Academic writing

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Writing a thesis, a research report, or an academic paper can be a daunting task, especially for those in the early phases of their academic education and career (but also for those more advanced!). Fortunately, several colleagues have shared their experiences and offer guidance in excellent resources that you find briefly described and referenced below.

General structure: what goes where?

  • If you are writing an empirical paper that lends itself to the traditional IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) format, you may find the Writing in Boxes for Scientific Journals eLearning Module helpful. It takes you by the hand on a step-by-step trip to writing your article by filling boxes.
  • Giorgios Kallis has produced a great resource on How to Write an Academic Paper, including guidance on how to respond to reviewer comments. 
  • The University of Southern California offers a Writing Guide that walks readers through the process of writing a social sciences research paper with detailed information on all steps/sections.
  • Writing for Research has published a Brief Summary of Guidance on how to structure and write academic papers with some nice reflections on different types of structure.
  • Joern Fischer’s blog “Writing a journal article” is a really useful resource to improve your academic writing. It is not just useful for journal articles, but also for term papers, project reports and other types of academic writing.

Advice on writing specific sections

Writing process

  • Reverse outlining: a great technique to organize your paper’s narrative and make sure that what you write contributes succinctly to your research question. Also helpful as a technique to summarize papers you read and unpack how they organize main thoughts.
  • Revising papers: Papers are written in multiple iterations: phases of revision are critical to improving the quality of the writing. @Writing for research offers seven very useful strategies to help improve a problematic or unsatisfactory piece of academic writing.
  • The Uneven U: this is a helpful technique to write paragraphs that contain a single idea. The trick is to navigate levels of abstractness/concreteness. You start with a fairly high level of abstraction (general problem), become concrete, and end with a big-picture summary.

Language, style, and logics

  • If you prefer a guided and tutorial-style approach to improving your writing, the Craft of Scientific Writing project by Michael Alley from Penn State and Virginia Tech is an excellent resource to recommend. It has several few-minute clips on all phases of a writing project, from structuring a paper to word choice to presenting at conferences.  
  • The Logical Fallacy website is an entertaining resource that you can use to identify and avoid logical incoherence and fallacies that should have no place in academic writing.

Apps, hacks, tools

  • Looking for the right phrase to indicate caution, describe a trend, or transition between different parts of your paper? The Academic Phrase Bank, hosted by the University of Manchester, is a great resource to consult when writing your next academic paper.
  • The Hemingway app is a useful tool to simplify language and avoid nominal style.
  • Quillbot is a tool that you can use as an add-on in your browser. It comes with a free version that is already useful to simplify complex sentences.
  • Writer’s Diet is a free tool that can be integrated into MS Word to help with breaking down complex sentences and smoothen prose.

General resources

  • The OpenAcademics Community offers a wide spectrum of helpful resources and infographics on different aspects of academic writing. See the screenshot below. You can also follow them on Twitter under @OpenAcademics.

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