Academic writing refers to a particular style of expression that scholars use to define the boundaries of their disciplines and their areas of expertise. Characteristics of academic writing include a formal tone, use of the third-person rather than first-person perspective (usually), a clear focus on the research problem under investigation, and precise word choice. Like the specialist languages adopted in other professions such as law, academic writing is designed to convey agreed meaning about complex ideas for a group of scholarly experts.
Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College.
I. The Big Picture
Unlike fiction or journalistic writing, the overall structure of academic writing is formal and logical. It must be cohensive and possess a logical flow of ideas, which means that the various parts are connected to form a unified whole. There should be links between sentences and paragraphs so the reader is able to follow your argument.
II. The Tone
Throughout your paper, it is important that you present the arguments of others fairly and with an appropriate tone. When presenting a position or argument that you disagree with, describe this argument accurately and without loaded or biased language. In academic writing, the author is expected to investigate the research problem from an authoritative point of view. You should, therefore, confidently state the strengths of your arguments using language that is neutral, not confrontational or dismissive.
III. The Language
Clear use of language is essential in academic writing. Well-structured paragraphs and clear topic sentences enable a reader to follow your line of thinking without difficulty. Your language should be concise, formal, and express precisely what you want it to mean. Avoid vague expressions that are not specific and precise enough for the reader to derive exact meaning ["they," "we," "people," "the organization," etc.] abbreviations like 'i.e.' ["in other words"], 'e.g.' ["for example"], and contractions, such as, "don't", "isn't", etc.
IV. Academic Conventions
Citing sources in the body of your paper and providing a list of references are very important aspects of academic writing. It is essential to always acknowledge the source of any ideas, research findings, or data that you have used in your paper. To do otherwise is considered plagerism.
V. Evidence-Based Arguments
Your assignments often ask you to express your own point of view on research problem you are discussing. However, what is valued in academic writing is that your opinions are based on a sound understanding of the pertinent body of knowledge and academic debates that are currently being debated in your discipline. You need to support your opinion with evidence from academic sources. It should be an objective position presented as a logical argument. The quality of your evidence will determine the strength of your argument. The challenge is to convince the reader of the validity of your opinion through a well-documented, coherent, and logically structured piece of writing.
VI. Thesis-Driven Analysis
The writing is “thesis-driven,” meaning that the starting point is a particular perspective, idea, or “thesis” on the chosen research problem, such as, establishing, proving, or disproving solutions to the questions posed for the topic. In contrast, simply describing a topic without the research questions does not qualify as “academic writing.”
VII. Complexity and Higher-Order Thinking
One of the main functions of academic writing is to describe complex ideas as clearly as possible. Often called higher-order thinking skills, these include cognitive processes that are used to comprehend, solve problems, and express concepts or that describe abstract ideas that cannot be easily acted out, pointed to, or shown with images.
Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College.
Understanding Academic Writing and Its Jargon
The very definition of jargon is language specific to a particular sub-group of people. Therefore, in modern university life, jargon represents the specific language and meaning assigned to terms and phrases specific to a discipline or area of study. For example, the idea of being rational may hold the same general meaning in both political science and philosophy, but its application to understanding and explaining phenomena within the research work of a discipline may have subtle differences based on how scholars in that discipline apply the concept to the theories and practice of their work.
Given this, it is important that specialist terms [i.e., jargon] must be used accurately and applied under the appropriate conditions. Subject-specific dictionaries are the best places to confirm the meaning of terms within the context of a specific discipline. It is appropriate for you to use specialist language within your field of study, but avoid using such language when writing for non-academic or general audiences.
Key Problems to Avoid
Other Problems to Avoid
In addition to understanding the use of specialized language, there are other aspects of academic writing in the social sciences that you should be aware of. These include:
NOTE: Rules concerning excellent grammar and precise word structure do not apply when quoting someone. If the quote is especially vague or hard to understand, consider paraphrasing it. Otherwise, a quote should be inserted in the text of your paper exactly as it was stated. If you believe the quote is important to understanding the meaning of the work as a whole, consider inserting the term "sic" in brackets after the quoted word or text to indicate that the quotation has been transcribed exactly as found in the original source, complete with any erroneous spelling or other nonstandard presentation.
Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Pernawan, Ari. Common Flaws in Students' Rsearch Proposals. English Education Department. Yogyakarta State University; Style. College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.
I. Improving Academic Writing
To improve your academic writing skills, you should focus your efforts on three key areas:
1. Clear Writing. Thinking about precedes writing about. Good writers spend sufficient time distilling information and reviewing major points from their sources before creating their work. Writing detailed outlines can help you clearly organize your thoughts. Effective academic writing begins with solid planning, so manage your time carefully.
2. Excellent Grammar. Needless to say, English grammar can be difficult and complex; even the best scholars take many years before thay have command of the major points of good grammar. Take the time to learn the major and minor points of good grammar. Spend time practicing writing and seek detailed feedback from professors. Take advantage of the Jandrisevits Learning Center on campus if you need a lot of help. Proper punctuation use and good proofreading skills measurably improve academic writing [see subtab for proofreading you paper].
Invest in and always refer to these three types of resources to help your grammar and writing skills:
3. Consistent Stylistic Approach. Whether your professor requires you to use MLA, APA or the Chicago Manual of Style, choose one style manual and stick to it. Each of these style manuals provide guidance on how to write out numbers, references, citations, footnotes, and lists. Consistent adherence to one style of writing helps the flow of your paper and improves its readability. Note that some disciplines require a particular style [e.g., education uses APA] so as you write more papers within your major, familiarity will improve.
II. Evaluating Quality of Writing
A useful approach for evaluating the quality of your academic writing is to consider the following issues from the perspective of the reader. While proofreading your final draft, ctitically assess the quality of the following elements in your writing.
Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Style. College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.
Academic Support Services at the JLC include 1-on-1 tutoring with Professional and Peer tutors; group study sessions for particular courses by Classroom Learning Assistants (CLAs); monthly workshops on specific academic and life skills; specialized Learning Labs in math, critical reading and writing, accounting, and math; and online writing support (OWL).
Considering the Passive Voice in Academic Writing
In the English language, we are able to construct sentences in the following way:
The decision about which sentence to use is governed by whether you want to focus on “Congress” and what they did, or on “the economic crisis” and what caused it. This choice in focus is achieved with the use of either the active or the passive voice. When you want your readers to focus on the "doer" of an action, you can make the "doer"' the subject of the sentence and use the active form of the verb. When you want readers to focus on the person, place, or thing affected by the action, or the action itself, you can make the effect or the action the subject of the sentence by using the passive form of the verb.
Often in academic writing, scholars don't want to focus on who is doing an action, but on who is receiving or experiencing the action. The passive voice is useful in academic writing because it allows writers to highlight the most important participants or events within sentences by placing them at the beginning of the sentence.
Use the passive voice when:
Form the passive voice by:
NOTE: Check with your professor about writing in the passive voice before submitting your research paper. Some discourage its use.
Active and Passive Voice. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Diefenbach, Paul. Future of Digital Media Syllabus. Drexel University; Passive Voice. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.