Writing in the Academic World

Writing Tips

What makes a good paper? Clarity? Organization? Ability to engage the reader? These, yes, and certainly much more. In a sentence, a paragraph or a page, tell me what you think makes a good paper.

1) Rob Koelling (English): Good writing contains concrete examples and specific details.

2) Deborah Spangler Koelling (English): Actually, I'd say that the definition of good writing isn't subjective. It's pretty specific . . . for each discipline. But, in general, I still think Strunk & White offer the best advice on writing well. The 1918 edition of Strunk's original The Elements of Style is available at http://www.bartleby.com/141/

The second most important piece of advice on good writing comes from George Orwell, his "Politics and the English Language" (1946) available at http://www.resort.com/~prime8/Orwell/patee.html

3) Carolyn White (Business): I always tell my students in the Business Communication course to "consider their audience." When considering their "audience," writers need to consider age, gender, education level, vocabulary, biases, and cultural differences.

4) Elise Kimble (Biology): Yes, clarity and organization. Even when simply answering an essay question in science, perhaps it might be worth the minute spent to make a brief outline of the answer, then write the answer. I take it for granted that one would not attempt to write a science paper without first writing an outline. Sentences should be coherent; paragraphs should be logical. Show an understanding of the topic. Don't err by making the discussion too brief, but don't ramble either. There is room for creativity and humor. My favorite report from a student on the identity of the two unknown bacteria he received was written as a detective story - fun to read, but more importantly the organization was logical and the information complete (so I could see the steps he took to identify the unknowns). Beware; don't let it get cutesy. I saw an article recently in which the author was trying to be clever, but her clever analogy was weak and so the entire article failed.

If you have data to present, do so clearly and appropriately (a graph or table, with the necessary labels). Remember to mention in the text any figures you include.

5) John Campbell (Biology): Writing in the sciences often requires a formal structure that differs from that in other fields. A style that is excellent in one discipline may not be excellent in another. Students need to adjust their styles to the assignments they receive. Students might look at the "Guide to Writing a Research Papers" that is on the Biology Department website for help with writing in the sciences. The web address is http://biology.nwc.edu/biology/shared/writpap.htm.