Alert: Proofread carefully. The reader can read only the form you present on the page to understand what you mean. When you leave typos, misspelled words, and serious sentence errors in your paper, you give the impression that you might expect the reader to "read between the lines." In academic writing, the goal is just the opposite: you want to be as clear, as precise, and as exacting as you are able. Write to minimize the possibility that the reader could misunderstand your thought.
Edit carefully: Proofread thoroughly for errors like those listed here. Reread what you have written. Read your paper aloud to someone else. If you read a sentence and have to read it again to understand it, edit the sentence so it is clear the first time through.
Plan ahead: Do not leave papers to be written until the last minute. Show consideration for your reader as well as pride of authorship. Allow yourself sufficient time to prepare the paper so your ideas may be expressed in clear, succinct, and stylistically appropriate prose.
Formal style: Formal papers usually use classic argument styles or formats. Avoid casual language ("a real bummer"), casual references ("sort of like Tim Allen does on Home Improvement"), or provincial images ("because I've never seen anything like that in Corvallis").
Tone: The tone in academic and professional writing is usually restrained and formal; it can be terse. The language tends to be relatively free of modifiers (adjectives and adverbs). Strong statements are usually presented in a deceptively "mild" manner. Example: "Markum's methodology is seriously flawed and his use of of Nonverbal Expectancy Theory is highly suspect since Miles and Karwowski have demonstrated that NET is conceptually flawed." Notice the writer did not write, "Markum's strange ideas are just about useless because he didn't do his homework and didn't read the stuff Miles and Karwowski wrote."
Active voice: Active voice is preferred over passive voice. Active voice lends more energy to your writing. Notice the change in this example; the first sentence expresses the idea in passive voice, the second in active voice.
Passive voice (not preferred): Eye contact was exchanged between the speakers but nothing was said about the error. Active voice (preferred): The speakers exchanged eye contact but refrained from mentioning the error.
Notice in the second sentence that the action is taken by the subjects of the sentence. In passive voice, the action does not occur (such as when you use a state-of-being,"to be" verb) or the action is taken by someone or something else. Rewriting sentences in active voice both strengthens your writing and often reduces the number of words you must use to write your idea.
Paragraphs: Avoid single-sentence paragraphs. On average, paragraphs consist of five to seven sentences. The purpose of a paragraph is to fully develop a single idea. If that idea can be stated fully in a single sentence, it needs to be part of another paragraph, another idea of which it is a part.
On the other hand, be sure to divide your paper into readable paragraphs, each of which develops an aspect or support for the thesis. Each paragraph should have a clear topic sentence; that sentence should directly support the thesis and move your explanation or argument closer to the conclusion. If one of your paragraphs extends for longer than a page, read it carefully to be sure it treats a single topic. Often page-long paragraphs need to be divided.
Coherence: Be sure every sentence connects to the one before it and the one after it. Help the reader follow the steps from one idea to the next. Then check to see that every paragraphs connects to the one before it and the one following. If your paper lacks coherence, it doesn't "stick" together. Although you may know how the sentences are connected, the reader may not. If you jump from one topic to another, you can throw the reader off the track. A reader could get lost trying to find the connections among and between ideas. Coherence often can be improved by using transitions and signposts.
Transitions and signposts: Transitions are clauses or phrases that connect two ideas; signposts are reminders you write into your paper that tell the reader where you have been and/or where you are going. Transition example: "The second problem, one exacerbated by this lack of precise language, appeared during the second interview." This statement creates a transition because it tells the reader the relationship between the subject previously discussed and the one about to be discussed. Transitions also can be made explicitly with words or phrases such as "next," "Turning to a different perspective," or "On the other hand." Signpost example: "Having examined the first problem of language and the second problem with the interviews, I now conclude that we must conduct a new study." The signpost reminds the reader of the two points you have covered before you move on to the conclusion you will draw.
Transitions and signposts help the reader find the path you mapped out from your thesis to your conclusion. Check you paper for transitions and signposts. Do not make them blatant ("I have told you about the language and I have told you about the interview and now I am going to tell you about my conclusions."), but make them clear enough for the reader to follow.
Examples: Use examples that clearly illustrate your point; be sure you explain how the relevance of the example you present. Use examples that are centrally applicable to your topic or argument; avoid examples that are peripheral to your point.
Syntax: Work on improving syntax. Syntax concerns the ways words are put together. Although meaning might be understood (eventually) if the words are in a complicated order, meaning is more accessible when the syntax matches appropriate patterns. Revising sentences to improve syntax.
Language use: Use sex-neutral language. The language we write and speak leads us to perceive in certain ways; sex-neutral language helps reduce evaluative connotations that lead to inequalities. For example, use "people," "individuals," or "humans" instead of "man" and "mankind." Use "he or she," "s/he," or alternate "he" and "she" by paragraphs or pages instead of using "he" when the person could of either sex.
Anthropomorphism: Unless intentional for stylistic effect, avoid anthropomorphism--the bestowing of human characteristics on inanimate objects. Otherwise, the sentences you write may be more humorous than insightful. Example: "This paper will argue . . . ." (The paper can't argue: you are the one who argues.)
Items in a series: Use the same construction for each item in a series. For example, instead of ". . . ask him how he is doing, how's his fraternity, and classes," write ". . . ask him how he is doing, how he is enjoying his life in the fraternity, and how his classes are going" or ". . . ask him about his life, his fraternity, and his classes."
Indefinite referents: Avoid using "it" or "there" (and sometimes "this) when no specific noun can be identified as the referent for these pronouns. If you cannot point to a specific noun in the preceding sentence (or sentences) to which one of these words refers, change the structure of your sentence. For example, "It was really crowded in the bar" is a poorer sentence construction than "The bar was really crowded." Better yet, make the adverb "really" more descriptive (such as, "beyond its capacity of 150") and rephrase the sentence to avoid the passive "to be" verb, "was." "The bar teemed with people" is a stronger construction.
Agreement in number: Be consistent when you use singular and plural. This sentence needs editing: "Women have gained respect as a capable mother, employee, and homemaker." "Women" is plural; "mother," "employee," and "homemaker" all are singular. This sentence should read "A woman can gain respect as a capable mother, employee, and homemaker" or "Women have gained respect as capable mothers, employees, and homemakers."
Splitting phrases: Avoid interjecting adverbs into verb phrases. For example, "I will first cover the exam" separates "will" from "cover." Both "will" and "cover" are parts of the verb phrase. A better construction is "First I will cover the exam."
Voice or point of view: Be consistent in the "person" you use. If you begin the paper using "one," you must use that construction throughout. The same is true for the other ways of using person: "s/he" (or they) and "you." Read through your paper looking for places where you take a point of view by identifying a "person." Be sure the "person" remains consistent throughout your paper.
"When you read a paragraph, you can . . . ."
"When a student reads a paragraph, s/he may . . . ."
"When one reads a paragraph, one may . . . ."