Stylish Academic Writing
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Elegant data and ideas deserve elegant expression, argues Helen Sword in this lively guide to academic writing. For scholars frustrated with disciplinary conventions, and for specialists who want to write for a larger audience but are unsure where to begin, here are imaginative, practical, witty pointers that show how to make articles and books a pleasure to read―and to write.
Dispelling the myth that you cannot get published without writing wordy, impersonal prose, Sword shows how much journal editors and readers welcome work that avoids excessive jargon and abstraction. Sword’s analysis of more than a thousand peer-reviewed articles across a wide range of fields documents a startling gap between how academics typically describe good writing and the turgid prose they regularly produce.
Stylish Academic Writing showcases a range of scholars from the sciences, humanities, and social sciences who write with vividness and panache. Individual chapters take up specific elements of style, such as titles and headings, chapter openings, and structure, and close with examples of transferable techniques that any writer can master.
Trial” [Medicine] • “Safety of the RTS,S/AS02D Candidate Malaria Vaccine in Infants Living in a Highly Endemic Area of Mozambique: A Double Blind Randomised Controlled Phase I/IIb Trial” [Medicine] All too often, however, titular colons perform no obviously useful function aside from allowing an author, in effect, to cram two titles into one: • “Integration of the Research Library Service into the Editorial Process: ‘Embedding’ the Librarian into the Media” [Computer Science] • “Multistate
narrative through flashbacks that eventually return us to the present moment. Likewise, in an academic article, we could begin with the research question (the researcher’s story) or with a brief historical account of previous research (the backstory) or with an example of how this research has changed lives (an individual story within the larger research story). The trick is to decide which part of the story you want to toss your readers into first, and then guide them forward from there. The art
have it projected behind me. So in order to symbolise the classroom experience, we had audience, authoritative lectern, map—and, yes, slide. This, then, was geography as 17-year-olds would grasp it. In an article memorably titled “The Hair in the Gate: Visuality and Geographical Knowledge,” geographer Mike Crang offers a highly visual anecdote to illustrate the importance of visual symbols in the geography classroom. The abstract concepts around which his article revolves—“visuality and
thesis up front, he waits until the final paragraph to deliver his verdict. Yes, he eventually concludes, the concepts of idiolect and linguistic uniqueness (phrases that he carefully defines at the beginning of the article) are indeed robust, providing a basis for answering “with a high degree of confidence” important forensic questions about authorship. 150 STYLISH ACADEMIC WRITING Compare the above examples with the following abstract, which appeared in a leading higher education research
and the remainder (18 percent) introduce a more creative/colloquial style. Each of these three registers is fairly evenly distributed across the disciplines, suggesting that neither conventionality nor creativity holds a monopoly in any academic field. At the “creative/colloquial” end of the scale, authors use metaphor, wordplay, humor, personal anecdotes, experimental formal structures, and a raft of other stylish techniques to engage and inform their readers: A good first paragraph is all