so scary at the time" but feels "everyday" now.
- Differentiation. Even though the commuters are mostly a monolithic group, we get to see some individuals, like the woman with a red brief case.
ApplyTexas Topic A Essay Ideas
There's no one best topic for this essay prompt (or any other), but I've included some potential ideas below, to help you get started with your own brainstorming.
- Describing a time that you organized the people around you around some common local cause
- Honing in on a close relationship with one or more family members
- Identifying a particularly significant place in your neighborhood (like a certain park or tree) and why it has been so important in your life
- Being a minority in your school or neighborhood
- Going through a cultural or religious rite-of-passage
- Moving from one place to somewhere totally different and handling your culture shock
And that's when I realized that I too had become an ostrich, accepted by and adapted into their culture of pecking and running.
Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic B
Let's go through the same process for ApplyTexas Topic B, taking it apart brick by brick and putting it back together again.
Most students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself.
What’s It Asking?
At first glance, this prompt seems pretty vague. "Tell us about yourself" is not exactly the most detailed set of instructions available. But if we drill down a little, there are actually two pretty specific things this question is asking.
1. What Defines You?
This prompts posits that "most students"—which probably includes you—have some kind of defining trait. This could be an "identity, interest, or talent." So you need to express what that defining trait is. Are you an amazing knitter? Do you spend all your free time researching cephalopods? Are you a connoisseur of indie movies or mystery novels? Or maybe you have a religious, cultural, ethnic, or LGBTQ+ identity that's very important to you. Any of these things could plausibly be the main, framing theme of this essay.
2. How Does That Defining Trait Fit Into "You" Overall?
Even though you have some kind of defining trait, that's not the entirety of you. Essentially, you need to contextualize your defining trait within your broader personality and identity. This is where the "tell us about yourself" part comes in. What does your "defining" trait say about you as a person overall? How does it fit into your overall personality, values, and dreams?
Only deep in the woods could she explore her one true passion: moss.
What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?
They are hoping to learn two main things:
1. What you're passionate about. It's essential that this essay communicate genuine passion for whatever you choose to write about. College is a lot of work, and passion is an important driving force when things get busy. Readers are looking for students who are really engaged in the world around them and excited about things!
2. How you view yourself (and how successfully you can communicate that). A strong, well-developed sense of self goes a long way towards helping you weather all of the changes you're going to experience when you go to school. Even though you will change and grow a lot as a person during your college years, having a sense of your own core traits and values will help those changes be exciting as opposed to scary. So colleges are looking for that developed sense of self. Additionally, they are looking for students who can communicate messages about themselves in a clear, confident, cohesive way.
How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?
The challenge with this prompt is giving a complete picture of you as a person while still staying on message about your defining trait. You need to be focused yet comprehensive. Let's explore the best ways to show off your passion and frame your identity.
When You’re Planning
Define the core message. First, you need to select that defining trait. This could be pretty much anything just so long as you are genuinely very invested in this trait and feel that it represents some core aspect of you. It should also be something that you can describe through stories and anecdotes. Just saying, "I'm a redhead and that defines me" makes for a pretty boring essay. A story about how you started a photography project that's all portraits of redheads like you and what you learned about yourself from that experience is much more interesting.
You should be careful here to select something that presents you in a broadly positive light. If you select a trait that doesn't seem very serious, like your enduring and eternal love of onion rings, you risk seeming at best immature and at worst outright disrespectful. You also want to pick something realistic—don't claim that you are the greatest mathematician who ever lived unless you are, in fact, the greatest mathematician who ever lived (and you probably aren't). Otherwise you'll seem out of touch.
Fit it into a larger picture. Then think about how you can use that trait to paint a more complete picture of you at a person. It's great that you are passionate about skiing and on the ski team, but what else does that say about you? Are you an adventurous daredevil who loves to take (reasonable) risks? Are you a nature lover with a taste for exploration? Do you love being part of a team? Select at least two-three postive messages you want to communicate about yourself within your essay about your key trait.
Brody added his special brand of XYZ to everything he ever made for that bro-tisanal touch.
When You’re Writing
Show, don't tell. It's much more interesting to read about things that you do that demonstrate your key traits than it is to hear you list them. Don't just say, "Everyone asks me for advice because I'm level-headed and reasonable." Actually describe situations that show people asking you for advice and you giving that level-headed, reasonable advice.
Watch your tone. It's important to watch your tone when you are writing an essay that's pretty overtly about how great you are. You want to show your own special qualities without seeming glib, staid, self-aggrandizing, or narcissistic.
For example, let’s say Andrew wants to write about figuring out how to grow a garden despite his yard being in full shade and how that turned into a passion for horticulture. He could launch into a rant about the garden store employees not knowing which plants are right for which light, and the previous house owner’s terrible habit of using the yard for a pet bathroom, and the achy knee that prevented him from proper weeding posture, and so on. Or, he could describe doing research on the complex gardens of royal palaces, planning the garden based on plant color and height, using trial and error to see which plants would flourish, and getting so involved with the work that he would lose track of time. One of these makes him sound whiny and self-centered, and the other makes him sound like someone who can take charge of a difficult situation.
ApplyTexas Topic B Essay Ideas
Again, there's no single best approach here, but I've outlined some potential topics below:
- Are you known for being really good at something or an expert on a particular topic? How does it impact your identity?
- Discuss how you got involved in a particular extracurricular activity and what it means to you. What have you learned from participating?
- Describe something you've done lots of research on in your free time. How did you discover that interest? What have you learned?
- What's your most evident personality trait? How has that trait impacted your life? (You can ask friends and relatives for help with this one)
- Relate the importance of your LGBTQ identity.
- Discuss your religious or cultural background and how it defines you.
- Describe your experience as a member of a minority community.
Are you a diamond in a world of hearts?
Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic C
Now we can take apart Topic C to get a good handle on how to tackle this future-facing essay.
You've got a ticket in your hand—where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?
What’s It Asking?
If ApplyTexas Topic A and Topic B were all about your past experiences, Topic C wants you to give readers a glimpse of your imagined possibilities.
There are basically two potential approaches to this question. We'll break them down here.
1. Describing Long-Term Goals
One approach to this question is just to use this as a chance to describe your long-term goals for your career and life.
For some students, this will be an extremely straightforward endeavor. For example, say you’ve always wanted to be a doctor, and you spend your whole life volunteering at hospitals, helping out in your mom’s practice, and studying biology during the summer time. Then you can just frame your "ticket" as a ticket to medical school, pick a few of the most gripping moments from these past experiences and discuss the overall trajectory of your interests, and your essay will be a winner.
