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08/02/2012

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Marcus Arvan

The single best piece of advice I can think of is: "tell a simple, intuitive story.". Sounds obvious, I know, but it's actually very hard to do and when one does it it really transforms how effectively one's ideas come across.

My favorites are probably:

Elizabeth Anderson: just awesome, end of story.

David Schmidtz: keeps things as simple and intuitive as possible.

Ryle: same, and love his grudge against footnotes (though I don't follow it in the least)

David Morrow

Oh. Almost forgot. Here's my summary of her chapters, presented as evidence that the book isn't really worth your time. I did find her results from Chapter 2 to be interesting, but they won't improve anyone's writing.

1. Academic writing is often terrible. Sword decided to figure out why that was.

2. Sword analyzed 20 recent articles from each of ten different disciplines: medicine, evolutionary biology, computer science, higher education, psychology, anthropology, law, philosophy, history, and literary studies. She discovered that style varies significantly both within and between disciplines.

3. Academic writing guides agree on a few principles: write clearly and concisely; use short sentences; use plain English; be precise; use active verbs; tell a story. The guides disagree on other principles.

4. It's okay to use first person pronouns. Lots of people do it in all disciplines.

5. Sentences should use concrete nouns whenever possible. Avoid using abstraction nouns as the grammatical subject of a sentence. Subjects should be close to the main verb of a sentence. Don't clutter your sentences with too many adverbs, adjectives, or prepositional phrases. Minimize use of 'there', 'it', and forms of 'to be'.

6. You can make your article's titles both engaging and informative. They don't have to be boring.

7. Your opening sentence or paragraph should grab your reader's attention. To do this, you may need to deviate from disciplinary templates. The rest of your paper should hold the your reader's attention.

8. Even academic work can tell a story. People like stories.

9. Examples, anecdotes, case studies, fictional scenarios, figurative language, and allusions enliven texts.

10. Use jargon sparingly and wisely.

11. Think about the overall structure of your articles or books, and don't be afraid to deviate from standard disciplinary structures.

12. Different citation styles have different advantages and disadvantages. Some academics use footnotes and citations poorly.

13. Write clear, concise, informative, but lively abstracts. Explain complex ideas in clear language.

14. Be creative. One thing that spurs creativity is reading widely across disciplines.

15. Becoming a stylish writer requires using concrete language, making choices, and having courage.

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