10 Tips For Writing Scholarly Nonfiction

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education proposed "10 tips on scholarly nonfiction writing that might help people write less badly."

1. Writing is an exercise. You get better and faster with practice.

2. Set goals based on output, not input. "I will work for three hours" is a delusion; "I will type three double-spaced pages" is a goal.

3. Find a voice; don't just "get published."

4. Give yourself time. Many smart people tell themselves pathetic lies like, "I do my best work at the last minute." Look: It's not true.

5. Everyone's unwritten work is brilliant. And the more unwritten it is, the more brilliant it is.

6. Pick a puzzle. Portray, or even conceive, of your work as an answer to a puzzle.

7. Write, then squeeze the other things in. Put your writing ahead of your other work.

8. Not all of your thoughts are profound.

9. Your most profound thoughts are often wrong.

10. Edit your work, over and over. Have other people look at it.

These are all sound principles of writing. I am constantly reminding students that they have to practice to be a good writer. It is like toning a muscle, and the more you do it, the better you become. I like the idea of setting goals on output (like writing a blog post each day). Although many academics must publish for tenure, getting published should not be the end goal. You should add to the discussion in a meaningful way (see number 6). For those procrastinators out there, number 4 is for you because you won't have time for number 10 if you rush. And number 10 adds a lot to a paper -- things like grammar, punctuation and even typography add to a finished work.


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