But what if you’re not sure about lifetime goals? Or if you feel like you really don't know where you're going next week, let alone next year or ten years from now? You can still use this prompt! Read on.
2. Demonstrating Thoughtful Imagination
While you can certainly interpret this as a straightforward question about your future, you can also use it as a chance to be more imaginative.
Note that this entire question rests on the metaphor of the ticket. The ticket can be to anywhere; you decide. So the ticket could be to a very real place, like your grandmother's house or the highlands of Scotland or the Metropolitan Museum. Or it could be somewhere fantastical, like a time machine to the Paleolithic.
The important thing here is that you use the destination you select—and what you plan to do there—to demonstrate that you are a thoughtful person who is excited and engaged with the world around you.
Renata doesn't want a train ticket, she just wants a boat.
What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?
If you are on a direct path to a specific field of study or career pursuit, admissions officers definitely want to know that. Having driven, goal oriented, and passionate students is a huge plus for a university. So if this is you, be sure that your essay conveys not just your interest but also your deep and abiding love of the subject, and any related clubs, activities, and hobbies that you’ve done during high school.
However, if you take the more creative approach to this prompt, realize that in this essay, like in all the other essays, the how matters much more than the what. Don't worry that you don't have a specific goal in mind yet: no matter where your eventual academic, career, or other pursuits may lie, every activity that you have done up to now has taught you something. You learned about things like work ethic, mastering a skill, practice, learning from a mentor, interacting with peers, dealing with setbacks, understanding your own learning style, and perseverance. Your essay is a chance to show off that knowledge and maturity. So no matter what destination you choose for your ticket (the what), you want to communicate that you can think about future (and imagined!) possibilities in a compelling way based on your past experiences (the how).
Whether you take "where you are going" and "what you are doing" in a more literal direction or move the prompt towards somewhere more abstract and creative, the admissions office wants to make sure that no matter what you study, you will be able to make something meaningful out of it. They want to see that you’re not simply floating through life on the surface, but that you are absorbing the qualities, skills, and know-how you will need to succeed in the world.
How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?
Here are some ideas for how to show that you have thoughtful and compelling visions of possible futures.
When You're Planning
Pick where you're going. Is this going to be a more straightforward interpretation of your goals (my ticket is to the judge's bench) or a more creative one (my ticket is to Narnia)? Whichever one you choose, make sure that you choose a destination that is genuinely compelling to you. The last thing you want is to come off sounding bored or disingenuous.
Don’t overreach. It’s fine to say that you’d like to be involved in politics, for example, but it’s a little too self-aggrandizing to claim that you’re definitely going to be president of the United States. Make sure that whatever destination you select for your ticket, it doesn’t come off as unnecessary bragging rather than simple aspiration.
Don’t underreach. At the same time, make sure that the destination you've chosen here is one that makes sense in the context of a college essay. Maybe what you really want is a ticket to the potato chip factory, but this may not be the place to expound upon that imagined possibility.
You can choose a whimsical location, but you need to be able to ground it in a real vision of the kind of person you want to become. After all, you always have to remember your audience. In this case, it's college admissions officers who want to find students who are eager to learn and be exposed to new thoughts and ideas (and not just new potato chips).
Flesh it out. Once you pick a destination, it's time to consider the other components of the question: what are you going to do once you reach your destination? What will happen there? Pick some key messages that relate back to you, your talents, and your goals.
When You’re Writing
Ground your "journey" in specific anecdotes and examples. The way that this question is framed is very abstract. So it's important that you ground your thoughts about your destination (whether it's more straightforward or more creative) in concrete anecdotes and examples that show that you are thoughtful, engaged, passionate, and driven.
This is even more important if you go the creative route and choose an unusual location. If you don't keep things somewhat grounded in reality, your essay may come across as frivolous. You want to make the most of your opportunity to share some concrete examples of your desirable qualities in your essay.
Imagine Eleanor’s essay is about how she wants a ticket to Starfleet Academy (for the uninitiated, this is the fictional school in the Star Trek universe where people train to be Starfleet officers).
Which essay conveys more about her potential as a student?
My ticket is to Starfleet Academy. There, I would train to become part of the Command division so I could command a starship. Once I was captain of my own starship, I would explore the deepest reaches of space to interact with alien life and learn more about the universe.
I've loved Star Trek since my dad started playing VHS copies of old episodes for me in our ancient VCR. So if I could have a ticket to anywhere, it would be to Starfleet Academy to train in the command division. I know I would make a superb command officer. My ten years of experience in hapkido have taught me discipline and how to think on my feet. Working as a hapkido instructor in my dojo the past two years has honed my leadership and teaching qualities, which are essential for any starship commander. Additionally, I have the curiosity and sense of adventure necessary for a long career in the unknown reaches of space. Right now, I exercise my thirst for exploration through my photography blog. Using my DSLR camera, I track down and photograph obscure and hidden places I find in my town, on family trips, and even on day trips to nearby cities. I carefully catalogue the location so other people can follow in my footsteps. Documentation, after all, is another important part of exploring space in a starship.
Both versions communicate the same things about the imagined destination, but the seond essay does a much better job showing who Eleanor is as a person. All we really learn from the first excerpt is that Eleanor must like Star Trek. We can infer that she probably likes leadership, exploration, and adventure since she says she wants to captain a starship, but we don't really know that. Admissions officers shouldn't have to infer who you are from your essay: your essay should lay it out for them.
In the second essay, on the other hand, Eleanor clearly lays out the qualities that would make her a great Command officer and thenprovides examples of how she exemplifies those qualities. She ties the abstract destination to concrete things from her life, like hapkido and photography. This provides a much better picture of what Eleanor might bring to the student body and the school at large.
Eleanor just wants to explore the final frontier.
ApplyTexas Topic C Essay Ideas
I've come up with some sample essay ideas for the two different approaches to this prompt.
Possibility 1: Your Concrete Goals
- Describe your goal to pursue a particular academic field or career and discuss how specific classes and/or extracurricular activities ignited that passion
- Discuss how your plans to pursue politics, project management, or another leadeship role were fostered by an experience of leadership (could be a straightforward leadership position in a club or a job, or a more indirect or unplanned leadership experience like suddenly having to take charge of a group)e
- Discuss how your desire to teach or train in the future was sparked by an experience of teaching someone to do something (e.g. by being a tutor or by helping a sibling deal with a particularly challenging class or learning issue)
- Describe your goal to perform on stage in the future and discuss how your past experiences of public creativity (e.g. being in a play, staging an art show, performing an orchestra, or being involved in dance) led you to that goal
Possibility 2: Creative/Abstract Destination
- What would you do if you could visit the world of a favorite childhood book or television series? What qualities does that show about you?
