Maeve Maddox Ph.D., the American English Doctor, educator, and author
In thirty-plus years of teaching English, ten of them at the college level, I’ve never seen a clearer, more focused presentation of the basic concepts needed to produce readable writing. When I taught freshman composition at a state university, the assigned English text contained 894 pages, not counting a glossary and index. I wish I’d had David Bowman’s Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing instead.
In just 69 pages [PDF version], David Bowman succeeds in packing all the grammatical and structural information a writer of technical or academic texts needs to produce a workmanlike product. Not a word is wasted on irrelevancies; only the information needed to write objective, coherent, uncluttered informational prose is included.
The guide is organized into four sections.
In Section A, Bowman sets forth the context and principles of academic and technical writing. He emphasizes the importance of beginning every writing project by thinking about the intended reader. By contrasting five levels of formality in written expression, he illustrates the importance of tailoring language to the intended audience.
Section B describes and illustrates the characteristics of what Bowman calls “direct writing.” Distinguishing between “grammatical” and “meaningful” subjects, he shows the writer how to focus on the most important thought in a sentence. He explains the importance of verbs compared to the subordinate uses of nouns and modifiers. In the subsection on concise writing, he shows how to eliminate redundancy by choosing more appropriate words and by combining sentences. He provides clear directions for building sentences and paragraphs, linking them with transitions, and keeping readers on track with strategically placed “signposts” that let them know where in the document they are.
Bowman’s expertise as an editor shines in Section C: “Writing Mechanics.” In 18 pages, he provides easy to remember guidelines for avoiding the most common errors of punctuation, grammar, and word choice that plague all writers. His simple rules for comma use are probably worth the price of the book.
The final section, “Technical and Academic Documents,” deals with organization, formatting, and attribution. It concludes with a useful reiteration of the main steps in producing a readable, publishable academic or technical text.
Overall, David Bowman’s Concise Guide to Technial and Academic Writing is a valuable addition to his already impressive series of writing guides. Editors and composition teachers can benefit from it as much as writers of any level of experience.
For a PhD candidate and a novice to academic writing like myself this guide was extremely useful. The sections on knowing your reader and style, and the advice for direct and concise writing were particularly useful. I would recommend this to anyone commencing a higher degree!
D. Bunn Jr., PhD student, Fuller Theological Seminary (Amazon review):
In this guide, Bowman provides those of us who write for academic audiences a cogent, effective guide to good, clear writing. He offers a straightforward guide to achieving the goal of the book, which, he says, is to help readers to write well (2). Where other guides might overwhelm writers with detail, Bowman’s, which checks in at 75 pages total, spares unnecessary discussion and illustrates convincingly why certain principles are necessary for effective writing.
Perhaps the most helpful aspect of this work is its range of material covered: it addresses minute detail of word choice and sentence structure as well as issues of structure and arrangement at a macro-level. Perhaps the only “shortcoming” of the book is its brevity: it covers in 75 pages what many guides would spread out over 300. However, this weakness is the book’s greatest strength. Most of us who write academically are limited in time, if not desire, on exhaustive discussions, yet we greatly desire to write clearly and to continue to learn how to do so better. Bowman’s is a welcome and helpful voice to fill that void.
L. Hale (Twitter Follower):
The Concise Guide to Technical & Academic Writing is an excellent reference tool for aspiring and practising technical/academic writers. I liked the way in which you introduce the topic and the principles you see as important and I certainly read the document in terms of these principles. On the whole, I think you nailed it.