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I am an M.Sc. student in a university in a developing country, and I am frustrated with the volume of useless writing that we are supposed to do in my program. Every single course has a class project, in which we need to do a literature review a project and then at the end need to submit a 10-15 page report. We also need to submit a thesis progress report every three months and a lot of other writing matters that I am sure will not be read by anyone.

I have no problem with writing real papers that help other researchers to improve the field. My problem is with writing useless course reports without any innovation (because of the time limits) or Progress Reports, which I am even not sure that will be read carefully by the instructor or the grader! At first I considered these things an exercise for real papers, but now I think I don't need this type of exercise any more!

I am wondering: is this large volume of writing in U.S. top schools too?

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What discipline are you and how many "real" papers in "real" journals have you published? – Alexandros Jan 14 at 16:29
For every word of "useless" verbiage that you have to write, your supervisor probably has to write ten. – Moriarty Jan 14 at 16:45
@Moriarty so what? that doesn't make the verbage that students have to write any less useless. i don't think many students can or should sympathize with their professors. – sgroves Jan 15 at 0:03
If there isn't "useless writing" there should be "useless reading" activities in a Ph.D. program if this is the approach. You can even add "useless class discussions". I would like anyone to expand the answer in a way that what is the definition of useless for any program? Does everyone feel the same way in the same program? What I am saying is that we can agree with the question's approach but also, should be careful as the academic advancement will go on through the mentioned activities for many people. Few can be above or below the line means that they don't suit the program. – user9386 Jan 15 at 13:40

Yes, you should expect to do quite a bit of writing as part of your courses in any high-rank U.S. university. It is, indeed, good practice, and in a good university your work should indeed receive significant scrutiny and feedback from the instructors.

Furthermore, I would not be so quick to dismiss such practice in technical writing. First, the quality of prose that you have produced in the initial version of this question clearly indicates that you have a long way to go before you can routinely achieve a high professional standard of writing. Second, no really good writer ever considers their art to be finished, and that includes long-experienced academics.

Do not forget that communicating your technical work effectively is just as important and difficult, if not often more so, than doing that technical work in the first place. I know people who have run their careers into the ground from a reluctance to invest sufficiently in becoming comfortable with scientific writing.

In short: if you want to be a scientist, you've got to embrace the writing.

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Beautiful answer. – Daniel R. Collins Jan 14 at 16:20
Good answer, but I have to admit that, in retrospective, I didn't find the (luckily few) reports written during the university years any useful to improve my current scientific writing: I really started learning how to write during my PhD years, when I started to write real papers. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 14 at 16:30
So: "I have not yet begun to write!" – Daniel R. Collins Jan 14 at 21:03

Try to find authors who write well and learn from them, in writing or in person (even luckier if your supervisor is one of them) - there are techniques for good writing which turn writing from a chore to a pleasure.

Especially technical people often very much dislike writing as opposed to programming; to those I recommend to think as follows: writing is like programming - you need to declare the known setting, decompose the problem, build a systematic, logical sequential case, compile it and link it all together. (pun intended)

Writing is like developing software that is interpreted not by a computer, but by a human.

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+1 for the writing like programming analogy. This is true not only at the level of the paper, but also at the level of the paragraph. Writing is endlessly fascinating this way. – Corvus Jan 14 at 19:47

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