- Is there a relative or friend you would like to visit with your ticket?
- Is there a particular historical period you would like to time-travel to?
- Is there a destination that you've always wanted to travel to?
Remember to tie your imaginative destination to concrete details about your special qualities!
A future as a driving coach for motorcoach drivers was a no-brainer for the founding member of the homonym club.
Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic D
If you're applying to one of several fine art fields, this mandatory essay is a way to comment on your influences.
The Prompt for Topic D
Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (architecture, art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space effected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?
What’s It Asking?
If you’re applying to study architecture, art, or art history at UT Austin, one of the essays you must write is this one. This essay topic is trying to ask as broadly as possible about an experience with art that has moved you in some way. This means that your options for answering the question are quite varied. So what are the two different parts of this prompt?
1. Observation and Reaction
Think back to one of the times you felt that blown-away feeling when looking at something man-made. This is the feeling, experience, and situation that the first part of the essay wants you to recreate. The prompt is primarily interested in your ability to describe and pinpoint exactly what quality made you stop in your tracks.The huge set of inspiring object options the prompt offers tells us that your taste level won't be judged here.
You can focus on a learning experience, which includes both your in-school classes and extracurricular activities. Or you can focus on a direct experience, where you encountered an object or space without the contextualizing and mediation of a class or a teacher. The only limit to your focus object is that it is something made by someone other than you. Your reaction needs to be in conversation with the original artist, not a form of navel-gazing.
The key for this part of the essay is that your description needs to segue into a story of change and transformation. What the essay topic is asking you to show isn’t just that you were struck by something you saw or learned about, but that you also absorbed something from this experience that impacted your own art going forward.
When you see the Angkor Wat Temple, you can't help but be psyched that at least humans haven't wasted all their time on earth.
This brings us to the second part of the essay prompt. This is where you need to move from the past into the present, and then at least gesture meaningfully toward the future.
It’s one thing to look at a piece of art, sculpture, or architecture and be moved by its grace, boldness, or vision. But it’s a sign of a mature creative mind to be able to really take to heart what is meaningful to you about this work and somehow transmute your experience into your own work. This essay wants to see that developing maturity in you. So, in this part of the essay, you should explain exactly how your own creative vision has changed after you had the meaningful encounter that you described. What qualities, philosophy, or themes do you now try to infuse into what you create?
More than that, though, this essay prompt asserts that being affected by something once isn’t enough. That’s why in this second part of the topic, you will also need to explain what you’ve been doing to keep having moving encounters with the creative work of others. There is some choice here as well. “What have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area” can be answered by describing how you’ve sought out other work by the same artist who moved you the first time. Or you can describe investigating new media or techniques to emulate something you saw. Or you could talk about learning about the period, genre, school, or philosophical theory that the original piece of art comes from in order to give yourself more contextualized understanding.
What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?
If you’re planning an academic career in the visual arts or architecture, then you’re entering into a long conversation started by our cave-painting ancestors and continuing through every human culture and society since. This essay wants to make sure that you aren’t creating in a vacuum, but that you have had enough education and awareness to be inspired by others. By demonstrating how you react to work that moves you – not with jealousy or dismissal, but with appreciation and recognition of another’s talent and ability – you show that you are ready to start participating in this ongoing conversation.
At the same time, the essay is asking you to show your own creative readiness. Describe not only the work you have produced, but also your ability to introduce new elements into that work – in this case, inspired by the piece you described. That way, you can demonstrate that you aren’t a one-note artist, but are instead someone who is mature enough to alter and develop what you make.
Inspired by Michaelangelo's supposed advice to just "chip away the marble that isn't the sculpture," I will now write my essay by just not using the words that aren't supposed to be on the page.
How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?
What are some best practices for teasing out the complexities of art in written form?
When You’re Planning
Pick one piece of art or one learning experience. Once you’ve chosen between these two contexts, narrow down your selection even further. If you are writing about an educational encounter, don’t forget that it doesn’t have to come from a formal situation. Instead, you could write about something you learned on your own from a documentary, museum visit, or art book.
If you're writing about a direct experience of art, don't necessarily fixate on a classical piece. Instead, you could discuss an unexpected piece of public sculpture, a particularly striking building or bridge you saw traveling, or a gallery exhibition. Whatever you end up writing about, make sure you know some of the identifying details. You don’t need to know the answer to all of these questions, but do your best to research at least 2-3: who was the artist, where is the piece, what kind of work is it, what are the materials used, when was it made?
Figure out why you were struck by this work in particular. The make-it-or-break-it moment in this essay will be your ability to explain what you were affected by in the object that you end up writing about. Why is it different from other works that you’ve seen? Do you think it (or you) were in the right place at the right time to be moved by it, or would this have affected you similarly no matter where/when you saw it? Did it speak to you because it shares some of your ideals/philosophies/tastes, or because it was so different from them?
Be careful with your explanation, since it can easily get either so vague as to be meaningless, or so obscure and “deep” that you lose your reader. So, before you start trying to put that down on paper, my advice is to try to talk out what you plan to say either with a friend, a parent, or a teacher. Do they understand what you’re saying, and does it make sense?
Do a timeline of your own creative work. When you think about what you have been making or thinking about making during your high school career, what is the trajectory of your ideas? How have you changed your understanding of the materials you want to work with? The message you want your work to convey? The way you want your work to be seen by others? The reason that you feel compelled to be creative?
Now that you’ve formulated this idea timeline, try to see if your changing thoughts overlap with the art experience that you are planning on describing. Is there a way that you can combine what was so exciting to you about the other work with the way you’ve seen your own ideas about your art changing over time?
When You’re Writing
Use a mix of concreteness and comparisons in your description. It might be true that just as nothing ruins a joke like explaining it, so nothing ruins the wordless experience of looking at art like talking it to death. Still, you need to find a way to use words to give the reader a sense of what the piece that moved you actually looks like – particularly if they don’t happen be familiar with the particular work, or with the artist that created it.
