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Stylish Academic Writing

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  366 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
Elegant data and ideas deserve elegant expression, argues Helen Sword in this lively guide to academic writing. For scholars frustrated with disciplinary conventions, and for specialists who want to write for a larger audience but are unsure where to begin, here are imaginative, practical, witty pointers that show how to make articles and books a pleasure to read and to wr ...more
Hardcover, 220 pages
Published April 2012 by Harvard University Press
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Michael Meeuwis
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Under the guise of writing advice, this book recommends things that I have been taught to be bad intellectual practice. One of these is flat misrepresentation. The summary of Jonathan Culler's defense of Judith Butler's prose on pg. 156, for example, completely misrepresents what Culler is saying: he doesn't say that Butler presents a "merry-go-round," prosodically, but rather tries to help the reader with abstruse concepts by repeating them several times. There are a number of other serious pro ...more
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014-reads
E. F. Schumacher once wrote that any intelligent fool could make things bigger and more complex, but that it took a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. Helen Sword's Stylish Academic Writing displays just the genius necessary to inspire academics to get up their courage to free their writing of the jargon-heavy passivity choking the life out of it (and their readers).

Unlike other guides, Sword brings massive research to bear on the 'problem' of academic writin
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
As a longtime part-time graduate student and employee of a university research center (often in an editing or writing capacity), I found that this book 1) confirmed and affirmed my (negative) perceptions of much scholarly writing, and 2) provided lots of evidence from many fields of how it has been and can be done better. (Really!) Sword raided journals from a wide spectrum of disciplines and found even more problems than I've seen, and but also many examples of concrete, specific, engaging scho ...more
Apr 08, 2013 rated it liked it
This was only okay. The best parts are the exercises at the end of each chapter, really. The text itself is unfocused. The author can't seem to use an example to demonstrate fewer than three different points, two of them inevitably off-topic for the chapter. She tries to do too much with each one, and the result is that they seem carelessly selected. She also fails to transition between topics; most of the text reads like a list of descriptions of stylistic features and is often long-winded, usi ...more
Aug 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Pretty good. Sword writes clearly -- if she didn't, she'd be like a dentist with bad teeth -- and challenges the reader to write whatever they're writing with readability as the ultimate goal. Depending on the field you work in, you might be more or less able to try her many suggestions for writing more stylish academic prose.

I feel she under-emphasizes one important tool for creating better writing: rewriting. A piece should go through revisons, and perhaps many revisions, before being consider
Mar 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
Unfortunately, the book is exactly what Sword criticizes scholarly writing is about but shouldn't be: "stodgy, jargon-laden, abstract prose that ignores or defies most of the stylistic principles outlined" (p. 3). Her own book is "a compulsive proclivity for discursive obscurantism and circumambulatory diction" (p. 3).

In other words, the books is confusing; I was just lost, and didn't get anything from it. Sword did superb research of other people's writing. Maybe too much research. She got los
Jessica Zu
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: howtowrite, leisure
Strongly recommend to any academics who wants real people to read and care about their research.
Feb 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Helen Sword rips the veil off one of the worst kept secrets in all of academia: Most academic writing is just plain awful. Jargon-filled, abstract, impersonal, sleep-inducing.

What makes Sword's Stylish Academic Writing different is that she has data to back up her claims. She studied five hundred recent articles from academic journals evenly spread over ten different disciplines. For example, she actually counted first-person pronouns (historians being culpable for using the fewest) and abstract
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
An intriguing blend of research, advice, and cheerleading. Sword is interested in the range of stylistic choices open to academic writers—and why they so seldom take advantage of them. She conducts four kinds of research: (1) a survey of what colleagues see as stylish writing in their fields, (2) an analysis of about 100 books mentioned by them as stylish, (3) an analysis of 1000 typical articles across disciplines, and (4) an analysis of the advice given by authors of style manuals. Oddly, thou ...more
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. As a graduate student in biology, I'm constantly struggling to find my voice in an objectively driven writing world. Sward does a great job at highlighting the how stylish academic writers can still be engaging and educational at the same time. It was actually difficult to get through the book because ideas for my own research writing kept bubbling up. The tips and tricks at the end of each chapter are often simple exercises to help expand your own writing ...more
Sep 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is not really an academic style manual. Rather than presenting a list of "tips" and recommendations, it presents examples of "good" writing by writers from all areas of science. The author, a researcher in higher education, has indeed compiled a huge database of articles from dozens of fields of science and tried to appraise their stylistic canons. The book is structured in short and engaging chapters each dealing with a specific issue (the title, the structure, creativity,...) and followed ...more
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
First, just read it. It is very well written (has to be, right?) and short.

Second, I think Sword is trying to free us to explore the gap between our daily persona and our academic self. You know: that self that is naturally vibrant, humorous,and gleeful vs. the academic drone we academics become. She frees us to inject a sense of fun and passion in our prose by providing examples, exercises, and arguments. And, she shows us the technical requirements of good writing. I hope to read this book ev
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
This is one of the best writing guides I've ever read, not only for usefully chronicling the trends of academic writing in several disciplines, but for its useful and pragmatic suggestions (compiled at the end of each chapter) for how to incorporate the author's lessons into writing practices. The suggestions range from the pragmatic to the creative, but all are practical ideas that, if implemented, would greatly contribute to the quality of writing in the academy. Do I think this will happen? N ...more
Margaret MacDougall

This book is rich with pearls of wisdom in making academic writing more engaging for the reader. This includes improving the potential reach of the article by encouraging use of metaphorical language, concrete examples and conversational styles. Useful lists of tips for what to try out are provided at the end of chapters.
Melisa Blok
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A really great book for anyone looking to strengthen their academic writing or anyone who is editing academic writing! Clearly written, full of interesting examples (and anti-examples), ending with "Things to Try" for your own writing (or writing you're revising)--what's not to love?
Josephine Ensign
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ah yes, we have work to do on transforming the disease of academese....
Sep 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One Size Fits All?: A Review of Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword

