Writing Advice


This is a list of writing advice provided by Cecilea Mun, the editor-in-chief, in order to give authors a good idea of what is expected in a paper that would be sent to peer review. Please note that ALL manuscripts, including book symposiums and book reviews, are initially vetted by Cecilea before a decision is made to send it to peer review.

  • Before submitting a paper to any journal, make sure you do your research in terms of trying to understand what the journal's standard of quality is by reading some of the editors' publications, especially the editor-in-chief’s.

  • Make sure you are in a teaching mindset when you write: One of the most important factors for writing a good academic paper is the mindset you are in as an author when you write. Too many scholars these days forget that writing a scholarly paper is about teaching the reader something. They instead think it's about them just talking about whatever it is that they want to talk about, and they fail to connect with their readers. This is a problem because such narcissistic writing leads to badly written papers: papers with too many missing background assumptions that were not made explicit, unclear structure/organization, lack of concern for the reader's ability to track logical inferences, etc. So, please, do not be a narcissistic author.

  • Do not make any false claims, misuse quotes, mischaracterize other people's views, or mislead readers about other people's views: Sometimes authors misrepresent things, and they may do so for various reasons; but doing so will almost always work against the author. This is mostly because, if a journal published such a paper, then one can pretty much bet that such a journal is not a very well respected journal. Well respected journals do not allow authors to publish misrepresentations.

  • Make sure your writing is precise: Don’t write anything, including your abstract, that is too general or ambiguous. A good way to tell if a sentence is too broad is to delete it and then ask yourself if you lose anything informative by doing so. If you don't, that means the sentence adds no value to the paragraph and only works to dilute it. So, look for these kinds of sentences in your writing and edit them out. Also, in many cases, editors will simply read a paper's abstract and if they don't think the abstract is very good, especially because it is too vague, then they will figure that the rest of the paper will not be very good. I think the reasoning is something like, "If the author's abstract isn't very clear, then there is not much of a chance that the rest of the paper will be clear." So, always make sure that your abstract is concise, but clear and precise regarding what you do in your paper.

  • If you are an English as a second language (ELS) author, invest in getting your papers copy edited before submitting it to a journal, especially one that is an English only journal: Unfortunately, there may be many editors in English only journals who have implicit biases against non-English speaking authors. It's not that they are racists, but more so that when a sentence doesn't "sound right" to them, they are more likely to discount its quality simply because of the way that it sounds. So, you want to make sure not to give them any reason to reject your paper, which means trying to do what you reasonably can to make sure your paper does not commit any grammatical errors. Consider it an investment rather than a cost.

  • Don’t assume anything about what your reader knows regarding the topic you are writing about: When you write papers, you shouldn’t assume that the person reading your paper will have any background knowledge of what you will be writing about. You need to think about the kind of information your reader will need in order to make sense of what you write. But don't just include everything you know about a topic in your paper. Just provide only what the reader needs to know in order to make sense of what you are talking about. Think about telling someone about something. What might be one of the first things that you would have to tell that person about whatever it is that you are telling them about in order for that person to understand everything else that you would be telling them about later on? For example, if I wanted to tell you about quartz, and you don’t know anything about quartz, what is one of the first things I should tell you about quartz in order for you to be able to understand anything else that I say about quartz? What not to do: If I just start by telling you, there are all these different kinds of quartz (e.g., rose quartz, milky quartz, blue quartz, etc.), will you know what I am talking about? Probably not, especially if you don't know what a quartz is. What to do: If I first told you that quartz is a type of rock, and there are all different types of quartz (e.g., rose quartz, milky quartz, blue quartz, etc.), would you say you would know what I was talking about? Notice the order of information that I told you with the example of what to do. You should try to do the same in your papers.

  • Make sure you demonstrate scholarly rigour: Publishable papers get written by authors who are willing to take the time and make the effort to demonstrate scholarly rigour in their papers. Editors often have certain indicators that they will look to in order to judge a paper as demonstrating scholarly rigour. One of these indicators is a clearly and precisely written abstract, which I already mentioned above. Another is the author's use of sources. Not only are authors expected to demonstrate--through the use of a sufficient number of appropriate citations--that they know enough of the relevant literature in the discourse they are engaging, but any time an author questions another author's use of a secondary source, the author is expected to have read that secondary source. It is not appropriate to have a critical discussion about a secondary source if one did not actually read that source.

  • Using the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS): Make sure you adhere to the style guideline that you were instructed to use. I know Chicago style is different from MLA in terms of where to put the period, and it can get confusing; but this ability to learn new things and keep old habits from interfering with the use of your knew knowledge is a good skill to develop.

  • Using a comma according to the CMOS: You might be using an old rule for placing commas in sentences—that you should place a comma whenever you verbally pause. You shouldn’t rely on this rule too much because it is a bit outdated. Commas should typically be used in order to make long, complex sentences easier to read, and to clarify any possible ambiguity in interpreting such sentences.

