I’m in a writing circle with a few other tenure-track friends, and one of them keeps giving me detailed edits that don’t feel like improvements to me. She’s well published in her field, which is close to mine, and she won a big grant recently. How do I know if she’s the better writer? How do I determine if and when I should emulate her writing style?
– Anonymous, Film Studies Dr. Editor’s response:
I can’t tell you how to figure out if your colleague is a better writer than you are. There’s some limited evidence that suggests that well-written papers are more likely to get published than papers that aren’t well-written (e.g., Fages 2022 ; Feld, Lines & Ross 2022 ). So it may be that your colleague’s success with publishers and grant funders are indicators of the quality of their writing – or it may be that we’re seeing the Matthew effect of accumulated advantage at work in your colleague’s CV ( Bol, de Vaan & van de Rijt, 2018 ). Or maybe I’m attempting to construct a pattern out of too small a dataset!
Rather than wondering whether to accept or reject your colleague’s suggested edits, dear letter-writer, I’d encourage you to identify your own favourite academic writers. These could be researchers who are highly cited and highly funded, or they may be authors you first encountered in graduate school or through social media threads like this one from March 2022, initiated by Jill Walker Rettberg: Which academics write BEAUTIFULLY? I want to read writers who weave language, who dare to be personal, who write speculative essays or personal criticism and are theoretically or philosophically or analytically exciting, innovative or generative. Who should I read?
— Jill Walker Rettberg (@jilltxt) March 26, 2022 Ideally, I’d like you to find authors who write in the same discipline as you, since the best writing is tailored to its audience and context. Once you have a few examples of writing that you admire, and that you’d like to emulate, I suggest saving it as a Google Doc, and removing any tables, footnotes, references, or acknowledgements.
Then, I’d like you to copy that Google Doc text, and paste it into the “references” box over at writingwellishard.com : With the support of a small team, I’ve been building Writing Well is Hard since the start of 2022. This free tool helps you to identify the writing characteristics of the best academic writers – however you choose to define “best” – and to compare your own writing to your chosen reference.
Click the “analyze” button and you’ll see a list of stats that enable you to compare your own writing to your chosen sample: Using the tool should be fairly intuitive. Hover over the little question mark to read more about each feature of writing analyzed in the tool. You’ll also receive detailed graphs, showing you how many of your sentences have particular word counts, as well as where you have clusters of nominalizations, prepositions, “to […]