How Not to Write Like a Politician -->

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How Not to Write Like a Politician

Here in the United States, there’s an election happening soon, and I noticed while watching some of the coverage three common forms of phrases politicians often use that also come up sometimes in academic writing—the imperative, sweeping generalizations, and the presumption. I’ll follow with some examples in a moment, but to help your writing be clearer and free of bias, it’s best to avoid these argumentative forms so often used by politicians. So yes, it’s true. Today’s election-related post shows you how to NOT write like a politician. 

Modified Photo Courtesy of MarylandGovPics on Flickr CC License 2.0
The Imperative

“We must all band together for change!”

In a political speech, a statement like this is quite moving. It groups the entire audience together as well as powerfully states what “must” be done. However, in academic writing this poses a few problems:

  • In academic writing, you want to avoid “we/us/our” phrasing because you don’t know the background of your readers. This is also a chance to be more precise and name the specific population that you mean. Is it educators? Nurses? Students in the United States? Who must band together?
  • The imperative statement doesn’t explain why. Why should citizens band together? We the audience don’t know. Strong academic writing relies on cause and effect more than this type of sweeping statement so that readers can’t possibly misunderstand. Also, unlike a political speech, you as an academic writer have to allow for your reader to have a different opinion and potentially decide they disagree with what you’re saying.
Here’s an academic writing revision:

“Writing instructors at Walden University should attempt to be as specific and positive as possible in order to support their students’ writing and capacity for growth.”

See how this revision is so much more specific and clear? And it tells readers what impact a certain action will have—what results it will achieve.

The Sweeping Generalization

“All children want to learn.”

Although statements like this are certainly powerful, from an academic perspective they are less useful because we can’t actually prove this. Academic writing relies on using evidence to support claims, and this one is just impossible to support. This statement is also logically false. Surely, not all children in the entire world do actually want to learn, right? In academic writing, rather than broad generalizations like this one, you again want to be as specific as you can and avoid sweeping assumptions or generalizations.

Here’s an academic writing revision:

“Since students’ enthusiasm for learning directly impacts their learning retention (Helakoski, 2016), it is important for Walden writing instructors to foster engagement with coursework in order to help their students succeed.”

See how this revision uses a specific group of people, cause and effect, and backs up its point with research?

The Presumption

“It is clear that something must change”

As a politician, it is powerful to band an audience together behind a point of view. But as academic writers we don’t want to make assumptions about our readers or their understanding/experience. What if it isn’t clear to them that something must change?

The phrase is vague as well because it uses “something”—and what does that mean, exactly?  So to fix it, rather than assuming the reader sees things your way, again stick to that cause/effect.

Here's an academic revision:

“If students change their writing process to include the Walden writing center, they will receive in-depth advice on their writing and the tools to become accomplished scholarly writers.”

Remember in your academic writing to avoid imperatives, sweeping generalizations, and presumptions on the reader and instead provide clear, specific cause/effect phrasing to showcase your point of view. With all of these aspects combined you will successfully communicate your ideas to your audience!

So get out and vote tomorrow! And remember, for your academic writing here at Walden University, it’s best to NOT write like a politician.

Any tips, tricks, or other political speech tics to avoid in your academic work? Let us know in the comments below!

Claire Helakoski
 is a Writing Instructor  at the Walden Writing Center and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She has taught writing and Composition as well as acted as a writer and editor in a variety of mediums. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and enjoys reading, writing creatively, and board games of all kinds.

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  1. What a fun and timely post! This topic addresses a problem I see often in new students' writing. While faculty want students to be passionate and to be assertive in the authority they have on a subject, highly imperative, presumptive, sweeping generalizations have no place in scholarly writing. Thanks for this wonderful resource for students. I believe you should link also to the "For the Good of All Humanity" post, which is another of my favorites. ( I also think this post could be filed with the tags "scholarly writing" and "using evidence" to help students find it easily. Thanks for all you do Writing Center! ~Dr. Harland

    1. Thank you, Dr. Harland, for your comment and suggestions! These posts go great together!

  2. Sugar, zest and everything pleasant! That is what really matters to the blog.Joseph Hayon

    1. We're glad you enjoyed the post, Alex! There is a style of writing for every audience, purpose, and occasion.