What is this Resource About? 

This resource explains how to identify valued writing in your field and how by reading aesthetically, you can gain a better understanding of how to write in your discipline. 

What is Aesthetic Reading? 

The main goal of aesthetic reading is to notice the nuances of the writing in a particular discipline. To read aesthetically, focus on the readability, clarity, and effectiveness of a piece, as well as the strategies used to achieve those things. If you feel an article or paragraph is well written, pay close attention to its organization and use of techniques such as transitions, sentence rhythm, length, and style.  Sometimes it is difficult to read for content and style at the same time, so this strategy may be something you do on your second reading of a paper.  

How to Read Aesthetically 

There is no set of strict guidelines to follow when it comes to aesthetically reading, but here are a few of the things to pay attention to: 

  • Sentence length/structure
  • Technical vocabulary
  • Transition phrases 
  • Organization
  • Punctuation usage 
  • Capitalization
  • Italicization 
  • Headings
  • Citation Styles 
  • Figures/figure headings 

How Can Aesthetic Reading Help You Learn About Writing in Your Field? 

Aesthetic reading helps you to learn the accepted practice in your discipline. Different fields handle the content and structure of their literature differently. By paying attention to details of style, you gain knowledge of disciplinary conventions. 

 It also helps you to:  

  • Acquire a technical vocabulary for methods and concepts relevant to your field 
  • Learn how your colleagues describe experiments, translate data into words, and use illustrations 
  • Examine opening sentences for journals in your field and their target audience 
  • Distinguish between the type of content, style of writing, and voice in different sections of a paper 
  • Internalize effective rhetorical techniques employed by writers in your discipline 
  • Discern the quality of literature and decide which papers/colleagues to cite 
  • Incorporate techniques from good writing of others and develop a style of your own 
  • Create “models” that actively help you structure your first draft and alleviate awkward sentences in future edits (see Finding Models section below).

How to Identify Good Writing and Writers in Your Field 

As a researcher, you might have learned to look for content above everything else. When you read aesthetically, you look for the writing style and ease of reading above content.  

Identifying strong writing in your field is an active process. It involves:  

  • Asking your peers and professors for names of authors whose writings are clear, concise, and easy to understand.  
  • Searching for authors who publish articles in journals and newsletters intended for a wide audience.  
  • Looking for highly cited single author publications.  

Remember that not all writing in a field embodies how you want your piece or publication to sound, come across, or present information. Seek out works that appear clear and concise, but also have a style of writing that you admire and want to replicate.  

Lastly, as Montgomery reminds us in his book The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science (2017), “In published scientific literature, few writers are good (or bad) all the time. Even in a single piece of writing, a variety of competencies tend to exist. Often, you will find a mixture of things: admirable passages separated by mediocre writing; good style compromised by hurried organization; poor text offset by high-quality illustrations. More rarely, you will discover an article, report, or proposal in which all elements work together in excellent fashion.”

Finding Models  

Models are examples of good writing you collect from your reading and use as a template. A model could be entire articles, individual sections, paragraphs, or even illustrations. When you find a sentence (or section or paragraph) you like, replace all technical terms with ellipses and save only the structure.  

For example: 

  • Text: A comprehensive overview of quality control in DNA would include a discussion of DNA polymerase fidelity and post-replicative mismatch correction and would also consider the damage-responsive cell-cycle check-points and the signal transduction systems that lead to cellular effects. 
  • Model: A comprehensive overview of… would include a discussion of… and would also consider… 

By deleting unnecessary words, you reveal the underlying structure of the sentence which is something you can study and incorporate into your writing in a variety of ways. 

You can: 

  • Refer to your models when writing a first draft to help you get started. 
  • Patch together energizing words and phrases from your models with technical details relevant to your work. 
  • Place appropriate models in different sections of your paper as structures to help orient your paragraphs. 

Keep a list of models on a Word document that you can refer to often as you write. Re-read, rephrase, and improve your models as needed. 

Works Cited and Consulted

Works Cited: 

Montgomery, Scott L. “The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science”. 2nd ed., The University of Chicago Press, 2017. 

Works Consulted:

Schimel, Joshua. “Writing Science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded”. Oxford University Press, 2012.