Advice from an academic editor

Advice from an academic editor: Don’t write as you speak!

Academic writing – be it for journal articles, theses or research reports – is a special art and skill that takes time to master. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many writers of these works who have not been taught the finer aspects of how to approach this discipline. The tradgedy of this is that these authors’ incredible ideas are not communicated well because these indivudals merely take a stab at how they think that academic writing should be, rather than taking time to study the fine art of this discipline as proposed by an academic editor.


With this in mind, I – as an academic editor – have decided to put together a series of articles to give the academic author some pointers of how to construct their work in a readable and clear manner so that it becomes their voice – and not the academic editor’s – who comes out.


Throw colloquialism out the window


Remember that this piece of writing is going to be quoted – by generations of researchers, authors and others – for many generations to come. It’s going to appear on the Internet, in libraries and in other students’ literature reviews. So make sure that it sounds professional and eloquent. Don’t pepper it with colloquialisms that may not stand the test of time (pun intended) and make sure that your language endures.


Colloquialisms are very specific to linguistic communities. Take the word ‘soft drink’:

  • In South Africa, we call it a ‘cooldrink’, while
  • In the United States, it’s called anything from ‘soda’ to pop.


Advice from an academic editor


Avoid ‘placeholder words’


When we speak, we often add in words that have no meaning whatsoever. This may be done for a number of reasons, for example to buy us time while we’re thinking of what to say next or just because we like using the word.


Words that are often used include ‘basically’ and ‘literally’, as in “It literally exploded!” (Coming across a sentence like this, the editor will be asking themselves: As opposed to figuratively exploding?) Keep your words to a minimum and don’t pad your writing. I know that there is usually a word limit, but don’t fill this quota with unnecessary words.


Don’t EVER write as your speak


People around you would look at you strangely if you spoke in a way that is unnatural to you – and would probably have some choice words to say, along the lines of you being extremely high and mighty. At the same time, if you write an academic piece the way y0u chat to your friends at a braai on a Saturday afternoon, no one will take what you have to say seriously. So leave out the words such as lekker and broer – there’s plenty of time for these outside your thesis.


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