- What is academic writing style?
- When do I have to use it?
- Are there different types of styles?
- How is an academic paper structured?
By the time students are in high school, rudimentary elements of ‘academic style’ of writing will have been sowed. But, what does it mean?
There may be slightly different ideas on the matter within different departments but there are some basic approaches to academic writing on which all would agree.
Every department or person has their own, individual style of writing and we would probably all recognize that we write in different ways in different circumstances: formal or informal ways.
However, academic writing always has a different set of audience. It is going to be read by others. This means what you are going to write has to be easily understood by the reader – who is probably going to be the marker.
There are certain conventions – ways of writing – that students have to understand and follow in their approach to an academic piece of writing.
TEN BASIC APPROACHES
- Read academic books and journals as models to imitate. As you engage yourself in the reading, ask yourself questions about: how are the paragraphs structured and why particular words/expressions are used.
- As you are writing, consider whether your writing sounds as if it could be in an academic book. If it does, that is a good sign. If it sounds like a chat with a friend, you will need to revise it.
- Think about your readers and express your ideas with clarity.
- Academic writing – mainly involving extended writing tasks, coursework or research papers at High School have to stick to certain rules and regulations.
- Academic writing tends to be impersonal, objective and cautious avoiding sweeping statements or generalisations.
- Always make sure to back up everything you say with evidence from reliable sources unless it can be considered as “common knowledge”. Carrying out research through appropriate reading is essential. By providing evidence or justification through, whatever sources one uses – books, websites, journals, – must be accurately referenced.
- Strike a balance. This means in your writing, you must include examples of ideas that disagree with what you are saying as well as ones that support it. It will also show that you have read widely and thought about your topic from different perspectives.
- Show your understanding of your topic. Define key terms in the first body paragraph – these are better off being researched upon than a mere dictionary meaning.
- Your writing must have a logical structure. Structure your paragraphs well, and if the Department encourages sub-headings, so be it.
- The need for referencing is important. Whenever you use someone else’s ideas, whether quoting verbatim or not, you must let your reader know your source. Lastly, you will then need to list all the sources you have used in your work.
STRUCTURE OF AN ACADEMIC PAPER – TOP TIPS
- There is a generally agreed rule in academic circles that the first person – that is “I”, “we”, “my” etc – should never be used. Similarly “you” should not be used as well. The key here is that it makes your writing sound more objective and impersonal.
- Avoid “I” or “you” by using “one:” One could argue that …. or If one is in such a situation, one could….
- Avoid “you” and “I” by starting with an impersonal “it:” It can be considered/argued/claimed that ….
- Write a thesis statement. It is a statement that focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. It can be placed at the beginning or end of the introductory paragraph. Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.
- Avoiding problems of “expression” – Some students end up with problems of whether to use “his” or “her”. It is always easier to use plurals as in: For example: A student is encouraged to check his / her essay carefully. Instead it is simpler to say: Students should be encouraged to check their essays carefully.
- Sentence structure is an issue. Using very long complex sentences can be confusing for the reader. It is often better to use short sentences as they add clarity.
- Always write in full sentences. Sentence fragments will always be marked down.
- Avoid repeating the same word in a single paragraph. Always try to find an alternative.
- Never use humor or irony in academic writing.
- Choose the right words and spellings. Remember that when you are writing for a U.K. audience, you will need to use British English, and not American English spelling, for example “colour”, not “color”.
- Always try to avoid informal words. It is advisable to think of your word choice and use those used in academic books or journals rather than magazines.
- Use words –technical terms if need be – that are appropriate for your area of study. Literary terms give precise meaning to your work, thereby adding clarity.
- Referencing: As soon as you start to research and read for any academic assignment, make sure you note down all the details of what you are reading, so that the correct information can be included in your references. Every important fact and idea needs to be referenced.
The Structure Of A Typical Academic Paragraph
As a general rule remember ‘one point = one paragraph’.
Paragraphs may differ in many ways, but a typical academic paragraph should contain THREE main things:
a) A topic sentence (or Point)
b) Evidence to support the point in your topic sentence (usually an external source but sometimes your own data or own examples).
c) Analysis of why the point is important and how it helps you answer the question (your explanation).
Some scholars like to use acronyms like
- PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation) or
- TEA (Topic, Evidence, Analysis) or
- WEED (What the paragraph is about, Evidence to support, Examples, Do say ‘so what?’).
It doesn’t matter how you remember it, the important thing to remember is that all three things are needed.
Boosting Your Grades
It is in the Explanation/Analysis part of your paragraphs that you will gain credit for showing an ability to discuss and analyse the facts and arguments you have presented.
This involves a personal evaluation, arguing the pros and cons, illustrating advantages and disadvantages, taking an argument apart and looking at each point, or following it through and extrapolating i.e. continuing the same line of argument (perhaps into other areas) to see where it would lead, or giving counter arguments.
A conclusion should not be a reworking of everything you have previously stated in your essay. It is, instead, as crucial to the overall success of your essay as the other sections. The conclusion needs to be a carefully constructed paragraph that ‘completes’ your argument.
It is an opportunity to leave the reader with a set of final, original ideas about the text that you have created yourself. You should try to make a lasting impact in your conclusion, creating a paragraph that your reader remembers and show your own individual, intellectual and emotional engagement with the text that you are writing about.
Always allow time for proof reading your work. As a proof reading exercise, the mechanical process of checking through a document for error of: Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar, Syntax, Repetition (of words, phrases or ideas) but also errors of fact is an essential undertaking.
You will also need to check that the work is divided into paragraphs of suitable (but varied) length, each as far as possible devoted to a discrete idea or aspect of the subject.
It is all about accuracy and therefore clarity of meaning, since the more inaccurate the piece of academic writing is, the more its clarity will be compromised.
TOP PROOFREADING TIPS
- NEVER rely on the computer’s spelling and grammar checker to do the work for you. This is fatal! It is extremely unreliable.
- Run the Spell and Grammar Checker software first BUT remember that you will still need to check the work yourself afterwards.
- If your document is not too long, try printing it out. Often errors can be seen on paper but not noticed on a computer screen.
- Leave time (-24 to 48 hours is recommended) between the end of the writing process and the start of proofreading. This time length helps clear the mind then approaching the same topic more refreshed and therefore with a better chance of spotting errors.
- Try proofreading backwards! It is weird, right? Essentially, reading your work from the end to the beginning – either sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph – destroys the flow of argument and sequencing of ideas or chronology; thus forcing the brain to look only for mechanical error in the text.
- Watch out for repetition of certain words or phrases – ring the changes by fixing them: you could be changing by using a pronoun to replace the repetitive noun; or use an alternative work or synonym.
- The human eye often skims words – i.e we see only parts of words and complete the rest by assumption from meaning or context rather than by sight. This is why we often fail to spot spelling mistakes, for example. So train yourself consciously to read (i.e. observe) all parts of every word.
- Collaborate with others (fellow students, colleagues, guardians / parents) to check (each other’s) work. Normally, another pair of eyes will often spot errors which your own have missed.
It is all yours now. Good luck.