Here is my suggested trick for writing well about art. First, you have to be both extremely specific about the physical object. Discuss its colors, size, what it appears to be made of, what your eye goes to first (bright colors vs darker, more muted ones, for example), what it is representative of (if it’s figurative), where it is in relation to the viewer, whether or not you can see marks of the tools used (brush strokes, scrapes from sculpting tools).
Second, you have to step away from the concrete and let some flights of fancy into your language through comparative description that relies on your imagination to create emotionally resonant similes. Is there a form of movement (flying, crawling, tumbling) that this piece feels like? A piece of the natural world (a falling leaf, forest canopy being moved by wind, waves, sand dunes shifting)? If the work is figurative, imagine what has been happening just before the moment in time it captures. What happened just after? Using these kinds of non-literal descriptors will let your reader understand both the actual physical object and its appeal.
The Stormtrooper's hypnotic performance was like plunging into a diamond-studded Sarlacc pit to be slowly digested over a thousand years by disco music.
Dissecting UT Austin Essay Topic S
The University of Texas at Austin gives its applicants the option to write a different essay explaining a relevant piece of their background.
There may be personal information that you want considered as part of your admissions application. Write an essay describing that information. You might include exceptional hardships, challenges, or opportunities that have shaped or impacted your abilities or academic credentials, personal responsibilities, exceptional achievements or talents, educational goals, or ways in which you might contribute to an institution committed to creating a diverse learning environment.
What’s It Asking?
The University of Texas at Austin allows its applicants to mix and match essays from the ApplyTexas application from its own option – Topic S. If your particular experience doesn’t quite fit under the rubrics of the other essay topics, or if there is something the admissions officers need to understand about your background in order to consider your application in the right context, then this is the essay for you.
The prompt for this essay clarifies that the additional information you may want to share with the admissions team can be either positive or negative – just as long as it qualifies as “exceptional” in some way. They mean this distinction so deeply that the prompt actually uses the word “exceptional” twice, to really cement the idea that the everyday challenges or successes of regular life aren’t what this essay is supposed to highlight.
What this means is that evaluating whether your experiences qualify for this essay is a matter of degrees. For example, did you manage to thrive despite being raised by a hardworking single parent? That’s a hardship that could easily be written about for Topic B. Did you manage to thrive despite living in a succession of foster families only to age out of the system in the middle of your senior year of high school? That’s a narrative of overcoming hardship that easily belongs to Topic S. On the flip side, did you win a state-wide karate championship? Well done, and feel free to tell your story under Topic C. Were you the youngest black belt in the history of the sport to win a national title? Then feel free to write about it for Topic S.
What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?
This is pretty straightforward. They are trying to identify students that have unique and amazing stories to tell about who they are and where they come from. If you’re a student like this, then the admissions people want to know:
- what happened to you
- who, besides you, was affected
- when and where it happened
- how you participated or were involved in the situation
- how it affected you as a person
- how it affected your schoolwork
- how the experience will be reflected in the point of view you bring to campus
The reasons that the university wants this information are:
- it gives context to applications that otherwise might seem mediocre or even subpar
- it can help explain times in a transcript where grades significantly drop
- it creates them the opportunity to build a lot of diversity into the incoming class
- it’s a way of finding unique talents and abilities that otherwise wouldn’t show up on other application materials
If you're one of those two guys, you definitely qualify for this essay topic.
How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?
Let's run through a few tricks for making sure your essay makes the most of your particular exceptionalism.
When You’re Planning
Double-check your uniqueness. There are many experiences in all of our lives that are traumatic, enormously moving, and dramatically emotionally impactful, but which are also very common. Conversely, there are many experiences that make us feel elated, accomplished, and extremely competent, that are also near-universal. This essay isn’t trying to take the validity of your strong feelings away from you, but it really is looking for stories that are on a different scale. Wondering whether what you went through counts? This might be a good time to run your Topic S idea by a parent, school counselor, or trusted teacher. Do they think your experience is widespread? Or do they agree that you truly lived a life less ordinary?
Connect outward. The vast majority of your answer to the Topic S prompt should be telling your story and its impact on you and your life. But the essay should also point toward how your particular experiences will shape your potential future interactions at UT Austin. One of the reasons that the admissions office wants to find out which of the applicants has been through something unlike most other people is that they are hoping to increase the number of points of view in the student body. Think about, and include in your essay, how you will impact campus life. This can be very literal – if you are a jazz singer who has released several acclaimed albums, then maybe you will perform on campus. Or it can be much more oblique – if you are disabled, then you will be able to offer a perspective that differs from the able-bodied majority.
When You’re Writing
Be direct, specific, and honest. It doesn't matter whether you’re explaining that your GPA fell during your sophomore year because of the death of someone close to you, or whether you’re telling the story of how you came to the US as a refugee, or whether you’re sharing your Olympic medal win. Nothing will make your voice sound more appealing than writing without embellishment or verbal flourishes.
This is the one case where what you’re telling is just as – if not more – important than how you’re telling it. So the best strategy is to be as straightforward in your writing as possible. This means using description to situate your reader in a place/time/experience that they would never get to see firsthand. You can do this by picking a specific moment during your hardship or accomplishment to narrate as a small short story, and not shying away from explaining your emotions throughout the experience. Your goal is to make the extraordinary into something at least somewhat relatable – and the way you do that is by making your writing down to earth.
Possible Topic S Essay Ideas
As I've already described, the most important feature of any topic for this prompt is that it must be genuinely exceptional. I've listed some examples below.
Possibility 1: Exceptional Hardships or Challenges
- coping with a physical or mental disability
- growing up in poverty, or with an absent or otherwise problematic parent
- facing the death of a sibling or parent
- being a refugee to the US
- surviving a natural disaster, war, or other crisis
- being the victim of a serious crime
- spending time in jail or in juvenile detention
- living with a chronic illness, or overcoming a very serious illness
- spending some period of time being homeless
Possibility 2: Exceptional Opportunities
- being the child of a famous actor, musician, or politician
- growing up unusually wealthy
- getting the chance to intern at the White House, at the UN, or NASA
Possibility 3: Personal Responsibilities
- taking care of younger siblings in the absence of parents or parental figures
- having to work in order to support the family rather than for personal income
- being a teenage parent
- getting emancipated from parents as a minor
- living alone and having to fend for yourself
Possibility 4: Exceptional Achievements or Talents
- possessing an unusual level of talent in the performing or visual arts
- being a chess grandmaster
- playing sports at an Olympic or close-to Olympic level
- winning a national or international award for academic work, or getting national or international recognition for an achievement
- getting a book published, or getting a piece published in a prestigious magazine or journal
Or maybe instead of writing the essay, you could just send them this selfie.
