I is for Imitation – Try writing like a writer whose writing you like. Then stop doing that.
I know, I know, I know. You haven't got the time to sit around trying fun little parlor games that can help you find your own style and voice as a writer. I get it, I really do.
But let's pretend for a moment you did.
One game that seems to help involves letting go of your own written style for a brief while and try writing in the manner of a famous author.
To be sure, published authors go both ways on the issue: some insist they simply can't read other authors when they're working on a book; others say that reading obsessively is the one and only thing that can help any writer do better.
Still, it's a time honored strategy when training creative writers. They might take 15 minutes to immerse in a few pages of prose or poetry by a literary giant. Then they might get half an hour (it's best to play it like game and even set a timer) to write a short poem or paragraph that mimics the voice of that author.
It's funny we don't do more of that sort of thing with students who aren't enrolled in creative writing classes. In fact, outside of language and literature courses, we rarely ask students to pay attention to the how things are written at all. Yet there's tremendous range among scholarly writers - whether they're sociologists or physicists or mathematicians or cultural critics - and so many of them achieve an elegance or clarity or wit we all could learn from.
Why not give it a try in your non-existent extra time? You could start by paying closer attention to the articles and books you've got to read anyway. Spend a few minutes analyzing them as if they were "literature." Pretend you'll be expected to say something interesting about how they build their sentences, or the way they use irony, or how they build momentum in a story (i.e., in an argument).
And maybe sometime, just before you sit down to plug away at a paper, pull out an author who really nails it so far as you're concerned, really knows how to pull off a great nonfiction essay. Read them like Shakespeare, just soak in the sound and feel of their writing. Then try your hand at writing in their voice, if even for a few minutes.
It's not that you'll ever learn to write "just like them" - or that you ever should. But for some reason, ironically, many writers find that mimicking other authors eventually frees them up to write more like themselves.