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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Want to know how to write? Just start doing it., 23 Jun. 2012
By 
A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing) (Paperback)
In my former life as a consultant, I spent many hours writing reports for clients. Now, however, as a PhD candidate, I am learning that academic writing is different from business writing. Before I bought Becker's book, I wanted to know how to write clearly for sceptical academic audiences. I was not disappointed; Howard Becker's book is relevant, thoughtful and engaging.

I liked the book for three reasons. First, I was relieved to learn that even great academics do not get their writing 'right' the first time; they constantly polish their papers while incorporating feedback from colleagues. Contrary to popular belief, therefore, writing then is not a solitary exercise; it is quite a social endeavour.

Second, the book allayed my fear of presenting written work to academic audiences. I - and I suspect most Ph.D. students - shudder at the thought that our inchoate ideas will be shredded by a savagely critical academic community the moment we put ideas to paper. Worse, we fear that the audience will treat our papers as finished work and judge us incompetent or uncreative. In the 'publish-or-perish' world of the academy, this may spell doom. Drawing on his personal experience, Becker advises young scholars to write and present their papers anyway. Or, if possible, to develop a network of friendly critics who can help improve their papers. That advice is not rocket science. However, in the cerebral, over-intellectualised world of academia, social skills are often underrated.

Third, Becker advises scholars to just do it: start writing. You can't learn to swim without getting into the water. No matter how many times an author plans the paper in her head, the paper will only be written when she puts her ideas to paper.

My main criticism of the book: Becker's argument that academics write in plain English is disingenuous. Academic social science journals notoriously use high-falutin words to describe simple concepts. According to Becker, academics do this in order to to sound smart. Afterall, if a simple concept were expressed in plain English, then anyone could say it? Why get a Ph.D? It is indeed refreshing to know that plain English is still good English in academia; I am all for plain English. Yet, Becker's recommendation is hollow. It is easy for a tenured professor like Becker to say that academic papers should be written in plain English. Sadly, however, young scholars will not get their papers published by writing in plain English. They must copy the style of the journals in which they hope to publish. Therefore, the solution to the proliferation of dense, verbose words in the academic literature is more likely to be institutional rather than individual. Journal editorial boards, which are staffed by professors like Becker, should demand papers written in plain English. One prominent journal that does this very well is the Journal of Economic Perspectives edited by Timothy Taylor.

Despite the Becker's unpersuasive recommendation to write in plain English, Writing for the Social Sciences is an excellent book. Scholars are reminded that fear of being judged on the basis of their unfinished papers is universal. The only way to write great papers is to start writing and thereafter, to polish, re-write, seek feedback, ruthlessly edit the work and submit it. Becker's book deserves four stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading, 22 Nov. 2011
By 
Ms. O. R. E. Brook "O Brook" (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing) (Paperback)
I've been pressing this book on everyone I know since I started to read it - it was recommended on a booklist for a methodology course I took, though there's not much methodological about it. All I can say is, if you are looking at this booking thinking you might find it useful, then you should definitely buy it.

It's not a primer on "how to write", either gramatically or in terms of getting into good writing habits (though it does address some of the latter). It's a very readable, even entertaining, exploration mostly of the psychological issues that get in the way of us writing up reasearch, and doing it well. He talks about how school and undergraduate study, with it's emphasis on turning out "good enough" essays with minimal rewriting, which will only be read by your tutor for the purposes of marking it, is a very poor preparation for writing a PhD or paper for publication. He talks about the fear of exposure, the way in which we are trained to write in an obscure way in order to prove that we know the most obscure or abstract terminology, and that we often won't start writing until we feel that we have discovered the "one right way" to explain our work, whereas in fact there is no one right way.

What helps is that Becker is an experienced teacher and author, and a distinguished academic - his discussion isn't theoretical or based on textbooks. And also, surprisingly, I realised through reading the book that he doesn't have many problems writing himself. While at first this made me think he didn't know what he was talking about after all, on the contrary, he is able to explain what in his student and professional career might have helped him to avoid the traps that many get caught by, and also it gives him a curiosity to examine the barriers that others experience rather than try to explain his own.

Oh, and it's definitely not just for social scientists.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taught me – finally – how to write a draft and enjoy editing it, 23 Jun. 2014
By 
J. Still "jonathan54" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing) (Paperback)
I write quite well when I actually get round to it, but until I read this book, I was incapable of drafting. For years, I'd hand stuff in a minute before the deadline (articles, essays, whatever), and the minute it had been sent, I'd see the errors, and ways that I could have improved it, and wanted to kick myself for not being able to write drafts.

I thought my problem was that I needed to frighten myself into producing stuff earlier, but since I read this book, I realised that the problem was about the bad habits I'd picked up from being a student. What Becker reveals is how real writers do stuff, that is, they let other people read their drafts, and get their views on it. The take-home message for me from this book was that you don't have to worry about your draft, because you're going to edit it afterwards anyway.

This helped me finally get out of my perfectionist prison where I'd not be able to put a sentence on paper til I felt it was perfect. Now I know that it's better to just write the draft, however crappy, so that you've got something to edit. This has quite literally changed my life. I can now draft, and enjoy the process of editing, rather than dread the 'blank page' scenario. Becker's writing style is easy to read and encouraging, and he's very honest about things that other writers (particularly academics) don't admit. Until I read this book, I don't think that what I was doing was writing in any serious sense of the word - it was a kind of adolescent essay panic lasting too long into adult life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best in the business, 8 Feb. 2013
By 
floyd (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing) (Paperback)
This is the only PhD thesis guidebook you'll need. It's approachable, relevant and written for people who are terrified by the prospect of being overwhelmed by their data or revealed as academic imposters. Which is most of us, at one time or another.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An important book for the struggling academic writer., 15 Jan. 2014
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This is an excellent book, well written, interesting and with a very clear and useful message. I firmly believe that the perspective offered in this book has allowed me to turn a corner in my own academic efforts. The message holds true for all disciplines. Its refreshing to see in paper a book written with such obvious care for the plight of the reader. If you are finding difficulty writing or producing papers, reading this book is a very positive step to take as you head toward finding a resolution to this problem.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Really useful., 9 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing) (Paperback)
A really useful starting point with interesting suggestions about how to structure your thesis, and practical, down to earth discussion about the use of language in the academic world. Well worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very happy with product and service, 7 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing) (Paperback)
received as advertised. Very happy with product and service, would recommend.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars simple writing, brilliant tips, 17 July 2012
By 
ast3r (LOUGHBOROUGH, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Becker writes in simple terms the very same problems I have with writing. He also gives very simple tips on how to break it: by writing. Reading the book felt like group therapy for me, cuz I was reassured that I'm not alone in this struggle and there are ways to overcome the most common fears. A must read!
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars worth for money, 22 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing) (Paperback)
Even though it took two weeks to arrive, the item was in perfect condition. So, very good!!!
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