When writing academic text, you're often in the position of having to write introductory or explanatory material for your audience. Usually you write this kind of material after you've explored the subject fairly deeply, and have a pretty solid understanding of what you're talking about. This makes it easy to write in one sense: you don't need to constantly refer to other sources. But it also makes it really hard in another, because all that experience makes it difficult to know when you're talking over the heads of your audience. And if you lose them in the introduction, then you've likely lost them altogether.

One way to get around this is to have one of your audience members proof read your writing. Of course, that isn't always possible, nor always reliable.

So, are there any methods of getting outside your own head, and viewing your own writing as if you didn't previously understand the topic? How can I read my writing so that I can detect the potholes I've left for other readers?


2 Answers 2


I am an english student, so if you are teaching, you already far outmatch me in ability, however, these are my thoughts.

Sometimes, although is sounds a little bit insane, it is possible to create someone in your mind to critically analyse your work.

Try this. Imagine a sarcastic, witty imp, sitting on your favourite shoulder. He knows nothing but the basics of your topic, and is not really wanting to learn. He will need a simple explanation of the subject, before he can begin to understand it, so try not to confuse him.

Now get him to slowly read your work. Listen to his critical yammering, and try and see the world from his point of view. If you are lucky, he will point out at least some of your problems.

(You may receive quite an earbashing, so be warned.)

Another method is to just simply have a nice long sleep, then reread. A clear head makes mistakes so much easier to see, and you will be able to see whether some stray string theory has crept into your lecture on basic newtonian physics.

These methods may not work for you, however, so take this answer as you will.

  • It's surprising how well the imp works :D
    – naught101
    Aug 23, 2012 at 0:54

The best answer I ever heard was from an English professor: "Write as if you're explaining the text to a slightly stupider classmate."

  • 1
    Too bad I can't more than +1 this.
    – justkt
    Aug 22, 2012 at 18:55
  • He was a great professor, and I used that advice in every subsequent paper for the remainder of my college career. Aug 22, 2012 at 23:10
  • 1
    True. Now that you mention it, I've actually been writing for my supervisor/examiners - who I've been assuming know more than me. Good tip!
    – naught101
    Aug 23, 2012 at 0:54
  • A friend of mine wrote an engineering textbook. He commented once that he often found himself saying, "no need to explain this, it's obvious", and then backing up and saying, "it's obvious to someone who's been working in the field for 30 years, but it's probably not obvious to someone just learning the subject. I'd better explain."
    – Jay
    Jul 7, 2016 at 5:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.