Guidelines for becoming a good writer: tips for academic writing

Concept of good writing

Good writing is characterized by planning, writing, revising and editing as suggested in revision. Connolley (1994) states that generally five step procedure is adopted for good or efficient writing, which are:

a.       Planning for writing

b.      Writing according to planning

c.       Cool down, or stop writing when feel every thing is mentioned

d.      Revising , as thoughts come in mind during cool step

e.       Editing accordingly

However, Connolley(1994) considers three steps compulsory. Thill & Bovee(2005 and Guffey(2003))also believe in three steps of writing. So, we can state that good writing is incomplete without three components, i.e

1.      Planning/pre writing

2.      Writing

3.      Revising/completing

Concept of academic writing

Academic writing is characterized by logic, sequence and evidence. The emphasis in academic writing is on facts and interpretation of the facts. The facts and figures, logics, evidences are presented in a logical way using an academic writing style. Academic writing is also incomplete without these three components;

1.       Planning/pre writing, for logic, sequence and evidence.

2.      Writing with logic, sequence and evidence.

3.      Revising/completing the logic, sequence and evidence.

Academic writing includes essay writing, assignment writing, paper writing,  article writing for academic purpose.

How to become a good writer, tips for academic writing

Good academic writing needs expertise and time for writing.  Here are some tips for becoming a good writer, especially for academic writing. These tips are derived after intensive study of the referred material and divided into three sections, i.e. planning, writing and revising.

1.     Planning

While planning for academic writing, according to Connolley(1994)the following steps should be followed:

  • Develop ideas through pre writing
  • Limit your topic
  • Plan your approach
  • Consider your audience
  • Gather evidence
  • Develop statement
  • Organize ideas
  • General tips

1.1.          Develop ideas through pre writing

a.       Start  thinking alone about the topic

b.      List ideas about the topic on a plain page

c.       Make diagrams which come in mind about sequence of thoughts

d.      Read about the topic in books, journals, internet

e.       Take notes of whatever you read

f.       Talk to others about the topic and get their comments with full concentration

g.      Ask questions about the topic

a.       From peers

b.      From teachers

c.       From experts available

h.      Start free writing( whatever comes in mind, just write down)

i.        Cluster the ideas coming in mind while thinking

j.        Give headings and sub headings

1.2.          Limit your topic

2.      Give clear cut boundaries to your topic

3.      Topic must  answer what you are going to write

4.      Topic must clarify how you are going to write, the method of writing should be clear

5.      Area of study must clearly be mentioned

6.      Outline what to discuss

1.3.          Plan your approach

2.      Clearly finalize which approach you are going to use

3.      Clarify  which pattern is useful for which topic

d.      From peers

e.       From teachers

f.       From experts

g.      Use your own thinking

2.      Generally, approach used for writing is one of the following:

a.       Description

b.      Narration

c.       Exposition

d.      argumentation

1.4.          Consider your audience

2.      For whom you are writing

e.       Assignment to teacher

f.       Paper in journal

g.      Presentation in class

h.      Research thesis

3.       Consider Level of understanding of audience

4.      Anticipate the responses of the audience

5.      Put answers to those questions which may rise in audience minds

6.      Make writing appealing to audience

1.5.          Gather evidence

2.      Show as well as tell

3.      Decide the use  of factual support by:

i.        Charts

j.        Diagrams

k.      Pictures

l.        Illustrations

m.    Lists

4.      Refer  to  recommendations by experts

5.      Expert opinion backed up by facts

6.      Decide what quotations to use

7.      use quotations with care (Too many quotations seems like padding. Too few may give the impression you have done no reading on the subject.)

