Style and the Mechanics of Writing


Good expository prose of any kind should be both clear and interesting. The following suggestions may be helpful:

  • Be direct - answer the question. Do not embark upon a general survey of the subject or a narrative of events. Remember to ask yourself the question, ‘So what?’
  • Don’t review factual content of books and articles.
  • Keep your prose free of jargon.
  • Write short sentences.
  • Be sure to define your terms. What do you mean by ‘class’ or ‘democracy’, ‘intention’, or ‘feminist’?
  • Avoid passive sentence constructions wherever possible. They omit crucial information. ‘It has been argued’ is a passive construction—it does not tell the reader who has argued the point.
  • Avoid constructions such as ‘It is interesting to note that..’ or ‘It is important that…’ These waste the two most important parts of your sentence: the subject (‘it’) and the main verb (‘is’).
  • Your own critical thought must be evident in the dissertation.
  • A dissertation is necessarily concerned with how scholars of history, literature, philosophy and art have understood, described and analysed aspects of the past. Be explicit about the different interpretations you have encountered and formulate your own position clearly. If one scholar says ‘yes’ and another says ‘no’, you do not effectively reconcile the issue by asserting ‘maybe.‘
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread! Computer spell-checkers do not notice if you have typed ‘bun’ instead of ‘nun’. A good proofreading trick is to read your dissertation three or four times aloud as if delivering it at a seminar or lecture. Or give it to a friend to read.

Page last modified on 02 may 10 14:12