With all of this semester’s exam scripts marked and off my desk, I have finally begun to read the books that have been piling up in my Kindle over the past semester. (On second thought, can eBooks ‘pile up’? Surely we need a new metaphor in the digital age.) One that I have particularly enjoyed is Helen Sword‘s Stylish Academic Writing. Far from an abstracted treatise on writing (as so many advanced academic writing texts are), Sword’s work highlights both the finest and guiltiest features of contemporary academic prose and uses these examples to demonstrate practical techniques for better writing.
The companion website to Sword’s earlier book The Writer’s Diet (unfortunately not available on Amazon.co.uk) offers a diagnostic tool to check the ‘flabbiness’ of prose. The diagnosis of several pages from a recent article of mine was not entirely positive. My writing, it seems, is a bit overwhelmed by adjectives and abstract nouns, but, then, so is a great deal of recent academic writing (see below). So my resolution for 2013 is to make my concrete nouns work harder, because up until this point they have been getting a free ride from my favourite adjectives.
- Is there an epidemic of plural abstract nouns? (languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu)
- Seven secrets of stylish academic writing (frugalfashionistachic.wordpress.com)
- Website helps writers determine the ‘fitness’ of their prose (prdaily.com)