Academic writing can be hard, what with fighting writer’s block, tapping into creative thinking, researching and then producing a grammatical masterpiece.
Ticking all those boxes perfectly can be somewhat daunting.
But, there’s hope … There are many tools and techniques out there to help you refresh and refine your writing style.
Here are 5 simple ways to get back to basics.
1. A considered approach to punctuation
Check your use of commas, and be extremely wary of comma splices – that major faux pas when you join two stand-alone sentences with just a comma. Then, get a little fancy.
Consider how you might use more sophisticated punctuation – like en dashes or semicolons – to make your sentences more interesting. You’ll be surprised at how persuasive your writing can be when introducing some of these elements.
Another grammar nerd favourite that seems to have fallen out of favour is the colon. Typically used to introduce a list of items; the colon can also serve as a type of drumroll:
… an announcement of a brilliant new finding.
2. Adding some pizzazz to your vocabulary
Get in the habit of slogging through the online thesaurus – the long one with multiple options – regularly. Seek out new ways of saying the same thing you might have been saying for years.
Paraphrase your key assumptions or findings. Putting these ideas into different words might just help your reader better grasp the concepts you are trying to communicate, and you’ll have won over a new fan.
Use words wisely. Don’t always go for the most sophisticated or complicated phrase if a simple word will suffice. You don’t want to alienate your reader.
Do not repeat words. Do not repeat words, and also avoid redundancy, too. These two habits communicate a kind of lazy thinking and can annoy some readers and editors to no end.
3. Spicing up that sentence structure
You can jazz up the flow of your phrases through the use of punctuation, but there is so much more to do as well.
Recall, for example, the days of high school when you were taught to avoid the passive tense at all costs. Making sure your sentences are checked for passive tense and making them active instead can directly impact the strength of your statement.
Remembering that awful-sounding term, the gerund phrase, and using it wisely, can also help add rhythm and flow to static, choppy sentences.
In addition, the wise and appropriate integration of conjunctions and transitional phrases can significantly improve the flow of your argument. Moreover, it can provide a welcome sense of direction to your reader. Make sure, however, that you are punctuating these types of sentences appropriately. Use your built-in word processing language and grammar guides, or try the cloud-based application called Grammarly that can check your sentence structure and engagement levels (and so much more) all at the click of a button.
4. Checking your logic and flow
Use the point-evidence-explanation (PEE) method. You may have been shown the PEE mnemonic in school and, as children do, found it hilarious and, therefore, it stuck. Go back to this tried and true principle for compelling writing: one point per paragraph backed up with statistics, quotes, and other factual information, followed by a detailed explanation that links back to the original point.
Simplify your approach and make sure you stick to the main argument without veering off onto tangents that are distracting or disconcerting. Consider doing something else you likely learned in high school: making a proper outline.
5. Simplifying your style
Know your audience and adjust your tone accordingly.
Formal audiences require formal language. But a letter to the editor demands a different approach than a research paper for a workshop or a multi-authored scientific journal article. And an essay written for a layperson audience demands yet a different tone and style. Make sure you are adapting accordingly.
Finally, be concise. Academics often tend to try and demonstrate multiple, complex ideas in one sentence or paragraph. Simplify your sentences for greater understanding, but do not leave out the essential nuances to your argument.
In sum, if you’re in search of revitalising your academic writing, start with any of the tips above or in myriad sites and learning spaces, and move on from there. You may surprise yourself, and your audience.
We’re also hosting a number of writing workshops for you to join, you can click 👉 here to find out more.
© Pixabay 2021 / image: Eluj