Improving your academic writing is something that many students struggle with. After struggling for years, I decided to make a list of tips for improving your academic writing. These tips have worked for me, and hopefully, they will help you too.
9 Tips for improving your academic writing:
Read widely and across a variety of disciplines.
My doctorate dissertation, which I wrote for my Ph.D., drew on literature from anthropology, sociology, planning, human geography, and chemical engineering.
My Ph.D. is interdisciplinary in nature. I’m a multi-methods guy, and I’ve done everything from GIS to social network analysis to structural equation modeling to institutional ethnography. I’m always looking for new approaches to do research.
In order to achieve this, I read a lot (which, as you can imagine, takes a lot of time) in a range of subject areas. Reading helps you write better because it gives you insight into how other people express their ideas.
Keep a strict schedule and write always.
I usually get out of bed between 4:45 and 5:30 in the morning, make my bed, start a pot of coffee, turn on my laptop, and begin writing.
For the past few months, I have been writing for two hours every day of the week (including Saturdays and Sundays), and it has improved my writing greatly.
In the last few months, I added 85 single-spaced pages to my book and created 120 single-spaced pages. That is good productivity, in my opinion.
Provide the best writing tools for yourself.
My family was an academic one, therefore my childhood bedroom doubles as a full-fledged home office. I know I’m at the ideal place to write because I see my folks every weekend in their city. I try to bring everything I need, including a paper holder, with me since I need to make sure I have the tools I need to write wherever I go.
I recently purchased a new computer chair for my folks’ home office. Each item of furniture I own must support my ability to write. Software and hardware are equivalent.
Write as you’d speak.
I recall being offended the first time one of my teachers said this to me. I felt my writing was strong. But as I’ve come to realize through time, my writing is clearer if I write as I speak.
Have others read your writing so they may give you comments.
I find it difficult to follow this advice because my writing is frequently destroyed. But it always emerges stronger. I discovered (in this instance, from my old Ph.D. advisor) to use the criticism I received to become a better writer. If my writing is unclear, I need to focus on how to construct clear, concise, punchy sentences.
Write with your reader in mind.
If you write for a blog (like this one) with a larger audience as opposed to policy-makers who want succinct, analytical reviews of the literature and calls to action, your writing style will change.
Writing for your Ph.D. committee or a political science publication will differ from writing for an anthropology journal. But make sure to always write clearly.
Write without being interrupted
We have more work to do, which is difficult in the academic environment of today. Additionally, we must plan lectures, create PowerPoint presentations, create curriculum, participate in committees, counsel students, and provide them with written criticism.
I write early in the morning, later in the afternoon or evening, or even very late at night to combat this. I constantly watch out for interruptions, though it might be challenging while I’m visiting my parents since this is the only opportunity we get to talk.
When this happens, I make sure to write very early in the morning or late at night so that I may spend the remainder of the day with them.
Take good care of yourself.
Although it should go without saying, many academics overlook this. How can step away from writing (and academic life) every now and then to improve your writing? By exercising and taking care of your body, you can clear your mind. If your health improves, so will your writing (and of course, if you put time into it!)
Write more frequently. Be a prolific writer.
I don’t intend to answer a lot of emails when I say “write a lot.” Writing a lot of generative text will allow you to rearrange, rewrite, reorder, and reread your sentences in order to identify ways to strengthen them.
I just came to the realization that I could divide a book chapter that contained extensive amounts of theory and empirical research into one theoretical book chapter and two empirical journal articles.
I began with a single document and divided enough text into three drafts to have the basis for three pieces rather than just one.
Write by hand if you get stuck.
This recommendation comes from a supporter of online collaborative tools. For later reading and adding citations to my writing, I regularly clip documents to Evernote, upload PDFs to Mendeley, and utilize Dropbox to exchange research with my partners, students, and research assistants.
You might be astonished to learn that I write by hand when I’m stuck (or occasionally even when I’m not stuck but I’m writing a paper or an article). I write by hand most often when I am coming up with fresh concepts, line-editing, or when I need to fill in holes in my reasoning.