I went from being a good writer to being an academic writer after five years of grad school. I couldn’t believe how convoluted it was. I’ll tell you the main tricks here so you don’t have to waste half of your life in academia.
Academic writing is about self-aggrandizing and duplicity. The main technique is embellishment. Embellished writing is perplexing, and thus proves you are smart. An embellished argument in ten pages will convince more people of your probable brilliance than a simple argument in five sentences. Don’t fight it.
Embellished means overstating your results. Don’t write, “we could not find a significant effect (p=0.43)” when you can write “our results were trending towards significance (p=0.43).” You might think the word “trending” doesn’t add anything. It doesn’t. But reviewers might not know that.
Press release writing is a lot like academic writing. It needs to claim innovation where this is none. The main difference is in the choice of words. For academic writing, don’t say “disrupt” when you can say “paradigm shift.”
Your first paragraph needs to over promise. Go back and read my first paragraph. I rewrote it once. It raises your expectations far beyond what I can actually deliver. That’s the key.
Write long sentences with many semi-colons and enumerations. For example, you could write about: (i) the many impressive contributions of your work; (ii) all of the paradigm-shifting features of your new system; (iii) a list of how all background and related work pales in comparison to yours; (iv) a list of all the design considerations you will “leave to future work”; and, (v) all of the limitations of your work and why they are not really limitations at all. Readers are not as smart you, and you can prove that by writing delightfully verbose sentences that make sense to you and no one else.
Learn how academic brains work. Academics comprehend “our system was 2x better in this task that was obviously constructed to make it look good” better than “we felt a comparative evaluation was unnecessary because no other system directly does this task, and that’s why we’re making this system in the first place.” Both sentences mean the same, but academics are more likely to believe that they have uniquely discovered a flaw in your work if they read the latter. All academics work that way.
That’s it. You just learned 100% of the rules of academic writing. You’re welcome. And cite me.
This post is a sarcastic adaptation of Scott Adam’s real and actually great article on improving your writing: The Day You Became A Better Writer. So, if you’re looking for actual tips, start there!
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