Briefly: UT Austin Topics N and W
UT Austin also has two special prompts specifically for nursing applicants (topic N) and for social work applicants (topic W). They are quite similar, and we will go over both of them briefly here.
Considering nursing as your first-choice major, discuss how your current and future academic activities, extracurricular pursuits and life experiences will help you achieve your goals.
Discuss the reasons you chose social work as your first-choice major and how a social work degree from UT Austin will prepare you for the future.
What Are These Prompts Asking?
Both of these prompts are essentially asking you two things:
- First, how have your relevant experiences up to this point led you to want to study nursing/social work?
- Second, what do you plan on doing with your nursing/social work degree from UT Austin?
How Can You Give Them What They Want?
Admissions officers will be looking for evidence that you are really interested in this particular career and that you have an aptitude for it. So if you have any relevant clinical, research, or volunteer experience, admissions officers definitely want to know this! It's definitely okay to take a broad view of what's relevant here. Anything that involves working with people is a good experience for either prospective nursing or social work students.
They also want to know that you are really interested in the UT Austin program, so be sure to identify things about the particular program (nursing or social work) that appeal to you. Why UT Austin? And what makes you a good fit there?
Finally, they are looking for individuals with clear goals and a good idea of what they want to do once they get the degree. Are you interested in working with a specific population or specialty? Why? What led you to that conclusion?
The Bottom Line: Tips for Writing ApplyTexas Essays
- The ApplyTexas application features four essay prompts (Topics A, B, C, and D), with different schools requiring different combinations of mandatory and optional essays. UT Austin also includes its own prompt, Topic S, as one of the choices. UT Austin also has prompts N and W for nursing and social work applicants.
- One way to keep the three similar-sounding 3 essay topics (A, B, and C) separate in your mind is to create a big picture category for each one: Topic A is about your outside, topic B is your inside, and topic C is about your future.
- Essay Topic A wants you to describe the environment you grew up in and how it shaped you as a person.
- Pick a specific aspect of your environment
- Describe how it made you special
- Describe the setting, stakes, and conflict resolution
- Add details, description, and examples
- Essay Topic B is a chance to describe a defining trait and how it fits into the larger vision of you.
- Define the core message.
- Fit that core message of your into the larger picture.
- Show things about yourself, don’t tell.
- Watch your tone to make sure you show your great qualities without seeming narcissistic, boring, glib, or self-aggrandizing.
- Essay Topic C asks you to describe “where you are going” in either a fairly literal, goal-oriented sense or in an imaginative sense.
- Pick where you’re going, but don’t over- or under-reach.
- Flesh out your destination. How does it relate back to you?
- Ground your “journey” in specific anecdotes and examples.
- Essay Topic D wants you to describe being affected by a work of art or an artistic experience to make sure that you are ready to enter a fine arts field.
- Pick one piece of art or one specific experience of learning about art
- Figure out exactly why this work or event struck you
- Examine your own work to see how this artwork has affected your creativity
- Use a mix of concrete descriptions and comparisons when writing about the piece of art
- Essay Topic S is a way for admissions officers to find students with extraordinary life stories or to give context to otherwise lackluster applications.
- Double-check that your experience (whether negative or positive) is unique and doesn't quite fit under any of the other essay topics
- Explain how your background will contribute to diversity on the UT Austin campus
- Be direct, specific, honest, and straightforward
- Essay Topics N and W are specific to nursing and social work applicants at UT Austin.
- Describe your relevant experiences and interests up to this point.
- Describe what about the UT Austin program appeals to you and how you will use your degree (your future goals).
Curious about the other essay choices out there? If your target college also accepts the Common App, check out our guide to the Common App essay prompts to see whether they would be a better fit.
Interested to see how other people tackled this part of the application? We have a roundup of 129 accepted essays from over 15 different colleges.
Stuck on what to write about? Read our suggestions for how to come up with great essay ideas.
Working on the rest of your college applications? We have great advice on how to find the right college for you, how to write about your extracurricular activities, and how to ask teachers for recommendations.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
How to Write Your First Research Paper
Elena D. Kallestinova
Graduate Writing Center, Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
To whom all correspondence should be addressed: Elena D. Kallestinova, Graduate Writing Center, Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Yale University, New Haven, CT; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author information ►Copyright and License information ►
Copyright ©2011, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License, which permits for noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any digital medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not altered in any way.
Focus: Education — Career Advice
Yale J Biol Med. 2011 Sep; 84(3): 181–190.
Published online 2011 Sep.
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.
Writing a research manuscript is an intimidating process for many novice writers in the sciences. One of the stumbling blocks is the beginning of the process and creating the first draft. This paper presents guidelines on how to initiate the writing process and draft each section of a research manuscript. The paper discusses seven rules that allow the writer to prepare a well-structured and comprehensive manuscript for a publication submission. In addition, the author lists different strategies for successful revision. Each of those strategies represents a step in the revision process and should help the writer improve the quality of the manuscript. The paper could be considered a brief manual for publication.
Keywords: scientific paper, writing process, revision
It is late at night. You have been struggling with your project for a year. You generated an enormous amount of interesting data. Your pipette feels like an extension of your hand, and running western blots has become part of your daily routine, similar to brushing your teeth. Your colleagues think you are ready to write a paper, and your lab mates tease you about your “slow” writing progress. Yet days pass, and you cannot force yourself to sit down to write. You have not written anything for a while (lab reports do not count), and you feel you have lost your stamina. How does the writing process work? How can you fit your writing into a daily schedule packed with experiments? What section should you start with? What distinguishes a good research paper from a bad one? How should you revise your paper? These and many other questions buzz in your head and keep you stressed. As a result, you procrastinate. In this paper, I will discuss the issues related to the writing process of a scientific paper. Specifically, I will focus on the best approaches to start a scientific paper, tips for writing each section, and the best revision strategies.
