Achieving Good Style in Academic and Professional Writing

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Overview

Achieving good style in academic writing is an important skill to develop while you are at university. It will help you to ensure that your written work is clear, concise, and accurate, which in turn will help you to achieve good marks in your assessments. Developing a good style of writing will also help you to undertake writing effectively in a professional context.

You may be used to reading texts for their content, but may be less used to examining how they work in terms of the language and punctuation used. Thinking about grammar may make you anxious, as it does some people. You may have memories of struggling to understand, or even remember, different grammatical terms. Alternatively, you may not have learned grammar at school because you were expected to absorb how words, phrases, and punctuation marks fitted together unconsciously through your own reading experiences. While this Skill touches on grammar a little, you will not be expected to learn about overly complicated concepts, so please do not worry. You will be focusing on topics that will help you directly in relation to your writing.

Writing style is not simply a case of being right or wrong, but of developing a sense of what is, or is not, appropriate for the piece of writing that you are working on and the context in which you are writing. This Skill is developed to help you to understand and use key elements of a good writing style. It focuses on three main areas: sentence length, punctuation, and word choice. To help prepare you to start this work, here is a brief summary of what you will encounter.

Many people struggle with writing effective sentences: Often, sentences are too long or too short, and they struggle to identify ways to correct these issues. You will learn how to write sentences that are not overly long. In contrast, you will also learn how to avoid writing incomplete sentences. This will be achieved by examining about the four types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound–complex. An understanding of sentence types can help you to attain more control over the content of your sentences and write in a clearer way for your reader.

Learning more about when and how to use punctuation effectively can also help you to improve your writing style. This Skill will look at how to use appropriate punctuation marks—periods (full stops), colons, semi-colons, and apostrophes—and which punctuation marks to avoid in academic writing, such as the question mark.

This Skill will also look at the importance of word choice when developing a good writing style for academic and professional writing. It will explore first- and third-person point of view and when each can be used appropriately in academic writing. The use of second-person point of view in academic writing, such as using “you” to address the reader, is generally avoided as it sounds too personal and informal. Recognizing and avoiding the use of informal language is also important, as is developing your understanding and use of formal language.

Using an excessive number of words is a threat to achieving a good writing style, so this Skill will also examine ways of removing redundant words and phrases from your writing. Finally, it looks at how phrasal verbs can be used in academic writing, and which kinds to avoid, before ending with the role of verb tense and verb aspect in academic writing.

Suggested Readings

Osmond, A. (2015). Academic writing and grammar for students. SAGE.
Bailey, S. (2018). Academic writing.Routledge.
Harrison, M., Jakeman, V., & Paterson, K. (2016). Improve your grammar. Macmillan International Higher Education.
Roberts, J. Q. (2017). Essentials of essay writing. Macmillan International Higher Education.
Jackson, H. (2005). Good grammar for students. SAGE.