In his instructional book on using words to achieve a desired result, Words that Work, Dr. Frank Luntz gives a set of ten rules that outline how to tailor language to reach a specific outcome. This set of all-star rules consists of: simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, novelty, sound and texture, aspirational speaking, visualization, questioning, and context and revelation explanation. However, the majority of the examples that Luntz provides in regard to these rules are advertising and political campaigns. The question is, how exactly do these rules apply to academic writing? Taking a close look at these rules will illuminate the constructive influence that they contain for shaping academic papers for the better.
Simplicity: Use Small Words
When midnight is approaching, and with it, the deadline for many essay and research assignments, high school and college students alike, often find themselves scrambling to perform the seemingly impossible: transforming a puddle of words into a somewhat comprehensible paper. While this seems like a fate fit for Cinderella’s fairy godmother, the results are often less than magical. In this grand tossup of knowledge, obscure words sometimes find themselves in the mix. There are multiple problems in this equation. The first is that while words such as “elucidate” and “intrepid” sound sophisticated, does the writer actually know what they mean? Will they use them in the proper context? It is better to use a small and “simple” word correctly, then to use a lofty word and have no idea what it means.
Brevity: Use Short Sentences
It is alright to use simple sentences! If all of the sentences in an academic paper were somehow tied together and stretched across a room, there would likely be as many loops as there is on a rollercoaster at Carowinds. Amid the mix of compound and complex sentences, there should be a few simple sentences. That is definitely not to say that it is a good practice to let simple sentences dominate the paper. Far from it! But is fine to use simple sentences when a point is either short or would be unnecessarily complicated by casting it into some other structural design. Although the repeated use of simple sentences often is cast as a taboo in academic writing, it is best to remember that that quality should not be compromised for style. Regulate the use of simple sentences, but do not resort to a pompous writing style that nullifies its content by being overly complicated.
Credibility is as Important as Philosophy
When writing an academic paper, credibility is a golden concept. As Luntz says, people will stop believing someone who ignores the existence of well-known facts. Someone writing an academic paper must keep this standard at the forefront of their mind. In addition to this, taking well-known facts into consideration is a hallmark of an academic paper. Neglecting them will not bode well for either a person’s target audience or their respectability in the minds of the academic authorities.
When writing an academic paper, consistency is key. Papers are usually organized by the hamburger model. First comes the introduction, which traditionally contains a thesis with three points. The next three paragraphs will each be dedicated to listing and proving a point with proven evidence. Finally, the conclusion cinches off the argument in a clear and concise manner with a reiteration of the before mentioned points. Although outlines of academic papers may vary, good papers are always consistent when fulfilling the points that they promise to address. Inconsistency is a direct cause of unpredictability. In this case, unpredictability directly results in chaos.
Novelty: Offer Something New
Novelty can take many forms in an academic paper. It can greet readers in the opening sentence, proclaiming some shocking twist that they had yet to consider. Or, more likely, the shocking element could be introduced in the thesis statement. This is the traditional location for such an introduction to be made. Writers of academic papers want to shed light on a possibility that has not been previously thought of. Allowing the reiteration of the known facts to be the focus of an academic paper sparks little interest in readers. Avoid boredom and contribute something vibrant and new.
Sound and Texture
Sound and texture contribute to both style and memorability in academic papers. According to Luntz, writing with sound and texture in mind could, if done properly, possess a musical quality. The more attention that a writer pays to the sound and texture of words, the more aid they give their readers in comprehending and remembering the content of their writing.
While Luntz’s advice to speak aspirationally was primarily given for the use of advertisers and politicians, there is something that can be gained from it by authors of academic scholarship. Give readers the information that can be anticipated that they will desire to know. Speak aspirationally to readers by speaking desires to their desire for knowledge. What details are relevant to them? What would they most want to know about the paper that they will be reading?
Visualization is one of the hallmarks of a well written academic paper. The writer of such a work will use details that paint a vivid image of what they are either summarizing or arguing for. Employing the usage of visualization will allow writers to hold the attention of readers who find it difficult to concentrate on works in a written format. Giving them footholds that offer aid in visualizing what is taking place through the writing is key to holding their attention long enough to finish reading the paper.
Ask a Question
Asking a question is a superb method of leading someone to consider a thesis statement. Do these claims capture the experience that I had when I read the work being discussed? Or, does what is being said take into consideration what I personally know about this topic? These are the types of questions that such a device encourages. As readers plug in their own answers, they will be more invested in finding out how the writer arrived at the conclusion that they did. Posing a question, in the end, is a way to engage readers.
Provide Context and Explain Relevance
Finally, Luntz’s rule to always provide context and explain relevance is the most important rule of communication in both the academic and public spheres. When writing an academic paper, one must always be sure to provide the relevant details to show what context the readers should use to interpret the information that is given to them. The other half of the framing technique needed is to relate to readers why this particular information is relevant to them. Failing to provide the context of the information being used will result in confusion. Failing to relate this information to the specific lives or interests of readers will result in disinterest.
In conclusion, Frank Luntz’s ten writing rules are useful beyond the scope of advertising and political communication. As Luntz says “The rules of communication are especially important given the sheer amount of communication the average person has to contend with” (1). Communication can be found everywhere, especially in academic papers. In the end, Luntz’s rules can also be used to excel in this domain.