Why most academic writing sucks
Kingsley Amis described a certain kind of academic article in Lucky Jim:
…niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance.
Richard Dawkins claimed that unintelligibility was a way to obscure a lack of ideas:
Suppose you are an intellectual impostor with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life, collect a coterie of reverent disciples and have students around the world anoint your pages with respectful yellow highlighter. What kind of literary style would you cultivate? Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content.
Peter Elbow has a more sympathetic take:
When we academics were in graduate school, we were trained to write badly (no one put it this way of course) because every time we wrote X, our teacher always commented, “But have you considered Y? Don’t you see that Y completely contradicts what you write here.” “Have you considered” is the favorite knee-jerk response of academics to any idea. As a result, we learn as students to clog up our writing with added clauses and phrases to keep them from being attacked. In a sense (a scary sense), our syntactic goal is create sentences that take a form something like this:
X, and yet on the other hand Y, yet nevertheless X in certain respects, while at the same time Y in other respects.
And we make the prose lumpier still by inserting references to all the published scholars — those who said X, those who argued for Y, those who said X is valid in this sense, those who said Y is valid in this other sense.
As a result of all this training we come to internalize these written voices so that they speak to us continually from inside our own heads. So even when we talk and start to say “X,” we interrupt ourselves to say “Y,” but then turn around and say “Nevertheless X in certain respects, yet nevertheless Y in other respects.” We end up with our minds tied in knots.
And writing about art isn’t any better.
7 Tips on Writing Concisely
Working on magazines for several years now, the most common complaint I hear from new writers is how short magazine articles are. Some actually complain at the word count, as if we might suddenly double it just for them. The truth is that it is much harder to write more concisely and takes skill to do so. If you don’t have a good editing service to help out, here are a few tips you can use for writing concisely. They’ll help no matter if you are working on a magazine article or dissertation.Identify the major components of your work. Too often people just start writing without taking stock of what direction to take. For magazine articles, this is usually not only the main body of the article but also sidebars and pull quotes. Other types of writing have similar extras. Your dissertation has footnotes, bibliography, and appendices. Pay attention to details such as source materials along the way. If you focus on these things from the beginning, you will better be able to handle your task without having to go back later. Outline your project. Your outline is the skeleton of your writing. It holds it together and supports all the details. For a magazine, it is your title, deck, subheads, and sidebar titles. For your dissertation, subheadings are not that different from the subheads in a magazine article, just multiplied in length, number, and level of complexity. Cut out unnecessary details. For magazine articles you may have to cut extra illustrations beyond what is necessary to communicate your point. For any writing, there are extra idioms and phrases that become colloquial habits but are not necessary. Any illustrations that are perceived as extra will be cut first by an editor, so you might as well edit them out early in your writing process. Limit the scope. When you write for a magazine, you certainly can’t expect the article to be an exhaustive coverage of a topic. The same is true even for a dissertation. For dissertations, there will be extra research that is good but might be outside the scope of your current project. Knowing how to bracket writing scope and even save extras for later is a skill any writer can use. Keep the main thing the main thing. Establish your thesis statement and filter every detail, every argument, and every illustration through the thesis of your paper. It will help you stay on track, keeping a check and balance on the things of lesser importance. If need be, post your thesis statement somewhere prominent so that it is a visual reminder to you to write accordingly. Focus on the audience. What you write is largely dependent upon for whom you are writing. Don’t miss this important detail to help your illustrations and explanation hit right on target. Watch the grammar. Sometimes writers are too wordy because they use words that don’t really matter. Watch words that repeat and trim out the unnecessary ones. Some common problems are words like that and very. Read your work aloud and you will find extra verbiage you can cut and make your writing more concise. That’s our job here. So if you feel you do need help, consider using our editing service to give your writing that extra assist.
