Continuing our quest to demystify academic writing, Part 2 of QuillBot's Guide to Academic Writing covers point #5 through point #11 on our helpful infographic.
Did you miss the previous installments? Check them out below:
A) Why is academic writing so difficult?
B) Introducing the infographic guide
C) What does it mean to do research?
D) Tips for becoming a better academic writer
A) Infographic points #1-4
The infographic image can be found and downloaded towards the bottom of each of these pages, including this one.
And now, Part 2!
5. Avoid sentences with more than 2 complete thoughts.
Long, complex sentences usually lack clarity and can often make an argument less compelling. Trying to connect several lines of thought in one sentence may seem like a great idea, but in practice, it can result in a paragraph-sized sentence. What if readers lose track of how those thoughts connect due to the sheer length of the sentence? Protect your points by keeping this rule in mind--it might also help you to remember to vary your sentence structure.
Once you've drafted a section, read it over to look for sentences with too many thoughts, and then, split them up accordingly. Always ensure that each complex sentence is that way because those thoughts are truly connected, and pay attention to the conjunctions used, making sure that they are appropriate. For instance, "and" connects like thoughts, while "but" signals the reader that the information contrasts in some way.
6. Use strong topic sentences to keep your paragraphs clear.
A topic sentence is usually the first sentence in a paragraph that explains the purpose and/or main points that will be made. Spend ample time crafting these sentences, and you will find that drafting the rest of the paragraph is a breeze. If you don't prioritize clear topic sentences, expect to spend a huge amount of time restructuring the body of your argument.
7. Be concise.
Academic writing doesn't have any "fluff" to it. There shouldn't be any clichés or generalizations within your academic essay or paper. Every word should count, and if a word isn't needed, get rid of it. There is also no need to over-explain ideas and processes (with the exception of the Methods/Methodology section), especially where a citation would lead the reader to a more in-depth discussion. Being concise is yet another way to make sure your writing is clear and direct.
8. Opt for the active voice.
Especially when discussing your findings, active voice is better to use than passive voice because it is more demonstrative and direct. In the passive voice, the action is performed on the subject, rather than the subject performing the action. This can make your points unclear.
Passive: "The survey was only completed by half of the study participants."
Active: "Only half of the study participants completed the survey."
The good news is that, once this concept is understood, it is quite easy to change from passive to active voice!
9. Avoid repetition.
Along the same lines of being precise, direct, and concise with your language, repetition needs to be avoided. Newer writers sometimes make this mistake because, as in the examples below, the repetitive elements aren't necessarily making the statement incorrect. However, when you mention a result like the concentration "dropping" (which isn't very precise to begin with), and then follow it with another clause containing a verb with the same meaning, one of those verbs needs to go. Eliminate all such redundancies in your writing to sharpen it.
Repetitive: "Carbonate concentration dropped over time, decreasing with increasing salinity."
Non-repetitive: "Carbonate concentration decreased with increasing salinity over time."
10. Outline and plan how your paper will flow.
A detailed outline or plan will save you time and make sure your argument flows. Try making a detailed outline for your academic paper or essay before you begin drafting. Incorporate all of the important background information and ideas from your notes, and arrange it within your outline. When you review it, you will begin to see places where you need to find more data or sources. Outlining is also a great way to develop and grow your argument.
One great tip for outlining, which is especially helpful for slow drafters, is to go ahead and think through the topic sentence for each paragraph in a section. There's no need to work through all of the topic sentences at once, but it can be helpful to pick a section you're feeling excited about, and add those details one section at a time. Soon, you will find you have an extremely detailed plan for your academic research paper that will act as your roadmap during the drafting stage. Since the topic sentences themselves will outline the main points of each paragraph, having them drafted already will greatly enhance your workflow by allowing you to draft quicker and encounter fewer writing roadblocks.
11. Avoid common grammar mistakes.
A common writing mistake that many writers make is to rely only on the built-in spell check and grammar check functions inside programs such as Word and Google Docs. While the latter has made some strides to better these types of features, built-in checkers often lack the robustness of other tools--especially those which are AI-based.
For instance, when we built QuillBot's Grammar Checker, we were able to train our AI models on every single rule of spelling, grammar, and punctuation out there. The model was also taught how to identify misused words and phrases, depending on their context. The goal was to build a tool that wouldn't miss any of these kinds of mistakes, from the most basic to the even the most nuanced.
Within the scope of academic writing, having a sophisticated punctuation checker that can take into account many specialized rules is crucial because commas, colons, semi-colons, etc. are often important in academic writing. The problem is that in less technical writing, such as blogging or essays in college, these types of punctuation marks are either used in a very straightforward way (commas) or used very little (colons, semi-colons). AI models can help bridge the gap in instances like this because of how they are built and taught.
Grammar issues, in general, can make your writing confusing, which is the opposite of your goal as an academic writer, where objectivity, preciseness, clarity, and directness are the standard. Word misuse is another type of blunder that can obscure meaning and muddle your points. Because each student's background is different, you might be comfortable with certain grammar and spelling concepts that others may struggle with, while they might excel in punctuation and word usage concepts that you never fully absorbed, and so on.
That's the beauty of using a cutting-edge AI-based tool--it won't miss any mistakes, whether they deal with rules you know or those you may never have learned or mastered. Reviewing your work with a free online grammar checker is a fast, free way to make sure your work has that final, professional polish to it.
Workflow tip: It's best to finish content edits first, and then, when the words, sentences, references, etc. are no longer changing, begin to edit for grammatical mistakes. If you decide to edit for these errors first, each time you amend the wording, sentence structure, or anything else relating to the content, you will need to go back and review it again for grammar, punctuation, spelling, word misuse, etc. There is a HUGE time cost to not having a well-developed workflow, especially during the editing stage. Where possible, always elect to do the work only once.
Writing roadblock tip: When you've worked on your paper for weeks or months already, it can be really daunting to get feedback and edits from your advisor, professor, or committee asking you to spend yet more time perfecting it. Utilize tools like a grammar checker to help you find momentum for those final edits, even, and especially, when you feel like you just can't read it through anymore.