1. Schedule your writing time in Outlook
Whether you have written 100 papers or you are struggling with your first, starting the process is the most difficult part unless you have a rigid writing schedule. Writing is hard. It is a very difficult process of intense concentration and brain work. As stated in Hayes’ framework for the study of writing: “It is a generative activity requiring motivation, and it is an intellectual activity requiring cognitive processes and memory” . In his book How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, Paul Silvia says that for some, “it’s easier to embalm the dead than to write an article about it” . Just as with any type of hard work, you will not succeed unless you practice regularly. If you have not done physical exercises for a year, only regular workouts can get you into good shape again. The same kind of regular exercises, or I call them “writing sessions,” are required to be a productive author. Choose from 1- to 2-hour blocks in your daily work schedule and consider them as non-cancellable appointments. When figuring out which blocks of time will be set for writing, you should select the time that works best for this type of work. For many people, mornings are more productive. One Yale University graduate student spent a semester writing from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. when her lab was empty. At the end of the semester, she was amazed at how much she accomplished without even interrupting her regular lab hours. In addition, doing the hardest task first thing in the morning contributes to the sense of accomplishment during the rest of the day. This positive feeling spills over into our work and life and has a very positive effect on our overall attitude.
Rule 1: Create regular time blocks for writing as appointments in your calendar and keep these appointments.
2. Start with an outline
Now that you have scheduled time, you need to decide how to start writing. The best strategy is to start with an outline. This will not be an outline that you are used to, with Roman numerals for each section and neat parallel listing of topic sentences and supporting points. This outline will be similar to a template for your paper. Initially, the outline will form a structure for your paper; it will help generate ideas and formulate hypotheses. Following the advice of George M. Whitesides, “. . . start with a blank piece of paper, and write down, in any order, all important ideas that occur to you concerning the paper” . Use Table 1 as a starting point for your outline. Include your visuals (figures, tables, formulas, equations, and algorithms), and list your findings. These will constitute the first level of your outline, which will eventually expand as you elaborate.
The next stage is to add context and structure. Here you will group all your ideas into sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion (Table 2). This step will help add coherence to your work and sift your ideas.
Now that you have expanded your outline, you are ready for the next step: discussing the ideas for your paper with your colleagues and mentor. Many universities have a writing center where graduate students can schedule individual consultations and receive assistance with their paper drafts. Getting feedback during early stages of your draft can save a lot of time. Talking through ideas allows people to conceptualize and organize thoughts to find their direction without wasting time on unnecessary writing. Outlining is the most effective way of communicating your ideas and exchanging thoughts. Moreover, it is also the best stage to decide to which publication you will submit the paper. Many people come up with three choices and discuss them with their mentors and colleagues. Having a list of journal priorities can help you quickly resubmit your paper if your paper is rejected.
Rule 2: Create a detailed outline and discuss it with your mentor and peers.
3. Continue with drafts
After you get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to, the process of real writing begins. Copy your outline into a separate file and expand on each of the points, adding data and elaborating on the details. When you create the first draft, do not succumb to the temptation of editing. Do not slow down to choose a better word or better phrase; do not halt to improve your sentence structure. Pour your ideas into the paper and leave revision and editing for later. As Paul Silvia explains, “Revising while you generate text is like drinking decaffeinated coffee in the early morning: noble idea, wrong time” .
Many students complain that they are not productive writers because they experience writer’s block. Staring at an empty screen is frustrating, but your screen is not really empty: You have a template of your article, and all you need to do is fill in the blanks. Indeed, writer’s block is a logical fallacy for a scientist ― it is just an excuse to procrastinate. When scientists start writing a research paper, they already have their files with data, lab notes with materials and experimental designs, some visuals, and tables with results. All they need to do is scrutinize these pieces and put them together into a comprehensive paper.
3.1. Starting with Materials and Methods
If you still struggle with starting a paper, then write the Materials and Methods section first. Since you have all your notes, it should not be problematic for you to describe the experimental design and procedures. Your most important goal in this section is to be as explicit as possible by providing enough detail and references. In the end, the purpose of this section is to allow other researchers to evaluate and repeat your work. So do not run into the same problems as the writers of the sentences in (1):
1a. Bacteria were pelleted by centrifugation.
1b. To isolate T cells, lymph nodes were collected.
As you can see, crucial pieces of information are missing: the speed of centrifuging your bacteria, the time, and the temperature in (1a); the source of lymph nodes for collection in (b). The sentences can be improved when information is added, as in (2a) and (2b), respectfully:
2a. Bacteria were pelleted by centrifugation at 3000g for 15 min at 25°C.
2b. To isolate T cells, mediastinal and mesenteric lymph nodes from Balb/c mice were collected at day 7 after immunization with ovabumin.
If your method has previously been published and is well-known, then you should provide only the literature reference, as in (3a). If your method is unpublished, then you need to make sure you provide all essential details, as in (3b).
3a. Stem cells were isolated, according to Johnson .
3b. Stem cells were isolated using biotinylated carbon nanotubes coated with anti-CD34 antibodies.
Furthermore, cohesion and fluency are crucial in this section. One of the malpractices resulting in disrupted fluency is switching from passive voice to active and vice versa within the same paragraph, as shown in (4). This switching misleads and distracts the reader.
4. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods). The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness .
The problem with (4) is that the reader has to switch from the point of view of the experiment (passive voice) to the point of view of the experimenter (active voice). This switch causes confusion about the performer of the actions in the first and the third sentences. To improve the coherence and fluency of the paragraph above, you should be consistent in choosing the point of view: first person “we” or passive voice . Let’s consider two revised examples in (5).
5a. We programmed behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods) as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music. We operationalized the preferred and unpreferred status of the music along a continuum of pleasantness.
5b. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. Ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal were taken as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods). The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness.
If you choose the point of view of the experimenter, then you may end up with repetitive “we did this” sentences. For many readers, paragraphs with sentences all beginning with “we” may also sound disruptive. So if you choose active sentences, you need to keep the number of “we” subjects to a minimum and vary the beginnings of the sentences .
Interestingly, recent studies have reported that the Materials and Methods section is the only section in research papers in which passive voice predominantly overrides the use of the active voice [5,7,8,9]. For example, Martínez shows a significant drop in active voice use in the Methods sections based on the corpus of 1 million words of experimental full text research articles in the biological sciences . According to the author, the active voice patterned with “we” is used only as a tool to reveal personal responsibility for the procedural decisions in designing and performing experimental work. This means that while all other sections of the research paper use active voice, passive voice is still the most predominant in Materials and Methods sections.
Writing Materials and Methods sections is a meticulous and time consuming task requiring extreme accuracy and clarity. This is why when you complete your draft, you should ask for as much feedback from your colleagues as possible. Numerous readers of this section will help you identify the missing links and improve the technical style of this section.
Rule 3: Be meticulous and accurate in describing the Materials and Methods. Do not change the point of view within one paragraph.
