D. P. Dash

गहना कर्मणो गतिः (gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ) | କର୍ମର ଗତି ବଡ଼ ଗହନ ଅଟେ | complex are the ways of action (Gītā, chap. 4, ver. 17)

Professor D. P. Dash
research educator, academic editor, slow professor ...
professor.dpdash[at]gmail.com | WhatsApp +91 99378 28816

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tips on Academic Writing

1. Often, academic writing is a sincere, self-reflective, open-minded, evidential, and somewhat tempered engagement with an existing narrative or discourse. If your work amounts to such an engagement, you should clarify which narrative or discourse you are relating to and the specific novelty you are bringing into it. Additionally, it is important to clarify the purpose of your writing and the category of readers you intend to address.

2. Present your arguments fully. Providing in-text citations does not absolve you from your responsibility as author to present facts and arguments fully in order to make your case. Do assume that your readers are both intelligent and sceptical (i.e., they would not presuppose that a statement becomes true because some famous person said it!). As much as possible, go back to original sources (it is possible that the specific source you are using may have misrepresented the original idea).

3. Describe all specialist terms where these are first introduced in the text. Do not assume that your readers will understand all your specialist terms.

4. Avoid peacock terms (e.g., misleading expressions, unsupported claims, etc.). Follow a standard style manual, such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

5. Be selective in what you include—do not include such details which your intended readers will consider unnecessary.

6. Do not cite a source (article, book, etc.) which you have not read carefully. (Of course, you can use secondary citations, following the rules specified in the style manual you are following.)

7. Be careful when using a more definitive/conclusive language (e.g., "the greatest English novel," "there are four factors," "leads to," etc.); adopt a more verifiable/tentative language to indicate reasonable doubt (e.g., "listed in the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels," "there are four possible factors," "can [or appears to] lead to," etc.).

8. When citing another author, pay attention to the specific context in which he/she was working/writing. You should be aware of the purpose of their specific work which you are citing (i.e., their problem context), their background circumstances/constraints/priorities, the methods used by them, and the specific audience(s) whom they were addressing. Without exercising this care, you run the risk of misrepresenting their work/ideas and citing them out of context.

9. Avoid methodological pronouncements (e.g., "We will use the hermeneutic method"). Present these as methodological decisions (or choices) you have made after considering the nature of the questions to be answered, the circumstances of the research, alternative methods available and their relative merits and demerits, and what risks and errors you are willing to tolerate.

10. Avoid personification of inanimate things (avoid: "This study intends to . . ."; better alternative: "In this study, the researcher intends to . . ." or "In this study, I intend to . . .")

11. Use a carefully designed text hierarchy (i.e., a logically ordered set of sections, subsections, and paragraphs) to present your text in a structured fashion. Make the section and subsection headings as clear and expressive as possible (e.g., instead of "3. Case #1," use "3. Case #1. The Researcher's Dilemma"). This improves readability and facilitates comprehension. Use linking paragraphs to achieve a smooth flow of ideas from paragraph to paragraph, and section to section.

12. Set off long quotations (40 words or more) from the text by indenting; sometimes shorter quotations may also be indented in this fashion to improve readability and add emphasis. Indicate page numbers for all direct quotes. Caution: Do not burden your text with too many quotations. Use italics for technical terms/concepts, non-English expressions, titles of books and creative works, and where the use of italics is allowed, as per the style manual you are following.


Although here I focus on the technicalities of academic writing, the act of writing is clearly much more than merely following rules and writing readable prose. As Kiriakos and Tienari have suggested recently, there is a need to speak of "academic writing as love" (Kiriakos & Tienari, 2018), even if it disrupts the metrics-driven mentality of academic administrators.

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