The Elements of Academic Style
Writing for the Humanities
Columbia University Press 2014
“This is a book that wants you to surpass and destroy it.”
Eric Hayot‘s new book has the potential to transform how we teach and practice academic writing, and it invites the kind of reading and engagement that makes such a transformation possible. The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities (Columbia University Press, 2014) is a style guide geared specifically toward academic writers in the humanities, paying special attention to the field of literary and cultural theory but applying equally well across humanistic disciplines. At turns funny, moving, and brilliant – not always qualities we associate with writing style guides – Hayot’s book treats writing as a process that encompasses “behavioral, emotional, & institutional parameters.” The first section of the book treats writing as a form of life, addressing the contexts and habits of the writer and the institutional contexts in which we teach and write. It also offers some strategies for getting writing done in the course of the typically crazy, packed life of the academic writer, and includes some great advice for thinking about the relationship between a dissertation and a book. The second section addresses strategies of academic writing, introducing the scalable “Uneven-U” model for conceptualizing the structure of paragraphs, essays, and beyond. It also includes some helpful ways to understand and craft openings and closings, and reminds us how important it is to keep the experience of our readers in mind as we write. The third section offers great advice on some of the elemental tactics of writing practice, including citation, sentence rhythm, and much more. The final section suggests a way to think about the writing in terms of “becoming”: a writer, a written work, a form of life.
The Elements of Academic Style is a book well worth reading and rereading. I’ve already been using it in my teaching and writing, and it’s a fitting work to inaugurate the New Books Network Seminar!