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Transcript of Academic English
Should there be a "me" in PhD?
In order to write comprehensible, long sentences you need:
No bets each way!
Help and resources
Online writing labs:
Sarah Evans, Marketing and Communications Division,
Nord University, email@example.com
Why use "I"
What's wrong here?
"Morgan and Freeman (1995) analyzed the effects of violent films on children's behaviour. In this paper, the author utilizes the authors' analysis to discuss..."
"This researcher would like to acknowledge and thank their parents for the support they offered during this time."
Avoid passive, convoluted and unnatural formulations
Clearly identify subjects and objects in a sentence.
Easily identify personal pronoun references.
When to use "I"
Use "I" to explain your plans, decisions and actions to the reader.
"A comprehensive literature review revealed a dearth of comparative studies in the field. In an attempt to redress this imbalance I chose to conduct this study in a comparative context."
"Firstly, I will explain the categories that emerged for analysis. Subsequently, I will explain..."
"I removed warts from the feet of fifty patients during the study."
CONSISTENCY CONSISTENCY CONSISTENCY
Writing long sentences
in scientific processes and reporting.
Academic writing practices - from undergraduate to postgraduate.
CONCISE - OBJECTIVE - CONSISTENT
"Wooly minded people write wooly memos, wooly letters and wooly speeches."
The ability to write clearly about a topic shows that you understand the topic.
Purple prose/wrong genre
Writing that is unnecessarily wordy, convoluted and repetitive is an unfortunate tradition in academia.
"It seems to me that the measure of genius is the ability to explain complex matters in intelligible form"
"It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid"
"On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?"
Essay on psychology in Politics (New York) (found in George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language")
Which words are unnecessary?
The students will take turns, one after the other.
She particularly liked Victorian writers, such as Dickens, Hardy and Austen etc.
"I have not described responses that repeated the sentiments of previous respondents and added no further value to the debate."
"Most of the younger women gave the same responses as the older women did."
Writing efficiently - (fewer), better words
What is the main idea in the sentence?
Identify the key words.
Write efficiently - find the right word.
Discover the Academic Phrasebank:
Finding the right word
Sometimes, a commonly used phrase is better than one obscure word.
"Clarify in detail" not "elucidate".
Example of an incomprehensible sentence:
"Neo-classical economics assumption about humans as intelligent, well-informed who can formulate probabilities for expected utilities for their intended alternative actions, are the assumptions behind transaction cost economics or non-relational conception of exchange. "
Writing plain English
between demonstrating knowledge of terminology and writing plainly.
"On the other hand..." not "contrarily"
Remember: find YOUR voice
Try the A-Z of alternative words:
Give it to a friend, spouse, parent (not a colleague) - just having to explain "simple" concepts might help you clarify them for yourself.
Wanna see my holiday snaps?
Commas, full stops, apostrophes
Use parenthetical commas - both of them!
"The understanding in neoclassical economics of humans as rational, informed actors, capable of predicting logical outcomes, is a key philosophical underpinning of transaction cost economics."
Learn how to use apostrophes and use them consistently.
"Neoclassical economics' understanding of humans as rational..."
Apostrophes - quick guide
To indicate ownership.
Bob's thesis was a masterpiece.
Many of the students' papers were about food.
Bob's (Bob is) going on holiday now.
I don't (do not) want to write this again.
You shouldn't (should not) need to worry about this.
With "it" to indicate ownership.
Its head was enormous NOT it's head was enormous.
With acronyms to indicate plural.
Many NGOs are stationed in Angola NOT many NGO's a stationed in Angola.
Use a full stop
NOT: The idea that humans are rational actors is a key underpinning of neoclassical economics, it also forms the basis of transaction cost economics
RATHER: The idea that humans are rational actors is a key underpinning of neoclassical economics. It also forms...
Keep the main verb phrase at the beginning of the sentence.
The fox jumped over the box, which was brown and moth-eaten.
The box, which was brown and moth-eaten, was jumped over by the fox.
Which sounds better?
Identifying incomprehensible long sentences
Highlight natural pauses
online writing tool
like WriteSite from University of Sydney:
"Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it - wholeheartedly - and delete it before sending your manuscript to press.
Murder your darlings
," Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.
Hallmarks of purple prose:
Too many adverbs
Metaphors and analogies
Signs of wrong genre:
Beating purple prose
Use familiar adjectives and verbs
(use the thesaurus for good, efficient writing - not to demonstrate your vast vocabulary.)
Before and after:
I expurgated the toilet.
The results were startling.
Use adverbs sparingly
Before and after:
The evidence suggests really very strongly that...
It can be cautiously, humbly claimed that...
I cleaned the toilet.
The results were unexpected.
The evidence strongly suggests that...
It can be claimed that...
Use coordinating conjunctions sparingly
These are: and, but, or, yet, nor, so, for.
This will help you avoid long-winded sentences.
Remember your genre
Avoid a subjective/conversational tone
Don't use contractions (don't, can't , won't, wouldn't).
Avoid colloquialisms - spoken expressions - metaphors and cliches (especially obscure ones!).
At the end of the day
we can say that..."
"The company pulled out of country X
in the nick of time
It does go wrong:
In the wake of
the abundant natural resources available in Northern Norway there has been ongoing debate about the relationship between Finnmark, Troms and Nordland..."
But should have said:
Which gives the impression of:
"In the aftermath of the abundant natural..."
of abundant natural resources in Northern Norway
ongoing debate between Finnmark, Troms and Nordland."
British or American spelling? Eg. program or programme? Colour or color? Analyze or analyse?
Referencing. Eg. Discussed in Gordon and John (1986) or discussed in Gordon and John. (1986)
Acronyms. Overview and first use? Or not?
Remember to check and update footnotes and tables if you change the designation for an acronym or expression.
Other common pitfalls
In no particular order...
Interchanging of ie. and eg. Remember - ie. to specify / eg. to exemplify.
Then VS than. Remember - then for time / than for comparison.
Effect VS affect. Effect is a noun / affect is a verb.
Combining "for example, for instance, such as" with etc.
Phrase and word banks:
Read other theses
Let others read your writing
Focus on writing well - not on journal guidelines.
As in the ship's wake - happening after and because of.
The belief that incomprehensible, pompous writing is a sign of high intellect.
Have a "do-er" and keep them near the action
After eating my breakfast, the waitress cleared the table.
What's wrong here?
After I ate my breakfast, the waitress cleared the table.
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
When not using "I"
Aim for an active voice
The author interviewed the survey group, which was comprised of women between the ages of 15-25.
NOT: The survey group, which was comprised of women between the ages of 15-25, was interviewed by the author.
Rule: Avoid someone having something done to them!
Active voice - back to do-ers
Can this be written better?
Inflation was slowly beginning to be defeated by laws which had been passed by the government in the turbulent autumn of 1875
OR: Laws that the government passed in the turbulent autumn of 1875 slowly began to defeat inflation
Find your invisible style
Let the research shine
No sudden jolts
Academic suspension of disbelief
The Economist: style guide: