Academic Writing

Writer's Prison

I make my living with words.

I decorate my house with words.

Okay, so my wife decorates our house with words.

I love to surround myself with words in my office or study.

I’ve been known to write or speak a few words.  Okay, a lot of words.

Words are fun and useful. Where would we be without them?  Not only do they communicate, but your choice of words reveals a lot about you – sometimes things you may not want someone to see or think.

Because I also work in the world of education, I see literally thousands of words every week.  Sometimes I see words from students that I have to stop and look up in the online dictionary.  For example, not long ago I had a student who loved to use the word “ken.”  For all I knew, she was using a man’s name.  Turns out, “ken” means “know” – and every single time you would have used the word “know,” she used the word “ken.”

Now I ken.  And you ken, too.

Anyway, in all the myriad of word possibilities, I have found seven words you should never use in an academic paper.

Only seven?  Far as I can tell.

All seven?  Definitely.  Use any of these and they say some things about you that you may not want to be said.

Now what’s tricky about these seven is that they’re common, ordinary words that you could use in conversation, blogs or magazine articles, fiction or popular writing, and they’re actually expected and complimented.  Use them on a research paper and someone will express their displeasure.

(Shhhh!  What’s that falling-in-a-hole sound I hear?  It’s your grade, sinking into the abyss, because you used one of the Seven Words You Can Never Say in an Academic Paper.)

Okay here they are… and if you don’t write academic papers (hey… who was that that said “hallelujah!”?), share this with somebody who does.  Or file it away for a couple of years, for when you go back to school. [click to continue…]

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How to Stop Writing

by Andy Wood on February 1, 2013

in Since You Asked

Typewriter The EndWhen you take flying lessons, one of the first things you learn, other than to holler “Contact!” is how to land the plane.

Same goes for snow skiing.  Lesson number one:  How to stop.

A couple of years ago we joined a filled-up theater to see “No Country for Old Men.”  Somebody should have taught them how to stop.  Literally people in the theater blurted out loud, “What?”

I run into the same issue with writing.  I spend about 90% of my working life reading what somebody else has written.  Some of it is so good, I keep an ongoing collection of favorite student quotations.  I shared a few of them here recently.

That writing takes on several forms – emails from students, discussion posts, and what are supposed to be academic papers.  One of my favorite courses is a communication for leaders class (in session even as you read this) where we try out different forms of written communication.  We even tackle the Gettysburg Address and try to make it even simpler than it was in the original, while keeping the same vision and passion.

Very often when I get to the end of something written, I have the same reaction that I did whenever Tommy Lee Jones droned on about whatever he said in “No Country for Old Men.”  What? That’s IT?  It sort of has the same effect of trying to use a tree to stop that downhill run or that landing approach.

Suddenly, it’s just over. [click to continue…]

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Tucked away in dozens of archived folders on my computer are literally thousands of works of art or horror stories – all in the form of academic papers.  I have been blessed to teach some of the most extraordinary researchers and writers on the planet.  I have also had that fingernails-on-the-chalkboard experience of reading some really bad stuff.  I thought I would go off the reservation a little today to share with you what I have learned from the best of the best and the worst of the worst.

Regardless of whether you are just starting to college or about to graduate with an advanced degree, you will not succeed in online education (or classroom either, for that matter) beyond your ability to write effectively.  Moreover, there is a massive difference between speaking English and writing it in a formal setting.  If a professor ever tells you that you write like you talk, they aren’t giving you a compliment.  Academic writing is a formal setting.  (This post is not.)  I make my living doing both.  If I spoke the same way I write in formal settings, I’d be stuffy and boring.  If I wrote the same way I talk conversationally or when I preach, I would butcher the King’s English and my paper would be filled with colloquialisms, contractions, sweeping statements that had little or no support, and at times poor grammar.

Here are some specific suggestions for writing success with any academic writing that uses the APA style manual (no, “APA” does not stand for “American Psycho Association,” though sometimes you may wonder).  You may need to adjust this for different formats (or different teachers with different hot buttons). [click to continue…]

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