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Helen Sword

Autor/a de Stylish Academic Writing

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Academic writing has a reputation for being a bit dry and only interested in the dissemination of abstract information. Concreteness, style, and vivacity often fall to the wayside. As Sword points out, much of this dryness is due to social structures, not deliberate mastery of the craft. This book teaches how to bring a sense of style to academic writing without compromising its informational purposes.

By examining 1,000 academic papers in ten different fields, Sword compiles a list of examples of good and bad practices. The style of writing is often dependent on one’s field of study. This style, in turn, is enforced culturally by educators and institutionally by editors of journals. Fortunately, by Sword’s analysis, many journals allow and encourage a lucid style. Why then does such a dry style persist among so many writers? People have been told, over and over again, that “this is just how it is.” Or they have been discouraged from taking risks by one or two people on dissertation or tenure committees.

Sword hopes to free us writers from those shadowy shackles by showing little ways to make communication more effective. There’s no inherent rule that academic writing has to be dry, and overly abstract writing is simply ineffective and bad, not helpful. Not every writer will feel freedom to try every suggested tool, but every reader should be able to come away with some new approach to try out. The biggest obstacles cited are fear and anxiety. The ten very different fields examined demonstrate style can be found everywhere – if we only would have the verve to use it.

The biggest shortcoming of this book lies in its format. I listened to it as an audiobook and found myself wanting to consult the examples visually. Many tangential pericopes fill the text – usually a good feature – but these were hard to follow audibly. I suspect reading the print version would solve this problem squarely.

Obviously, this book seeks to address communicators across many fields who write for academic audiences. Those who write for popular journals or newspapers may find this book of limited use. By using abundant examples, Sword’s study seeks to be relevant to basic sciences like medicine as much as the social sciences or even the humanities. When not used to excess but still not eschewed, style facilitates communication and makes academic studies full of more intrinsic impact. Though immensely important, academic words can lose lingering power by becoming drier than they have to be, but Sword teaches how to resuscitate them back to life.
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scottjpearson | Hi ha 4 ressenyes més | Jan 14, 2022 |
The title gives you little doubt on what this book is about. If you picked it up, you already know what you are looking for and what you might expect from reading it. However, this is not exactly a manual on how to do it. It’s more of a survey of what others have done (or are doing) as a way to entice you to break from the oftentimes dogmatic pressure to keep in line with the untold stylistic rules of academic production that seem to govern your discipline.

Helen Sword does a great job in covering the many aspects of academic text production with insightful comments and very enlightening examples. Every bit of text quoted here serves exactly the function it purports to do, i.e., to back up what is being proposed, or criticized, with what is being practiced by the many academic authors in the different fields surveyed in this study of hers.

It’s also important to point out that Helen Sword doesn’t just limit this work to a theoretical critique of the many academic stylistic writing practices, good or bad, but also offers good advice on how to achieve better results with one’s own academic written production. On the second part of this book, aptly titled The Elements of Stylishness, Sword finishes all the chapters with an interesting practical section of Things to Try. Here you’ll find all sorts of good ideas on what you can do try out and achieve the same good stylistic results analyzed on the chapter that you have just read. This is immensely useful if you really need to break from all the old habits that prevent you to get the best results with your academic writing.

From all that has been said above, and given that this is a very targeted book (its readers have a clear idea of what to expect), to recommend it is a futile exercise: If you need it, you know you should read it. Your skills as a more versatile, enticing, and clear academic writer will definitely improve.
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adsicuidade | Hi ha 4 ressenyes més | Sep 8, 2018 |
There's a lot of awfully good advice here. If nothing else, it's a good reminder that academic writing can still be good writing. While some of her advice is, I think, commonsensical (at least to anyone who writes to inform rather than to show off), it's definitely worth a look. I will try to implement some of Sword's techniques and suggestions as I revise my next article.
ddrysdale | Hi ha 4 ressenyes més | Mar 30, 2013 |


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