Professor Helen Sword

PhD Princeton 1991; MA Indiana 1986


Trained as a literary scholar, I hold a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University and taught for 10 years 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 on 'Writing with Pleasure'.

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 222 'Modern Poetry: Making It New' with Professor Michele Leggott; at CLeaR and across the University of Auckland; I 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, presentations and seminars for faculty and doctoral students at more than 60 universities and conferences in 17 countries across North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia. 

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised postgraduate projects in both Literary Studies and Higher Education and am particularly interested in recruiting new PhD students to work in the cutting-edge field of academic writing and research productivity.  Academics who earn an advanced degree in this exciting interdisciplinary area -- which sits somewhere between Higher Education and Writing Studies -- are likely to find work as lecturers, consultants and administrators at research universities around the world.  


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)


Contact details

Primary office location

Level 3, Room 311
New Zealand

Web links