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3 fundamental lessons about reading and academic writing

Whenever I teach academic writing I tell my students a number of things I strongly believe are fundamental. The three lessons I list here are in my view of the utmost importance.

Highlighting, scribbling marginalia, reading, writing

First, to learn how to write, you need to read. On my blog, I have written multiple times about the value of reading and why we need to legitimise reading as an intrinsic element of writing, about different reading strategies, and the importance of being able to triage your reading and choose across multiple strategies and approaches to how deeply you are going to read some materials.

“You will learn more about writing from one hour of reading than you will in six hours of writing.”
― John McAleer

Book reading

Second, to learn how to write well you need to read folks who write well, whose prose is clear, and whose style you like. I always point people to the writing of writers I find extremely clear and powerful. That doesn’t mean YOU will find them equally good nor their writing will make you think or feel the things it does to ME. You need to determine who you like and love reading.

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a person will turn over half a library to make one book.”
― Samuel Johnson

Books and bookshelves

The third lesson on reading and academic writing I emphasize is that you need to read broadly and all sorts of materials. I was a library rat since I was a child so I’ve done a lot of the traditional literature and that’s also why I now read more academic books than fiction. However…lot of academic writers could benefit from reading creative prose, fiction, even no -fiction but unrelated to their research area.

“Read, read, read. Read everything, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
― William Faulkner

I understand that it is challenging to set aside time to read with multiple commitments and time pressures. But your writing will improve.

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