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Why academic writing is a stressful task

Jul 27, 2013 - Posted to  Writing in General
There are not many things that once done you still dream about, angst about, think about. The papers that you will have to finish before you can earn your degree are those things which invoke enough stress to cause you to think about them years after you have completed your degree and moved on to other stages in your life. There are many reasons why academic writing is stressful, it isn't just about the grade that you receive, but it is about it being the key to your future.
There are many different tasks that you will be asked to perform throughout your academic years. Those things which bring about the most stress are papers. When you have an exam, the goal is to take what you learn and simply answers questions which have a right or wrong answer to them. There isn't any need to explain why you are right or wrong, you don't have to plead your case, it is clear cut and simple you are either right, or you are wrong. With a paper, it is much more subjective. You are at the mercy of your instructor without any recourse should you disagree. When writing a paper, it can feel like it can go either way, and it can be completely out of your control.

Why paper writing is different from taking an exam

Papers are subjective, tests are objective

When you write a paper your professor holds the key to your grade. It isn't a matter of simply answering yes, no, or multiple choice. Writing a paper involves you to show what you have learned on paper. Sometimes putting your knowledge into words can be very hard. There are those which are good test takers and those which are better paper writers. For those who prefer tests, paper writing can be an enigma. Having your grade be at the mercy of someone else's judging can be much more difficult than a straight forward answer.

Papers have a longer lifespan of stress

When you take a test there is no need to proofread it. You should never hand in a test that you haven't looked over, but that only takes the time that you have in the classroom. Once you have completed your test you hand it in and walk away. Once you have completed a paper you have to look it over probably several times, and it is much more time consuming. You have from the minute it is assigned, until the minute it is handed in on your mind, stressing you out, making you worry. A test you worry about that day, you take it, and it is over. The stress involved in a paper has a much longer life span.

Grammar and punctuation aren't important on a multiple choice

There are many students who are not native English speakers. For those who are studying abroad at an English institution, writing a paper can be tortuous. If English is not your first language, it may be possible to have all the knowledge and command of the subject, but to not have it in the English language, or writing skills. That can lead to an extremely stressful situation. Not only do you have to worry about getting the information correct, you also have to present your ideas in a certain way, that is a lot to worry about.

So many things to worry about

There are so many specific guidelines to writing a paper. Each instructor assigns a different type of paper for a reason. Chief among those reasons is to make sure that not only do you have a command of the material, but that you can follow directions as outlined. Whether it is the punctuation, spelling, grammar, or structure of the paper, there are so many different ways that you can make a mistake. Not only is the structure of the paper important, but you have to be creative, present your opinion, or your argument, support it, acknowledge sources, the list of things to worry about are endless for paper writing.

Research, research, research

If you are writing an academic paper that requires research material, or sources, it only makes it that much more stressful. Once forming a thesis statement, or hypothesis, you have to find supporting evidence. Sometimes that is not as easy as you may think. There are often times when you get half way into a paper to find that your assertions are wrong and then you have to switch gears. It can be a frustrating maze, and one that can take you on many twists and turns, leading to increased time constraints that you may not have planned for. Finding supporting evidence with so much material available is both a blessing and a curse, but definitely can increase the stress level.

One false move can throw you off course

When writing a paper just one false move can change the entirety of your paper and the grade that you receive. It is not uncommon for your argument to be completely valid for you, but to make little sense to someone else. We have all had the experience where we are explaining a position to another who has no idea what you are talking about. When you write a paper the same can happen, but there will be no expression to tell you there is a lack of understanding, or a chance to rectify it there and then if there is.


There are many different tasks which will be assigned to you throughout your academic career. None will be as stressful, or frustrating, as writing a paper. The requirements for papers can be all over the board from a simple essay to a dissertation, but they have many stressful components in common. Chief among them is the many different hats that you have to wear when composing them. Also, the fact that they are completely subjective not only in the way they are created, but the way that they are judged. Your grade is in the hand of your instructor, like it or not in most cases you have little control.
By Martha Buckly. Martha is a good writer and tutor. She finds time to share her knowledge in academic writing and help students with this stressful task.
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