8.      Verify validity of resources to use

9.      include enough evidence or verification to convince someone who disagrees with you

10.  chose  your evidence or proof carefully and explain how it proves your point

1.6. Develop statement

1.      Prepare clear definition of the terms

2.      Decide on the structure of the statement

3.      Determine audience level of understanding and interest

4.      Establish tone of essay, paper, assignment

5.      Topic maintaining focus of the study

1.7. Organize ideas

1.      Organize ideas according to the tone of the essay, paper, and assignment.

  • Chronological arrangement of ides
  • Spatial arrangement of ideas
  • Deductive arrangement of ideas
  • Inductive arrangement of ideas
  • Arrange ideas by degree of importance

1.      Create a rough outline, although you can change a little, when you feel

2.      Make list of possible topics

3.      Prepare to Put most appealing logic in the beginning

1.8.          General tips

2.      Write as often as you can, so that each new idea is written

3.      Use your creativity, and do not hesitate new ideas presentation

4.      Read related material with writers eye

5.      Decide which powerful logic to present in the end

6.      Drop irrelevant ideas

7.      Think how to grab readers attention

8.      Classify the process into as steps as feasible

2.     Writing

2.1. Writing first draft

1.      Start writing about the topic

2.      Go on writing, whatever comes in mind

3.      Here is no need to check spelling or grammar structure

4.      Circle words you want to verify

5.      Add new ideas without shame

6.      You can follow these steps:

1.1.1.      defining the main topic

1.1.2.      dividing main topic into major components

1.1.3.      break components into  sub components

1.1.4.      make each component exclusive

1.1.5.      use details, illustrations , charts, diagrams to explain structure of outline better

2.2. Making outline

1. If the topic is about a procedure, outline it by writing:

a.       step 1

b.      step 2

c.       step3

d.      step 4

e.       step 5

2. If the topic is about just information gathered, outline it as:

a.       introduction

b.      facts

c.       summary

4.      if the topic is about analytical report , it can be outlined as:

a.       introduction

b.      facts and findings

c.       analysis and discussion

d.      conclusion

e.       recommendations

5.      if the topic is about comparing some concepts or objects ,or ideas etc, it can be outlined as:

a.       introduction  of both concepts or objects ,or ideas

b.      features of both concepts or objects ,or ideas

c.       comparison of both concepts or objects ,or ideas

1.      feature 1

2.      feature 2

3.      feature 3

4.      feature 4

5.      feature 5

d.      findings

e.       conclusions

f.       recommendations

6.      If the topic is about a proposal, it can be outlined as:


a.       statement of the problem,

b.       review of related literature,

c.       and statement of hypothesis

2.      method

a.       subjects,

b.       instruments,

c.       C.  design,

d.      procedure

3. Data analysis,

4. Time schedule and

5. Budget

2.3. Putting data at right place

1. If writing by hand, get scissor and tape to fix data where needed

2. If writing on computer, save all data at a separate file and use cut and paste strategy

3. In both cases, reference should be with all data

4. Data must include introduction, body and conclusion

2.4. Sentence grammar

1.      Recognize basic sentence patterns

2.      Recognize subjects and predicates

3.      Review eight parts of speech

a.       Verb

b.      Noun

c.       Pronoun

d.      Adjectives

e.       Adverbs

f.       Conjunctions

g.      Prepositions

h.      Interjections

4.      Recognize how words act as different parts of speech

5.      Identify phrases and clauses

6.      Review types of phrases and clauses

7.      Identify kinds of sentences

8.      Recognize difference between phrases and clauses

2.5. Sentence logic

1.      Delete irrelevant details

2.      Emphasize important ideas

3.      Establish cause and effect relationships

4.      Limit generalizations

5.      Define words using concrete terms

6.      Make sentence ideas related to main statement

7.      Give important ideas more emphasis

8.      Make sentences easy, if found tough to understand in one reading

2.6. Structure

1. Outline the paragraphs before writing

2.  Make sure your thoughts flow logically from one to the next rather than giving the impression of free association.

2.      Make sure each paragraph starts with a thesis statement, or a topic sentence, that lets the reader know what the topic for that paragraph will be.

