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From Bad to Good-Technical and Academic Writing

conciseprint.coverAcademic and technical writing are far different than literary writing, such as novels and poetry. The primary purpose of academic and technical writing is to provide information about a defined topic to a specific audience. Whether you write graduate papers, professional journal articles, dissertations, white papers, manuals, websites, reviews, or similar documents, you are writing academic or technical documents.

Academic and technical writing can be bad writing. They can be complicated, tedious, and confusing. They can be terribly boring. Unfortunately, bad academic and technical writing is common (which makes bad writers nearly indistinguishable from their crowd of peers).

Why do people write badly? Possibly, they think the writing is supposed to be dull and confusing, or perhaps they think it sounds more professional. Maybe they have read a lot of poor writing, so when they review their writing, it sounds “right.”

On the other hand, academic and technical writing can be good writing. They can be clear and straightforward, logical, persuasive, and useful. They can be wonderfully interesting. Unfortunately, good writing is uncommon (which makes good writers stand out from their peers).  Read the rest of this entry »


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ImageTechnical and academic writing share one thing in common: they present focused information to a targeted audience to accomplish a specific purpose. Technical and academic writing can be, and need to be, good writing. By presenting the principles of good writing, strategies for clear technical and academic writing, and essentials of writing mechanics, this concise guide shows you how to write well.

Visit to purchase the PDF or Kindle versions ($5.95).

Use coupon code CON14 at checkout and get $2.00 off the PDF version of Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing.

Don’t forget to check out Zen Comma, now available in iBook format ($2.99),

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12 Major Comma Uses Explained

Commas are confusing because they are used in many ways. However, the basic principle to using commas is simple: Use commas to separate clauses and phrases within sentences that have their own meaning.

The “rules” for commas below are broadly, but not universally, accepted. However, a careful writer considers two central issues:

  • Reader understanding and
  • Consistency.

The comma guidelines below will help readers understand your message in many cases. However, even if they are not necessary to improve reader understanding, follow them for consistency. Consistency is a characteristic of professional technical writing.

1. Series

The commas help the reader find each unique item (or group of items) in a series by separating them.

Example: School officials are dismayed by poor grades, low attendance, and high drug use.

2. Joining Sentences

You can join two complete sentences with coordinating conjunctions. (The entire set of coordinating conjunctions is for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Together, these create the acronym FANBOYS.) The comma lets the reader know when one point is complete and the next will begin. This comma use only applies when you have complete sentences on either side of the conjunction.

Example: The screen inverter stopped working, and the motherboard began to smoke.

3. Introductory Descriptions

An introductory description is before the subject and describes the main verb in some way, such as when, where, how, and why. The comma at the end of the description signals the reader that the main point of the sentence is about to begin. For consistency, do this with even short introductory descriptions. In the following example, the introductory description is underlined.

Example: Following the symposium, participants collaborated on projects. Read the rest of this entry »

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5-item Comma Quiz and Free Book

So, you think you know commas? Take a look at these 5 items from the Zen Comma comma quiz. See if you can figure out where to add or remove the commas. Each item needs at least one comma added or removed.

  1. Bumbo graduated on October 31, 2007 from the Zen Comma School, with the ceremony held in the Temple of Meaning.
  2. Yes I can meet you tomorrow at 2:00 after I meet with the clients.
  3. Either the air pollution is increasing in urban areas, or municipal water purification systems are becoming aged and ineffective.
  4. 300 Days of Better Writing another book by David Bowman has useful advice about writing clearly.
  5. The new bio-fuels which provide lower grade fuel at a higher price are incompatible with many older engine models.

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