So here are the rules of good academic writing that I use:
1. Avoid announcing your intentions. Often people start a 3-page essay with “In this essay, I will explore. . .” What’s the point of wasting space on these declarations? Just go and explore whatever you want to explore already. Jonathan Mayhew, a literary critic whose style I admire, suggests that this signposting can be avoided even in books, let alone essays or articles. Here is a great post he wrote on the subject.
2. Avoid being verbose. Why hide your ideas behind a mountain of circumlocutions and endless introductory statements? The best kind of writing is direct and clear. I have a natural tendency to be verbose which means that I have to pare down my first drafts heavily. If your sentences tend to run on for half a page, there might be a verbosity problem.
3. Avoid choppiness. Writing in choppy sentences is not a good alternative to verbosity. When you create something like “Bildungsroman is an important genre. It has produced many works of literature”, try to combine the two sentences into one (These are very stupid sentences, I know. I’m just trying to give an example here.)
4. Be careful with the passive voice. There is nothing inherently evil about the passive voice. “This novel was published in 2012” is a perfectly legitimate sentence. However, often the passive voice conceals the author’s ignorance. If you keep saying that “Bildungsroman is considered to be an important genre” and “this issue is believed to be crucial”, you might need to stop and ask yourself whether both you and your readers can easily name the person or people who do the considering and believing.
5. Avoid generalizations. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to read essays that start with “everybody knows that. . .” and “it is obvious to everybody that. . .” First of all, if it’s so obvious, then why waste space saying it? Often, people hide their own very questionable opinions in such statements. Let’s avoid talking about everybody and everything and limit ourselves to the specific and provable.
6. Avoid stating the painfully obvious. Unless your reader is a 5-year-old, there is no need to say things like, “Spain is a country in Europe.” It sounds extremely condescending and makes your reader think that you are just padding your piece with platitudes because you have nothing to say.
7. Avoid providing dictionary definitions of simple words. See above for reasons why.
8. Avoid silly puns and broken down words. By broken down words I mean annoying constructions like “(under)-STAND-ing fem(in)ism.” Brrr, this is so eighties!
9. Don’t use terminology unless you are completely sure what the term you are using means. A metaphor, an alliteration and a hyperbole refer to completely different things and cannot be used interchangeably.
[To be continued. . .]