Academic writing

This is the text of an infographic I have produced for students, containing nine tips for academic writing. I hope it is helpful!

  • Know the rules (to break them). Make sure you know appropriate syntax, grammar and punctuation. Learn how to spell and use words correctly. There’s a big difference between playing with language and misusing it.
  • Show, don’t tell. If you can, use stories and/or examples to show your arguments. A well-placed metaphor or analogy can also spice things up – but don’t go overboard or your readers might fall by the wayside.
  • Use your own voice. Don’t think ‘I must do academic writing now.’ Write as you would speak – you can formalise it later. Use the active voice and do use the first person – it’s much more engaging for your readers.
  • Be concise. Why do academics always say, ‘the ways in which’, rather than ‘how’? Why use four words when one will do just as well? Say what you want to say in as few words as possible.
  • Drop the flowery language. Similarly, use the simplest and most precise words to express your meaning. Sometimes you need a long word, but nobody needs to write ‘endeavour to ascertain’ instead of ‘find out’.
  • Listen to the music. Cadence in writing – a sense of rhythm and pace – is very different from being flowery. There is a lot to learn about this but to start with, try reading your work out loud. Is it pleasing to your ear?
  • Know your own process. Everybody writes differently: some are super-structured, others go with the flow. Know your own process – writing is an emotional experience and you need to know you’ll get through it in the end.
  • Read, read, read. If you want to improve your writing, read widely and read often. When something draws you in, think about why. Emulate your idols (but don’t become a tribute act – do it your way).
  • Have fun with it. When you have enough practice at writing it can become really rewarding. When you know what you want to say, you can have some fun with how you want to say it. Enjoy!