Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Seven secrets of stylish academic writing

By Helen Sword

How do you undo years of scholarly training and learn to write like a human being?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Imagine that the editor of a widely-read magazine or, say, The Conversation has heard about your academic research and invited you to contribute an article. But you only know how to produce stodgy, impersonal papers for peer-reviewed disciplinary journals.

How do you undo years of scholarly training and learn to write like a human being?

It’s a dilemma many academics face when engaging with print or online media for the first time, so here are seven tips to turn your jargon into energetic prose that anyone can understand.

Start with the title

The titles of academic articles are typically abstract, technical, and utterly uninviting, such as:

“Social-Organizational Characteristics of Work and Publication Productivity among Academic Scientists in Doctoral-Granting Departments”

To send a more welcoming signal to potential readers, try phrasing your title as a question (“Why Are Some Scientists More Productive Than Others?”), a provocative statement (“Productivity Hurts”), a metaphor (“Productivity: Holy Grail or Poisoned Chalice?”) or other memorable phrase (“The Productivity Paradox”).

Wherever possible, opt for simple, concrete language.

“Snakes on a Plane” is an inviting title; “...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.