Literature Reviews


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I’m not showing off, but I know my subject matter knowledge and understanding is pretty good. I research things thoroughly, I’m able to think analytically and make sound arguments. So why aren’t my grades reflecting this? My grades aren’t bad, but those top marks always allude me. After speaking to my tutors, it turns out it’s my writing style that’s letting me down. If I’m being honest with myself, I know I have a tendency to over-complicate things – why use 20 words when you can use 200?

I’m also a fan of jargon. Yes, it can make me sound like I know what I’m talking about and sometimes it’s totally fine to use, but other times it can just make reading my essays plain annoying – or so my tutor pointed out. I didn’t realise that improving the style of my writing could have such an impact on my essays’ readability – and my grades. So how to change? It’s hard to ‘unlearn’ a way of writing that I’d been happily using for years, but StyleWriter helped me do just that.

It’s a great piece of software that highlights all the issues with my essays. So when my sentences are too long making them hard to read, StyleWriter tells me. When I’m using unnecessarily difficult words that ‘bog’ the reader down or too much jargon that interrupts my writing flow, it’s plain to see – and easy to edit. If, like me, you struggle to keep to a word count, StyleWriter is a huge help. It makes you look at your writing differently and cut out what isn’t needed. But it isn’t just about cutting down the amount I write, it’s about using the right ‘pep’ words that make my writing more interesting.

StyleWriter is more comprehensive than anything else on the market as far as I’m concerned. It’s so much better than other proofreading products, which seem to be just glorified spellcheckers – and aren’t always great at that!

It’s really easy to set up – just follow the instructions you’re given. When you’ve downloaded the software, just go to Word and click on the ‘Add-ins’ tab – this is where you’ll find the StyleWriter programme and the help guide. I would recommend reading the help guide – I wouldn’t normally, but on this occasion, it was a real advantage. It talks you through everything you need to know to get the most out of the software.

I have to say that the first time I used StyleWriter I found all the graphs and statistics a bit overwhelming, but I read the help guide and found out what it all meant. When I got to grips with the terminology, it was easy to see straightaway where the issues with my writing were.

At the bottom of the page you have a load of statistics, which give you a score for readability, interest, sentence length and use of passive verbs. You need to aim for a score of 20 or below on each one and 3 good or excellent ratings. You then work your way through all the highlighted areas of your essay, looking at the suggested improvements and doing the editing job. It’s great to see the score improving as you do this. Take a look at the screenshots below to see what I’m talking about.

I use StyleWriter regularly. Everything I write that is important (essays, reports, paper and proposals), I review with StyleWriter before I send it. When I wrote my PhD, my supervisor used to regularly accuse me of 'tautology' and 'wordiness'. Tautology is using similar words or phrases in a row, for example "big massive" and wordiness is what most academics and students suffer from.

As this product isn’t like anything on the market, I thought it might be helpful to show an example of me using StyleWriter on one of my conference papers.

This paper is about Knowledge Management and was published as part of my PhD. Here's an extract from the introduction:

Knowledge management (KM) is the appliance of current research and experimentation within the fields of the knowledge and information realm. It is a fair assumption to note that knowledge forms the basis of a businesses competitive edge and drive, indeed neglecting knowledge and the associated organisational inferences is proclaimed to result in a lower financial return (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). KM represents a high level strategy (Fuller, 2002) that when applied to a organisation offers benefits and opportunities that would not be realised within conventional working patterns.

The authors take the view that KM can encourage the proliferation and dissemination of knowledge through the use of flexible guidelines, however only when certain environmental and commercial constraints have been identified and bridged. As such the following mini-paper challenges the use of the Community of Practice to afford innovation from an employee-focused stance, and debates whether the CoP should reside at the forefront of knowledge related strategies.

Here's what StyleWriter thinks about my efforts:

Terrible! It's true. It's wordy and it barely makes sense - all things that will detract from your final mark or force you to rewrite your work at the last minute.

Interestingly, this screenshot of the same text in Microsoft Word finds very little wrong with it other than the use of 'businesses':

StyleWriter is powerful. It gives you a lot of feedback, but the important points to note are:

  • Rewrite sentences that are marked in red
  • Remove excessive words that do not add to the work
  • Replace 'academic' words and phrases. In this example: 'it is fair', 'proliferation' and 'indeed neglecting' add very little value to the sentences, so rewrite and remove them.

Here’s the same text rewritten with the help of StyleWriter:

Notice how much easier it is to read and understand? The word count has also decreased by 51 words - which is very useful if you are over a word limit. It's not perfect, but it's way better than before.

I always end up with an essay that is clearer, concise and so much easier to read. What I also like is the way StyleWriter changes how you write in the first place, so you really think about your writing style and how this will impact on your reader. I find I’m getting better all the time, but StyleWriter still picks up the things I miss. I wouldn’t be without it.

I trailed the software and then bought the Professional edition ($190) as it seemed good value for money and I wanted the Editor’s list functionality, but the best thing to do is try it for yourself with the free 14 day free trial. This is a great way of checking which edition is right for you. Most students should be OK with the $90 version.

Give it a try for yourself – you can get the free trial from here:


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