A Scholar Is What A Scholar Writes: Practical Tips on Scholarly Writing

By Walker, Charles A. | Journal of Theory Construction and Testing, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

A Scholar Is What A Scholar Writes: Practical Tips on Scholarly Writing


Walker, Charles A., Journal of Theory Construction and Testing


(subtitle: Wild Manuscripts I Have Known)

Abstract: Written discourse is the main mode that scholars use to convey the quality of their work. Even so, scholarly writing is frequently flawed by errors in grammar and syntax. Through satire and example, the author provides practical tips to scholars and woula-be scholars who wish to improve their prose.

Key Words: Academic nursing, prose, scholarship, scientific discourse

The common stereotype of a scholar is someone who sits atop an ivory tower inhaling the heady vapors of meta physics. In reality, scholars participate in the everyday world. Although they may be expert in particular areas of content, scholars relish diverse sources of broad and general knowledge. What most distinguishes scholars from content experts is their ability to write effectively. This article focuses on specific suggestions to improve scholarly writing.

After some years of reading and editing material in academic nursing, I have noticed a number of problems, which occur with sufficient frequency to warrant mention and painstaking correction. In the belief that nurses learn by precept and example as well as by trial and error, I will share a few comments and illustrations relating to these problems. Most of these examples are taken with slight modification from drafts of articles, dissertations, research proposals, theses, and written assignments that I have read and edited.

All-Not all

These words regularly betray the careless writer, who tosses into her sentence all the words she intends to use without regard for where they fall. "All nurses did not learn the protocol." This statement means that no nurses learned the protocol. "Not all nurses learned the care protocol." This statement means that some nurses did not learn the protocol. (In strict logic, this statement could apply even if no nurses learned the protocol. In common usage, however, the phrase "not all" is used to connote "some, but not all.")

As

As far as as is concerned, as is as good a word as because; indeed, as is poetic and elegant, while because is uninspired and pedestrian. As has as many meanings, however, as since, as you can discover with a little reflection. As the purpose of scholarly writing, as you know quite as well as I, is neither poetry nor elegance, but to create as clear and readable a presentation as is possible with complex material, I usually recommend, as I read along as editor, that as, as a substitute for because, be used as sparingly as possible, as as is susceptible to misreading when as is used as often as as is by an asophile.

As I make the same recommendation for since. 1 cannot be charged with bias against as. On the contrary, I regard as as a fine and delicately tinted word with qualities that should not be wasted and dulled in ordinary tasks that can be done equally well by the perfectly serviceable word because. As should be reserved for those occasions when its particular nuances are needed, as, for example, in the first clause of a sentence. (Note: when a word is used to refer to itself, as in discussing the word as, the word should be underlined, or italicized in print. see above.)

Commas

An adverbial clause at the beginning of a sentence normally should be set off by a comma. For example: "After all the patients underwent cardiac rehabilitation, the home treatment was instituted." The comma serves to mark the end of the clause and to indicate a shift in thought. A comma is also needed to prevent misreading of an introductory prepositional phrase when the end of the phrase is not clearly indicated by syntax at the point of transition: "In the treatment groups of patients received stress testing every four weeks." Note how the arrangement invites the reader to misread the end of the prepositional phrase as "the treatment groups." Better style would be: "In the treatment, groups of patients...."

Without a coordinate conjunction (e. …

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