Writing with Style

Just about every writing guide will tell you that clarity, cohesiveness, and concision are the qualities that make prose effective and stylish. But how do these principles translate to academic writing?

"Have something to say, and say it as clearly

as you can. That is the only secret of style."

-Matthew Arnold

Discussion of Stylish Academic Writing 

Steven Pinker of Harvard University

Pinker reads examples of muddled, abstract, and convoluted sentences that have been published in academic journals. He gives clear translations of these sentences, and then offers a discussion of why academic writing is so difficult and how we can improve. 

Tips for Stylish Academic Writing

Richard Galletly of Aston Business School

Topics include the following: how to identify good academic style, how to be stylish, smart, and creative with your writing, how to use online style guides, how to defeat common writing fallacies, and how to identify faulty written arguments.

Two golden rules for polishing your writing

  1. Don't polish until you are confident that your draft is as good as it's going to get in terms of the content and organization. It's inefficient to labor over the precise phrasing of a particular sub-claim only to decide the following week that the sub-claim has to go in the trash.
  2. Give yourself time away from your draft before you try to polish it. Tired eyes can't see the places where the writing is awkward or unclear. Better yet, have a good writer read your work for you and tell you what kinds of errors you make frequently. 

Books on Writing Well

On Writing Well (William Zinsser). You absolutely can't do better than this book, especially Part One. 

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (Joseph Williams). Helpful without being overly technical. Often used as a textbook for writing classes but also a good self-help guide. Here is an excerpt from the 8th edition.

The Elements of Style (Strunk & White). A classic guide famous for its simplicity and concision.

Writing With Style (John Trimble). 


Online Resources

Four (Easy) Steps to Better Writing (Duke University). Based on the Williams book above.

Words and phrases to avoid while discussing your research (Marilyn Simon and Jim Goes). This list of what not to write will hopefully leave you with a good idea of what to write. 

Improving Your Writing Style: Conciseness, Cohesion, and Coherence (Duke University). A PDF from Duke's Writing Program.

Interview with John Trimble, Author of Writing With Style (Ben Dean of MentorCoach)

The Most Common Sentence Structure Problems (Yale).

Linking Expressions (Oshima and Hogue) 

Parallel Structure (IUP). Ah, the parallel sentence: friend of all who must communicate complicated ideas in the clearest way possible.

How to Write Clear, Concise, and Direct Sentences. (U of Wisconsin)

Academic Word List Highlighter. Upload a sample of your writing to this program, and it will tell you what percentage of the words in your text are on the Academic Word List. The point of the exercise, according to the blog Lingua Franca, is to see whether you use lots of specialized jargon or, instead, write in language that's readily understood across disciplines. 

Deciphering Academese (Piled Higher and Deeper). In case you need help interpreting some of the more grandiose over-used phrases in academic writing.

Designing Attention Points (Medium). On tables, figures, and other graphics.

Writing With Soul (Rachel Toor). A provocative advice column followed by a discussion thread on what it means to write academic prose as an individual human being.

An Ever-Expanding Compendium of Academic Verbs (from fellow editor at Tweed)

When to Use the Passive (George Gopen)


Grammar & Usage Resources

Grammar Girl. The go-to cheeky, free, online grammar resource.

Grammarly. A highly rated online grammar checker. It may be less accurate than a good human editor, and can't provide the range of services that a human editor can, but it may be a good option if you just need proofreading for basic grammar errors and typos. 

"The difference between the almost-right word and the right word

is the difference between the lightening-bug and the lightening."

-Mark Twain


"Margy helped me see holes in my argument, showed me where to clarify my sentences, and pointed out where I needed to define my terms more precisely.  She gave me a fresh perspective and reinvigorated my writing. ... Also, Margy gave me helpful stylistic tips and caught several typos and other embarrassing problems in my work.”   

L. Davis