Improved Academic Writing

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Reflective Writing Resources

Writing better Introductions

Tricks for editing your own work

A common problem is that after spending many hours on a piece of writing it can be difficult to objectively look at it, and make it better. One trick is to pick a single technique for reviewing the work and go through it all using that one focussed technique. Then pick another one and do the same. The more the technique is about looking at the text and not necessarily thinking about the conten, the better. Here are a few techniques that I have used with students before.

  1. Ensure there is a line space between paragraphs. This makes it easier to see the size of existing paragraphs.

  2. Review any short paragraphs. Do they have more than one sentence? They normally should.

  3. Review the number of citations in each paragraph. An average one should have at least three different citations in it, most often spread across the paragraph.

  4. Review each citation – is it appropriate, recent enough, not over-used, good quality source?

  5. Check the end ref list – does it equate to 3 unique ones every paragraph, 6-10 per page?

  6. Finding more sources – textbooks are great, newer ones better. Use them by all means but use more journal articles. Use them to find those journal articles. Use them to find additional critical analysis points.

  7. Finding sources #2 – google scholar, “cited by” in Google scholar, library search tools, textbooks, tools like research rabbit etc

  8. Review each para and give it a sub-title – now review the flow from one para to the next.

  9. Improve each para – if you struggle to give each para a title, it probably has too many concepts in it, thin these down by splitting paragraphs up and then filling each one out.

  10. Improving paras #2 – each para should have a start, middle and end. Does it deliver on it’s intended aim?

  11. Reviewing work – descriptive and analytical – review all text assigning labels descriptive and analytical to all text. There should be about 60-75% descriptive and the rest analytical. Analytical text can be spotted by looking for the connecting phrases such as although, despite this, in another context this may be different etc.

  12. Start again! – when you have lots of words but are a bit lost, starting again is not as bad as it sounds. Start a new document and lay out the structure like a series of (working) sub-titles. Then take sentences/paragraphs of your existing text and drop it into each section where it is relevant. Then see if you are missing content, or have doubled up in areas. What’s left? Do you need it?

  13. Create a “bin” for text – the opposite of the task above is to set up a new document and when reviewing your text, be quite harsh on what you need but don’t delete text that you are not sure about, cut it out and paste into the blank document. This can be much easier than deleting your hard fought word count as you can always put it back in.

Further Reading

  • Billig, M. (2013). Learn to write badly: How to succeed in the social sciences. Cambridge University Press.

  • Cristancho, S., Watling, C., & Lingard, L. (2021). Three principles for writing an effective qualitative results section. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-Professional Journal, 22(3), 110–124.

  • Frassl, M. A., Hamilton, D. P., Denfeld, B. A., de Eyto, E., Hampton, S. E., Keller, P. S., ... & Catalán, N. (2018). Ten simple rules for collaboratively writing a multi-authored paper. PLOS Computational Biology, 14(11), e1006508.

  • Sword, H. (2016). The writer’s diet: A guide to fit prose. University of Chicago Press.

  • Becker, H. S. (2008). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. University of Chicago Press.

  • Duke, T. (2018). How to do a postgraduate research project and write a minor thesis. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 103(9), 820-827.

  • Faryadi, Q. (2018). PhD Thesis Writing Process: A Systematic Approach--How to Write Your Introduction. Online Submission, 9, 2534-2545.

  • Faryadi, Q. (2019). PhD Thesis Writing Process: A Systematic Approach--How to Write Your Methodology, Results and Conclusion. Online Submission, 10, 766-783.

  • Faryadi, Q. (2018). PhD Thesis Writing Process: A Systematic Approach—How to Write Your Literature Review. Creative Education, 9(16), 2912-2919.

  • Golding, C. (2017). Advice for writing a thesis (based on what examiners do). Open Review of Educational Research, 4(1), 46-60.

  • Healey, M., Matthews, K.E., and Cook-Sather, A. (2020). Writing about Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Creating and Contributing to Scholarly Conversations across a Range of Genres. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning.

  • Heard, S. B. (2016). The scientist's guide to writing: how to write more easily and effectively throughout your scientific career. Princeton University Press. [google books]

  • Hotaling, S. (2020). Simple rules for concise scientific writing. Limnology and Oceanography Letters. []

  • Lingard, L. (2015). The art of limitations. Perspectives on Medical Education, 4(3), 136.

  • Lingard, L. (2019). From semi-conscious to strategic paragraphing. Perspectives on Medical Education, 8(2), 98.

  • Lingard, L., & Watling, C. (2021). Avoiding prepositional pile-up. In Story, Not Study: 30 Brief Lessons to Inspire Health Researchers as Writers (pp. 101-105). Springer, Cham.

  • Lingard, L. (2022). Writing for the reader: Using reader expectation principles to maximize clarity. Perspectives on Medical Education, 1-4.

  • Lingard, L. (2021). Collaborative writing: Strategies and activities for writing productively together. Perspectives on Medical Education, 10(3), 163-166.

  • Sword, H. (2017). Air & light & time & space: How successful academics write. Harvard University Press.

  • Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper (2019) -

  • Wyllie, D. J. (2021). Thesis write‐up and manuscript preparation: related but distinct tasks. The Journal of Physiology, 599(11), 2771-2775.

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