Academic Writing is one skill that does not age like fine wine. To get it write, you need to keep practicing to get better.
When I started my PhD at the University of Warwick, the first personal development workshop on my radar was “Academic Writing”. I must say I will not be forgetting Dr Mihai in a hurry for years to come, because he made academic writing seem so easy.
Coming from a journalism background (and a lot of blogging), my writing sometimes comes across as laid-back and flowery. It still does at times. Old habits are hard to break. The difference is now that I am aware, I can edit my voice to match the tenets of good ol’ academic writing.
What are the top lessons I learnt from Dr Mihai’s classes? I have scoured my notes to extract the following quick and easy bullet-points:
1) Avoid clichés
2) Never use a long word where a short one will do
3) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent (if your thesis is being written in English language of course)
4) CLEAR & SIMPLE language is what you need – because you need a reader!
5) Your text is only as good as your readers’ ability to access it. Your reader needs to be able to use your text fully.
6) The subject can be complex but it needs to be expressed in simple terms.
7) Overuse of “i” – gives the thesis subjectivity as against objectivity (note – he never said don’t use “i”)
8) Passive voice uses twice as many words than active voice. It’s also repetitive and that is a sin when it comes to writing because it bores your reader.
9) Paragraphs need transition elements to achieve unity and coherence
10) The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think. To create this context, you need to have a structure for your writing – an introduction, a body, and a conclusion
11) You can’t afford to let your reader be confused as to what you mean when it comes to your semantics (signifier & signified) – If you are able to communicate the right semantics to your reader without the ambiguity, then you are doing something right
12) The only reason for which you write is your reader. A good text must be able to educate the reader.
I am better off in my writing, thanks to his sessions and a great supervisor. If you will be commencing your PhD at the University of Warwick this fall, book the Academic Writing classes as soon as possible. Slots get taken up fairly quickly.
Lastly, I will want to recommend this book by Patrick Dunleavy, Authoring a PhD. It was a very helpful resource.
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