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Academic Coaching & Writing

I. Five Strategies for Stellar Academic Writing

Feb 09, 2016 by Amy Benson Brown

Academics often get little or no training in the craft of writing for publication. That gap reinforces the mysterious aura that tends to shroud ideas about what “real” writers do. But, of course, writing is not magic. No particular gene or genius is required to write clear, compelling arguments that will engage your readers. In other words, writing well is a skill—a skill that almost everyone can master by learning essential elements of the craft and practicing them over time. In fact, in my work with researchers from diverse disciplines, I’ve seen over and over that huge improvement in the quality of writing comes from mastering just five writing strategies.

The power of these strategies stems from their ability to transform your prose, allowing readers to quickly grasp your argument’s coherence and significance. This blog series identifies these strategies and explains how you can start using them to improve your own writing. To make it easy to remember them, I use the acronym FIRST. Each strategy helps you to put first things first—to make sure your writing successfully communicates your argument.

  • Frontload Your Argument
  • Own Your Ideas
  • Write for Readers
  • Use Simple Syntax
  • Work the Transitions

The upcoming blog entries in this series explain what each of these five phrases mean and how they can help you produce stellar prose. Before you dive into the details, though, I want to underscore the bottom line.

These FIRST strategies strengthen your voice and your ability to impact the issues you care about most. As you become adept at using these strategies, you’ll also become more comfortable confronting essential questions that more typically rouse anxieties among many academics. Who you are as an author? Who are your readers? What, at base, is your argument? And how exactly does your evidence support that argument?

As an academic writing coach, I work with researchers from diverse fields. But whether they are sociologists, historians, epidemiologists, theologians, or nursing researchers, all authors seem more comfortable in their own skin after we have worked with these strategies. Of course, coming to understand each strategy takes time and practice, but they do overlap and reinforce each other. In other words, if you persevere in using all five strategies, you’ll find the benefit exceeds the sum of the parts.

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