Helen Sword

If academics write mainly to be published it’s no wonder that much of academic writing is difficult to read, full of jargon and unengaging. Helen Sword, associate professor at the Centre for Academic Development at the University of Auckland, has written Stylish Academic Writing  to help academics to “aspire to write more engagingly and adventurously.”

The Weekly Standard’s review of Stylish Academic Writing covers various reasons why academic writing is what it is today.

Academics in the humanities and the social sciences, it’s sometimes suggested, too often wish to give their fields the legitimacy and public authority of science, and so write in highly technical, jargon-laced prose.

Academics in the hard sciences, for their part, are too concerned with factual correctness to worry about making their productions agreeable, even to co-specialists. Then, of course, there is the really uncharitable interpretation: Many academics simply haven’t got anything useful to say, but if they say it in a sufficiently complicated fashion and use all the vogue terms, they’ll get credit for having said something without saying anything worth defending.

To get a closer look of what Helen Sword means by Stylish Academic Writing, here is a blog post in which she discusses “seven secrets of stylish academic writing” that is a useful guide to help your writing. The first one, not surprisingly, is

Start with the title

The titles of academic articles are typically abstract, technical, and utterly uninviting, such as:

“Social-Organizational Characteristics of Work and Publication Productivity among Academic Scientists in Doctoral-Granting Departments”

To send a more welcoming signal to potential readers, try phrasing your title as a question (“Why Are Some Scientists More Productive Than Others?”), a provocative statement (“Productivity Hurts”), a metaphor (“Productivity: Holy Grail or Poisoned Chalice?”) or other memorable phrase (“The Productivity Paradox”).

Wherever possible, opt for simple, concrete language.

“Snakes on a Plane” is an inviting title; “Aggressive Serpentine Behaviour in a Restrictive Aviation Environment” is not.

You can read the rest of the seven secrets here.

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