Writing an Academic Text in English
The art of writing is a critical skill for any postgraduate student looking for success. It is easy to understand how important this skill is by putting yourself in the place of any examiner whose job it is to evaluate a lot of essay papers or even PhD-level dissertations. Reading a long written piece requires a lot of effort at any time, but reading a text that is simultaneously long and badly written is extra tedious and a very painful experience. It is for this reason that most examiners appreciate the efforts of students who take the trouble to write well, and they are more inclined to reward these students even if the caliber of their work does not entirely live up to the writing standard they have demonstrated. Consequently, it would be unfortunate if your work was down-graded purely because your academic essay or thesis could be better written.
This article sets out a list of the things you should and should not do, and it is based on the reliable advice of a number of leading experts.
We Will Begin with What You Should Do:
- The authors of The Elements of Style - William Strunk, Jr and E B White – say that unnecessary words should be avoided and that you should write clearly and concisely. When you feel you have finished writing, read back over what you have written again looking for any unnecessary words you can remove.
- An eminent Psychology Professor from Oklahoma State University says that writing a scientific paper is, in essence, similar to advertising. Advertising agents sell their products while scientists sell what they have found – i.e. the results – of some research work they have done. This is not to say that effective advertising means selling substandard products, but if your product is high quality and your aim is to persuade people to buy lots of it, it needs to be presented in a convincing and insightful way. Likewise, when writing an essay or research paper, you should not accumulate too many facts but, instead, present your research results in a manner that captures the imagination of those reading your paper.
- According to a professor at the University of Illinois – Institute for Advanced Science and Technology – you should attempt to create a powerful beginning for your paper. This could mean referring to an on-going controversy or introducing a real-life problem and using these as a founding idea for your research. By presenting your closing arguments as the solution to an idea or problem introduced at the start, your readers will remain engaged and eager to read what you have written.
- An Associate Professor at the University of Auckland says it is permissible for an academic text to be written in a stylish manner and that style can indeed be necessary to succeed in a particular academy. A stylish form of writing is one that uses personal pronouns (e.g. “I” and “you”) and demonstrates personality, shows a curious mind, is playful, and uses an acceptable amount of wit and/or humor. This is also a form of writing that has the qualities most readers like but also those that many conventional writers tend to overlook. So, be stylish in the way you write!
- A highly respected German language essayist and satirist of the last century - Karl Kraus – says that every grammar error signifies carelessness and the consequences of these can be more serious than would first appear. Any person today who does not care sufficiently about the correct placement of commas within sentences could make life-threatening errors in the future. Hence, it is important to use words correctly and ensure commas are properly placed.
Of Equal Importance is What You Should Not Do
- A Professor of English at the University of Toronto recommends you do not write in chronological order for the entirety of an article. He says you should begin by writing sections you are confident about, even when you are unsure where in your text you should place them. This will enable those parts you are not sure about to become clearer and allow you to write them later in a more effortless way.
- An expert from the Dublin Institute of Technology suggests it is best to begin writing an academic text on paper first, rather than on a computer. This prompts the writer to choose words more carefully and to put more thought into content. The reason for this is that handwriting requires more effort and correcting mistakes is not so easy.
- A Professor at the University of Illinois - Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology – says that even if you are researching a specialist subject or field as part of your postgraduate studies, you should not use technical terminology to an excessive extent and that you should not attempt to sound overly complex. Clarity in your writing should be your goal.
- The advice from the writing center at the University of Reading is to avoid using passive voice. Instead, you should use an active voice e.g. “I looked at the effects of X on Z” is preferable to “the effects of X on Z were look at by myself.”
Our final recommendation on what you should not do comes from the language center at the University of Cambridge where experts advise that you should not write paragraphs so that they appear as separate components. Every paragraph should follow on from the preceding one in a clear and logical manner. Readers should be able to re-order your paragraphs even if they were to get mixed up.