Whether you are reading this for class or browsing—whether you are working on an essay for your SSI or drafting your comparative politics thesis—whether you love writing or consider it a chore—Sound Writing is for you.
The purpose of Sound Writing is to help you develop a range of techniques that you can use to succeed as an academic writer. As you'll soon discover (if you have not discovered already), academic writing is a practice with its own conventions and expectations. Academic inquiry is about using the best possible evidence to grapple with contested issues. Academic writing places special emphasis on rigorous use of evidence to substantiate claims, on clear and specific theses, and on the framing of arguments within scholarly contexts. These traits distinguish academic writing from most popular writing (the type of writing that one finds on blogs, in newspapers and magazines, and on Facebook). Though it is possible to discuss “academic writing” as a coherent entity, academic writing is also diverse and reflects writers' own personal, disciplinary, and sub-disciplinary biases. (Take a look at the example student essays included in the Resources section of this book.) In Sound Writing, we hope to provide you with the essentials of university writing so that you can write with as little stress and as much success as possible. Inside this book, you'll find a breakdown of research, composition, and revision processes; strategies for overcoming common writing challenges; advice from faculty members; a guide to APA-, Chicago-, and MLA-style citations; and much more.
Though Sound Writing offers advice and tips, we write in hopes that you will consider how this advice resonates in your particular context and that you will use the advice not as rules to follow blindly but as material that enables you to make informed choices. Our work is guided by the belief that language evolves and reflects, in its evolution, both socio-political change and cultural particularity. The very language that you use when you engage in academic inquiry embodies choices, as well as the history of choices and events that led to the moment of your writing.
As intentional writers, ourselves, we have made choices that you may find surprising, troublesome, or just plain wrong. For instance, we have chosen in many places to use “they” as a singular pronoun (see They As a Singular Pronoun). Much as we'd like to think that we're in the forefront of thinking about language change, we're not being particularly radical. Unlike other alternative pronouns—like “hiser” and “thon”—“they” has been used in this way for centuries. Following suit with the 2017 AP Styleguide, we use “they” in many places where no gender is specified, or where a named person might not use “his” or “her” pronouns. In other places in the text, we acknowledge that language can marginalize, traumatize, and oppress, and we suggest alternatives to sexist, LGBTQ+-phobic, racist, classist, and ableist terminologies of oppression.
One aspect of academic writing that we grappled with as we wrote this guide is the notion of a “Standard American English” (SAE). Although SAE is by no means the only “correct” form of English, it has a privileged status in the academy and in our society as a whole, and it can be an important tool for social mobility. We recognize this fact at the same time that we work against its implications. Throughout Sound Writing, we call attention to aspects of SAE that are especially contested, and we recognize from time to time that alternatives exist.
Our goal is to promote the socially conscious and “sound writing” that is at the heart of a Puget Sound education. As writing advisors at the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching and as students who have faced challenges similar to those that you will face, we have tailored this book to the needs of Puget Sound students. We hope you will find it useful, and that you'll help make it even better by emailing your suggestions to