Getting on with it - Writing

Word limit

Armed with your content map or structural plan it's time to get onto the writing. Having made the decision about what's in and what's out, you'll also need to work to a word limit. Most books published for a general readership are shorter than theses. While it's impossible to be absolute, many publishers are looking for between 70,000 and 80,000 thousand words. That means on average you will need to cut around 20,000 words from your thesis. This should be easier to work to if you've already made the tough decisions about what you're going to keep, or importantly not keep.


Whilst examiners may understand the academic terminology and expect the formality of writing style that's appropriate in a thesis, rewriting into book form means adopting a different writing style and avoiding unnecessary technical detail. Some academic writing can often be impenetrable to a general readership so it's important to keep the language accessible.

"Writing for a more general readership doesn't mean dumbing the work down, rather it means getting to the point using plain English."

So instead of this:

The particularity of this phenomenon resulted in a multitude of indiscriminate responses that were discordant with what had previously transpired leading to a paradigmatic shift in our understanding.


This unusual phenomenon led to a range of unique responses which resulted in a fundamental shift in our understanding.

Unlike your examiners, don't assume prior knowledge on the part of the reader. For key terms or concepts describe what they mean in the first instance. For uncommon key terms that are used throughout, perhaps look at including an explanation of these in your introduction, author's note (included in the preliminaries) or in a glossary at the end. If using words from Indigenous Australian languages then you should include a note in your introduction about how they are used in the work. For example, if there are various spellings of the same word, if there are different meanings, who and where you've sought advice, and how you will treat English translations, e.g. in the first instance of the word in brackets. Note that ASP generally does not italicise words from Australian Indigenous languages.


It's important to choose the appropriate register (formality) when writing for a more general readership. Whilst theses are generally written in the formal register, readers understand more quickly something that is written in the middle (standard, informal) register. See here for some examples. If drawing on oral stories or testimonies, it's far better to retain the original voice of those who have provided those, including their choice of storytelling style and language which may include their Australian Indigenous language, Creole or Aboriginal English. See Aboriginal English.

If appropriate, use the first person and write in the active voice. To write in the active voice means to put the 'agent' (the person or things doing the action) before the verb. The first part of the sentence is the most important in English, so placing the agent at the beginning of the sentence gives it primacy. For example: the researcher spoke to the community elder' [active] rather than 'the community elder was spoken to by the researcher' [passive].


Whatever decisions you make about the choice of language make sure that you apply it consistently. This also applies to style, e.g. referencing, headings etc. However be prepared to have your style altered. Editors work to the publisher's house style but will also create a style sheet for each publication to suit the characteristics of the manuscript. See ASPs style guide for more information


  • Avoid nominalisations, that is turning verbs into nouns, for example; introduce/introduction, investigate/investigation.
  • Remove redundancy or repetition. Note however that repetition is often used in Aboriginal storytelling to emphasis a particular point.
  • It may seem obvious but include necessary words like ‘the’ and ‘a’.
  • Identify the paragraphs that are overly academic or dense and rewrite them as you would say them to a group of people.
  • Use shorter rather than long paragraphs and sentences. Keep each paragraph to one point.
  • Put conditions and qualifications into separate sentences rather than packing everything into one sentence.
  • Paragraphs should generally commence, not close, with the key point.



  • Ensure your paragraphs have internal grammatical consistency, for example use the same tense throughout, or use pronouns consistently.
  • Avoid excessive in-text author-date referencing as it disrupts the reading.
  • It may seem obvious but you should remove all references to ‘this thesis’ from your manuscript.
  • For AIATSIS, the term ‘Indigenous peoples' can be used to encompass both Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people, though not for one or the other when it is known which group is being spoken about. When used to refer to the peoples of Australia, ‘Aboriginal’, ‘Torres Strait Islander’ and ‘Indigenous’ should be capitalised, as would be the name of any other group of people. ASP uses a capital ‘I’ for Indigenous when talking about Indigenous Australians but not for other indigenous peoples. Do not use the acronym ATSI or TSI.
  • Words like ‘myth’, ‘folklore’ and ‘legend’ should be avoided. Dreaming stories or Creation stories (some people like to capitalise ‘stories’ in this instance) better impart the significance of the information. As well as providing Creation stories, the Dreaming provides Aboriginal people with the laws to live by, whereas words like ‘myths’ or ‘lore’ imply that the information is insignificant or untrue.
  • You might choose to capitalise ‘elder’ when speaking about an individual to appropriately acknowledge their standing and their knowledge within their community, but use ‘elders’ when speaking more generically. The same goes for ‘traditional owner’.
Last reviewed: 17 Dec 2018