Say it once, say it right: 7 strategies to improve your academic writing

As a researcher you may well find yourself looking at a piece of writing, whether it is an article, or book chapter, that you just can’t seem to get “right”. When faced with this dilemma there are several strategies recommended by Patrick Dunleavy, Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics (LSE).

  1. Do one thing well: Keep it simple, do not try to over complicate. Very often writing problems are caused by trying to do too much in a few pages.
  2. Flatten the structure: If you have two or three tiers of sub-headings in a hierarchy, make it simpler.
  3. Say it once, say it right: Simple, big block structures are generally best. Complex structures, with points developed recursively in frequent discrete iterations, are easier to mess up.
  4. Try paragraph re-planning: The core idea is to start with your finished text and then to resurface a detailed, paragraph-by-paragraph structure from that.
  5. Make the motivation clearer: Give readers a stronger sense of why the research has been done, why the topic is salient and how the findings illuminate important problems.
  6. Strengthen the argument tokens: At research level every paragraph draws on ‘tokens’ to sustain the case being made . People often do a literature search at an early stage of their research, when they only understand their topic rather poorly — but then neglect to do a ‘top up’ search just before submission, when they are likely to be much better at recognizing material that is relevant.
  7. Improve the data and the exhibits: Design effective exhibits that display in a consistent way and follow good design principles. Make sure you provide full and accurate labeling of what is being shown, and that the data being reported are in a form that will matter to readers

In his blog post on the LSE blog he outlines in more detail how to approach each of these strategies, click here to read the full post.

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