5 myths around academic writing debunked

English lessons UtrechtIf you can stop believing in these myths, you’ll make writing that paper much easier on yourself.

5. I need to use big words.

Generally, you’ll already have quite a few big words to describe the specifics of your research. Since you can’t change those words, you should try to balance it out with shorter, simpler words in between. The most common example is “use” instead of “utilize”. Using shorter, more normal works gives your reader a chance to catch her breath!

4. Passive voice makes me look objective.

Passive voice does not have the power to cause objectivity. Passive voice takes away the agent of an action, that’s all. Sometimes the passive voice can help you (e.g. when discussing methods or processes), but other times it can hinder you (e.g. when drawing conclusions). If used incorrectly, it can actually make you look like you are not taking responsibility for the conclusions you’ve drawn or decisions you’ve made.

3. I need to have a complicated sentence structure because my topic is complicated.

Actually, the more complicated the topic, the more simple and straightforward the structure should be. A complicated structure blocks your message because you give your reader two things to decipher (structure and message) rather than just one. Think of your structure as something that the reader shouldn’t notice at all. Focus on your message.

2. I should use a thesaurus to avoid repeating any words.

On the contrary, you will need to repeat certain words exactly and consistently to avoid confusing your reader. If you’re writing about type 2 diabetes, for example, and you call one group “the obese group” and then later call that same group “overweight,” your reader will wonder whether you’re talking about the same group. Remember that rarely do you find two words that are exact synonyms. If you change it up, have a reason, don’t just change the words because you think you are using them too frequently.

1. The only way my article will get accepted is if I write the way everyone else is writing, even if I don’t like it myself.

Have the courage to write an article you would want to read. Don’t use words you wouldn’t normally use when talking about your research. If you read a sentence and can’t understand it yourself, then no one else can either. Publishers and journals want you to write clearly, concisely and actively; they don’t want jargon-laden, noun-heavy paragraph-long sentences.

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2 Comments

Filed under Writing in English

2 responses to “5 myths around academic writing debunked

  1. Qingyi

    Thanks a lot, Taylor! Great tips to recall the techniques we learned from your classes!

  2. I loved this article. I found some refreshing views on writing, for instance the use of synonyms. One thing, though, honestly, why are you numbering backwards? It wasn’t clear to me what you’d like me to consider your number one point.

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