5 Ways to Make Your Academic Writing Shine
Communicating in writing is a necessary skill, and not a particularly difficult practice. But advancing theses in academic form is something altogether different, and a wonderfully written academic treatise is a beautiful thing. Thomas Kuhn did it. Nietzsche did it. I do it. And you can, too.
You may think that academic writing is dry and pointless, but you’re absolutely wrong. Becoming intimate with a subject — fluent in the language of, for example, low-dimensional topology — is a great gift for the educated mind. There are moments of understanding that unfold in layers, and it’s a rare and wonderful treat to “level up” in your understanding of a topic. Learning makes me feel lucky, and I hope the same for you.
But if you just want some quick and dirty tips, we’ve got that for you, too. Shine on, you crazy diamond. Here are five great ways:
- Master Passive Voice. This is not a joke. Academic writing is written by scholars, and for a scholarly audience. Don’t feel bad belaboring a point — strategic and correct use of passive voice is often the ideal way to communicate academic ideas. Use active voice when necessary, and to drive a particularly salient point home. Learn a little more here.
- Try the Tri. I call it the Triangulation Method, mostly because I fancy myself an evil (academic writing) genius. It’s a simple form that’s never failed me:
- Tell them what you’re going to say. (This means state your thesis.)
- Say it. (Write your paper.)
- Tell them what you just said. (Wrap it up.)
- Avoid tangents. Similar to the Triangulation Method, be certain to avoid tangents. Every single sentence you write should relate directly to your stated thesis, or to proving a point necessary within that line of argumentation. Assume your audience is smarter than you, and can smell your bull a mile away.
- Over cite. This is a somewhat controversial opinion, but feel free to footnote everything. Often, my writing will have several cites per sentence. (That being said, make sure you know the proper form that a foot- or endnote should take. Here’s a little help with that.) I believe it: There’s no such thing as too much research. And, while verifiability differs completely from truth claims, I’ve never been docked a letter grade for reading too much about a topic.
- Learn a little logic. Seriously. Know how and why you’re advancing your claim. At this point in your educational career, you should have scholarly opinions (albeit humble ones, undergrads). Gone are the days of the simple analysis/research paper. Knowing the proper form of rhetorical argumentation — how to make a good academic argument — is crucial, as is a familiarity with common logical tropes and fallacies. You’re not clueless. Don’t write that way.
Inside Higher Ed: 30 Writing Tips