What’s in a phrase? With these 5, just possibly better grades…

Stephen has found 5 more quotes that all apply to academic writing. Find out which ones apply to you…By Stephen Soanes

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler (attrib. Albert Einstein, c.1933)


Einstein’s equation for mass-energy equivalence was as simply formulated as possible, yet the physics behind the idea has complex implications.

‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…’ is a similarly simple expression, yet a whole field of Shakespearean studies has converged on its author’s Sonnet 18.

Clarity and simplicity go hand-in-hand. The caveat is that academic writing often involves elaboration, so that all arguments are substantiated through a reasoned application of evidence.

 Write as if you were speaking loudly across a crowded room (Richard Reiner, ‘Aphorisms for Professional Writing’, 2011)

This doesn’t mean exclamation marks!!! ! Instead, it is about unequivocal articulacy.

If it happened that the crowded room you were in was on fire, you might point at the exit and tent your eyebrows with concern as well as speak loudly.

So it is with your written argument. Direct language can help, but particularly where you can also set the appropriate tone and point to relevant examples.

This cliché only works, though, when you match rhetoric with facts and reasoned argument. It’s the difference between being a demagogue or a pedagogue.

 Give credit where credit’s due (Uncredited, ironically…)

Context and attribution are everything.

If I compared you to a summer day in the UK these days, I would probably get a slap. Miserable, leaden, changeable? Oh go on, you charmer you ?

If we used this much-quoted simile from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, though, it would also be necessary to give the Bard credit for his rather lovely imagery.

Crediting ideas indicates to the reader that you understand the literature. Giving credit also allows you to position your argument in the context of what others have said. Do this both in your footnotes and in the main body of your writing to make attribution absolutely clear.

 Easy writing makes vile hard reading (Richard Sheridan, ‘Clio’s Protest, or the Picture Varnished’, 1771)

Excellent! I’ve written 5,000 words in 30 minutes – easy!

Not so fast, Dickens… More often than not, though, academic writing in particular requires a skilful blend of contextualisation, systematic argument, deployment of relevant evidence (and counter-evidence) and attribution. This takes time.

Great writers are often prolific, but when it comes to academic writing even lecturers often find the process difficult and time-consuming. Put in the hours and effort, though, and you too can produce something special.

You have ‘nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears’ (Winston Churchill, speech to the House of Commons 13 May 1940)

Hopefully you won’t *literally* be bleeding, sweating and crying – that’s got to be a bad day at the office for anyone. The toil part, though, is certainly true.

It is interesting how Churchill’s speech is often referred to as ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’. Like our much-published lecturers, though, Churchill recognised that great achievements require great effort.

You can only do your best. Combine effort with the application of these tips, though, and hopefully your academic writing will enjoy its finest hour. Know any more relevant quotes? Share them in the comments!

Image: Winston Churchill attends Harvard commencement/Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection./ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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