Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language

William Strunk and E.B. White promote the use of specific, definite, and concrete language over the general, vague, and abstract. Academic prose doesn’t need to be general, vague, or abstract. With a little practice and a good editorial eye, you can engage your reader with added detail.

Using the Active Voice

In scholarly writing, the scholar often disappears behind the words. What this means is that the person acting (doing an assay, reviewing books, or interviewing subjects) isn’t the focus of the sentence—instead the emphasis is on the objects being assayed or the subjects being interviewed. For example, in the following three sentences, the person doing the action can be omitted, which is a clue that the passive voice is used:

Funding Your Dissertation

Whether you’re looking for a few extra dollars to fund research or a larger fellowship that will pay for a year or two of focused work on your dissertation, a research grant can be just the ticket for finishing your dissertation and launching your career. A smaller award shows that you’re capable of getting money to fund research and, when it comes time to apply for a larger award, you’ve demonstrated that you are capable of using funds effectively to support your work.

Using Commas Correctly: Punctuating with Confidence

Correct comma usage is an art, not a science. Writers will sometimes disagree on when to use a comma or omit one; to help you as you write, here are a few general rules for using commas. These examples and the rules they’re based upon are drawn from the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, one of the core texts on proper language usage and formatting.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Number matters

When writing sentences, the verb conjugates according to the subject. The general rule of thumb for conjugating verbs is that if there's one person, place, or thing as the subject (not just one noun), then the verb is conjugated in the singular. If there are multiple people, places, or things, then the verb is conjugated in the plural. In other words, the verb and subject agree in number.

Attributing Words and Ideas in Your Work

As a graduate student, you engage with diverse ideas and academic work. Writing papers for your seminars and later your thesis and dissertation require you to account for other voices while establishing your own academic voice. Properly citing sources as you write provides a foundation for your argument and builds your credibility as a scholar. You can make connections between your work and previous work through three techniques: summary, paraphrase, and quotation.

Resources for Writing a Thesis or Dissertation

Developing Quality Dissertations: A Graduate Student’s Guide to Achieving Excellence

Barbara Lovitts and Ellen Wert

Dissertation Support Groups for PH.D. Students

Finishing your dissertation? You don’t have to go it alone. According to Michael Kiparsky, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the Energy and Resources Group (ERG) at the University of California at Berkeley, a peer support group can “guide you through the confusion, improve your writing, and help you spend your time wisely.”

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

By William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Longman/Prentice Hall

FEW WRITING MANUALS have withstood the test of time as well as William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style. Strunk and White focus on elements of usage, the principles of composition, form and commonly misused words and expressions.

Twenty Steps to Writing a Research Article

Article reproduced with permission from Beth A. Fischer and Michael J. Zigmond, Survival Skills and Ethics Program, University of Pittsburgh

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