Professor Helen Sword

PhD Princeton 1991; MA Indiana 1986

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I grew up in Southern California, received my PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University, and taught in the English Department at Indiana University for more than a decade before moving to New Zealand in 2001.  Over the past two decades have worked with colleagues from across the University of Auckland on a variety of Higher Education teaching and research initiatives while also maintaining strong links to my 'home discipline' of modernist literature.  I now teach modern poetry and poetics in the School of Humanities and am affiliated with the Centre for Arts and Social Transformation.  I also do international consultancy work on scholarly writing and researcher development across the disciplines.  

Research | Current

I have published widely in the intersecting domains of modernist literature, higher education pedagogy, digital poetics and academic writing, including six books, numerous scholarly articles, and invited commentaries in international publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Conversation and Times Higher Education.  Drawing on my background as a literary scholar, poet and award-winning teacher, my most recent books explore academic writing in all its rich complexity: Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard 2012) exposes myths and conventions that can hinder research creativity and clear communication; The Writer's Diet (Auckland 2015; Chicago 2016) issues a resounding call to arms against the lure of soggy sentences; and Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write (Harvard 2017) investigates the backgrounds, habits and emotions of academic writers from across the disciplines and around the world.  My current research project is a book called Writing with Pleasure, under contract with Princeton University Press for publication in 2022.

For more information about my books and other publications, please visit my Resources for Writers website at, which provides links to writing workshops, YouTube videos, online writing and editing tools, and a curated bookshop; my Writer’s Diet website at, which evaluates the "verbal fitness" of your prose, and my Writing BASE website at, which provides a diagnostic tool for assessing your own behavioural, artisanal, social and emotional habits as a writer.   

Teaching | Current

In the English Department, I co-convene English 216 'Modernist Transformations' with Professors Michele Leggott and Erin Carlston; across the University of Auckland, I facilitate courses and workshops on various aspects of Higher Education learning, teaching and research.  My particular passion is academic writing; to date I have offered research-informed writing workshops, seminars and masterclasses for faculty and doctoral students at more than 90 universities and conferences in 20 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. 

Postgraduate supervision

I am not taking on new supervisions at this time.  


2017 Research Excellence Award, University of Auckland

2013 HERDSA-TERNZ Medal for a scholar who has made a major impact on the tertiary education research environment in New Zealand

2013  Hood Fellowship, University of Auckland

2007 Teaching Excellence Award for Innovation in Teaching, University of Auckland 

2000 Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching (FACET), Indiana University

1996-97 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship



Teaching, research, and service.

Areas of expertise

Academic writing
Research productivity
Higher education pedagogy
Academic development
Modernist literature
Digital poetry and poetics

Committees/Professional groups/Services


University Senate

Schuler Educational Enrichment and Development (SEED) Fund Advisory Board

Professional groups

Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA)

International Consortium for Educational Developers (ICED)

International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL)

Modernist Studies Association (MSA)


I offer workshops, seminars and masterclasses for faculty and students worldwide on a wide range of topics related to academic and professional writing.

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Sword, H. (2019). Snowflakes, splinters, and cobblestones: Metaphors for writing. Innovations in Narrative and Metaphor: Methodologies and Practices (pp. 39-55). 10.1007/978-981-13-6114-2_4
  • Sword, H., Sorrenson, P., & Ballard, M. (2019). BASE pleasures: the behavioural, artisanal, social and emotional dimensions of academic writing. Studies in Higher Education10.1080/03075079.2019.1616170
  • Sword, H. (2019). The First Person. TEACHING & LEARNING INQUIRY-THE ISSOTL JOURNAL, 7 (1), 182-190. 10.20343/teachlearninqu.7.1.12
  • Sword, H., Trofimova, E., & Ballard, M. (2018). Frustrated academic writers. Higher Education Research & Development, 37 (4), 852-867. 10.1080/07294360.2018.1441811
  • Sword, H. (2017). Air & Light & Time & Space How Successful Academics Write. Harvard University Press. Pages: 280.
  • Sword, H. C. (2017). Processing the writing process. Related URL.
  • Sword, H., Blumenstein, M., Kwan, A., Shen, L., & Trofimova, E. (2017). Seven ways of looking at a data set. Qualitative Inquiry, 24 (7), 499-508. 10.1177/1077800417729847
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Marion Blumenstein
  • Sword, H. (2016). The Writer's Diet A Guide to Fit Prose. University of Chicago Press. Pages: 88.


Contact details

Primary office location

Level 6, Room 613
New Zealand

Web links