Different languages and cultures have different approaches to academic writing. If you haven’t been trained in English academic writing style, keep some of these tips in mind.
We were all trained to write a certain way in school, and that “way” is different by language, by country. If you’re writing for the English (especially American) style, here are things to keep in mind.
☑ Start with the most important point
Start with the most important point. That means the central argument of your paper comes at the beginning. And every paragraph also starts with the most important point and is then followed by evidence or explanation (see next point).
☑ The order in a paragraph is (1) main argument, followed by (2) evidence
In some languages, the evidence (or explanation) might need to come first, followed by the conclusion. But for scholarly English, put that main argument first.
☑ Cite evidence to support your statements
Only make statements that you can support with evidence. And especially avoid sweeping (general) statements. You can’t just say “It’s generally accepted that ABC” (unless it’s incontestably commonly known, like “the earth revolves around the sun.” Or at least, one hopes it’s incontestably commonly known).
Assume that someone will ask “Really? What’s the proof?” for every statement you make. That’s what critical review is all about, right? Give those critics references they could crosscheck.
Read more about this in How to earn credibility through your writing, part 2 of 2.
☑ Use short sentences
Long, elaborate sentences may look impressive, but the trend is to keep it short, keep it simple. The benefits are:
- It will lower the chances you’ll make a grammatical mistake. You don’t want to get stuck in a long, convoluted sentence with multiple sub-clauses and whatnots and lose track of what verb goes with which actor (I got lost in this sentence 😉). Simple sentences are perfectly good, if not downright preferred.
- It will help keep the reader’s attention if they are not struggling to make sense of a complicated sentence. You may be from a writing tradition where flowing sentences and big words are encouraged. But in current American academia, simplicity, brevity, and being to the point are seen as best.
- It will help readers from around the world. In today’s world, you know your work will be read by people from around the world. Those readers will have many levels of English fluency. Using plain language will help more such readers understand your work.
Learn more about how to write succinctly.
☑ Use short words; avoid acronyms and jargon
Many people may think acronyms/initialisms and jargon (field-specific lingo) makes a paper sound authoritative. But most of your readers—journal editors, peer reviewers, academics in related fields, journalists, the public—will not be familiar with those words.
You also can’t expect your readers to remember all the acronyms you’ve created for your study-specific variables.
Imagine how difficult it would be to understand a paper if the reader had to keep flipping back to check the definition of each acronym. (Don’t forget to define every acronym/initialism that you do use, the first time it appears.)
Avoid using them and make it easier for readers to follow what you are trying to convey.
Similarly, don’t use long, unusual, or difficult words. If you can say it with a simpler word, choose it instead. Using a difficult word does not make your writing more sophisticated; it may only make it more confusing.
Words on this (hilarious) list, for example? Don’t use them.
☑ Don’t name-drop
Mentioning a respected professor’s name in your cover letter or grant proposal will not add credibility to your paper. Nor will it increase the likelihood of being accepted for publication if the content of the paper isn’t good enough.
Like everything human, personal networks can serve a purpose. But straight name-dropping is unlikely to help if that’s your only supporting argument for why your paper is important and should be published.
So how do you earn credibility through your writing? Read on: How to earn credibility through your writing, part 1 of 2.
Please leave a comment if there’s anything else that should be on this list!
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