The Style and Craft of Academic Writing
The Graduate Writing CenterFebruary 2013NicoletteHylanMatthew Price
The Graduate Writing Center
One-on-One ConsultationsAll types of writing, all stages of the processHours for the coming week posted Friday, 4PMTo schedule, see the Center’s website:https://composition.la.psu/resources /graduate-writing-center/GWCFreelance Editing Services Available Upon Request
To introduce stylistic concerns on three levels: paper, paragraph, and sentenceTo give you tools and solutions to address common pitfalls in academic writingTo facilitate discussion of sample mistakes among all disciplines/fields present at the workshop
Matching Organizational Principles (Logic) to your FieldCommon expectations for assignment format?How do writers in the field draw the reader in?What are the citational expectations for the field?The Solution: Read more examples, study their stylistic conventions!Example questions to ask: How does X organize its sections? What serves as the introduction? What makes it interesting/memorable/compelling?
The Challenges of Signposting
Signposting: the use of explicit explanations of where the paper is/where it’s going (clarifying paper’slogic)Authorial contract (Promise):“In this paper, I aim to (contend/argue/posit)…“This study will examine…”Don’t overuse the personal—know your field’s conventionsTextual Features:“In order to understand A, one must first analyze B”Contrary to point A, I would like to suggest point B.”“This study can now move from A to B…”
Effective paragraphs are:Well-developedThey avoid making assumptions.CohesiveTheir ideas connect to one another (transitions).CoherentThey clarify the logic of the paragraph (topic sentences).
A topic sentence accomplishes the following tasks:Expresses a claim (not a fact) that supports the thesisIndicates the content of the paragraph (central idea)Creates a transition from the previous paragraphMaintain proper pacing(long/short sentences, etc.).Ex: “Although previous studies of weather patterns have focused on rain and wind, this study proposes an analysis of tornado formation.”Ex: “However, these studies have neglected the importance of tornado formation.”Ex (Avoid): “Tornado formation is a major problem.”
Transitional Words and Phrases
Transitions signal relationbetweensentences, paragraphsKnow relationship between the sentences/paragraphs!Addition (furthermore, more importantly, additionally, etc.)Contrast (however, conversely, on the other hand, etc.)Time Order (previously, subsequently, simultaneously, etc.)Avoid multiple transitions/introductory clauses“On the other hand, however, although the study…”“Furthermore, where the study subsequently did…”Avoid beginning with coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
Citations/references allude to previous work or valuable sources.Know the conventions of your field.Style Guides, Published Work, Etc.Follow the guidelines for particular journals when publishingKnow how and when to use references, quotations.Avoid quoting to start/end paragraph.Work quotes into your own sentences.
Effective sentences will:Use activevoice and clear, strong verbs.Build abalancedhierarchy of ideas.Use punctuation and quotes effectively.Remember: The goal is to make your reader understand (and be persuaded by) your prose.
Quotes must be worked into your sentences.Ex: According to John Smith in his recent study, weather patterns “dictate the very fabric of our lives.”Ex: Many New Yorkers like Jane Smith found their lives forever altered by the “Snowpacalypse: “We had no power, no food, no hope, really, for nearly a week.” Her testimony was a common refrain among the community.Ex (Avoid): Weather is “dictates the very fabric of our lives” in Smith’s study.Studies must be cited according to field’s conventions.Ex: Smith (2001) proposes a new mode of weather analysis.Ex (Avoid): Smith (2001) proposes a “new” mode of “weather analysis.”
Active Voice versus Passive Voice
The active voice relates subjects to verbs explicitly(“I made a mistake”). The passive voice uses a “to be” verb and a past participle (“Mistakes were made”).Use active language, unless passive voice is necessary for cohesion, rhythm, ordisciplinary conventions.Active Voice:Captain Ahab’s monomania drives him to pursue Moby Dick.Previous studies demonstrate the importance of weather analysis.Passive Voice:Moby Dick is pursued by the monomaniacal Captain Ahab.The importance of weather analysis has been demonstrated.
Verb Choice and Usage
Verbs often determine the clarity/descriptiveness of academic writing. You should:Avoid weak linking verbs.Avoid: Psychologyisa field with a number of subfields involving child and human development.Ex: Psychology has a number of subfields involving child and human development.Choose more precise verbs to shorten sentences.Avoid: This studyis involved in asking whether we should continueour current national economic policies.Ex: This studyinterrogatesour current economic policies.
Balancing Subject, Verb, & Object
Typical English sentences maintain a subject-verb-object order. Strongsentenceswill:Avoidlengthysubjects.Avoidoverusing –ingverbs.Ex (Avoid): Going to the store after working out to buy Gatorade and something to eat is my favorite part of it.Ex: I like going to the store after working out.Ex: (Avoid): Measuring temperature correctly is imperative for designing weather-related studies.
Using Clauses and Appositives
If you have an introductory clause, remember that the main (independent) clause is still most important.Ex: Although weather-related analyses continue to grow, new tools and methods need to be implemented.Ex (Avoid): Although weather-related analyses continue to grow and new methods need to be implemented and studied for long-term value, it is not enough.Anappositiveis a noun or noun phrase placed next to another word/phrase to identify or rename it. Usually, the second one is the longer one.Ex: Jim, my friend from home, is coming to town.Ex (Avoid): My friend from home who was in my wedding, Jim, is coming to town.
Persuading through Punctuation
By using punctuation strategically, you can make complicated sentences more manageable for your readers. It influences emphasis, pacing, and flow.A colon introduces a list or emphasizes what comes afterEx: The study opened three new fields: A, B, C….Ex: The results suggest a shocking conclusion: we have yet to fully determine the cause of tornadoes.A semicolon stands between two independent clausesEx:Great Expectationsends with a death;David Copperfieldbegins with one.Avoid:Great Expectationsends with a death; contrary toDavid Copperfield.
The long dash (em-dash) allows you to interject in your own sentence—perfect for making little additions.Ex: Johnson (2001)—a study on bat migration patterns—remains a pivotal study for animal researchers.Ex: These studies remain underappreciated—even when we acknowledge their frequent citation in other works.Parentheses work similarly to the long dash (extra info).Ex: Johnson’s study (which was awarded with a national grant) remains a pivotal one for animal researchers.Remember: Multiple punctuation marks can stand in the same place. Your choice depends on your persuasive purpose!