The pen is mightier than the sword. That said, practice makes perfect so read these 5 quotes for academic writing and see if there’s an aphorism for you…By Stephen Soanes
These 10 platitudes may also have the power to transform your academic writing. Everyone has their own style and preferences, so not all will apply to you. Some may, however, so select the hackneyed phrases that speak to you. Some might just have a ring of truth…
‘Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today’ (Mark Twain, Galaxy Magazine, July 1870)
We all know how easy it can be to put off writing, whether it’s a case of Grand Time Theft Auto or procrasti-baking.
To crack this one you just need to schedule in time for the fun stuff. Set a time each day for the PS4 and pastry-making, as well as the work. That way you can be sure you’ll end up with a high score, magnificent mille-feuilles, and a decent word count.
‘Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed’ (Francis Bacon, Essays Of Studies, 1597)
…So said a man whose very name is enough to make us non-veggies hungry.
Some books will contain a revolutionary idea and merit reading from cover to cover. Often, though, it can be enough to selectively read the most relevant chapters.
In another case you may only need a taste of smaller parts, even just ‘Table 2.4: A taste analysis of bacon and mille-feuilles’. Read in proportion to the needs of your analysis.
‘I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know where to find it’ (attrib. various, including Sophonisisba Beckinridge and Albert Einstein)
Get organised without letting the organisation take over.
The important thing is to know where you can find the answers (e.gs, data, examples, quotes) when your academic argument requires it.
Keep accurate notes while preparing, so you clearly identify authors, arguments, quotes, and publication details. That way, you will always be able to find everything you need when it comes down to the writing.
The first step is always the hardest (unknown)
Surely with so much prep, the writing up is just a formality?
The steadily blinking cursor so often tells us otherwise. Because the first line is often the hardest, just start at the point that most interests you in the moment.
Are you most intrigued by the origins of vegetarianism, in your essay on obesity in popular culture? Start here and the first step will probably be easier, because it’s something that particularly intrigues you.
‘A good style must first be clear’ (Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric, 350 B.C.E.)
…So said the master of all rhetoricians.
Simple sentences can convey complex ideas. Ideally keep the language straightforward, keep acronyms to a minimum and explain any esoteric concepts or terms.
Conversely, complex sentences can obscure the nuances of an otherwise thoughtful argument. Do you have a penchant for semi-colons; or a predilection for commas, or – perhaps – other punctuation? This one might particularly apply to you.
Ideally, each sentence should communicate a single idea.
Share any quotes that you think apply to academic writing in the comments!
Image: By Copy of Lysippus (Jastrow (2006)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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