What is academic writing?
Writing is a skill that is required in many contexts throughout life. However, academic writing does many of the things that personal writing does not: it has its own set of rules and practices.
- These rules and practices may be organised around a formal order or structure in which to present ideas, in addition to ensuring that ideas are supported by author citations in the literature.
- In contrast to personal writing contexts, academic writing is different because it deals with the underlying theories and causes governing processes and practices in everyday life, as well as exploring alternative explanations for these events.
- Academic writing follows a particular ‘tone’ and adheres to traditional conventions of punctuation, grammar, and spelling.
Some kind of structure is required, such as a beginning, middle, and end. This simple structure is typical of an essay format, as well as other assignment writing tasks, which may not have a clearly articulated structure.
Typical university assignments follow a formal structure, which is often more formal than in personal writing.
- In the case of an essay, the introductory paragraph informs the reader about the nature of the topic, which is discussed and evaluated in the middle of the essay, also referred to as the body.
- The introduction may also summarise very succinctly, in a sentence or two, your position on the issue, which is then elaborated on at length in the series of paragraphs that make up the essay's body.
- The final paragraph constitutes a conclusion in which you may summarise the overall points made.
- The concluding paragraph is also a good point at which to move the essay forward to touch on implications or future advancements surrounding the issues addressed.
- Another type of structure, common in university assignments is that of a report, often organised around the identification of problems or difficulties and corresponding solutions.
- Unlike most essays, a report is divided according to clearly labeled sections, such as “Introduction”, “Discussion”, “Conclusions”, and “Recommendations”.
- Further, unlike an essay, reports allow for bulleted points with respect to the conclusions and recommendations sections.
A significant difference between academic writing and other writing genres is based on the citation and referencing of published authors.
- If you make judgments about something in academic writing, there is an expectation that you will support your opinion by linking it to what a published author has previously written about the issue.
- Citing the work of other authors is central to academic writing because it shows you have read the literature, understood the ideas, and have integrated these issues and varying perspectives into the assignment task.
- The importance placed on referring to other authors in your work can be reflected in the elaborate referencing conventions that have been created within different disciplines, such as APA (American Psychological Association) referencing, which is used in psychology, education, some social sciences, as well as for business.
Traditionally, academic topics have focused on abstract things, like ideas and concepts, which cannot, necessarily, be given in a concrete or physical form.
Hence, while writing meeting minutes or covering letters of CVs draw on physical, practical, and functional tasks, academic writing is often more likely to focus on abstract processes and relationships. Yet, despite the abstract, non-material structure of some academic topics, you may be able to borrow concrete and physically oriented words to explain these abstract ideas and the relationships between them.
- Typically, academic writing requires you to clearly describe abstract forms and their component parts, their links to other abstract forms, as well as where they are positioned in relation to a general, overall system.
- Even if you are dealing with a practically oriented topic like economics, computer science, rehabilitation, nursing, or teaching, the academic practice of learning about these things will likely require you to delve into theories, philosophies, concepts, and other abstract ideas that underlie the practical nature of the activities concerned.
- Therefore, the very nature of academic writing is also different from many practically-oriented or socially-oriented writing tasks. This is because academic writing tasks require you to look beneath the surface for underlying principles, theories, and concepts that can offer mainstream as well as alternative explanations for common practices, processes, and procedures.
Like all varieties of writing, academic writing has its own tone, which dictates the choice of words and phrasing.
Academic writing typically aims to be:
- objective (e.g. using inclusive language)
- formal (e.g. avoiding slang, exclamation marks, contractions)
The tone of academic writing can also vary significantly depending on the subject-area and the academic discipline you are writing for.
The readings, textbook, and study guide of your course show you what tone is expected in the paper, so study their style carefully.
It is important to remember who you are writing for. Being conscious of academic tone suggests that you are aware of your audience and respect the formality normally associated with academic writing.
When writing academically, you must target a more general audience than just your lecturer and/or marker. You should assume that your readers will be intelligent thinking people, but they may not be specifically informed of your topic. Do not presume that your reader knows all the terms and concepts associated with your work.
Punctuation and grammar
In academic writing you should always follow rules of punctuation and grammar, especially as the end-user or consumer of your writing, unlike a friend, is likely to be very different from you and will not always know to what you are referring. Hence, it is vital that you are clear. Punctuation and the conventions of grammar are universally known systems (within English speaking cultures) that maintain clarity and avoid ambiguity in expression.