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Five quick tips to improve your academic writing

Academic writing is a specific skill. It’s not like writing a business report or a high school paper. Or a blog post for that matter. But any writing is about communicating ideas well, and so all writing can be good practice. It’s something you can always improve on. Here are five guidelines I try to follow when writing and editing my own work:

1 Be clear

The information you are conveying will be complex. Even if the material is not new to your audience, you have to communicate your ideas about it to people who won’t have the same chain of thoughts that you had. You got from point A to point B via a meandering series of ideas. Think about how you can make this into a series of small, logical steps that are clear to the reader. This might not include every thought you had in the process of getting from A to B. The order in which it is easiest to think up or write down ideas is not usually the best order in which to read and understand them.

2 Be concise

Your reader won’t want to read fluff, so be clear about your meaning in as few words as possible: small is beautiful.

3 Write Often

Writing is part of the research process. Because you will have new or at least changing ideas as you write, you will need to go back and re-read your sources. Write as you go along. Any kind of writing will help, but practicing academic writing is going to be important if that’s the specific skill you want to develop.

4 Proof Read

Make sure you what you have written is what you meant to say. I’ve certainly read over my own work and heartily disagreed with what I’m apparently asserting. Check it really makes sense. If it’s ambiguous a reader might accidentally misinterpret your point so make it clearer and say what you really mean. If it does read as you intended, check that you still agree with your own argument. Because research is cyclical, you can’t try to do all the reading and then do all the writing. Your ideas will be refined and enriched as you write, so you might need to make alterations to reflect these developments. You can also be checking for those cringingly hilarious typing errors and spelling mistakes. You might not spot them all, but aim to correct as many as humanly possible before you submit.

5 Get Feedback

Ask other people, from a range of perspectives and backgrounds, to read your work and ask for their opinions. Hopefully, between them they will give you comments, constructive criticism about your work and a general good English and good sense check. If the criticism is a little more on the blunt side, remember they are doing what you asked them to do: pointing out the flaws in your work (not you) – so don’t take it personally. Return the favour to other people, you’ll learn a lot from reading their work with an eye on their style and content too.

It’s not rocket science, but attention to detail is important and can really make a difference. If you have any more tips, please do share them below. I for one have plenty to learn!

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