  • Asides and “If, then” statements: If you have a short sentence, commas are not really necessary unless you have a lot of “verbal asides” in them or the sentence is a conditional “if, then” statement, like this one, in which case you would insert a comma before inserting a dependent clause (e.g., notice the commas in this sentence).

  • Independent Clauses: Commas can also be used to insert independent clauses (which are complete statements that can be written as their own sentence). If the independent clause is introduced in the middle of a sentence, then you need to place a comma at the beginning and the end of the independent clause. If the independent clause is placed at the end of a sentence, then you need to put a comma before you introduce the independent clause.

  • Relate your sentence clauses: When you insert clauses in sentences you need to ask yourself why you are doing so. Clauses should be related in some way, even independent clauses.

  • Use complete sentences: Make sure you do not rush your writing and make sure you use ALL the words that you need to in order to clearly and precisely state what you are trying to convey.

  • Be careful with sentences being too short or too wordy: Sometimes sentences can be too short, especially when they are not complete sentences. So, consider revising awkwardly short sentences and shortening sentences that are too wordy so that they are easier for your reader to read and process.

  • Don’t let tediousness or rushing keep you from writing well: I know writing complete sentences might seem a bit tedious sometimes, but you should slow down and take the time to ensure that your sentences are complete sentences. For example, don't forget to use the words "a" and "the" wherever they are appropriate.

  • Do not try to do too many things in one sentence: Trying to do so can cause you to make your sentences unclear. I suggest you spilt sentences in which you are trying to do too many things, and try working with shorter sentences. When sentences get too long they become very unclear.

  • Make sure your pronouns are not ambiguous: Do not use ambiguous pronouns, such as “this,” “that,” “it,” etc., unless it is very clear to your reader what you are referring to when you use these pronouns.

  • Do not use technical words inappropriately: People have a tendency to do this because they think they are emulating good academic writing when they use technical words. This attitude toward writing is problematic, however, because it leads to rampant misuse of words and less clarity. Whenever you use a technical word, make sure you know what it means.

  • Look up words when you don’t absolutely know the meaning of the words: Always look up a word in the dictionary before you decide to use it if you really do not know what the word means or how to use it. Just thinking that you know what a word means is not the same as knowing what a word means.

  • Do not write very long paragraphs: The way in which you break your writing up into different paragraphs should help a reader understand how to interpret your paper as a whole.

  • Make sure that the contents of your paper (the paragraphs and the sentences in each paragraph) are organized in a reasonable way.

  • One thesis statement to focus your paper: You should think about the organization of the contents of your paper with respect to ultimately supporting a single thesis statement, which should be the statement that sets the main focus of your paper.

  • Conveying your intentions with the order of your paragraphs: Your paragraphs should be connected so that a reader can see why one paragraph would come after another paragraph.

  • Use section headings strategically: One strategy you might use is to look at the CMOS on how to use section headings, and then do so, but you should make sure to do so correctly. For example, make sure your section headings clearly convey the main point of each section.

  • The purpose of each paragraph: When you write paragraphs, you should be asking yourself, “What is it that I want this paragraph to do?” In other words, you should consider what the purpose of a paragraph is for your paper before you write the paragraph. The purpose of your paragraph should guide you in determining what your paragraph should be about. After you write your paragraph, you should reread it to make sure that it clearly serves the purpose that you wanted it to serve.

  • General structure of paragraphs: Typically, the contents of a paragraph should be organized so the information flows from being more general (with the introduction of the main point of the paragraph toward the beginning), then being more specific (with the elaboration of the main point in the middle), and then being more general towards the end (with a closing summary of the main point of the paragraph).

  • Using examples: When you use examples in your paragraphs, you should end the paragraphs by relating your examples to the main point and purpose of those paragraphs.

  • Editing while you write: You should reread what you wrote, at least once, while you are writing in order to make sure that what you wrote is clear to you as a reader. If it’s not, you should revise it until it is as clear as you can make it before you move on to writing your next sentence or paragraph.

  • Proofread your paper at least once after you completed your paper: Always proofread your entire paper, including your notes and references, until you can read it all the way through at least once without having to make any edits. You should also make sure that all your citation and reference information are accurate.

  • Don’t be afraid to start from scratch to revise your paper: I’m not saying you should forget all the work you've already done. Sometimes authors stand in their own way of improving their manuscripts because they don’t want to start from scratch again; but the work they did is still there, both in their head and in their first draft. So, they won’t lose it if they start again from scratch. Starting from scratch, when revising one's work, sometimes provides one with an alternative, perhaps more refined and developed, way of thinking about what they want to say and how to say it, especially because they don't have their earlier, less refined and underdeveloped, writing inhibiting them from thinking of a better way to write what they want to convey.