Your Writing Playlist: Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor


The first of a new series in which we use popular song to help you consider the oft-posed question: “Is my writing academic enough?”

Academic writing is precise rather than vague. To achieve such an effect, you could do worse than take a leaf out of Sinead O’ Connor’s book. We refer you here to Sinead’s emotive 90s ballad, Nothing Compares 2 U, which was actually written by Prince – just in case that ever comes up in a pub quiz. Of course, we wouldn’t advise you to follow Sinead’s lead when it comes to spelling. However, she’s definitely on to something when it comes to being specific.

The song addresses a recent ex. How recent? Well, it’s interesting you should ask. Thanks to Sinead (and Prince), we are able to provide a definite answer. For Sinead doesn’t declare that it has been a “significant amount of time” since her beloved “took [their] love away.” No. She informs us that it has been “seven hours and fifteen days.”

Precise. Specific. No room for misunderstandings there. Which there may well have been if we were only told it had been a “significant amount of time.” My idea of “significant” may well be very different to Sinead’s, for instance. I would have been unsure quite how she was defining that term and that might have impacted on my understanding of the whole song. At least this way, I know exactly what she’s referring to and I can make up my own mind. IS seven hours and fifteen days a significant amount of time? Well, the lyrics go on to reveal that she’s killed all the plants in the backyard and is “[putting] [her] arms around every boy [she] see[s].” Personally, we think that’s a bit much after just over a fortnight.

The fact that Sinead can be so exact also says something about her persona in this song. She may be lonely and heartbroken, but tell you what, she’s on the ball when it comes to the passing of time. When it comes to writing academic assignments (which we presume you’re more inclined to be writing than power ballads, though do feel free), this level of precision is something to aim for. After all, a key feature of academic writing is convincing your readers that you Know Your Stuff. Any instances of vagueness could undermine your scholarly identity.

So when it comes to editing, are there any instances in your draft where you are leaving something open to interpretation and risking a situation where you and your reader might not be “on the same page”, as it were? Are there places where you don’t sound quite as definite, knowledgeable and assertive as you could? Apply the “Sinead O’Connor Rule” to ensure your prose is as precise and as direct as it can be.

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