Routes of Writing

By Carolyn Samuel,  The McGill Writing Centre

I teach academic writing, and I regularly hear students say that they find writing academic papers to be a tough and lonely task. What they often don’t realize is that writing well-thought-out academic papers is challenging for most people, including seasoned academics. To encourage my students to persist with the challenge, this quotation is posted to the myCourses Home Page of my academic writing course:


“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”

-Samuel Johnson

Wanting to learn more about how seasoned scholars undertake the task of capturing their research and ideas on paper, I asked several professors and librarians from across the disciplines at McGill to write 200 words in response to one of a series of questions about their own academic writing experiences. The questions and their answers have been assembled at a newly created web page entitled Routes of Writing. The Routes of Writing project is designed to enhance students’ understanding of academic writing by giving them insight into the writing practices and strategies of their professors and librarians.

Student reaction to the site has been enthusiastic. Here are some of the comments we’ve received:

It’s nice to get perspectives from professors of faculties you might not have a chance to take courses in … I like that each answered question gets its own page; you get a sense of the individuality and uniqueness of each professor’s perspective … I find it interesting to spot the name of a professor I’ve had before or whose name I at least recognize, and be able to read their take on the topic.

–Nathalie, Faculty of Arts, U3 student

Those questions are exactly what I would have asked! Actually, I never realized that writing is not so easy for professors, and even they need to work hard at it … I like that professors are talking about their real experiences.

–Belle, Faculty of Arts, Master student

I think this website plays an important role in the demystification of how academic writing occurs. Knowing that there are different approaches to academic writing and that students are not alone in approaching the various challenges associated with writing is reassuring in a way: Even established professors sometimes struggle, encounter roadblocks, and recognize the need to step back from their writing. The variety of suggestions they offer for how they address these challenges gives good food for thought about how I might approach challenges and setbacks in my own writing.

The questions and responses are relevant to students at all points in their academic journey.

–Jennie, Faculty of Education, PhD student

We invite all McGill professors and librarians to contribute to Routes of Writing. If you would like to be part of Routes of Writing, please email me <> for the list of questions.

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