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English Department
English Department

My 12 Rules for good academic writing - there is always a reason.

  1. Clear hierarchies: Any text that conveys more than one idea must be structured clearly in terms of multiple hierarchies: chapters, sections, paragraphs, sentences.
  2. Clear metalanguage: use explicit and implicit cohesive devices, hedging to convey your stance, etc.
  3. Clear paragraph structure according to theme - rheme – to keep the references clear.
  4. Avoid unnecessary complexity in noun phrases (nominalisations), sentences and paragraphs (use parallel constructions to make it easier), sections and chapters (use again similar sequences).
  5. Avoid passives if you can: they dehumanize and mystify or at least add unnecessary complexity
  6. Avoid synonyms for the same concepts but rather define your concepts and use the same expression for the same thing so that the reader does not get distracted and looks for nuances in meaning.
  7. Avoid clichés but when you do use them then use them creatively to attract attention – and avoid fashion words like “deconstruct”, “awareness raising”, etc.
  8. Use the right word critically: English loves active words (German loves nominalization). Concrete words are always better than abstract words. Use colourful explicit adjectives to distinguish between nouns but not to express the core message. Avoid academic jargon.
  9. Use main clauses for your core message, subordinate clauses mainly for adverbials and for effect.
  10. Use English punctuation options to the full –– they make it much easier for the reader. Do not forget commas (not only for intonation but also to structure a sentence), semicolons (as hard commas) and colons (for specific cases or lists).
  11. Break the rules – only where you want to attract the reader’s attention.
  12. Don’t say too much: be explicit, but avoid empty words, footnotes ("in" or "out"), additions – and STOP when you have made your point …

Cons & Pros

  1. Do not separate noun phrases that belong together.
  2. Every language has its advantages and disadvantages:
    German has flexible word order and thus can create attention
    English tolerates less premodification than German, but you do not want to keep the reader waiting anyway.

General rules? Simple questions – simple answers?

  1. How much time do I have to attract the reader? 20 seconds – only an appetizer
  2. How long should /can a sentence be? 1 breath
  3. How many syllables can my words have? as few as possible, short words are more memorable.
Further Reading

Schneider, Wolfgang (2012). “Wie Sie besser schreiben. Eine Deutsch-Stilkunde in 20 Lektionen“. Die Zeit, Nr. 20. 67. Jahrgang, Mai 2012.

"Im Anfang war das Tun. Warum wir die Verben lieben sollten".  Zeit online 11.05.12



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