Elegant data and ideas deserve elegant expression, argues Helen Sword in this lively guide to academic writing. For scholars frustrated with disciplinary conventions, and for specialists who want to write for a larger audience but are unsure where to begin, here are imaginative, practical, witty pointers that show how to make articles and books a pleasure to read—and to write.
Dispelling the myth that you cannot get published without writing wordy, impersonal prose, Sword shows how much journal editors and readers welcome work that avoids excessive jargon and abstraction. Sword’s analysis of more than a thousand peer-reviewed articles across a wide range of fields documents a startling gap between how academics typically describe good writing and the turgid prose they regularly produce.
Stylish Academic Writing showcases a range of scholars from the sciences, humanities, and social sciences who write with vividness and panache. Individual chapters take up specific elements of style, such as titles and headings, chapter openings, and structure, and close with examples of transferable techniques that any writer can master.
Sword has produced a sleek and, yes, nicely written guide based on the principle that ‘elegant ideas deserve elegant expression.’ Aiming to be useful to writers in almost any discipline, Sword defines stylish academic writing in the broadest terms.
[Sword’s] counsel is wise, efficiently written, and infectiously winsome. She advises academic writers to use anecdotes and carefully chosen metaphors, and to write opening sentences that encourage readers to keep reading. She has drawn from a massive array of academic articles (more than a thousand) and given particular attention to authors known for writing readable material… Helen Sword’s book contains much wisdom… Stylish Academic Writing contains superb counsel for academics who want to write with greater clarity and skill.
Stylish Academic Writing offers pithy, thoughtful, and concrete guidance on ways to improve writing about scholarly research (or anything else for that matter) so that it is engaging to others… Teachers of writing at the college level will want to read the book so as to help stem the tide of overly formal, dry-as-dust term papers that are still standard fare in many classes.
Helen Sword’s brilliant little volume is in many respects the ideal companion to Stephen J. Pyne’s equally brilliant Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Non-Fiction (Harvard) and equally deserving of a wider audience than its target group, which in this case comprises those academics who either write or have to put up with ‘impersonal, stodgy, jargon-laden, abstract prose.’ As Sword writes: ‘Elegant data and ideas deserve elegant expression.’ Featuring oodles of ideas and tips backed up by lashings of original research and bursting to the seams with case studies exemplifying the good, the bad and the ugly of academic writing (‘via a symbolic interactionist lens’ is one such monster), this is a must for writers in any discipline.
[A] practical and useful book.
Surely it’s time to declare war on terms such as postsemioticist, flip-flop gates and feature theory, terms Orwell would surely have included under his definition of obscurity as a cuttlefish defensively spurting out ink. Anyway, let’s hope this excellent new book is a sign that things are about to change.
Stylish Academic Writing challenges academics to make their work more consequential by communicating more clearly—and provides helpful hints and models for doing so. This is a well-crafted and valuable contribution that combines substance with style.
As an academic—staff or student—wouldn’t you like people to enjoy reading your work? In Stylish Academic Writing, Helen Sword offers dozens of suggestions as to how you might improve your work, get your argument across in a more appealing manner, and attract more readers. We can all learn something useful from this book, and it won’t involve a lot of effort.
Occasionally the tedium of reading an unending supply of poorly written manuscripts is upended by a cogent, well-written, piece. Helen Sword details why this is so prevalent and offers sage advice to beginning—and even senior—researchers on how to avoid dulling academic prose. I take her advice to heart. I hope to change my numerous bad habits and I dearly wish those submitting manuscripts would read this book.
It’s a weird and complicated experience, picking up a book that covers familiar territory and realizing it’s better than what you might have written. That was the case when I first read Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing.
- 240 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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