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Improve Choppy Writing

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020) provides tremendous amounts of information about creating citations and references, but did you know the manual also addresses writing style? The American Psychological Association (2020) encouraged authors to, “present the ideas and findings in an direct, straightforward manner, while also aiming for an interesting and compelling style" (p. 115).

For the purposes of this writing tip, I’m referring to writing style as how an author chooses to express his or her ideas (e.g., word choice, sentence structure). Chapter 4 (Writing Style and Grammar) in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2020) addresses many different aspects of style, but in this article, I will highlight a few of their suggestions for improving the flow of the writing, or as it’s called in the manual, “the smooth cadence of words and sentences” (APA, 2020, p. 115). If you’ve ever received feedback that your writing is choppy or hard to follow, applying these suggestions should make your work more accessible to readers:

  • Avoid using techniques often used in creative writing that may cause confusion for readers, such as “setting up ambiguity; inserting the unexpected; omitting the expected; and suddenly shifting the topic, tense, or person” (APA, 2020, p. 65). Remember that academic or business writing doesn’t rely on inserting surprises or suspense to engage readers; instead, it’s the precise expression of information that grabs and keeps readers’ attentions.
  • Check for errors that you’re no longer seeing because you’re so familiar with your text. Effective strategies for checking your work for errors include reading the text out loud to listen for problems, having someone else read your text for you, and putting away the text  for a short period of time so that you can come back to it with refreshed attention (APA, 2020, p. 126). For other self-editing techniques, please visit Edit the Draft.
  • Use transitional words or expressions to show the connections between ideas. As the author, the connections are probably totally obvious to you, but your reader may need more information to understand how you’re connecting the ideas. For more information, see the links to resources in the Transitional Expressions section of Paragraphs.

The APA Style manual has more to say on verb tenses and the effects of unnecessary shifts in verb tense (APA, 2020, pp. 117-118), noun strings (APA, 2020, p. 112), and the dangers of unintentional shifts in meaning through using synonyms (APA, 2020, p. 114). For more information on how you can improve your writing style, please refer to Chapter 4 ("Writing Style and Grammar") in the APA Style manual (7th ed.) to learn more.

For additional information from the Writing Centre, please visit the Grammar section of the website, see Academic Style Resources, and the Grammar and Academic Writing topics in WriteAnswers.

Do you have questions about this writing tip? Please contact the Writing Centre as we’d be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Manager, Blended Learning Success

(Originally published in Crossroads March 27, 2018; updated with APA Style (7th ed.) information August 12, 2020)

Reference

American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000