Good academic writing – what’s your list?



I asked people in one of my Australian writing workshops to tell me what they thought was essential in good academic writing. The purpose of the activity was to generate criteria that participants could use to steer their own writing. The list was not meant to be an evaluative rubric, something that could be used to assess distance from the ideal. No, the list was an expression of aspirations.

So here is the list that the workshop participants produced – with just a bit of editing from me.

The text is written clearly – complex ideas are explained and difficult terms are defined – the content is accessible to the reader. Even when concepts and theories are obscure, complex or difficult, they are not overcomplicated, but made comprehensible.

The text is well organized – it is clearly structured so that you know where you are in the argument.

The text is credible because the writer does what they say they are going to do. The writer explains and justifies their interpretation.

The author makes their position known but also recognizes and deals fairly with other people’s ideas, interpretations and views.

The text is generous – it offers readers different meaning making possibilities.

The text is stimulating – there is an invitation to get into dialogue – you have an argument going on in your head when you read it.

The writing is uncluttered, elegant and clean. The words are enjoyable, beautiful, powerful, not parsimonious. There is humour and playfulness. The writing affects you, the text does more than transmit knowledge. The text may be metaphorical, allegorical or it may ground you in everyday practice. Either can be a rewarding read.

The effort you make in reading the text is worthwhile – there is something to be learnt.

The text takes you to other writing – it leads you to other texts and writers

You forget you are reading.

How does this list differ from the usual academic writing that you read? What would you add to this list? Are there any things here that you don’t want from academic writing?

And would your list help you to think about how to revise your drafts? Would it give you something to aim for?