6 Nov 2017

Dr Helen Sword on writing

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 2:30 pm on 6 November 2017

Dr Helen Sword runs academic writing workshops around the world. She's also the woman behind the website The Writer's Diet and has recently published a book of the same name.

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Photo: Sampford Cathie 2016

Most academics haven't been specifically trained to do the two things they spend 80 percent of their time doing – writing and teaching, Sword says.

Scientists, in particular, want to communicate their research better but they don't always know how.

"A lot of things that get published are basically unreadable by all but specialists in a particular field."

Sword says her 'diet' metaphor isn't about 'skinnying down' your writing, but more about getting it fit.

"You need first of all to fill your sentences with good words – active verbs and nouns – and then you need to take it for a workout."

Many writers don't understand that really readable prose is the result of hard work.

"Somebody's gotta do the work – so either the author's doing the work to make it readable or the reader's doing the work to try to figure out what the hell they're saying."

Sword's website has a free online Writers Diet Test to identify paunchy prose. She suggests you take it with a grain of salt.

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