3.      End with a conclusion that acts as the reverse of the introduction.

4.      sum up the point of the paper in conclusion

5.       make comments, or make suggestions at the end

2.7. Coordination, subordination and parallelism

1.      Use coordination to join ideas of equal importance

2.      Use subordination to describe unequal ideas

3.      Use parallelism to create balanced sentences

4.      Ensure  items match, must be same part of speech and follow the same form

5.      Make Pairs and lists of ideas similar

6.      State main ideas in main paragraphs and main sentences

7.      Include sentences in the existing sentences, if they convey very little information

2.8. Emphasis and variety

1.      Create emphasis by including sentences and words that dramatize the important ideas

2.      Avoid dull repetition of same pattern of sentences

3.      Avoid weak endings

4.      First and last paragraphs should be emphasizing and dramatizing

5.      Use active voice

6.      Vary sentence length

7.      Vary sentence type

8.      Vary vocabulary, but not too difficult to understand

9.      Include rhetorical questions

10.  Avoid changing your own point of view in the writing

11.  Emphasize with repetition

12.  Use free modifiers and absolutes to create variety

2.9. Tone and diction

1.      Choose words carefully

a.       Use slang carefully as they can weaken the tone

b.      Use dialect with respect

c.       Use jargon scarcely for non technical audience

d.      Avoid old fashioned and foreign terms

2.      Use correct idioms to avoid confusion

3.      Understand connotations and denotations and if necessary, explain

4.      Avoid sexist labels

5.      Use gender free job titles

6.      Be careful for words used for ethnic groups and disabled

2.10. Creating images

1.      Use concrete nouns and verbs creating clear images

2.      Use similes and metaphors to explain

3.      Avoid writing cliché

4.      Use facts and figures in clear language to create their image

2.11. Making every word count

1.      Include all necessary words

2.      Avoid wordiness

3.      Avoid longer sentences

4.      Avoid using fillers and waiting words

5.      Use simple vocabulary

6.      Cut repetition words

7.      Use “that” only to prevent confusion

8.      Replace long constructions with single words

9.      Remove words in the sentences which do not spoil the integrity of the thought

2.12. Avoiding bias

1.      Avoid sex representation in text

2.      Avoid assumptions about ethnic group

3.      Avoid bias against elderly, disabled, and ethnic group

4.      Use current dictionary to find  bias free words

5.      Use internationally accepted terms

2.13. Avoiding confusing shifts

1.      maintain consistent verb tenses

2.      maintain  consistent mood in writing

3.      maintain active voice consistently

4.      avoid shifting from your own point of view

5.      avoid excessive emotionalism

6.      maintain consistent noun and pronoun use

2.14. General tips for writing

1. Use straightforward language
2. Take care with grammar and sentence construction.

3. Avoid using a note-style of writing.

4. Try not to use pompous language.
For example: use “find out” rather than “endeavour to ascertain”. Try not to use jargon or clichés

5. Provide definitions, unless you can reasonably expect your reader to know them.

6. Use impersonal language
7. Use precise words and sentences
8. Write only to the point

9. Try not to make generalizations.

10. Use cautious language.

11. Use appropriate verb tenses. Reports often use the present tense in the introduction and the past tense when discussing findings.

12. Be careful when using acronyms.
13.  Ensure you are linking points together

14.  Do not address the reader directly or use questions

15. Be careful not to use redundant phrases.

16. Do not start sentences with linking words.

17. Avoid using contractions.

18. Avoid making negative statements.

19. Avoid making sentences overlong and complicated.

3. Revising

Revising includes the following steps, which are described in detail one by one:

  • revising
  • editing
  • proof reading
  • final copy
  • review graded draft
  • final revision

3.1.          Revising

1.      Review work keeping goals of work in mind

2.      Follow instructions of instructor

3.      Review work keeping institute’s guidelines in mind

4.      Ensure clear language

5.      Support your views by providing facts and details

6.      Find out whether work is clearly organized

7.      Find out irrelevant details to be deleted

8.      Find out necessary points to be added

9.      Find out confusing ideas to be clarified

10.  Check out whether precise language is used

11.  Check whether Adopted tone of work is according to the level of audience

12.  Check whether introduction is dramatic and attractive, if not revise it

13.  Check out whether body of the work is having sequence, logic and evidence, if any of these is missing, ensure it by revising

14.  Check whether conclusion has a logic, if not, revise it

15.  Ask others to read aloud and listen to your work

16.  Show your work  to others without explaining what you have done and why

17.  Let others talk about your work and you take notes of what they say

18.  Ask them for possible improvement ideas

19.  Review their ideas and work accordingly, without thinking that all recommendations will be adopted, use your own thinking at this time as well

