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How to be a strong writer (Academic)
January 11, 2013 10:46 AM   Subscribe

ok, hivemind, I am going back to school and I want to brush up on my writing. Are there any workbooks, or maybe even online classes that you might suggest? Particularly, in the area of academic writing to be published and grammar? And, are there any books you might suggest, as well, in the general area of strengthening your writing skills and grammar? I have heard of The Elements of Style, and On Writing Well, but I do not think those are the books I am looking for. I am really look for something that addresses grammar, like when to use a semicolon, etc.
posted by TRUELOTUS to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Strunk and White's Elements of Style is definitely about grammar as well as style per se; so I'm not sure what to make of the question.
posted by Jahaza at 10:57 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


He told me I had to use a semi-colon there.
posted by Jahaza at 10:59 AM on January 11, 2013


They Say, I Say has been recommended to me and it on my to-read list.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:04 AM on January 11, 2013


Chicago Manual of Style?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:08 AM on January 11, 2013


To be honest, I think Elements of Style is exactly what you need*; I found it to be of unrivaled assistance when I recently wrote my first (and second... and third...) college papers.
Purdue's Online Writing Lab was equally invaluable. OWL also offers a number of free online practice exercises -- grammar, punctuation, etc. -- and will teach you how to cite in APA or MLA style.

If you're really not feeling Strunk & White, definitely get a copy of Chicago Manual of Style. For a sneak peek at the what's contained therein, here's their online Table of Contents (NB: actual contents are behind a paywall).

* I am a lifelong prescriptivist.
posted by divined by radio at 11:12 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are a number of useful public-domain (and thus, older) references on writing at bartleby.com, including Strunk's "Elements of Style".
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 11:15 AM on January 11, 2013


Elements of Style is definitely about grammar, but with the caveat that different fields do sometimes have different writing styles and guidelines. Are you going back to an undergraduate level, or is this for a graduate course? Many colleges have useful Academic Writing materials online, like this one from Purdue, which goes into the mechanics and grammar but also a little bit on word choices and structure. I really liked the Craft of Research for understanding how to write papers, though it doesn't deal with grammar.

Your school probably has a writing center or tutors who work with students on these issues, so definitely stop by the library and see what resources are out there.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:16 AM on January 11, 2013


ok, hivemind, I am going back to school and I want to brush up on my writing

It seems like you may be re-entering academia after having been out of it for some number of years. If I can go against the grain here, you may want to read up on the structure of papers rather than prose stylistics.

My initial bias is that you need to have the jargon down, write grammatically correct sentences, and not make major stylistic faux pas, but overall, when you look at return on investment in terms of being published and/or getting the grade, structure is the most important thing. Structure is what allows a writer to position the fruits of their research in a manner that is cogent, supports the thesis, and is defensible.

When you begin a task, use the genre (paper, essay, article, thesis, etc.) and the length to help select a suitable structure to pick from. And particularly at first, follow that structure rigidly.
A paper between four and seven pages should have (according to one of the three possible structures I've researched) have foo sections proceeding in bar order, with the first section having these elements. The next section should consist of...
You should read up on the five paragraph essay, how to construct thesis statements, "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis" as a meta-pattern, how and when to introduce and deal with counter arguments or complications in your thesis, and so on and on.

There are patterns that have stood the test of time. Don't struggle to reinvent the wheel if you don't have to.

My favorite summation of good academic writing, which I hope you keep in mind, is this:

First, tell the reader what you are going to tell them. Then, tell it to them. Then tell them what you told them.
posted by jsturgill at 11:38 AM on January 11, 2013


On grammar, Constance Hale's Sin and Syntax isn't bad.

For tips on forthright style--not as common in academe as it should be--I recommend Joseph M. Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, or its textbook version with exercises and a partial key, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. The textbook version is expensive but many university and college libraries have copies.

Finally, for overall structuring of arguments, as well as how to relate the writing process to your research, a couple of excellent books are Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams, The Craft of Research (now in its 4th edition, I think), and Howard S. Becker, Writing for Social Scientists.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:57 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a bit more general, but is nonetheless an engaging and useful guide: Helen Sword, Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard UP, 2011).
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:17 PM on January 11, 2013


Seconding Joseph Williams' Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. It has lots of useful practical advice about structuring your papers and paragraphs, rewriting for clarity and brevity, etc.

I seem to be one of the few people who haven't read Strunk and White, but you should know that they get a bad rap from some linguists for being grammatically clueless and misleading (do a search for "language log elements of style" for details).
posted by zeri at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2013


English prof here. They Say, I Say is excellent. My colleagues and I regularly assign it in our argumentation classes.
posted by media_itoku at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Try Diana Hacker.
posted by oceano at 12:51 PM on January 11, 2013


Everybody needs Elements of Style, but I would know what standard you are expected to write in for your field, and get that manual (MLA, ALA, etc.)
posted by hrj at 1:28 PM on January 11, 2013


Nthing They Say, I Say. Also, Joseph Williams' Style: Toward Clarity and Grace.
posted by dr. boludo at 2:27 PM on January 11, 2013


Oops, brianogilvie beat me to the punch on the Williams too. Well, it needed saying again. I read it every few years and find it improves my prose each time.
posted by dr. boludo at 2:30 PM on January 11, 2013


Check out Helen Sword's Stylish Academic Writing.
posted by synecdoche at 3:23 PM on January 11, 2013


How to Write Anything by John Ruszkiewicz was very helpful when I return to school after a long absence.
posted by JujuB at 5:54 PM on January 11, 2013


Academic writing is not about semi colons. You don't need fancy grammar. Much more important than basic English skills is structure and cogent argument.
posted by turkeyphant at 8:39 PM on January 11, 2013


The University of Chicago has developed a course called the "Little Red Schoolhosue" (LRS) for exactly your needs. You probably don't attend the U of C, but the spin-off at UVa has put a lot of their content online: here.

As an LRS alumnus, I should mention that the benefit of LRS is greatest if you actually go through all of their exercises, even the dumb ones that you could do half-asleep. The principles are simple, but you sort of need to mechanically work through their application to a wide variety of examples in order to understand how generally, consistently, and simply they apply.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:54 PM on January 11, 2013


The University of Chicago has developed a course called the "Little Red Schoolhosue" (LRS) for exactly your needs. You probably don't attend the U of C, but the spin-off at UVa has put a lot of their content online: here.

Yes! Second! Memail me if you want the LRS lecture notes. I believe I have all of them from when I took the course.
posted by astapasta24 at 4:04 AM on January 12, 2013


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