I’ve been doing a lot of reviewing of others’ writing at various levels of the academic ranks (mostly graduate students but also other academics) and for various purposes (for courses and theses, but also for grants, tenure/promotion files, and article reviews). Some of the things I’ve been reading get me all excited to think about what new research questions are going to be answered and others, not so much. As a matter of fact, I have an article review due today that I’m putting off because I’m finding the writing to be annoying.
No one begins life as a good writer, we all need to learn how to do it. Some of us have more natural talent than others but I do believe that at least clear writing can be learned. I do not believe that being a good writer makes a person better or smarter or any of the abstract concepts we use to evaluate our senses of selves. But, as a reader, poor writing can be frustrating to slog through and extremely time consuming. My number one piece of advice to anyone writing anything (especially academic writing) is that writing should be harder for the writer than for the reader.
I was chatting with some colleagues the other day about how much time it can take to read our students’ work when it’s unclearly written. As we were brainstorming how best to effectively use our limited time and resources while also supporting and teaching our students, one suggested that a checklist would be handy, like the rubrics some of us use for grading papers in classes. I took the conversation to heart and started to look at all kinds of advice I was finding from various university writing centers. No writing is ever perfect (nor is that a possible goal) but there are some consistent general guidelines that I read across all of these guides.
So, drawing from those sources (see my list at the bottom of this page) and rubrics I’ve used in past courses, I came up with the following checklist. I’m planning to use it to assess the article I’m supposed to be reviewing right now. This list is likely incomplete (I’d love to see more tips in the comments! maybe starting with the overuse of exclamation marks!) and I know that I do not always follow all of these rules (ESPECIALLY on this blog!) but I’d recommend that before hitting send on any submission (be it an article, a thesis proposal, or a course paper) that you can confidently tick yes to all of the appropriate boxes.
Sociomama’s Checklist for Good Academic Writing (at least for Sociologists)
References/Other places to go to for help/suggestions/how-to:
University of Ottawa Student Academic Success Services: http://sass.uottawa.ca/en/writing/resources
- Signal Phrases https://sass.uottawa.ca/sites/sass.uottawa.ca/files/awhc-signal-phrases.pdf
- Establishing the Thesis: https://sass.uottawa.ca/sites/sass.uottawa.ca/files/awhc-planning-the-paper-establishing-the-thesis.pdf
- Research Proposal: https://sass.uottawa.ca/sites/sass.uottawa.ca/files/awhc-research-proposal.pdf
- Thesis or Memoir: https://sass.uottawa.ca/sites/sass.uottawa.ca/files/awhc-thesis-memoir.pdf
University of Ottawa Faculty of Graduate Studies Website Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.uottawa.ca/graduate-studies/students/theses/toolbox/frequently-asked-questions
“Writing Tips for Ph. D. Students” by John H. Cochrane: http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/john.cochrane/teaching/papers/phd_paper_writing.pdf
Acadia University Writing Centre – Writing Tips and Resources https://writingcentre.acadiau.ca/resources-for-writers.html (see especially the files on Essay Writing)
The University of Sydney Learning Centre – “What is the difference between descriptive, analytical, persuasive and critical writing?” http://sydney.edu.au/stuserv/learning_centre/help/analysing/an_distinguishTypes.shtml
Simon Fraser University Library
- “Academic writing: What is a literature review?” https://www.lib.sfu.ca/about/branches-depts/slc/writing/assignments/lit-review
- “Research Commons: Graduate writing resources” https://www.lib.sfu.ca/about/branches-depts/rc/writing/graduate-writing-resources