Academic writing styles

I am working on two books this summer/fall. I hope both will be done by the end of December, although that may be over-optimistic. (Oh, well.) As a result of being engaged in these writing processes, questions of academic writing style have been on my mind.

I owe many debts of gratitude to my mentor and frequent coauthor, Rein Taagepera. But the most recent one was his suggestion that every empirical chapter in our new book (Votes from Seats, 2017) start with a presentation of the key result. Don’t drag the reader through prior literature and a bunch of “hypotheses” (a practice he hates, and I tend to agree) before getting to the point. Start with the point, and then explain how you got there, and only then why others did not get there. But the thing is, this almost never works with a journal article (and maybe doesn’t work with books for most scholars not named Shugart or Taagepera), because reviewers impose a standard format that just makes for plodding reading. And writing.

For probably the best demonstrations of our preferred presentation, if you have access to the book, see Chapter 7, which has an overview of “Duverger’s law” near its end, but starts with the Seat Product formula for effective number of seat-winning parties and a graph showing the payoff. Also Chapter 12, in which the previously proposed concept of “proximity” is discussed at the end of a chapter that opens with some data plots showing our preferred “elapsed time“. Other empirical chapters in the book mostly follow this format as well.

5 thoughts on “Academic writing styles

  1. I agree, MSS, but would also recommend frequent references to “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “The Godfather” Parts 1 and 2, “The Simpsons”, and “The Matrix” to really add zing.

  2. Great, but some readers (like me) figured out long ago to start with the end of the article where it gets to the point, and then go back to the beginning and see how the writer gets there. So I’m fine either way. 🙂

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