Four books that will transform your academic writing

These four books have changed the way we think about academic writing and helped us develop our editing style.

The Elements Of Style, Strunk and White.

A classic that every English language writer should know and one that every researcher should keep on their desk. Strunk and White’s 22 elementary rules of usage will help you spot and fix the most common issues in academic writing. Here’s a few:

Rule 17: Omit needless words.
Rule 16: Use definite, specific, concrete language.
Rule 14: Use the active voice.

Writing Science In Plain English, Anne Greene.

Poor scientific writing hinders the flow of ideas across academic disciplines, and makes it harder for the public to understand research. Anne Greene, a scientist herself, believes that unreadable writing sets a bad example for young scientists, because they imitate what they read. In “Writing Science In Plain English,” Greene illustrates each principle of good writing with examples. One of the most important principles that the book highlights is, not surprisingly, “Omit needless words.”

Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer.

From Random House’s copy chief Benjamin Dreyer. The first advice that Dreyer gives is to challenge yourself to go one week without writing any of the following: very, rather, quite, really, in fact, just, so, pretty, surely, and actually. The book is not tailored to science writers, but it does not have to be — Dreyer’s many rules, non-rules and exceptions are universal. The book will inspire confidence in all your writing.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser.

A much broader guide to nonfiction writing than the Elements of Style. Zinsser starts with a call for simpler and clutter-free writing: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.” Clutter is also the main reason why modern academic writing style is so unreadable. After introducing the basic principles and methods, the book moves on to specific genres of nonfiction, including a section on Science and Technology writing.

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