Helen Sword invites us in Stylish Academic Writing to open our windows wide to let the light in, she prompts us to shuffle our furniture around and add some tasteful cushions and candlesticks to make guests feel welcomed and inspired. Such an approach might work very nicely for the dean’s rooms, but what about the Spartan office of a young tutor or even the chaotic accommodation of most undergraduates? Would a trendy anecdote
Curt Bobbitt
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The personal, helpful style of Helen Sword’s book appears in her review to a Harvard audience: She bases her advice on careful analysis of “one thousand recent articles drawn from peer-reviewed journals in ten academic disciplines across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.”

In 14 chapters, Sword quotes examples and counterexamples of stylish writing from those articles. Five of the most helpful chapters cover “Smart Sentencing,” “Hooks and Sink
Jun 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Professors at research universities churn out tons of papers hoping to get published in peer-reviewed journals. Those heavy journals fill other professors' snail mailboxes. I bet no one enjoys reading them. The articles are full of jargon, nominalizations, and extreme run-on sentences. It's painful, boring, and frustrating.

Helen Sword samples data from a thousand academic articles ranging from medicine to humanities. She measures how often personal pronouns or engaging titles/openings are used.
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book on writing academic works with style.

The author did an incredible amount of research for this book. From that research she offers good and bad examples of academic writing - where style is concerned.

Each of the chapters features a Spotlight or two of stylish academic authors which illustrate the point of the chapter. As well, there is a Things to Try section after each chapter with hints and helps - from self-analysis to practicing writing skills.

Great book that seeks to transform
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-have
This book provides a new perspective for academic writing. Having been used to writing dull academic papers, I find it refreshing. I stopped thinking about the style of academic writing a long time ago, but I now will also pay attention to the style, instead of only concentrating on conveying the ideas.

A considerable number of suggestions in the book is too advanced for the current academic community -- they might be fine for books but not for journal articles for sure. I hope the acade
Michael O'Leary
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword is a great read even if you are not writing for academia. Within the book are hundreds of great examples, writing tips and each chapter ends with a section entitled: Things to Try; little exercises to practice what the chapter just discussed. Helen Sword also has a great Web site where you can actually have your writing tested to see if it is flabby or fit. She has several others books on writing, and I anxious to read them all. I highl ...more
Phat Tran
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
A helpful guide for any writer in academic realms to engage in a digestive and comprehensible writing style. By a thorough research with ten different disciplines ranging from philosophy to medicine, Helen urges scholars for a reduction in using abstractions, nominalizations, prepositional phrases, and demonstrative pronouns.
As mentioned in the book, the oxymoron "stylish academic writing" is demonstrated with clear examples and lucid prose. Highly recommended for anyone who want to try differe
Alex Timberman
Aug 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Stylish Academic Writing

The author had her moments where she gave great advice. Also, the book mostly lived up to its aim: to promote stylish academic writing. The problem is that a huge portion of the book was based on a sample from over 10 different disciplines and countless different journals that led me to skip numerous parts that I found uninteresting. Anyhow, I did get some good pointers about style such as not being afraid to show your passion or personality, even in academic writing.
Keerthi Purushothaman
Reached here from The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Finished it sometime in January. Applied it to one of the term-papers I was supposed to write.

However, learning to cut the Gordian knot of opaque, academic prose is a useful life-skill to have.
Christina Helen Birch
The first nine chapters are engaging, with novel and very implementable practical suggestions for improving academic writing. The final five chapters are less practically useful.
Bailey Poland
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read this book for a graduate class on writing, and it's rare to find an author who so incisively cuts apart the issues with academic writing and provides solutions for them. It's a quick, fun read, and I can't recommend it enough if you have any desire to improve your writing skills - academic or otherwise.
Harry Fulgencio
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very engaging and worthwhile to read, even if your not from the Academe. It has already changed my perspectives in the article that I worked on and I am sure it will be useful every time i need to write something. I like the idea that some of the references i am interested with are available at Leiden University's Library.
Stephen Cranney
Sep 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Boring academic writing is a pet peeve of mine, so her clarion call for better, more simple, and more entertaining writing has my full support. Her methodology was interesting (taking a sampling of the top journals in every field and having her RAs score them according to their writing quality), and quantified what I think most people in those fields already know.
Alexa Halford
This is a great book that all scientists should read. Each chapter has great advice on how to write a better journal article. I was a bit skeptical at first but was completely swayed. In fact my copy is so marked up I'm thinking of getting a second one that wouldn't be as messy to read a second time around.
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“First, they employ plenty of concrete nouns and vivid verbs, especially when discussing abstract concepts. Second, they keep nouns and verbs close together, so that readers can easily identify “who’s kicking whom.” Third, they avoid weighing down their sentences with extraneous words and phrases, or “clutter.” Far from eschewing theoretical intricacy or syntactical nuance, stylish academic writers deploy these three core principles in the service of eloquent expression and complex ideas.” 0 likes
“First,” said Charlotte, “I dive at him.” She plunged headfirst toward the fly.… “Next, I wrap him up.” She grabbed the fly, threw a few jets of silk around it, and rolled it over and over, wrapping it so that it couldn’t move.… “Now I knock him out, so he’ll be more comfortable.” She bit the fly. “He can’t feel a thing now.”2 Substitute “reader” for the fly and “academic prose” for the spider’s silk, and you get a fairly accurate picture of how academic writers immobilize their victims.” 0 likes
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