3.2. Writing Results Section
For many authors, writing the Results section is more intimidating than writing the Materials and Methods section . If people are interested in your paper, they are interested in your results. That is why it is vital to use all your writing skills to objectively present your key findings in an orderly and logical sequence using illustrative materials and text.
Your Results should be organized into different segments or subsections where each one presents the purpose of the experiment, your experimental approach, data including text and visuals (tables, figures, schematics, algorithms, and formulas), and data commentary. For most journals, your data commentary will include a meaningful summary of the data presented in the visuals and an explanation of the most significant findings. This data presentation should not repeat the data in the visuals, but rather highlight the most important points. In the “standard” research paper approach, your Results section should exclude data interpretation, leaving it for the Discussion section. However, interpretations gradually and secretly creep into research papers: “Reducing the data, generalizing from the data, and highlighting scientific cases are all highly interpretive processes. It should be clear by now that we do not let the data speak for themselves in research reports; in summarizing our results, we interpret them for the reader” . As a result, many journals including the Journal of Experimental Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation use joint Results/Discussion sections, where results are immediately followed by interpretations.
Another important aspect of this section is to create a comprehensive and supported argument or a well-researched case. This means that you should be selective in presenting data and choose only those experimental details that are essential for your reader to understand your findings. You might have conducted an experiment 20 times and collected numerous records, but this does not mean that you should present all those records in your paper. You need to distinguish your results from your data and be able to discard excessive experimental details that could distract and confuse the reader. However, creating a picture or an argument should not be confused with data manipulation or falsification, which is a willful distortion of data and results. If some of your findings contradict your ideas, you have to mention this and find a plausible explanation for the contradiction.
In addition, your text should not include irrelevant and peripheral information, including overview sentences, as in (6).
6. To show our results, we first introduce all components of experimental system and then describe the outcome of infections.
Indeed, wordiness convolutes your sentences and conceals your ideas from readers. One common source of wordiness is unnecessary intensifiers. Adverbial intensifiers such as “clearly,” “essential,” “quite,” “basically,” “rather,” “fairly,” “really,” and “virtually” not only add verbosity to your sentences, but also lower your results’ credibility. They appeal to the reader’s emotions but lower objectivity, as in the common examples in (7):
7a. Table 3 clearly shows that …
7b. It is obvious from figure 4 that …
Another source of wordiness is nominalizations, i.e., nouns derived from verbs and adjectives paired with weak verbs including “be,” “have,” “do,” “make,” “cause,” “provide,” and “get” and constructions such as “there is/are.”
8a. We tested the hypothesis that there is a disruption of membrane asymmetry.
8b. In this paper we provide an argument that stem cells repopulate injured organs.
In the sentences above, the abstract nominalizations “disruption” and “argument” do not contribute to the clarity of the sentences, but rather clutter them with useless vocabulary that distracts from the meaning. To improve your sentences, avoid unnecessary nominalizations and change passive verbs and constructions into active and direct sentences.
9a. We tested the hypothesis that the membrane asymmetry is disrupted.
9b. In this paper we argue that stem cells repopulate injured organs.
Your Results section is the heart of your paper, representing a year or more of your daily research. So lead your reader through your story by writing direct, concise, and clear sentences.
Rule 4: Be clear, concise, and objective in describing your Results.
3.3. now it is time for your Introduction
Now that you are almost half through drafting your research paper, it is time to update your outline. While describing your Methods and Results, many of you diverged from the original outline and re-focused your ideas. So before you move on to create your Introduction, re-read your Methods and Results sections and change your outline to match your research focus. The updated outline will help you review the general picture of your paper, the topic, the main idea, and the purpose, which are all important for writing your introduction.
The best way to structure your introduction is to follow the three-move approach shown in Table 3.
Moves in Research Paper Introductions
The moves and information from your outline can help to create your Introduction efficiently and without missing steps. These moves are traffic signs that lead the reader through the road of your ideas. Each move plays an important role in your paper and should be presented with deep thought and care. When you establish the territory, you place your research in context and highlight the importance of your research topic. By finding the niche, you outline the scope of your research problem and enter the scientific dialogue. The final move, “occupying the niche,” is where you explain your research in a nutshell and highlight your paper’s significance. The three moves allow your readers to evaluate their interest in your paper and play a significant role in the paper review process, determining your paper reviewers.
Some academic writers assume that the reader “should follow the paper” to find the answers about your methodology and your findings. As a result, many novice writers do not present their experimental approach and the major findings, wrongly believing that the reader will locate the necessary information later while reading the subsequent sections . However, this “suspense” approach is not appropriate for scientific writing. To interest the reader, scientific authors should be direct and straightforward and present informative one-sentence summaries of the results and the approach.
Another problem is that writers understate the significance of the Introduction. Many new researchers mistakenly think that all their readers understand the importance of the research question and omit this part. However, this assumption is faulty because the purpose of the section is not to evaluate the importance of the research question in general. The goal is to present the importance of your research contribution and your findings. Therefore, you should be explicit and clear in describing the benefit of the paper.
The Introduction should not be long. Indeed, for most journals, this is a very brief section of about 250 to 600 words, but it might be the most difficult section due to its importance.
Rule 5: Interest your reader in the Introduction section by signalling all its elements and stating the novelty of the work.
3.4. Discussion of the results
For many scientists, writing a Discussion section is as scary as starting a paper. Most of the fear comes from the variation in the section. Since every paper has its unique results and findings, the Discussion section differs in its length, shape, and structure. However, some general principles of writing this section still exist. Knowing these rules, or “moves,” can change your attitude about this section and help you create a comprehensive interpretation of your results.
The purpose of the Discussion section is to place your findings in the research context and “to explain the meaning of the findings and why they are important, without appearing arrogant, condescending, or patronizing” . The structure of the first two moves is almost a mirror reflection of the one in the Introduction. In the Introduction, you zoom in from general to specific and from the background to your research question; in the Discussion section, you zoom out from the summary of your findings to the research context, as shown in Table 4.
Moves in Research Paper Discussions.
The biggest challenge for many writers is the opening paragraph of the Discussion section. Following the moves in Table 1, the best choice is to start with the study’s major findings that provide the answer to the research question in your Introduction. The most common starting phrases are “Our findings demonstrate . . .,” or “In this study, we have shown that . . .,” or “Our results suggest . . .” In some cases, however, reminding the reader about the research question or even providing a brief context and then stating the answer would make more sense. This is important in those cases where the researcher presents a number of findings or where more than one research question was presented. Your summary of the study’s major findings should be followed by your presentation of the importance of these findings. One of the most frequent mistakes of the novice writer is to assume the importance of his findings. Even if the importance is clear to you, it may not be obvious to your reader. Digesting the findings and their importance to your reader is as crucial as stating your research question.
