Peter John McLean

Tips for Academic Writing (Writing)

In my experience providing academic writing help the real difficulty lies in style and not in content or even citation method. Most people, with the right academic writing resources, can figure out how to cite sources and format their papers properly. It might take a little patience, but doing it is just a matter of following instructions.

Style, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult.

Style takes inductive study through reading and then practice through writing. It takes time. And you don’t have time, you say? Okay, here you go.

Style, in a hurry

  • Don’t ever use a cliche ever (I mean it). Cut out every “hung out to dry”, “the proof is in the pudding”, “going the extra mile”, and anything else you can think of. When in doubt, cut it out. These phrases are fun when negotiating with your mechanic but don’t belong in formal writing of any sort. When cleaning up your academic writing style, conversational jargon and cliches must be smashed repeatedly.
  • Introduce an idea. Expand it out. Conclude it. Do this with everything. Do it with your paper on a paper-wide level. Do it on a paragraph level. In fact, try to do it with all of your writing. Following a slope of introduction, explanation, conclusion is always a good thing – see what I did there?
  • Cut out anything that doesn’t directly pertain to the topic. I freely associate between seemingly unconnected subjects constantly so I understand how difficult this is. I start by talking about general tips for academic writing that can help you and then I want to explain how it’s purely a question of style and then I want to explain that it can only be learned inductively and then I want to compare it to playing music other people wrote before writing your own music and then I want to explain that this is the only reason that computers can’t write books and then I want to explain that the human mind’s ability to inductively reason is its greatest strength and then I want to defend the value of reductive and deductive reasoning for the purposes of Nash equilibria and then I want to mention that game theory is actually still best left to human minds because computers utterly fail at negotiating which is why no computer has ever successfully played poker. But don’t do that when you write academic papers. If it doesn’t directly influence the thesis of the paper it needs to be slaughtered. If people ask you how something relates and it takes more than one simple sentence to explain, it is probably too complicated and must either be simplified or removed.
  • Cut out hyperbole. It’s easy to disregard basic hyperbole because it’s so common in language but don’t use extremely unless you mean extremely, don’t even add really unless there is a legitimate reason to use it. Generally treat everything as being basic and simple and let the results or the facts that you are working with speak for themselves. If it seems like your paper shows your personality, voice, or opinion then you are doing it wrong.
  • Cut out ambiguous pronouns until you start to worry that you sound like a humorless robot. Yeah, I know, that sounds harsh but it’s the way it goes. Someone reading academic and technical journals doesn’t care if it reads like an Ian Fleming novel, he cares that it is clear and makes sense. Using proper nouns makes it easy to do this, ambiguous this that it he her she makes this difficult and forces the reader to constantly refer back to the text. This causes headaches and is no good.

That’s all there is. There are plenty of other things you can do to tweak your writing but if you’re following these academic style tips and using proper formats and citation you’re probably already writing pretty solid papers. If you need more help, just let me know.