The Art of Academic Writing (for Policy Makers & Everyone Else)

This is a wonderfully clear and concise piece by Dr Christine Cheng of King’s College London explaining how to learn the art of academic writing.

I am reblogging it here because it makes an interesting companion to my ongoing series 10 things to avoid when writing for a policy audience. While academic writing is a distinct form in its own right, with different objectives, the principles I outline for policy writers apply equally.

As Sir Ernest Gowers put it: “Your purpose must be to make your meaning plain.” Which does not mean you have to water down difficult ideas; simply describe them in a way your readers can understand without first having to penetrate a tangled undergrowth of densely written prose. Do them a favour by avoiding obscure, complex, abstract and passive language.

Christine Cheng

Many of my students in the MA in Conflict, Security, and Development at King’s College London have come directly from the policy world. They are diplomats, military commanders, NGO workers, social activists. They bring with them diverse knowledge and skill sets to the classroom, but they also bring with them particular ways of communicating that are very different from what is required of them in academia. Key to this is academic writing.

For people who worked as practitioners, it is hard to understand what could possibly be more important than deriving policy recommendations from a piece of writing. What is the point of writing about something if you can’t decide what to do about it? This is a common complaint of academic writing.

The first thing practitioners should appreciate is that deciding what to do is not the goal of an academic essay or article. The goal usually has to…

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About Richard Cheeseman

Freelance writer, speechwriter and editor
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