Eight easy ways to improve your academic writing

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I’ve got two recent posts on the AuthorAID blog about ways to improve your academic writing and editing.  Do check them out.  My absolute top tip:

2. Be concrete

Many authors write in extremely general terms when introducing a topic at the beginning of their paper. For example, it’s common to come across sentences like: ‘I argue that democratic quality in Africa is rising because of increased civil society engagement’.  But what is ‘democratic quality’?  How do you define ‘civil society engagement’, and how do we know it’s increasing? And where in Africa, specifically?

A better strategy is to try to give your readers a vivid mental image of what you’re talking about.  For example, instead of the generic sentence example above, you could say: “I find that the percentage of Kenyan citizens who went to a community meeting about fighting human rights abuses has increased by 20% since 2008.  I also find citizens who attend these meetings are 15% more likely to contact their MPs to ask them to address human rights abuses. This shows that Kenyan citizens are using democratic institutions to try to solve problems in their communities. That is to say, democratic quality is rising because of increasing civil society engagement.”

Now, this is four sentences instead of one! But it also tells the reader exactly what you’re discussing – and it sounds much more interesting than a generic paper about ‘civil society engagement’.