Professor Helen Sword

PhD Princeton 1991; MA Indiana 1986

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Trained as a literary scholar, I hold a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University and taught in the English Department at Indiana University before joining the University of Auckland in 2004.  As Director of the Centre for Learning and Research in Higher Education (CLeaR), I work with academic staff from across the University on a variety of teaching and research initiatives and have developed a particular interest in academic writing across the disciplines.  I also maintain strong links to my 'home discipline' of literary studies and hold a fractional appointment in the English Department.

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 click on the link to my website,, under 'Web links' in the righthand column. You may also want to explore my Writer’s Diet website, where you can test whether your sentences are ‘flabby or fit’, and the Writing BASE, 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; at CLeaR and across the University of Auckland,  facilitate and co-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 19 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. 

Postgraduate supervision

I am currently supervising several PhD students but 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



As Director of CLeaR, I am committed to nurturing a culture of pedagogical innovation and research-informed teaching across the University of Auckland 

Areas of expertise

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

Committees/Professional groups/Services


Teaching and Learning Quality Committee

Staff Advisory Committee

Faculty of Education and Social Work Senior Leadership Team

University Senate

Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Governance Board

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 run workshops, seminars and presentations for faculty and students worldwide on a wide range of topics related to academic writing

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • 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

New Zealand

Web links