Recommendation: The Elements of Academic Style by Eric Hayot

One of the elements I plan to include in my upcoming book (a guide to book proposals for academic authors) is an appendix with a list of further resources on academic writing and publishing that I think authors may find helpful, either during the proposal stage or after. As I assemble this list for my manuscript, I’ve been checking out some books that have been on my to-be-read list for quite a while now. The one I tackled earlier this week was Eric Hayot’s The Elements of Academic Style from Columbia University Press.

Ultimately, I liked this book overall and will certainly recommend it on my resources list. Here are my favorite features of the book:

  • “Chapter Three: Eight Strategies for Getting Writing Done” is great. The strategies will probably be familiar to you already, but I liked how Hayot set them out in practical terms and made them feel executable.

  • Practical tips for making sure your book’s big idea is clear to the reader, especially in the introduction and conclusion, but also across the text. His tips are especially helpful to employ after you’ve figured out what the big idea is through the writing of the manuscript. I’m a fan of giving a lot away in a book’s introduction, but Hayot offers some good suggestions for how to craft an intro that orients readers without giving everything away, if that happens to be your preference.

  • Speaking of introductions and conclusions, Chapters Eleven and Seventeen respectively offer some good inspiration for how to begin and end academic texts. I appreciated that Hayot provides some concrete examples of things authors might try without prescribing any of them as totally necessary.

  • Hayot’s emphasis on the importance of structure for communicating a book’s contributions is super resonant with my own philosophy as a developmental editor, so I really enjoyed “Chapter Nine: Structure and Subordination.” He also has great things to say about the function of “paragraphing” (Chapter Thirteen), which everyone needs a reminder about from time to time.

If you’re looking for tips on stylistic matters like titles, citational practice, and footnotes, that’s all there too. As I read, I found that my own stylistic preferences frequently differed from Hayot’s (I think this has a lot to do with differences in our training—he’s a literary scholar, I come from communication and media studies), but just being given a renewed awareness of my own preferences and biases was useful in itself.

I could absolutely see using this as a textbook for a graduate-level course on writing, if you happen to be teaching such a thing. If you’ve made a serious commitment to honing your own writing craft, this is also a great guide. Personally, I think that’s a lot to ask of people who are already trying to do too much with too little time, but if you’re serious about becoming a more self-aware writer (and maybe a better writer?) this book will be very valuable for that project.

What books have you found helpful for managing your own writing and publishing projects? I think style books are good, but what I’m really looking for is a guide or two I can recommend about project management for a book-length work. Maybe you had something that helped you get through your dissertation and could also be useful for book authors? Let me know your faves!

I’m currently taking sign-ups for the next session of my Book Proposal Accelerator. It’ll guide you through drafting a pitchable proposal for a scholarly book in the space of several weeks. Great for first-time authors revising dissertations but also those working on second books and not sure where to start the process. Lots more info is here!