Writing is one way to share your hard work with others. But how can you help make sure that people will believe what you are saying? What makes your writing credible?
We want to be believed when we write. In academic writing, you are trying to get readers—reviewers, colleagues, policymakers, journalists, the public, etc.—to trust you and be convinced by what you are saying.
As researchers and academics, you already know that you need to have a strong theoretical framework, a solid research methodology, and relevant results to report.
But that’s not all.
Writing is an opportunity to earn credibility
How you write up your research matters too. (Yes, yet another challenge for non-native English speakers!) If your paper is written well, the readers will be more likely to trust you and what you have to say.
So what can you do to make sure that your writing comes across as credible, to do justice to you and your work?
Different counties and languages have different styles of presenting work and signaling credibility. If you’re trying to communicate in the English-speaking world, these are some points you need to watch out for.
- Be clear, logical, and consistent
- Write correct English
- Keep the language simple
- Don’t make claims you can’t back
- Check your sources
- Address the limitations of your work
In this article, I’ll talk about the first three and then continue in Part 2 of this series.
☑ Be clear, logical, and consistent
If the paper is disorganized or confused, the reader will assume that your thought process was also disorganized and confused, and dismiss you.
It’s about not only the overall flow of logic but also being consistent in the details. If you mention that there are “three implications” of your findings, then make sure you list/mention three, not two or four.
Similarly, I like the following example of what to avoid, from the Harvard Business Review:
[Avoid] changing the order in which things are presented. It’s confusing to read a document that refers to A, B, and C; discusses them more fully in the order of A, C, and B; and then reminds readers of the discussion by mentioning C, A, and B…Barbara Wallraff (2015), “Improve Your Writing to Improve Your Credibility”, Harvard Business Review, July 29.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a native English speaker or not; writing correct English is essential. If a reviewer or reader keeps getting distracted by grammatical errors or poor sentences, they will not pay attention to your message.
Worse comes to worst, they will write you off, taking the grammatical mistakes as a proxy for your intelligence.
- Make use of tools like Grammarly or ask someone—a friend/colleague or a professional editor—to look through your work and tell you what they didn’t understand.
- Receive those questions and any suggested corrections with an open mind. Don’t take them personally or as personal failings.
Remember that even the best writers can benefit from a fresh pair of eyes to review their writing.
☑ Keep the language simple
Flowery, impressive-sounding words and sentences won’t make you sound smarter. In fact, modern American English prefers simplicity and directness.
Avoid acronyms/initialisms and jargon (field-specific lingo). Instead of making you sound like an expert, too many of those may lead to negative judgments against you by the—likely frustrated or irritated—readers.
To give you a hint of what acronyms can do to your image, Harvard Business Review warns against “Inventing names or acronyms for things. When writers make up terms, they look pompous, not smart.”1
Another case for writing simply: One study showed that viewers of online health information perceived that the authors writing in everyday language had higher integrity than those who wrote with highly technical language.
Did these points make sense for you? Continue on to Part 2!
- Barbara Wallraff (2015), “Improve Your Writing to Improve Your Credibility“, Harvard Business Review, July 29.
Franziska M. Thon & Regina Jucks (2017) “Believing in Expertise: How Authors’ Credentials and Language Use Influence the Credibility of Online Health Information“, Health Communication, 32:7, 828-836, DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2016.1172296.