Academic Writing

There are a number of features that are characteristic of academic writing, which occurs in a range of genres. In style, academic writing should be linear. It has one central point or theme and every part contributes to the main line of argument. There are no digressions or repetitions. The objective of academic writing is to inform rather than entertain.

Academic writing has six main features: it is complex, formal, objective, explicit, hedged and responsible. It uses language in a precise and careful, accurate manner. The complexity of academic writing often finds expression in the use of longer words, varied vocabulary and lexical density. Academic writing uses more noun-based phrases than verb-based phrases and the grammar is more complex, including more subordinate clauses and passive forms. Academic writing is relatively formal. Colloquial words and expressions tend to be avoided.

Academic writing is usually full of information, dates or figures, all delivered with precision. The language used is objective rather than personal. Most words used have narrow, specific meanings. Academic writing may often be cast in cautious language, particularly if the paper is presenting something based more on the author?s expert opinion, rather than definable fact-based research. In academic writing, the author is also responsible for demonstrating an understanding of the source text and needs to provide evidence and justification of any claims he or she makes.

There are different genres of academic writing, including essays, case studies, book reviews and research proposals. An essay is a piece of argumentative writing about one topic. The wording of the title or question determines the aim of the essay. In an essay, the author should emphasize other people's ideas and refer to the people explicitly by a system of referencing. An essay includes introduction, main body, conclusion and references.

A report includes an abstract and contents in addition to a title page. The main text consists of introduction, methodology, findings and results, a discussion and conclusion, followed by references and appendices. In a case study, one aspect of a real-world problem can be studied in detail, and is not restricted to a single research procedure. At the beginning there is a problem to solve, then the author describes and evaluates the stages of the investigation and leads the reader to the solution. A case study can make use of library research, interviews, questionnaires, observation, diaries, historical documents and collections of current documents. Depending on the purpose, case studies can be divided into three types - exploratory, explanatory and descriptive.

Before a major piece of writing, such as an end-of-year project or a final-year dissertation, a student can be asked to write a research proposal. The purpose of this type of academic writing is to show how the student intends to tackle the study and whether he or she has thought through the practicalities. A research proposal typically involves the following stages - title, purpose, justification, literature review, method, dissemination and a reading list. Book reviews may be a simple summary of the discussion in a book or article or may be evaluative. Literature reviews may be part of a larger piece of work, such as an extended essay, report or dissertation, or may be a separate piece of work. It provides the context of what is already known about the topic in question in which the author situates the study he or she carries out.

Reflective writing aims to help students learn from a particular practical experience. Students are asked to write down some of the thinking they have been through while writing an essay, teaching a class, selling a product, or performing another practical activity. Reflective writing helps students make sense of what they did or why, how they used what they were taught in classes and perhaps helps them do it better next time. The written reflection also serves as a source of reference and evidence in the future.

Academic Writing: Selected full-text books and articles

The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach By Rowena Murray; Sarah Moore Open University Press, 2006
How to Succeed in Academics By Linda L. McCabe; Edward R.B. McCabe University of California Press, 2010 (2nd edition)
(First Person)²: A Study of Co-Authoring in the Academy By Kami Day; Michele Eodice Utah State University Press, 2001
Writing for Academic Journals By Rowena Murray Open University Press, 2005
Professional Academic Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences By Susan Peck MacDonald Southern Illinois University Press, 1994
Writing at University By Phyllis Creme; Mary R. Lea Open University Press, 2003
Writing the Qualitative Dissertation: Understanding by Doing By Judith M. Meloy Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994
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