Improving your academic writing

Whether you are an established researcher or postgraduate student, you’ll always be writing!


Knowing some of the basic rules of academic writing will help you get going in the right direction and hopefully reduce the amount of comments from your supervisor or reviewer.


Why you should improve your academic writing

·       Good, clear writing means others can learn more easily and quickly from your research. This increases the impact you and your work can have in your field and in the public sphere.

·       Poor writing is a barrier to publication. Your unclear writing may mean that editors and reviewers cannot see the quality of your research.

·       Academic success is often measured in publications. Even if you do good research, if you can’t produce a good academic paper, it is difficult to succeed.

·       Sometimes the ideas in your research and findings are complicated and complex. This means writing well is even more important as it is already easy for the reader to become confused.

·       You carry out studies to answer specific research questions. If your writing is unclear, people may have to guess at your methods, results and conclusions. And they may guess incorrectly, making all your hard work worthless.


This blog post, plus my Improving your academic writing guide (find it on the Resources page), will give you some helpful tips and guidance on improving your academic writing, especially for journals.  


One of the first things to think about is how academic writing is different to ‘normal’ writing.


Academic writing is more formal and has certain set rules. You need to agree to use these rules to be part of the publishing and academic processes. It is expected that you use a different style of writing for your academic work than you do for your emails, notes and presentations.  


But that said, just because academic writing is different to your ‘normal’ writing it doesn’t mean you should start using super long sentences and lots of old-fashioned language.


Good academic writing is clear, concise and well-constructed. This means:

·       using short sentences (aim for an average length around 17 words)

·       only one statement per sentence (long sentences with multiple ideas are often misunderstood)

·       using only very few adverbs (adverbs are words like quickly, well, badly)

·       not using contractions (e.g. don’t => do not, can’t => cannot) 

·       not using relative or subjective terms (e.g. don’t say “Drug usage is now higher.” – higher than what?).


There are more tips on what academic writing is (and isn’t!) in my downloadable guide.


Six quick academic article writing tips!

1.     Read your work aloud. It makes it much easier to spot errors and bad sentences. 

2.     Get feedback from friends, colleagues and professional editors before submitting your work to a journal.

3.     Check journal specifications carefully.

4.     Be clear on tenses. Use present for facts and hypothesis, past for finished studies and results.

5.     Use sub-headings.

6.     Use the Hemingway Editor www.hemingwayapp.com to check the readability of your sentences.


Using an editor

Working with an editor can help you make sure your report, journal article or grant application is looking good and error free. If your university or research institution doesn’t have an in-house editor, why not get in touch with me? (services@njball-services.com)


All quotes are obligation free and when possible, I offer discounted rates for researchers in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs).