Academic writing, it’s great! The best part for me during my undergrad years was the research. The process of searching the stacks at the university library followed by long afternoons spent pouring over books, scratching notes, and delving into hitherto-unknown areas of enlightenment all in the pursuit of getting that term paper finished on time with an argument that would make my professor take pause and exclaim, in my imagination at least, “Wow. This guy’s effing smart!”. That was the best part upon reflection. My undergrad years and the library at UVIC. Actually writing out my thoughts always came easily enough. My trick was to write my papers in my head as I read and took notes. Everything would be logged away upstairs in my inky grey matter just waiting to flow from my fingertips across my keyboard. I’d usually complete the physical writing in 4 to 6 straight hours spent behind the keyboard, then I’d close the lid of my laptop and lay the first draft to rest for a night or two. Then… the inevitable and unenviable would arrive: editing! I hated editing in general, but what I hated most is editing for APA format, and I still do!
I much rather edit in Chicago format with its nifty little footnote numbers… I find APA in-text citations to not only be cumbersome, they defeat the purpose of writing, mainly: To get the ideas in your head into the heads of others as quickly and efficiently as possible. There is nothing to be gained from someone interrupting a train of thought or line of argument (Jones, 2011; McAffe, 1997; AnnoyMe, Forever; BS, et. al., 2100) with overblown citations. It is as if the creators of APA weren’t really interested in the art of writing and were more interested in inflating each other’s egos… Oh wait, they were PSYCHOLOGISTS. That explains it.
Now that I got that out of the way, bibliographies and reference lists regardless of the format always slowed me down. Why do we need 77 ways to cite in every conceivable style? Why not just do what the library does: author’s last name, First Name, title, year? Do we really need so many formats? Is it really that important that a journal article be recorded differently than a newspaper article? Does anyone really care? And more importantly, does anyone ever actually check the formatting of references other than the dreary eyed tired writer wanting to punch his/her computer and pedantic professors and journal editors? I doubt it.
So, how can we get this chore over with, succumbing to the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of academic writing? Well, there are always the style guides. For APA style, the latest greatest 6th edition, a whopping 290 pages of rules, you can download it for free here. Two hundred and ninety pages of rules for what often amounts to a 5 – 10 page paper. I wonder if any of the authors realized that around page 99, “Hey, I think we are taking this too far?”. Are psychologists prone to such introspection?
If you don’t want to weigh your way through that hefty .pdf, my hard drive is beginning to sag from the strain, you can always check out Purdue OWL’s online writing lab here. The APA formatting guide is here.
Additionally you may want to check out Harvard’s Writing Program for some handy PDF resources here.
For something completely different, you can try the Hemingway Writing App here or buy the desktop version as I have done. It’s nice for a final edit as it points out, for me most frequently, cumbersome sentences… Sometimes I fix them 🙂
Of course, you will want to become familiar with Microsoft Word’s grammar and spelling features. Also the synonym look up feature you get by right-clicking a word comes in handy if you find yourself repeating the same tired words or phrases. But if you want a completely different type of word editor, one albeit designed for writing books and plays, not APA research papers, consider downloading a copy of Nimble Writer here. It’ll help you manage notes, references, and has a host of organizational features. If anything, getting rid of the white background of MS Word when writing is worth the purchase. It is also available for purchase on STEAM if you have an account with them.
Well, that about does it for my writing resource recommendations. In regards to academic writing, I do in fact love it, but I think all universities should provide editors free of charge to help students achieve the goals of style guide publications.
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