Volume 20, Issue 2, June 1997
Jonathan Bennett, Samuel Gorovitz
Improving Academic Writing
Academic writing, even in prestigious journals, is frequently ugly and arduous. The writing in academic philosophy is no exception, especially given philosophers’ tendency to overlook prose and to focus exclusively on philosophical content. This paper argues that good prose matters for moral, prudential, and philosophical reasons. After glossing these reasons, the authors offer advice, born of experience, to academic writers who want to achieve clear, effective prose. Their advice includes how to improve sentence structure (e.g. eliminate undue repetition and forms of “to be,” be careful with comma use, evaluate sentences by reading them aloud), global considerations (e.g. use technical notation cautiously, avoid prose in footnotes, read and report opponents’ views with charity), how to practice reiterating the same point in different words (e.g. play language games likes crossword puzzles, read non-academic prose, aim to communicate one’s point succinctly), and the suggestion to take prose seriously in the evaluation of student work.