Peter John McLean

Learn the Craft of Academic Writing (Writing)

How does one learn to write academic articles?

I think the best way to get competent is through a multi pronged approach. It can’t be all writing practice but it can’t be purely drooling over the best academic writing resources either. It’s a little bit of both with a third component: review.

  • Practice it a lot. This breaks down to practicing writing concise sentences that are not open to interpretation. Use the right word. If you aren’t sure what the right word is, Google it. Practice cutting out tons of material from your writing. One of the greatest improvements I’ve made to my work as an essay writer is learning how to be concise. This morning I was working on a paper for one of my clients and it was too long. So I spent two hours just hunting down unnecessary sentences and words. Ask yourself constantly, does this sentence matter? Does it help the reader. Or am I just extrapolating because I can. Cut it out. Fewer words is always better. You might be amazed how concise you can make it.
  • Learn academic writing best practices. Familiarize yourself with academic writing tips that keep you from making silly mistakes. Use but when you mean but, use however when you mean however. If you aren’t sure about a word, Google it or let it go.

Reading Material to Learn Academic Writing

The best cheat sheet that I have found is here. It’s fast and simple and works as a great refresher to read before writing, during, and – what the hell – read it after you’re done as well just to make sure it’s still fresh in your mind.

Otherwise, check out the resources I link to in this article. They are invaluable.

Also, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is a must read. Don’t wait until you’re stressing over writing an academic paper on a deadline to read it. You won’t have a chance of learning anything about English writing style when you’re freaking out that you have writing that must be finished before you get up in the morning. Buy the book and read ten pages a night. You’ll be finished in about two weeks.

I don’t recommend any other books on writing or academic writing, mostly because I haven’t read many and – aside from Strunk and White – I haven’t found much that I like. If anyone knows of books that help improve academic writing skills I’d love to hear about it, though, since I’m always interested in new techniques or even just a new perspective on old techniques.