Five easy fixes to make your academic writing stand out

You’ve spent months toiling in the lab, you’ve wrangled with SPSS or IPA or FDA or one of those other acronyms that make your family’s eyes glaze over. Finally, you’re ready to write up your fascinating findings.

It’s one thing to bore the pants off your family, but how can you stop your audience’s eyes glazing over? How can you keep those examiners or reviewers or students turning pages?

Worried your audience will look like this? Fear not, the Post-Graduate Proof-Reader can help!

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Academic writing has a reputation for being dry and hard to struggle through, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I am the post-graduate proof-reader. I’m a qualitative psychologist and novel writer, and I’ve proofed more PhDs than you’ve had hot toddies, so I know how to make formal language sing. Here are my five easy fixes.  

  • Present your text professionally.

Align your work to the left. Justifying leaves unsightly spaces between words – spaces which, when I worked on magazines, we used to fill with unnecessary ‘buts’ and ‘whys’ and ‘therefores’. Do everyone a favour and hit align left. This simple step will make your eyes sigh with relief.

Inserting returns between your paragraphs is another stunningly easy fix which will have your examiners smiling. It’s easier to read text that’s spaced out than words which are crammed together.

  • Break up those unwieldy sentences

Postgraduate work is brain-breaking stuff. Sometimes our ideas are complex and feel too big to be hemmed in by such bourgeois notions as short sentences. As you start writing, you might find that your ideas run on and on. That’s fine for a first draft, but always go back and try to divide those monstrous marathons up. Look for where you’ve used the word ‘and’. Can you delete it and start a sentence? Can you delete it? Start a new sentence? (See? It’s simple.) Your readers will thank you.  

Get editing for concise writing

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  • Omit needless words (Strunk, 2007)

No matter what you’re writing – an epic poem, the great British novel, a paper on the latest discoveries about the phonological loop – William Strunk’s famous edict applies. Effective writing is concise.

Mistakes I see a lot include writing ‘all of the participants’ where ‘all participants’ would do; ‘appears to suggest’ where ‘suggests’ works well; or ‘For P1, the experience of rain was distressing’ where ‘P1 found the rain distressing’ is far more elegant.

  • Avoid informal words

This one is a bit trickier as you have to learn which words don’t work in a formal environment. However, as with all writing – academic or creative – it helps to be specific. Don’t say ‘things’ when what you mean is ‘negative elements’. Avoid the word ‘normal’, especially if you’re talking about people, as it implies that some people are abnormal. And never use the word ‘very’. Your writing will sound stronger without it. Trust me!

For more on this topic, check out our top tips for formal writing.

  • Employ the post-graduate proof-reader

If all this sounds knackering and you just want to get back to writing your next grant application or maybe even watching a bit of Killing Eve with your long-suffering spouse, fear not. Just get in touch with the post-graduate proof-reader and I can help you complete all these fixes and many more so that your academic writing becomes something to write home about.  

Employ the Post-Graduate Proof-Reader and you too can be this delighted by your writing.

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How to get your qualitative study ready for publication in five easy steps

Are you a postgrad student with a comprehensive, beautifully written qualitative thesis? You know your research deserves to be read by a wider audience, but after looking at journal word lengths, you’ve realised you’ll need to cut your gorgeous study in half (or maybe even quarters) to be eligible for publication.

How on earth can this be done?

Don’t panic! This blog will outline five easy steps to help you cut your study down into a bite-sized, publishable piece without losing any of the nuance you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into.

1. Select a journal Think about audience, word-length and style

Before you even start thinking about making cuts to your precious study, the first thing to get straight is which journal you’re writing for. Who is your ideal audience? Do they have a key publication? If so, that could be the one for you. Run a quick search through your chosen journal’s archive to ensure they are open to qualitative publications; it will be a waste of your time and theirs to send your gorgeous IPA findings to a publication which only deals with stats.

Wow your audience with your awesome findings
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Once you’ve found your ideal journal, search their website for their instructions for authors, and note down their word length and style guidelines. Some journals might ask for a certain number of pages rather than a word length. Most will have requirements for font, point size and spacing, which you will do well to adopt from the outset so you don’t get a nasty shock when it turns out you have to double space the article you’ve spent hours getting down to 30 singlespaced pages.

2. Re-read your study What are the novel points? What will be of particular interest to your chosen journal’s audience?

Once you’ve selected your ideal journal, go back and re-read your study. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to fit all the findings from a master’s or PhD study into one paper, so think about which findings are the most novel, or which will appeal most to the audience of your chosen publication.

3. Choose two to three themes Which would work as an individual paper?

Feeling overwhelmed by words? The Post-Graduate Proof-Reader can help!
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You might have to make some big choices at this stage. Have you got five themes? Perhaps there will only be room in this paper to present two of those. Don’t worry – it could be that you could put the other three into a second paper for another audience. Maybe there’s just one theme that you feel is really hard-hitting. That’s fine too – you can pull that out of the study and present it alone.

4. Re-write your lit review and discussion Tailor these to your chosen themes

Once you’ve selected the theme/s you want to focus on for this paper, you’ll need to tailor the introduction, method and discussion sections to fit. Which papers from your lit review are relevant just for these fewer themes? Add a short section in your method explaining that you have (for example) selected two themes from a wider project, and explaining why you’ve chosen to do this. You might also want to include some recommendations and reflections towards the end of your discussion section.

5. Send your paper to the Post-Graduate Proof-Reader

Your study should be looking much more like a publishable paper now. It will be shorter and more tightly focused towards a specific audience. Congratulations! But… you may still be a little beyond that elusive word limit. Could you make your points more succinctly? Perhaps you don’t need all those limitations you’ve humbly included in your discussion section! Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is needed at this stage. Visit and I’ll be happy to help you get your piece down to the correct word length and help you share your fabulous research with the wider world.