Academic writing Writing

Writing Tips

This post is a collection of tips about good writing that I have used in classes over the years.  I hope you find them useful.

Academic Writing Is a Process of Entering an Ongoing Conversation

  • So you don’t just jump in, you try to situate your argument in the larger conversational arena.
  • Orienting the reader is the key, so the reader knows: why are you telling me this?
  • What do others say about the subject? What set you off on this issue?
  • Not all others, only the most prominent and salient examples, the ones most germane to the point you want to develop.
  • Then explain how your argument relates to theirs.
  • This is the essence of framing an argument, what you do in the opening paragraph or two of a paper.

Framing Questions for Analytical Writing

Whenever you set out to do analytical writing (a paper, proposal, dissertation, book), you need to use the following questions as a framework to guide you as you write.  An analytical text is effective if it is written in a manner that allows the reader to answer all four of these questions satisfactorily.

  1. What’s the point?  This is the analysis/interpretation issue: what is the author’s angle?
  2. Who says?  This is the validity issue:  On what (data, literature) are the claims based?
  3. What’s new?  This is the value-added issue:  What does the author contribute that we don’t already know?
  4. Who cares?  This is the significance issue, the most important issue of all, the one that subsumes all the others:  Is this work worth doing?  Is the text worth reading?  Does it contribute something important?


  • Trim the end
  • Shift peripheral ideas to the left
  • Shift new information to the right
  • Don’t step on your punchline
  • Read the sentence out loud; if it’s hard to say, it’s hard to read
  • Feel if the rhythm is right at the end
  • If you need to underline words to show their importance, revise the sentence to get the emphasis right without the crutch of punctuation
  • Topic at the start of the sentence and paragraph, stress at the end.

Summary about the Flow of a Sentence or Paragraph

  • Character                            Action                                     Result
  • Subject                                  Verb                                         Object
  • Topic                                                                                           Stress
  • Short, simple, familiar                                       Long, complex, new

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