20.  After working on their suggestions, if there is time, ask them again  to have a look at your work

3.2.          Editing

1.      Check out accuracy of names, dates quotes

2.      Check out logical statement of facts and statistics

3.       Clear  transition statements

4.      Put extra details recognized in revision step

5.      Delete irrelevant and useless details recognized in revision step

6.      Check out monotonous sentences

7.      Check out for same forms in nouns and verbs

8.      Check out observance of capitalization rules

9.      Ensure that subjects and verbs agree I n sentences

10.  Check out quotation marks used where necessary

11.  Check out the sequence of work in three tier way, introduction, body and conclusion

12.  Check out the sequence of paragraphs

3.3.          Proofreading

1.      Check out each line of your work for:

a.       Some thing missing

b.      Some thing extra

c.       Some thing difficult

d.      Some thing false

2.      Check out if there is any mechanical error

3.      Do not leave a single line for accuracy, including title page

4.      Read your work aloud, hearing mistakes is easy than to see

5.      Double check numbers, statistics, names, quotations etc for accuracy

6.      Proof read by some one else

7.      Take a break and then proof read

8.      Proofread content by checking:

a.       Well flow of paper

b.      clear big picture

c.       order of the sections making sense

9.      proofread clarity and conciseness by checking:

a.       clear sense of sentences

b.      elimination of unneeded sentences

10.  proofread for spelling and grammar by checking:

a.       accurate use of words, verbs, subjects etc

b.      accurate punctuation

11.   proofread citation correctness by checking:

a.       Correct citation of all sources

b.      Correct format of reference list

c.       Any thing cited, but not referred

d.      Any thing referred , but not cited in text

3.4.          Final copy

1.      prepare final copy Keeping proof reading guidelines in mind

2.      prepare final copy according to the format suggested by your institute

3.5.          Review graded draft

1.      check out graded copy line by line, each page

2.      revise draft accordingly

3.      eliminate mistakes pointed out

3.6.  Final revision

1.      revise once again after correcting mistakes

2.      compile accordingly

a.       put needed information

b.      delete extra information

3.7.  General tips for revision

  • Replace light verbs with more specific terms. Replace “be” with exist, occur, equal, consist of, comprise (of), typify, appear, seem, tend…and replace “have” with possess, contain, exhibit, with…etc
  • Replace common terms with more precise and formal terms. Substitute “lots of” with                                                 many, numerous, large number/amount/, plenty (of) and “I, we” with  the researcher, the writer, the author etc
  • Eliminate second person (you, your, and imperative verbs) by substituting third person forms.
  • Eliminate awkward or unnecessary there expressions.
  • Tone of Paraphrases should be same as the rest of your work
  • Eliminate oversimplifications and contradictions
  • Check out page references
  • Revise your paper several times for ideas, organization, unity, coherence, grammar mistakes, sentence structure, mechanics, and spelling.
  • Use a greater variety of transitional words.
  • Avoid frequent use or overuse of topic shift transitional devices.
  • Check for problems with count nouns vs. non-count (mass) nous.
  • Check for awkward and incorrectly used passive verbs.
  • Avoid mere summary when reviewing literature
  • Provide simple and easy organization of the essay, assignment, paper
  • Use each paragraph with a purpose. For instance,

Do’s and Don’ts for becoming a good writer

1st Paragraph:  State your thesis, briefly listing the main points you’ll make.

2nd Paragraph: Explain your first point and then offer evidence.  Explain how your evidence proves or explains the first point.

3rd Paragraph:  explain your second point and offer evidence. Explain how your evidence proves or explains the second point. Continue pattern for other paragraphs