“Writing scientific papers is rather like writing poetry in an ancient verse form. Everything you want to say has to be forced into predetermined sections: introduction, method, results, discussion. You must never say “I,” and the passive tense is preferred. Inevitably all the interesting things get left out.”— Chris Frith, Making Up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World (2007)
Being a professional writer
- Academic writers claim their points by writing in forms of different genres, using outside resources, judge if the resources are creditable, and making the writing persuasive. Expert claims are well organized logically and literally, and the resources that support the claim are creditable. We can use them to support our opinions as well as arguing with the claim by giving another different opinion.
The art of writing.
NEW POST » “The art of writing.”
One of the beautiful things about writing, at least to me, is that no one writes the exact same way. We all come to the blank page in differently. The way we allow our ideas to formulate and then come to life differs from writer to writer. So what works…
4 Tips for Great Academic Writing
All scholarly genres are not the same. Let’s dismiss at the outset the fantasy that a dissertation is basically no different than a monograph. Both require many of the same skills, but the variables of voice, audience, and purpose diverge radically. To offer only one example, the immediate audience for approval of a dissertation is one’s supervising committee of three or four professors, whereas in the case of a publishable book it encompasses a more numerous and far-flung cohort of specialists, not all of whom will be receptive to your project’s conceptual orientation.
That variance admitted, certain qualities are bedrock in all academic prose. At the risk of reducing them to a perhaps familiar litany, I’ll enumerate four of them.Ditch the gobbledygook
The sterility of “dissertationese” is deadly. This caveat includes the penchant for anthropomophisms and jargon, absolutely lethal when combined (e.g., “My study argues that the essentialism of this author’s reconstructionist agenda, which defies the strictures of Edward Said’s cautions about the phenomenon of Orientalism, unintentionally reverses the subaltern’s plight in neocolonialist and post-Ghandi India, thereby inscribing a rhetoric of retrenchment”). No one communicates this way. You shouldn’t indulge in such gobbledygook either. If you’re not sure of your work, seek the assistance of a good dissertation editing service.Don’t depersonalize yourself
Avoid like cholera the crippling poses of depersonalization. Such artifices as “The author proposes,” unfortunately rampant in the social sciences, and its disguise through clumsy use of subjunctive verbs and the passive voice always raise red flags. The first-person pronoun “I” is permissible, if not overused, in scholarly discourse. Don’t try to efface yourself as author by becoming a textual cipher or ghost.Be precise, engaging, and direct
Nothing is more annoying than academic writing that proclaims repeatedly, as though it were a badge of honor, its intention to “tease out” or “problematize” its subject. Cut to the chase. While doing so, however, try to project a lively style that avoids a mind-numbing repetition of key words. Listen to your diction. Along the same lines, don’t lard your introductory paragraphs with extensive quotations. Apprise your readers of a significant gap in the relevant field of research and take it from there.Conclude Succinctly
Wrap it all up with a precise but succinct conclusion. Nothing is more wearisome than a ploddingly summative coda that rehashes already established points. Draw out genuine inferences from what you have demonstrated rather than resorting to the lame formula that “Further research is needed.” Moreover, as we urge entry-level students, be sure to answer the “So what?” question. In this as in all dimensions of effective academic discourse, eschew the narrowly conventional or prescriptive.
It all comes down to what we look for in any piece of well written exposition: clarity, concision, and lucidity. The fogs of trendy scholarly fashion notwithstanding, I doubt whether these modest proposals will steer any prospective academician wrong. If you’re not absolutely certain of your work’s quality, seek the help of a good dissertation editor.
My one tip for essay writing.
After four years of academic writing for university, there’s lots of things that I could share on how to write a good essay. But I have one tip which I used time and time again in my essays. Be them for drama, education, English or general creative industries subjects.
The 30 second pitch.
Or, the one-sentence summary. If you cannot summaries your essay into one key sentence (not a long rambling one, a short, concise one) than you are unclear about your topic. Go back, rework exactly what it is you are writing about until you get that one sentence. You might finish writing your essay, then realise you can’t do that. That’s okay. Work out what it is going to be about, restructure or rewrite. When you have small word limits (or even large ones), you need to know exactly what you are trying to say.
