Writing a good thesis or dissertation entails much more than the technical aspects of academic writing. It also means being very aware of language and knowing how to use it to your best advantage. This page provides simple writing tips for cleaner, clearer writing, and is updated regularly. These tips will improve your writing skills considerably.
Know what you want to say before you write
It may seem blindingly obvious that you should know what you want to say before you write a sentence. However, many people start writing a sentence with several thoughts in their mind at the same time. Those thoughts then end up in sentences that are jumbled and their meaning unclear. When you are writing, focus on one point you want to make, get it down, and go on to the next sentence. Your sentences will be far clearer as a result.
Split up your long sentences
Very often, the problem with long sentences is that they contain too much. They can be a mishmash of several thoughts, with one idea running into the next. Long sentences can have several commas and semi-colons that allows the sentence to run…and run. A handy way to avoid such clunky writing is to split up your sentences, making just one or two points before the full stop. If you do this, your sentences will be shorter, clearer and more readable.
Don’t wait for inspiration
When it comes to writing, there is a widely-held myth about inspiration. It goes something like this: wait till the mood hits, until that mysterious something outside yourself kicks in. The American writer Jack London offered some very good advice about this combination of procrastination and wishful thinking: ‘You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’
So when you’re writing something, whether it be a thesis or a piece of business writing, a college essay or a press release, don’t ever wait for inspiration; it is out there, waiting for you.
Be active, not passive
As reality increasingly resembles his fictional vision, George Orwell is more topical than ever. Orwell’s novel 1984 predicted an all-watching, all-seeing authority that was aware of our every move. But with the advent of surveillance capitalism, it is not so much Big Brother but Big Data that we need to be wary of, given how tech giants have access to our most intimate secrets. From the websites we visit to the apps we use, what we say in our emails and instant messages to what we buy online, sometimes it seems as if we are uploading our very souls.
Orwell is less famous for Politics and the English language, his treatise on writing that contains a wealth of writing tips. According to Orwell, “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly.” Orwell memorably describes bad writing, poorly constructed sentences, stale imagery and lack of precision as “avoidable ugliness.”
For the sake of better writing, one of the things he advises is: “Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.” Why write, for example, “the writing services were provided by me” when instead you can simply write: “I provided the writing services”? So make sure to opt for cleaner, clearer sentences by being active rather than passive.
Choose simple words in academic writing
One of the most common tendencies in academic writing is to use words or phrases that seem formal and impressively smart, but just end up confusing the reader. High-maintenance words and expressions do not make you sound smarter, just boring and pretentious.
They also cost you more money when you hire a professional who provides writing services to ‘proofread’ what you have written, and (s)he has to spend a lot of time rewriting most of it to make it more readable.
One of the best writing tips is that good writing is simple writing. So opt for short words instead of long, and more familiar words to more formal ones. For example, avoid using expressions such as “applicable” when you can just say ‘relevant.” Forget using “at the present moment” when you can simply use “now” or “currently.” And don’t bother with “supplementary” when you can use “extra” instead.
Go with the flow
It is easy to become so fixated on writing your project (and even bogged down by writing tips) that you constantly interrupt the flow to check that everything you have written in the previous few sentences is word perfect. This can be not only an exhausting endeavour, but also one that is self-defeating. There are two impulses when writing: the creative impulse and the critical one. The writing effort is a perpetual tug-of-war between these two voices, and creativity and self-criticism can often clash.
The trick when writing is to let it flow, ignoring the loud background noises of hesitation and self-doubt. It will make your writing far less difficult to do. When you’re on a roll, keep the momentum going. You can always go back at a later date to iron out the creases. In the meantime, just go with the flow!