For academics, writing for an academic audience is an unavoidable skill. It requires attention to detail and a commitment to presenting well-supported ideas clearly.
CARISCA held a workshop for faculty and students in October focused on writing for an academic audience. The facilitator, CARISCA Director Nathaniel Boso, took participants through a clinical session at the workshop.
“Writing is an art that needs to be practiced and improved upon, and it is hard work,” said Boso. “It gets harder, especially when you are writing for an academic audience in multiple cultural contexts.”
The goal of the workshop, part of the CARISCA Training Series, was to give students tips for getting research papers into high-quality international journals.
Boso shared the following writing tips:
Your writing should be understandable.
Writing should convey your message to your audience. It should make sense to the reader.
“Writing for an academic audience requires your ability to enhance readability,” said Boso. Writing is understandable to the extent that its meaning is easily and quickly comprehended for an intended purpose by an intended reader, he explained.
Consider the organisation and argumentation of your work.
The organisation of your work contributes to capturing the interest and attention of your audience. Using the appropriate spaces and paragraphs creates coherent units of meaning. Academic readers want unity in what they read. Take the time to ensure that your paper’s focus is consistent from beginning to end.
“Your sentences have to be intriguing and keep the reader on their toes,” said Boso. “You have got to give a reason for the reader to continue reading.”
Writing sentences in the correct grammatical word order makes it easier for your audience to read and comprehend. Here’s what you need to consider in writing your sentence.
- Subject-Verb-Object, or S-V-O principle, is key.
- Style: Readers are happy when the writing style allows a discussion that moves smoothly from one topic to the next.
- Syntax: Readers expect that the end of a sentence will carry the important new information.
Wordiness and clarity of style
Editing for clarity is your obligation as an author. Make sure your sentences are in the active voice, which is easier to understand.
Use the correct spelling and avoid using British or American English interchangeably. “Write in the language that best suits your audience,” Boso said.
Always proofread your work for clarity and consistency before you hand it in.
Dealing with complex sentences
Sentences become difficult to understand when they are long or overly complex. Try to construct sentences containing no more than 20 words. Long sentences—those with 35 to 40 words—can be difficult to comprehend, said Boso. On average, a paragraph of 150 words is considered ideal for scientific writing.
Boso also gave participants, who were mostly PhD students, tips for building the basic structure of a manuscript prior to submission.
Following the presentation, participants practiced what they learnt at the workshop by applying the tips in their own research papers. Senior academics from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Arizona State University provided feedback on the participants’ work.