Another useful strategy is to be proactive in the first move by predicting and commenting on the alternative explanations of the results. Addressing potential doubts will save you from painful comments about the wrong interpretation of your results and will present you as a thoughtful and considerate researcher. Moreover, the evaluation of the alternative explanations might help you create a logical step to the next move of the discussion section: the research context.
The goal of the research context move is to show how your findings fit into the general picture of the current research and how you contribute to the existing knowledge on the topic. This is also the place to discuss any discrepancies and unexpected findings that may otherwise distort the general picture of your paper. Moreover, outlining the scope of your research by showing the limitations, weaknesses, and assumptions is essential and adds modesty to your image as a scientist. However, make sure that you do not end your paper with the problems that override your findings. Try to suggest feasible explanations and solutions.
If your submission does not require a separate Conclusion section, then adding another paragraph about the “take-home message” is a must. This should be a general statement reiterating your answer to the research question and adding its scientific implications, practical application, or advice.
Just as in all other sections of your paper, the clear and precise language and concise comprehensive sentences are vital. However, in addition to that, your writing should convey confidence and authority. The easiest way to illustrate your tone is to use the active voice and the first person pronouns. Accompanied by clarity and succinctness, these tools are the best to convince your readers of your point and your ideas.
Rule 6: Present the principles, relationships, and generalizations in a concise and convincing tone.
4. Choosing the best working revision strategies
Now that you have created the first draft, your attitude toward your writing should have improved. Moreover, you should feel more confident that you are able to accomplish your project and submit your paper within a reasonable timeframe. You also have worked out your writing schedule and followed it precisely. Do not stop ― you are only at the midpoint from your destination. Just as the best and most precious diamond is no more than an unattractive stone recognized only by trained professionals, your ideas and your results may go unnoticed if they are not polished and brushed. Despite your attempts to present your ideas in a logical and comprehensive way, first drafts are frequently a mess. Use the advice of Paul Silvia: “Your first drafts should sound like they were hastily translated from Icelandic by a non-native speaker” . The degree of your success will depend on how you are able to revise and edit your paper.
The revision can be done at the macrostructure and the microstructure levels . The macrostructure revision includes the revision of the organization, content, and flow. The microstructure level includes individual words, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
The best way to approach the macrostructure revision is through the outline of the ideas in your paper. The last time you updated your outline was before writing the Introduction and the Discussion. Now that you have the beginning and the conclusion, you can take a bird’s-eye view of the whole paper. The outline will allow you to see if the ideas of your paper are coherently structured, if your results are logically built, and if the discussion is linked to the research question in the Introduction. You will be able to see if something is missing in any of the sections or if you need to rearrange your information to make your point.
The next step is to revise each of the sections starting from the beginning. Ideally, you should limit yourself to working on small sections of about five pages at a time . After these short sections, your eyes get used to your writing and your efficiency in spotting problems decreases. When reading for content and organization, you should control your urge to edit your paper for sentence structure and grammar and focus only on the flow of your ideas and logic of your presentation. Experienced researchers tend to make almost three times the number of changes to meaning than novice writers [15,16]. Revising is a difficult but useful skill, which academic writers obtain with years of practice.
In contrast to the macrostructure revision, which is a linear process and is done usually through a detailed outline and by sections, microstructure revision is a non-linear process. While the goal of the macrostructure revision is to analyze your ideas and their logic, the goal of the microstructure editing is to scrutinize the form of your ideas: your paragraphs, sentences, and words. You do not need and are not recommended to follow the order of the paper to perform this type of revision. You can start from the end or from different sections. You can even revise by reading sentences backward, sentence by sentence and word by word.
One of the microstructure revision strategies frequently used during writing center consultations is to read the paper aloud . You may read aloud to yourself, to a tape recorder, or to a colleague or friend. When reading and listening to your paper, you are more likely to notice the places where the fluency is disrupted and where you stumble because of a very long and unclear sentence or a wrong connector.
Another revision strategy is to learn your common errors and to do a targeted search for them . All writers have a set of problems that are specific to them, i.e., their writing idiosyncrasies. Remembering these problems is as important for an academic writer as remembering your friends’ birthdays. Create a list of these idiosyncrasies and run a search for these problems using your word processor. If your problem is demonstrative pronouns without summary words, then search for “this/these/those” in your text and check if you used the word appropriately. If you have a problem with intensifiers, then search for “really” or “very” and delete them from the text. The same targeted search can be done to eliminate wordiness. Searching for “there is/are” or “and” can help you avoid the bulky sentences.
The final strategy is working with a hard copy and a pencil. Print a double space copy with font size 14 and re-read your paper in several steps. Try reading your paper line by line with the rest of the text covered with a piece of paper. When you are forced to see only a small portion of your writing, you are less likely to get distracted and are more likely to notice problems. You will end up spotting more unnecessary words, wrongly worded phrases, or unparallel constructions.
After you apply all these strategies, you are ready to share your writing with your friends, colleagues, and a writing advisor in the writing center. Get as much feedback as you can, especially from non-specialists in your field. Patiently listen to what others say to you ― you are not expected to defend your writing or explain what you wanted to say. You may decide what you want to change and how after you receive the feedback and sort it in your head. Even though some researchers make the revision an endless process and can hardly stop after a 14th draft; having from five to seven drafts of your paper is a norm in the sciences. If you can’t stop revising, then set a deadline for yourself and stick to it. Deadlines always help.
Rule 7: Revise your paper at the macrostructure and the microstructure level using different strategies and techniques. Receive feedback and revise again.
5. It is time to submit
It is late at night again. You are still in your lab finishing revisions and getting ready to submit your paper. You feel happy ― you have finally finished a year’s worth of work. You will submit your paper tomorrow, and regardless of the outcome, you know that you can do it. If one journal does not take your paper, you will take advantage of the feedback and resubmit again. You will have a publication, and this is the most important achievement.
What is even more important is that you have your scheduled writing time that you are going to keep for your future publications, for reading and taking notes, for writing grants, and for reviewing papers. You are not going to lose stamina this time, and you will become a productive scientist. But for now, let’s celebrate the end of the paper.
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