Writing for academic and work purposes is a developing skill, and most of all, a practical one. For this reason, it is not always easy to develop this skill just by writing on your own. Ideally you will need a lot of feedback from your tutors, friends and colleagues, and a lot of writing practice, in order to develop your skills and to improve them.
If you really want to develop your writing by working on your own, there are a number of books available to help you. It is certainly worthwhile dipping into these for reference purposes but don't allow them to become dominating. Remember that communication and regular feedback, above all, are the keys to success. Some books have very useful appendices and reference sections which will help you to develop your knowledge of how to construct an academic essay or assignment. It would be a pity to discount the use of books altogether, although no book will contain everything that you need to become a perfect academic writer (if such a concept of 'perfect writer' ever exists).
3. Recommended books for developing academic writing skills
There are a number of reasons why it is hard to develop writing skills on your own. Some of these reasons are as follows :
- Writing is an interactive skill, which relies on an audience (reader) to provide feedback;
Written style develops as the writer reads more and gains more experience;
Writing can be a lonely, demotivating and unproductive discipline if it is undertaken in isolation;
Everyone approaches writing in a different way; there is no 'set formula' for writing an essay, dissertation or thesis;
Some people feel anxious when they write, or may experience 'writers' block', feeling they have nothing interesting to say.
Writing is a difficult process for anyone who has a disability such as dyslexia (although many students with dyslexia are good writers).
As well as studying writing from textbooks, it is worth trying the following methods for developing your skills:
- Set up a blog, and get used to jotting down your thoughts and ideas quickly ¡V you may get useful feedback from other readers, which can be very motivating;
Get used to brainstorming, planning and writing quick first drafts. Any first drafts can always be polished up later on;
Read plenty of academic texts, and keep a written note of some of the turns of phrase that you particularly like;
Don't try to write like a famous philosopher. But being clear and interesting are two key qualities that you are seeking in your writing;
Try not to see writing as a personal 'secret'. Get used to sharing and exchanging you writing with others. so that you can gain lots of different views of your work;
No-one ever likes to be criticised. But be philosophical and accepting of criticism, and try not to be too resistant to change. Early criticism of your writing by peers, tutors and other readers with more experience than you will often make you into a better writer in the long run;
Make sure you know exactly what you are aiming for. Try to look at examples and models of good academic writing in your discipline, written by students as well as specialists. If you are doing a PhD, try to look at examples of theses in your discipline in your university library.
Try to familiarise yourself with the genre of your chosen discipline. Academics in education studies, for example, will write very differently from those in English literature. Be clear about the sort of style that is required when you are writing in your subject.
Try to avoid reducing your writing practice sessions to IELTS practice tests. If you do, not many people will enjoy reading your work very much. Try to write about something interesting, with a real audience in mind, and in a way that you think they will find interesting.
If you are a post-doctoral writer, send off a paper for publication and see what happens! Even if your paper is rejected, which it may be, you will still get some useful feedback that will help you in the future.
We particularly recommend the books below. Many of them are the sort of books that are used in class with the teacher, but all of them are widely available. And all of them contain references, examples and models that may help you to write better English.
Bailey. S. 2015. Academic Writing : A Handbook for International Students. London and
This is the book that we recommend for the Warwick pre-sessional course in English. It has a lot of useful practice exercises covering all aspects of academic English, and it has an answer key so that the book can be used as a self-study tool.
Craswell, G. 2004. Writing for Academic Success. Sage Publications.
This book provides some very useful suggestions on the process of writing, such as time management techniques, and also provides hints on writing theses and examination answers.
Murray, N. 2012. Writing Essays in English Language and Linguistics, Cambridge University Press.
This is a clear and authoritative guide to essay essay, project and report writing at university level which we would strongly recommend. It will be of value to students as a self-study tool, both for undergraduate and postgraduate students. The 'try it out' sections are particularly helpful for anyone wishing to develop their writing at a practical level.
Creme, P. and M. Lea. 2008. Writing at University: A guide for students. Open University Press.
This book is particularly helpful for familiarising students with what tutors are looking for in writing at university, and what is meant by 'critical' writing.
Jordan, R.R. 1999. Academic Writing Course. London: Nelson/Longman.
This book has been well used over the years but it is still very useful because it contains helpful appendices which students can be directed to for out-of-class study (for example, spelling, punctuation, irregular verbs, etc). There is a particularly useful section on linking words and connectors.
Hamp-Lyons, L. and Heasley, B. 2006. Study Writing. Cambridge University Press.
This book introduces you to a large number of key issues in academic writing, and has an answer key for the exercises.
Oshima, A. & Hogue, A. 2005. Writing Academic English, Addison-Wesley, New York
This book is a very popular classroom textbook for teachers, but it also has useful exercises that can be undertaken at home. It is particularly useful for looking at the structure of paragraphs, essays and longer texts.
Swales, J.and C. Feak. 2012. Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Skills and Tasks. Michigan University Press.
This book provides some very good models of academic writing and some useful hints on academic style. It is especially useful for anyone who needs to write up a research paper.