  • Last Paragraph Conclude quickly, briefly restating the points you’ve made.
  • Each paragraph should be clearly “linked” back to the thesis. This link to the thesis should be made clear to your reader.
  • You may have an introductory paragraph before the thesis, and one point may require more than one paragraph.
  • persuade your reader to accept your ideas/interpretations/reactions on the basis of the evidence you offer and how logically you
  • explain that evidence. It’s the type of writing that’s sometimes called “argumentative.”
    • Use linking words to help structure your work, examples of these are ‘therefore’, ‘consequently’, ‘furthermore’ and ‘however’.
    • Pay attention to spelling, you do get marked on this. Try and use a dictionary rather than relying on your computer’s spell check, they are much more reliable.
    • Use thesaurus to avoid repeating the same words throughout your work; as a thesaurus offers a list of alternative words.
    • Always reference your work, not just the quotations but the ideas as well.
    • Make sure to use the correct referencing system for your course. If in doubt, refer to your course or module handbook.
    • Spend enough time to make the corrections that you need.
    • Avoid using exclamation points, contractions (such as “can’t”), emoticons (smiley faces), or acronyms with which the reader may not be familiar.
    • refer and cite scholarly sources for the text correctly.
    • find scholarly sources for professional or academic writing. the most effective search engine for scholarly sources is the through a university library’s website.
    • Prefer The Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA), ERIC, and Web of Science database resources provided by an academic library.
    • Librarians are available in person, on the phone, and online to ask questions about finding and citing sources.
    • The following is a quick checklist to determine whether an article or book is scholarly. A source is most likely scholarly if it meets the following criteria:
    • Academic writing is careful to include doubts and limitations. Carefully chosen examples of ideas that disagree with what you are saying, or expressions of why you are not telling the whole truth, are part and parcel of academic evidence. Phrases like “for the purposes of this essay, the limited definition of … will be used” and “the examples used in this short essay are limited to…” also make an academic point.
    • Don’t give orders – don’t write in the imperative mood – unless you are training to be a teacher.
    • If you must refer to yourself, third person formulae such as “The present writer would recommend that…” may be useful.
    • Use the full forms of words and phrases, not contractions like “he’s”, “don’t”, etc. Keep the apostrophe to indicate possession – and use it correctly.
    • Use as few words as you can; but use enough words to express your meaning as fully as you can.
    • Avoid lazy words such as ‘nice’. It is usually better to say “acquire” or “obtain” than “get”; and it may be better, if you mean ‘through the use of money’, to say “purchase” or – better still – “buy”.
    • A short word like “buy” is better than a long one like “purchase” – unless the long one is more accurate.
    • Write in complete sentences, with no grammatical errors.
    • You will often sound more academic if you include doubts in your work – and qualifications. “Within the scope of this essay, the current writer cannot hope to cover all the possible implications of the question.”
    • Avoid the use of humour in academic writing – unless you are very sure of yourself. .
    • Paragraphs in academic English should contain more than one sentence. The average academic book runs to two or three paragraphs per page.
    • Use the word that more in formal writing than most of us do in speech.
    • When you use abbreviations, other than the conventional ones like “e.g.”, “et al.” etc., write out the formal title in full the first time you use it; and put the abbreviation in brackets after it, for example “Islamia University,Bahawalpur(IUB)
    • Give yourself enough time to research, plan, write, revise, and rewrite.
    • Decide on a specific research question or argument. Find a question or an argument that you can investigate and find evidence to prove or explain in your paper. Also, it will help you write a well focused thesis statement.
    • Research the topic and find valid dependable resources to use in your paper, it will enable you to use different search engines until you find the information you need to develop your ideas.
    • Make sure you take notes and bibliographic information of the resources you chose to use in your paper. Write your notes using your own words. Include the name of the author, title of the work, the publication information, and the page numbers. Indicate whether the words you are using are quoted, summarized or paraphrased.
    • Avoid plagiarism. This means do not use other writers’ ideas as if they were your own.. There are rules for borrowing ideas that are explained by different writing styles. If you cheat by stealing other peoples’ ideas, you will put yourself at risk of being expelled or punished severely.
    • Make sure your paper has the three essential parts of the essay. Your paper should include
    • Introduction, body and conclusion.
    • Format your paper following the writing style your instructor demands. There are many writing styles such as MLA, APA, and others. Follow the style assigned by your institute
  • If the source is an article, it comes from a peer-reviewed journal.
  • If it is a research article, it should it should be written in the IMRaD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion). These are known as empirical studies. Literature reviews (meta-analyses), theoretical articles, methodological articles, and case studies may also be considered scholarly.
  • The author of the source should cite specific theories and their sources.
  • The source should include specialized vocabulary that is intended for a scholarly audience. (Newspapers and magazines are not intended for scholarly audiences).
  • The source provides author name(s) and institutional affiliations.
  • The journal or book should be published by a professional organization or academic institution.

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