Some Musing on Academic Writing

I’ve been on the look-out for good tips on academic writing. Here are a couple of interesting links I found:

1. Ten tips for improving academic writing. These tips are not just about the act of writing, but also about life as a writer and researcher. Taking a break is as much a part of the writing process as setting aside large blocks of uninterrupted time for writing work.

2. Grammatical Features Common in Academic Writing. I don’t think this article means to imply that we should all rush out and make sure these grammatical features are a part of our academic writing. Some of these features make the writing less readable in my experience. Seeing the list of grammatical features that set academic writing apart from other kinds of writing is quite helpful though. It shines a light on some practices that may not be helpful.

Background Writing

A recent online article in “Inside Higher Education” discussed what I’ll call background writing — writing that must be done but is not the finished publishable product or submitted essay. In that article Nate Kreuter reminds us all, but particularly academics, that writing is a cognitive exercise. We write, and in the process we learn. We write as part of the thinking process, we don’t just write essays or ideas that are fully formed in our brains. We think and write together, and this process means that not all writing we do is a final finished product — nor should it be.

This idea is important for students as well as professors. Students should realize that they probably need to do a lot of non-graded writing, just as academics do a lot of non-published writing. This background writing is the foundation for the writing submitted for grading or writing submitted for publication. I’m not sure if anyone has an estimate on the amount of unpublished writing that goes into a page of publishable material. I wonder if it is like an iceberg — most of the iceberg is below the water, and very little is visible above the surface of the water.

Do background writing. Keep reading journals. Make notes. Think on paper. This will make your visible writing stronger.

Academic Writing

Academic writing can be a confusing thing. It can be a frightening thing. It is often poorly done. There are lots of books with tips for writing well — over the summer we’ll look at a few of those resources and point out some helpful online resources as well.

To start with, here is a long-but-helpful blog post on academic writing by a person who worked in academic publishing. I plan to work through the tips on this page while working on my own academic writing this summer. Happy reading!