Read: Stylish Academic Writing

This is the kind of book I should not be reading when I have to grade students’ essays.

Helen Sword discusses several different stylistic elements of academic writing, from the choice of words and titles, crafting sentences and selecting a structure that supports the author’s intent.

She introduces her work with some original research, showing that the standard structure and choice of perspective, tone, and language may not actually be the (only) standard. More importantly, the perceived standard may quite often be a poor choice – given the available alternatives.

An interesting observation is the more personal approach in the (hard) sciences: “I discovered” versus the objectifying, impersonal approach in the humanities and social sciences: “This article argues”. Do social scientists really need to try so hard to sound like stereotypical academics?

The book is sprinkled with examples of good writing from different disciplines. Unfortunately, as good as these examples are to illustrate the various styles of spirited writing, clear language, and supporting structures they are also constantly interrupting the flow of the book itself. They are a bad example of a choice of structure.

Stylish Academic Writing is not a guidebook. It’s a research article. It’s a plea for making bolder choices. It’s a reminder that there are choices.

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