How do I avoid writing style pitfalls?

Many writers, especially those new to a field (as many graduate writers are) or to academia in general, struggle to find the appropriate style for the scholarly conversations they are entering. Some strategies for finding your style are:

  • Look at your style guide. What does it say about jargon? Syntax? Good writing? Most have a section on style you can read to understand what is valued in your field.
    • Example: the APA 7th edition manual lists “four qualities of effective scholarly writing” at the beginning of its style section: “continuity, flow, conciseness, and clarity” (2019, p. 111). The rest of the section uses these four qualities to explain APA style’s agreed-upon rules and guidelines for style elements such as jargon, syntax, verbs and verb tense, voice, etc.
  • Look at journal submission/author guidelines. Do they defer to the field’s style guide, or do they add more guidelines, or ask you to ignore some of the field’s guide in favor of their own?
  • Look at examples of published work. Do these strictly follow style guidelines, or do they sometimes diverge? If they diverge, can you figure out why the author(s) made that choice? Published examples can show you a great deal about specific style elements such as sentence structure, word choice, and organization (so when you are reading to understand style, you are reading for these elements rather than for content).

Many academic writers in all disciplines, at some point in their careers, end up with a very verbose writing style that includes one or more of the following elements: 

  • very wordy
  • using language that is too formal for the situation
  • using many nominalizations
  • inappropriately using passive/active voice.

Most academic writing, however, is better served by a plain writing style, as we learned with the rhetorical view of style earlier in this resource. Here are several OWL resources for addressing the various aspects of a plain, clear scholarly writing style: