High impact headings

Headings are so important in guiding readers, I’ve already written about Are your headings helpful? and Make your email headings clear and informative. Here’s more on two approaches for high impact headings.

1. Use alluring alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same or similar sound in a series of words, usually at the beginning but sometimes within the words. Alliteration usually refers to a consonant sound (known as consonance), while assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound. Alliteration captures readers’ attention without them even realising. It is memorable and flows.

If a simple word change retains or enhances meaning, try alliteration in headings. But don’t overdo it and don’t distort the intended meaning just to achieve alliteration. Keep it for more informal or casual writing.

2. Use questions or answers

Headings can be phrased as questions or provide answers. Questions like who, what, why, where and how provide a good structure if it suits the topic. These work well for shorter documents like explanatory brochures or factsheets.

For longer document, headings worded as answers or statements can save time for readers, and the table of contents becomes a good summary of the document. Avoid generic headings which do not have high impact.

See more on high impact headings with a table of contents:

Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

Font type – is there a right font?

Here’s a follow up to a previous blog on Font size – Is there a right size? Just as there is no right font size, the choice of font type depends on the purpose and audience for a document.

A font can be used to stand out or fit in, so consider what you want to achieve and what your readers are expecting to see. The font type has a huge influence on the look and readability of the page or screen, often without the reader even realising why.

The impact of font type depends on many design choices such as:

  • font size
  • alignment of the font: left justified or fully justified
  • spacing between lines and paragraphs
  • bold and italic forms of the font
  • contrast between fonts for text and headings.

Graphic designers experiment with all these elements for creative impact, but for academic writing, stick to what is most common and expected. For academic writing such as a thesis, Times New Roman is popular. A draft journal article in a font designed to look like handwriting, such as Comic Sans, is likely to be poorly received by reviewers, despite its merits. Using Courier font will make your work look like it was typed on an old-fashioned typewriter – fine if that is the intention.

It is common to choose between a serif font such as Times, Cambria or Palatino or a sans serif font such as Arial, Calibri, Geneva or Helvetica. Experiment with different fonts to find what works best for your document and audience, whether print or digital.

Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

Tips for PhD students to improve their academic writing

This post was inspired by an anonymous PhD student who started a blog to improve their academic writing. My advice to PhD students to improve academic writing is simple: read academic writing and write academic writing.

Read

There are many books and resources about academic writing, but the best way to understand conventions is to read academic writing such as PhD theses, journal articles and conference papers. Start with recent PhD theses in your discipline, from your university and others, and note similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses.

For new PhD students, it is particularly important to understand the form and structure of a thesis which is the ‘final product’ of the PhD research and assessed by examiners.

Then read journal articles. Read fellow students’ work. Accept offers to be a reviewer of journal articles. Consider why you might find one piece of writing hard to read and another clear and easy.

Write

Any writing is good writing practice, but learn and practise the conventions by writing journal articles, conference papers and thesis chapters. The more you write material for your thesis, the easier it becomes. Ask others for feedback on your writing and see if your institution has a writing group or training. See my posts on:

Here are some writing resources I like:

Please contact me for editing or writing inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

 

When recently is not recent and currently is not current

In my editing work, “recently” and “currently” appear in much of the material I read, particularly in literature reviews. But the studies referred to are several years or even decades old and no longer recent or current at all, particularly as research methods are ever-changing and improving.

It is tempting to use recently and currently to avoid being specific about dates, and thus keep interpretation open and avoid being wrong. The risk is appearing vague and out-of-date, and confusing to readers.

  • Does “currently…” mean today, this week, this month, this calendar year, this financial year or this term of government?
  • Does “recently…” mean this century or last century?
  • Does “in recent decades…” mean the last two decades or the last three or four?

Recent and current are only useful for readers if is very clear what timeframe is being referred to. Context is important. Recently in geological time is very different from recently in the daily news cycle. Both the date the writer is writing and the date the reader is likely to be reading need to be clear and known. Will “currently” written at the beginning of a PhD still be current 4 years later when examined?

Think about what you want the reader to know and use a more specific time indicator than recently or currently wherever possible.

To help decide when recently is recent and currently is current, please contact me on rhdaniels@bigpond.com

Why grammar matters

Does grammar matter? Yes, as shown in a recent article titled “War of words: why journalists need to understand grammar to write accurately about violence” on The Conversation by Annabelle Lukin, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Macquarie University.

In a reminder of the power of grammar to convey responsibility for an action, the article highlights the impact of grammatical structures such as:

  • using active or passive voice
  • using main versus dependent clauses
  • turning verbs into nouns to avoid human responsibility.

Passive voice in particular can be problematic as Lukin explains: “The passive voice puts the object of the action first. Because the passive voice puts the people or things acted on before the verb, writers have a choice about whether or not to name the agent of the action.” The many comments on the article highlight some of the difficulties in determining who is responsible for an action.

As well as grammatical structures, choice of individual words such as verbs, nouns and adjectives is also important. In media articles, choices of headlines and accompanying photographs and captions have high impact.

Don’t dismiss grammar. Grammatical choices help present our view of the world to others, so think carefully about choices.

See my related blogs on:

For editing and writing inquiries, contact me at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

A thesaurus: friend or foe?

A thesaurus is a book or an online resource which has synonyms for common words. It can be both useful and dangerous in writing.

It is tempting to use a thesaurus to introduce variety into writing. To avoid using the same word twice in the same sentence, paragraph or page, you check a thesaurus for a synonym – an alternative or substitute.

But if you choose the wrong synonym, you may be changing the intended meaning. English can be very complex with subtle variations in meaning, as a good dictionary can show. Consider these pairs of similar verbs:

  • diminish and reduce
  • retain and maintain
  • represent and resemble
  • accomplish and achieve.

Often it is appropriate, and best, to repeat the same word if that is the best or most precise word for the context.

Be careful when using a thesaurus to paraphrase text to avoid plagiarism. If you are unsure how to reword someone else’s work and retain the meaning, it may be better to use quote marks and provide the source to indicate the words are a direct quote from a reference.

Used thoughtfully, a thesaurus can be a friend of good writing, but take care it is not a foe.

For editing and writing inquiries, contact me at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

Dealing with diverse and conflicting feedback

Authors often seek or gain feedback from many sources when writing something important. The feedback could be from co-authors, colleagues, clients, supervisors, reviewers, examiners or editors. The feedback can also be in many forms from correcting errors and specific wording changes to broader comments about direction, arguments, emphasis or content. But how to handle diverse and conflicting feedback to finalise the writing?

All feedback is useful but it can be impossible to address all feedback in the one document.

  • Be clear about the overall purpose and audience, and any specific requirements of the writing.
  • Focus on the most important elements, particularly if there is a word limit, space constraint or deadline.
  • Consider what feedback can be addressed most easily and quickly, particularly if there is a deadline.
  • Consider when feedback can be addressed – now or in later versions.
  • Consider who is providing the feedback, and why.
  • Explain how and why feedback has been addressed or not. There may be a formal mechanism for this such as a response to reviewers or examiners.
  • Recognise and accept you can’t always meet all the needs of everyone involved.

Editors can help writers evaluate feedback and focus on the reader and purpose.

For editing and writing inquiries, contact me at rhdaniels@bigpond.com