On Writing Academically

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 3.50.09 PMBeing a strong writer is at the very foundation of the skills you will need when embarking on the lofty goal of completing your dissertation.  Why is it that you’ve made it this far in your academic career believing that you are a good writer only to have the Microsoft Word “Track Changes” function and your Chair clearly inform you otherwise?  Every time you open an attachment from your Chair, it looks like the combined lot of comments could make a separate proposal, not to mention set you back several weeks in your progress.


Don’t despair.  Writing academically at the doctoral level is a skill that even the best writers labor over draft after draft.  People are more accustomed to writing for business, creatively, or personal correspondence.  Even writing an effective Facebook post or an ad for Craigslist is an acquired skill, and you most likely have more familiarity with these everyday messages than academic journal content.  After reading enough academic journal articles, you may have noticed a pattern to the writing style.


To maintain an academic tone and writing style, keep these tips in mind before you submit that next draft to your Chair.  Don’t be surprised, however, at the comments in the margins and “Track Changes” you receive back.  Because your Chair is reading academic journals and proposals the way most of us are reading Facebook posts!  Which is a good thing.


  1. Stay away from vague expressions like “stuff”, “a lot”, or “things.”
  2. Don’t – do not – use abbreviations.  It doesn’t look smart.  Scholars do not use abbreviations.  Remember that cannot is one word.
  3. Do not use colloquial words or expressions.  For example, your work should use the word “child” instead of “kid”, unless your work is about young goats.
  4. Write only in the third person, and cite evidence for every assertion.
  5. Never begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction (“and”, “but”, “or”, “so”, or “because.”)
  6. Use longer, compound-complex sentences in favor of simple, short sentences.
  7. Do not use any form of the verb “get.”  People receive awards and interpret messages; find strong and more formal verbs.
  8. Avoid absolutes and hedge your statements and hypotheses with qualifiers like “probably”, “possibly”, “likely”, or “appears.”  Remain open-minded in your research.


Let us know any questions or comments!

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2 Responses to On Writing Academically

  1. Hi Jill, your instructions are very useful and clearly stated. However, I do not agree with the ‘write only in the third person’ and ‘use longer, compound-complex sentences in favor of simple, short sentences’. Quite an old fashioned point of view! Check the instructions to authors on the websites of the leading academic journals and find out how transparent and clear you are supposed to write nowadays.

    • Annemarie, Thanks for your posted comment. You are correct in that some, maybe many, journals request less formal, more transparent language but our mission at DissertationRx is to assist students seeking help with doctoral dissertations. Most doctoral and thesis manuals in the social sciences, especially, (in my experience) require the traditional APA format. It will be interesting to see if there are any significant changes in the upcoming 7th edition.

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