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Academic Writing Club: Stylish Academic Writing

A guide for the CSU academic writing club using Helen Sword's book, Stylish Academic Writing.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your past experience reading academic texts? Did you find them compelling? Thinking of a particularly readable piece of academic writing that you have encountered, what aspects of the writing did you admire?
  2. What have others told you about how to write academically? How has your understanding of proper academic writing differed from other kinds of writing (such as popular writing, or even writing emails)?
  3. Do you agree with Sword's assessment of most academic writing? 
  4. What is your writing goal as you move through this text?
  1. What have you learned over the course of your schooling about the rules of academic writing your own discipline? How did you learn these rules?
  2. Does your experience reading and writing in your discipline reflect the writing trends Sword found in her research?
  3. What disciplinary writing "rules" do you feel empowered to ignore when appropriate after reading the chapter?
  1. What training in writing have you received? How confident are you in your own writing skills?
  2. Have you ever used a style guide to help your writing? Was it useful? 
  3. Have you ever received conflicting advice about academic writing?
  4. Is there a writer in your discipline whose work you especially admire?
  1. Have you ever been told not to use "I" or "we" in academic writing? How did it affect the final result?
  2. How often do you use these pronouns in your own writing? How might you effectively incorporate them more often?
  1. Can you find any examples of academic writing that fails to use concrete language or is confusingly cluttered? How does this affect its readability?
  2. Use the Writer's Diet website to diagnose some of your sentences. How did they hold up?
  3. Did you try any of the suggestions for updating your sentences from the book? Was it challenging? Was the end result more readable?
  1. Can you find any examples of particularly compelling academic book or article titles? Try looking outside your discipline. Share what you find with the group.
  2. What reaction do you hope your audience will have to your first sentence or title?
  1. Thinking back to examples of compelling writing, what strategies did the author(s) use to draw you in?
  2. Try preparing several compelling openings for your text and share them with a trusted colleague. Which one was most interesting to your reader?
  1. How is your research project like a narrative? Can you tell the story to someone else?
  2. Who are the main characters in your writing? What is the setting? What's the takeaway from the story?
  1. Where can you insert examples and anecdotes into your writing?
  2. Scan your writing for metaphors or other figurative language. Where could more be added?
  3. Brainstorm ways to add visuals to your writing. What opportunities and challenges exist?
  1. What examples of jargon can you find in your own writing? What reasons do you have for using it?
  2. Are there examples of jargon in your discipline that are not well understood, even by those within the discipline?
  1. Would you consider breaking away from the typical IMRAD article structure with your writing? Why or why not?
  2. Does the outline of your text draw readers through the researcher in a logical and compelling way? Are all the sections necessary and descriptively labeled?
  1. What reference management tools have you heard of? Have you tried any and what was your experience?
  2. How do you manage your sources as you write? What advice do you have for the group?
  1. Did you use David Green's grid to evaluate academic writing? What features made some texts rise to the top? If you had to chart your own writing project, where would it fall on the grid?
  2. Can you describe what your research is about in conversational terms and without jargon? Try giving a summary to the group. 
  1. How often do you read academic writing? How do you choose what and when to read?
  2. What writing tactics do you hope to borrow from other writers you admire?
  3. Have you ever used freewriting or brainstorming to help you write? What are the benefits of such a tactic?
  4. When you don't know what to write or experience writer's block, what freewriting topics work best for you?
  1. What is your ideal writing style? What techniques have you now learned to help you achieve it? 
  2. What new habits might you need to develop to achieve the writing style you desire?
  3. What do you still want to know or work on after reading our book? What have you accomplished this semester that you feel proud of?