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.
☑ Start with the most important point
That’s for the overall structure, as well as for every paragraph (see next point).
(Better and more experienced writers may take a more flexible approach, but this is the basic principle.)
☑ The order in a paragraph is (1) main statement, followed by (2) evidence
In some languages, the evidence might need to come first, followed by the conclusion. But for academic English, put that grand statement first.
☑ Cite evidence to back up your statements
Don’t make statements that can’t be backed by evidence. And especially avoid sweeping 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.
☑ Use short sentences
Long, elaborate sentences may look impressive, but the trend is to keep it short, keep it simple.
First, that will cut down 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 acceptable, if not outright preferred.
Second (and European intellectuals may groan here), 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 country where English is widely used and where flowing sentences and big words are encouraged. But remember that in American academia, simplicity, brevity, and being to the point are deemed better.
If you want to communicate with readers from beyond the English-speaking world, using plain language is even more important—even in academia.
☑ 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. (By the way, 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, etc., 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.
Please leave a comment if there’s anything else that should be on this list!