4 Principles of “Good” Academic Writing

All scholarly genres are not the same. Let’s dismiss at the outset the fantasy that a dissertation is basically no different than a monograph. Both require many of the same skills, but the variables of voice, audience, and purpose diverge radically. To offer only one example, the immediate audience for approval of a dissertation is one’s supervising committee of three or four professors, whereas in the case of a publishable book it encompasses a more numerous and far-flung cohort of specialists, not all of whom will be receptive to your project’s conceptual orientation.

That variance admitted, certain qualities are bedrock in all academic prose. At the risk of reducing them to a perhaps familiar litany, I’ll enumerate four of them.


Ditch the gobbledygook

The sterility of “dissertationese” is deadly. This caveat includes the penchant for anthropomophisms and jargon, absolutely lethal when combined (e.g., “My study argues that the essentialism of this author’s reconstructionist agenda, which defies the strictures of Edward Said’s cautions about the phenomenon of Orientalism, unintentionally reverses the subaltern’s plight in neocolonialist and post-Ghandi India, thereby inscribing a rhetoric of retrenchment”). No one communicates this way. You shouldn’t indulge in such gobbledygook either. If you’re not sure of your work, seek the assistance of a good dissertation editing service.

Don’t depersonalize yourself

Avoid like cholera the crippling poses of depersonalization. Such artifices as “The author proposes,” unfortunately rampant in the social sciences, and its disguise through clumsy use of subjunctive verbs and the passive voice always raise red flags. The first-person pronoun “I” is permissible, if not overused, in scholarly discourse. Don’t try to efface yourself as author by becoming a textual cipher or ghost.

Be precise, engaging, and direct

Nothing is more annoying than academic writing that proclaims repeatedly, as though it were a badge of honor, its intention to “tease out” or “problematize” its subject. Cut to the chase. While doing so, however, try to project a lively style that avoids a mind-numbing repetition of key words. Listen to your diction. Along the same lines, don’t lard your introductory paragraphs with extensive quotations. Apprise your readers of a significant gap in the relevant field of research and take it from there.

Conclude Succinctly

Wrap it all up with a precise but succinct conclusion. Nothing is more wearisome than a ploddingly summative coda that rehashes already established points. Draw out genuine inferences from what you have demonstrated rather than resorting to the lame formula that “Further research is needed.” Moreover, as we urge entry-level students, be sure to answer the “So what?” question. In this as in all dimensions of effective academic discourse, eschew the narrowly conventional or prescriptive.

It all comes down to what we look for in any piece of well written exposition: clarity, concision, and lucidity. The fogs of trendy scholarly fashion notwithstanding, I doubt whether these modest proposals will steer any prospective academician wrong. If you’re not absolutely certain of your work’s quality, seek the help of a good dissertation editor.