AN ON-LINE WRITING SEMINAR FOR ACADEMIC PAPERS
A general word to the would-be writer: Many of
you who think you can write really can’t! In making that statement,
I am not trying to be nasty or provocative, just honest. Over the course
of my career, I have edited a great many pieces of writing, including enough
articles by members of my own profession to fill six published volumes, and if
I have learned anything, it is the fact that writing ability, even among
academic professionals, varies enormously. It is not just
students who cannot write!
On the other hand, there is hope—for all of us! Writing is something
that can be improved—and improved enormously—IF the writer is willing to
make the effort. Good writers—perhaps even great ones—are made, not
born. It takes thought, practice, and a sensitivity to one’s readership.
But with these comes increasing proficiency in what is, after all, the most
rigorous and lasting form of human communication.
Rules for Good Academic Writing:
The following can be considered “commandments” that an author should observe
if he or she wishes to produce prose that is, at the very least competent,
and hopefully far better than that. Ponder them!
Commandment #1: Thou shalt have a reason for writing and be able to
articulate that reason.
Commandment #2: Thou shalt always keep the reader foremost in mind.
Commandment #3: Thou shalt organize the material logically so that the
work can flows forward, keeping the reader's interest.
Commandment #4: Thou shalt (in most cases) adhere to the rules of English grammar. (In
most cases), they were drawn up for good reason.
Commandment #5: Thou shalt write sentences in as simple and straightforward a
manner as possible.
Commandment #6: Thou shalt organize sentences into paragraphs that center around
a topic, using the first (topic) sentence of the paragraph to let the reader
know what you will be doing in the rest of the paragraph.
Commandment #7: Thou shalt choose your words carefully, making certain that they
express your meaning.
Commandment #8: Thou shalt avoid overuse of the same word(s), both within a given
sentence and throughout the entire piece.
Commandment #9: Thou shalt carefully and painstakingly proofread your work.
Commandment #10: Thou shalt not overuse quotations, but when a quote is appropriate,
it must be integrated seemlessly into the work.
Commandment #11: Thou shalt learn the proper uses
of historical citation.
Commandment #12: Thou shalt (wherever possible) write in the active voice, avoiding
(like the plague), passive voice.
Commandment #13: Thou shalt choose an appropriate title.
Commandment #14. Thou shalt (wherever possible) enlist the help of others into
the writing process, asking for their (honest) appraisal of what you have
written and their suggestions for improvement.
These are the law and the commandments. Observe them and sin no more!!
While I cannot promise you eternal salvation for following these rules,
I can promise you this: failure to follow them will have a very negative
impact on your paper grade!
L. J. Andrew Villalon
Senior Lecturer, History Department/University of Texas
Professor Emeritus, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures/University