Top Tips for Tightening Your Academic Writing Style

Plan your Writing

Good planning is an essential part of tight academic writing. Some of the benefits include:

  • a clear idea of the purpose of each section of your document
  • greater directness, brought on by greater confidence in your purpose in writing
  • improved control over your word count
  • lower risk of including extraneous information.

Stick to the Plan

Now that you have a plan, you will need to stick to it. Once you start writing, you may find that your plan no longer works. This is fine; just revisit and revise it.

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Be Direct

Indirect writing can take many forms, including unclear thinking, negative constructions and modifiers of probability (perhaps, may, could). Unclear thinking results in unclear sentences. Be realistic about what you don’t know, and take steps to fix your knowledge gap. After all, how can explain simply and directly that which you don’t clearly understand? Look for negative sentences in your document (those with ‘not’, ‘no’). Could you re-write the sentence without these negative words? Does that reduce the length of the sentence, thus tightening your writing? This will usually be the case. Look for probability modifiers in your work. These reduce the directness of your writing. Sometimes, it is necessary to use ‘may’, ‘might’ and so on, but often it is not.  Ask yourself: would removing ‘probably’ from my sentence make it less clear? If not, remove it.

Get Active

A sentence written in the Active voice uses fewer words than the same sentence written in the Passive voice. Top tips image 1 Source: https://englishprojectoxford.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/active-vs-passive-voice.jpg While sometimes Passive voice is the best choice for the context, using Active voice wherever possible produces a tighter text.

Long Sentences Be Gone!

There seems to be a mistaken belief that complex sentences are expected in academic writing. Some ideas are complex and will require complex sentence structures to convey them. However, complexity for complexities sake has no place in academic writing. Consider: it is far easier for your reader to follow simple sentences. The more easily your reader can follow, the more likely they are to engage with your writing. The more engaged your reader can become, the more successful you can consider your writing. Your writing should only be as complex as is necessary to communicate your ideas effectively. One of the advantages of MS Word is that its Style checker picks up long sentences, underlining them in blue. If a long, unwieldy sentence does work its way into your document, consider how you could break it up into easy-to-read parts. Top Tips for Tightening Your Academic Writing

Concise is Key

Never use 5 words when 2 will do! Direct, Active language (see points 3 and 4 above) will help with this.

Check Your Conjunctions

Do you overuse ‘However’, ‘On the other hand’, ‘In other words’, etc.? These words and phrases are important to show the relationship between your sentences, to present your ideas more clearly; however, editors often see students overusing these words or, worse, incorrectly using these words. When reviewing your work, keep an eye out for unnecessary conjunctions. If they are not necessary for the meaning of your sentence, delete them.

Remove Redundancies

‘Such as (etc.)’, ‘(current) trend’ and ‘different (kinds of)’ are some examples of redundancies. Taking the example of ‘such as (etc.)’, ‘such as’ and ‘etc.’ have the same meaning. There is no need to use them both within a sentence. Searching for and removing redundancies from your work will help you to produce tight text. For more examples of common redundancies, see http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/redundancies.htm.

Expel the Extraneous

As editors, we pay close attention to extraneous word use. Does X contribute to the sentence/essay? No? Why not delete it? Some of the most common extraneous words that end up littering student work are ‘very’ and ‘really’. Typically, these modifiers serve little to no purpose in an academic argument. Likewise, in academic writing, adverbs should be used cautiously. Are they really necessary? Does the adverb signal that a different verb would be better suited to the sentence? (e.g., instead of ‘extremely fast’, you could use ‘rapid’).

Jettison the Jargon

The cartoon below illustrates why the best academic writing uses plain English. Enough said! Top tips image 2 Source: http://www.cgu.edu/images/calvin-writing.gif

By following the above 10 tips, you will be well on your way to a tighter writing style. Your writing will show the benefits of careful planning and attention to structure. You will be able to say more with fewer words, and what you say will be more clearly and effectively conveyed. To take your writing to the next level, you may wish to consider editorial support. Elite Editing addresses points 3 to 10 above in all of our edits, and we can offer advice on organisation and structure (points 1 and 2) based on your submitted work.

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