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We’re in the middle of AcWriMo 2013! No, it’s not a music festival or a pandemic (unless you consider academic writing a disease).

AcWriMo is short for Academic Writing Month, a month-long event held each November that encourages academic writers, from undergrads to professors, to zero in on better and more efficient writing, share their progress, and participate in a support network with fellow writers.

AcWriMo has six guidelines:

  1. Decide on your goal.  Whether it’s a certain word count, number of hours devoted to writing, or number of projects completed, it has to be a challenge for you.
  2. Declare your goal. AcWriMo provides a group accountability spreadsheet to track your commitment.
  3. Figure out your strategy. This could involve reading background material on best practices and blocking off time in your schedule for writing.
  4. Share your progress, whether you use your own blog, AcWriMo’s Twitter or Facebook discussions, or notes in the Accountability Spreadsheet to do so.
  5. Don’t slack off.  Self-explanatory!
  6. Declare your results. Sharing results and observations is the key activity that benefits the group as a whole, whether you reach your individual goal or not.

Focusing on writing means thinking critically about habits and practices that could be tweaked and sharpened for more concise communication.

Dr. James Bednar of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics offers a list of tips for academic and other formal writing. He notes that, “unlike casual conversation or emails to friends, formal writing needs to be clear, unambiguous, literal, and well structured.”

-- Books, chapters, sections, and paragraphs should all use the same structure: introduce the main idea, justify or expand on it, and then state your conclusion. In other words, tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.

-- Group related thoughts together and provide transitions between topics to create a linear flow that assists the reader in following your ideas. Phrases such as “However,…”, “As a result,…”, and “In comparison,…” signal a change in topic, to allow the reader to easily make the transition along with you.

-- Use imperative voice (such as “Recall that…”) sparingly, as it may come across as rude in a scientific paper.

-- View minimum page requirements as a guideline to ensure the proper depth—not as an excuse for redundancy. Dr. Bednar points out that “in the academic community, your ability to write concisely is far more important than your ability to fill up a page with text.”

-- Use section titles that tell the reader exactly what they will get. Commonly used section titles are:

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Methods (for an experimental paper) or Architecture (for a modeling paper)
  • Discussion
  • Future Work (often merged with Discussion)
  • Conclusion

-- Make sure that your most important points are prominent in both the introduction and conclusion. Some readers will skim only those sections, and others will best remember the beginning and end, so make them strong.

Strong academic writing is a skill that develops over time, with lots of effort and practice. We’d be interested in hearing about your own efforts to improve, and what you’ve learned.

19 Nov 2013 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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