academic writing

You’ve done quality research. Now you have to write a dissertation describing this research, and you are really not looking forward to this. I’m here to show you that academic writing does not have to be a daunting process. Here are six tips:

  1. Follow your institution’s guidelines.
  2. Be concise.
  3. Figure out the correct citing format.
  4. Trust your reader.
  5. Signpost.
  6. Find a qualified proofreader.

Let’s look at each of them more closely.

1.      Follow your institution’s guidelines.

Institutions provide guidelines on the structure of dissertations, as well as on how to format them, what to include, and how to cite. Read those guidelines and apply them to your dissertation. You can do it after, or before/during the writing – it depends on your process – but do not skip this step. The guidelines can save you a lot of headaches.

Also, follow the word count as far as you can. If you are under the word count, you can add sections explaining  complex terms, go into more detail on what you have done, or get a friendly reader to take a look. Often your explanations might be truncated because you know your research inside out, while an outside reader will find the gaps that will help you reach the word count. And if you have nothing more to say in that section, move on to the next.

2.      Be concise.

When writing it’s easy to give in to the temptation of padding your sentences to make them sound fancier. Don’t do it. It makes your text bloated and hard to read. If a section that should be 500 words is 2000, prune everything that is unnecessary and, more importantly, keep everything that is necessary. This means that you might not always be removing text. You might have to rephrase and occasionally rewrite whole sections to make them more concise. This is a good exercise to test whether you really know your stuff – if you can explain it simply, then you know it well.

3.      Figure out the correct citing format.

Are Rooks et al. and Rooks the same? No, they aren’t. Citing might look boring and random – there are so many formats that differ in their use of full stops, commas, italics, and order of names. However, a full stop out of place can lose you vital credibility.

Most style guides are entire (expensive!) books with a thousand guidelines on formatting, font, style and the like (see APA and CMOS), while in most cases you will only need the parts about citing in-text and formatting the referencing list. This said, don’t trust software, unless you are sure that it can do it right – most of a proofreader’s hours of academic proofreading are spent on fixing software-generated references.

4.      Trust your reader.

Padding and over-explanation can make your writing sound patronizing. Trust your reader to be familiar with the basic terms of your field, and don’t overexplain. If you are writing a paper on the European Union, you don’t need to keep explaining UK or EU. It is good practice to have a list of abbreviations used in the paper, but again, use your judgement and trust your reader.

5.      Signpost.

While you trust your reader, don’t expect them to read your mind – give them enough guidance to navigate your text correctly. Insert logical links between your ideas, sentences and paragraphs. Refer back to sections you’ve already written instead of explaining things again, refer forward to sections that provide more information on topics that will only distract in the current section. Number your tables and figures consecutively and refer to them by number. Guide the reader through your topic.

6.      Find a proofreader.

Find an academic proofreader to go over your text once you are done. The proofreader will check for typos, ensure the logical links between your sentences are there, and correct the formatting of your references. The proofreader can also guide you with most of the above if you ask. Remember that an academic proofreader cannot rewrite your text or rephrase it, but they can highlight points that are unclear or repetitive, as long as the issue is linguistic and not technical. So message that proofreader today!

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