Tips for Improving Academic Writing

Academic writing, like any skill, can be improved with practise and discipline. Mastery of content is only half the battle where academic writing is concerned. The ability to showcase your knowledge in written form is essential. Here are our tips for improving your academic writing.

Subscribe to an Online Dictionary

One of the simplest ways to improve your writing is to ensure you spell correctly and use language appropriate to the context of an academic piece. This means using a dictionary. We recommend subscribing to the Macquarie Dictionary Online. This is the most commonly used and recommended dictionary for Australian universities and government.

Using an online thesaurus, in conjunction with a dictionary, can help you expand your vocabulary and experiment with new words. Our recommendation to use a thesaurus comes with a caution: don’t overdo it. You might remember the scene from the 90s sitcom Friends where Joey was asked to write a letter of recommendation for Monica and Chandler. In an effort to sound sophisticated, Joey turned ‘They’re warm, nice people with big hearts’ into ‘They’re human prepossessing Homo sapiens with full-sized aortic pumps’.

Read for Pleasure

Citing Steven Krashen’s The Power of Reading, Clark and Rumbold (2006) assert that reading for pleasure has many benefits. Individuals who read for pleasure acquire literacy skills ‘without conscious effort’, including a broad vocabulary, ‘the ability to understand and use complex grammatical constructions’ and ‘develop a good writing style’ (6).

Reading for pleasure exposes us to language: its usage, its construction and its manipulation for effect. In addition to the enhancing reciprocal relationship between reading and writing, there is evidence that reading for pleasure also improves general knowledge, broadens understanding of other cultures and provides insight into human nature (Clark and Rumbold, 2006, 10).

Consider joining a local book club or online community of readers, such as Goodreads. Plenty of reading challenges are published online that can provide you with some recommendations.

Familiarise Yourself with Seminal Works of Your Discipline

A seminal work is an influential text within your discipline. For example, Freud’s 1900 The Interpretation of Dreams is a seminal text within the field of psychoanalysis. Bill Rogers is a respected author in the field of educational behaviour management. Geoffrey Blainey is a renowned Australian historian.

Learn the names of important authors and texts within your field and read them. Familiarising yourself with terminology and ideas pertaining to your subject area will improve how you write about content.

Use Apps and Social Media

Consider downloading a ‘Word of the Day’ app to prompt you to learn new words and then use them in context. Or perhaps follow organisations such as Grammarly or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary on Twitter or Facebook? These organisations daily publish fun facts, definitions, etymologies and a word of the day.

It’s all about exposure to language. The more you engage with language, the more competent and adept you will become at manipulating it for effect.

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