Imagine you are in an elevator. You have a film/novel/script you want to get funding. The person who happens to get in with you is the one who says yes or no on projects. He/she asks what you are working on. You have 30 seconds to pitch your idea. What’s the most concise, clear way you can explain it? What’s your hook?
Applying this principle to essays can make your essay a lot easier to write and to read for whoever is marking it. Make it clear what you are talking about. Synthesise your information.
Plan if that works for you. I highly recommend some form of plan. Even if it’s a basic topic for each paragraph. This may change as you write. That’s okay. You may need to write two or three versions of your essay. That’s good. My record, I think, was five versions of the one essay. I didn’t have a clear 30 second pitch. Once I worked out exactly what it was I was trying to say, it made editing and re-writing/adding a lot easier.
By all means, this isn’t the best or only way to write an essay. I don’t have all the answers. It’s a lot about finding something that works for you. This was my method. It took me until my 2nd semester in my 3rd year to work this out. It takes time. Essays take time. Do them last minute if that works for you. Plan them out. I tended to need to let my ideas form in my head for a week or two before I tried getting it down on paper. But have a set date you want it done by, and try to work to that. You’ll be surprised at the results you get.
Starting is the hardest part.
liking the assignment for academic writing
We’re doing our whole analysis unit, so we had to pick a song we liked and write three analysis questions.
Of course, I picked a Kanye song. Not only is it Kanye, but this song can go many different directions as far as interpretation.
So I wrote my three questions. I’m really hoping we don’t have to answer them at some point, because they’re hard!
A surprisingly handy resource for academic writers
[Image: Cover of “They Say I Say,” a book by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein]
I was recently clued in to the existence of this book, and it seems like the sort of thing that would be very useful for anyone who does a lot of academic writing.
Its purpose is to help you smooth out the rough edges that creep into your writing from citations. It contains a whole bunch of suggestions for how to say “someone else said X” without just repeating “someone else said X” over and over. Plus—and these are two things I really struggle with—it has some suggestions for dealing with citations-within-citations, and for how to credit someone else with the idea in the first half of your sentence while preserving the sense that you are the originator of the second half of the sentence.
So, yes indeedy. I’m sort of annoyed that no one brought this book to my attention earlier in my academic career, so I thought I’d make a post.
US Amazon link is here; I suspect it is also available many other places.
Why M*A*S*H is important: part one.
So, in my time at university I took a lot of classes on humour and comedy. My favourite subject was M*A*S*H as I have been a fan since I was about fourteen, and I took great delight in writing about why, regardless of how funny anybody finds it, the show was truly groundbreaking in television comedy. I’ll talk you through my reasoning in sections as there’s way too much to go over in one long text post.
However, you have to start by thinking about how it fits in with the other sitcoms to be able to see how it drastically differs.
why does my writing voice sound so pretentious?
3 years of undegraduate study as turned my writing voice into that of some pompous middle aged man who spends his life theorizing about global inequality.
I’m trying to write a paper about the post-colonial period and the ideologies that sprouted from the developping world with the relatively simple theme being “us against them”.
And it sounds like this:
Us and Them
Anti-Colonial Nationalism, Dependency theory, Anti-racist Cosmopolitanism, and non-violent Ghandism are all schools of thought that have sprouted from the ashes of decolonization. All of these schools of thought have a unique perspective on how to tackle the presence of an “us and them” dichotomy that arises from the pseudo-imperialism and systematic neglect of the Third World. Essentially, there are two major perspectives on the “us and them” framework of international relations: one that embraces the categorization of powers and one that rejects the separation in favor of a universal approach to human relations. Anti-Colonial Nationalism and Dependency Theory are both heavily influenced by a categorical separation of the oppressed and the oppressors, whereas anti-racist cosmopolitanism and non-violent Ghandism both appeal to the universality of humankind rather than view international relations through a “us/them” paradigm.
That’s my introduction paragraph. AND that was after I edited out a lot of bullshit academic fluff.
College doesn’t really help you learn about the world, it just helps you learn how to sound like you know what you’re talking about.