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Academic writing or scholarly writing is nonfiction writing produced as part of academic work. Writing that reports on university research, writing produced by university students, and writing in which scholars analyze culture or propose new theories are all sometimes described as academic writing. Though the tone, style, content, and organization of academic writing vary across genres and across publication methods, nearly all academic writing shares a relatively formal prose register and frequent reference to other academic work.
Academic writing often features a prose register that is conventionally characterized by "evidence...that the writer(s) have been persistent, open-minded, and disciplined in study"; that prioritizes "reason over emotion or sensual perception"; and that imagines a reader who is "coolly rational, reading for information, and intending to formulate a reasoned response." The particular stylistic means of achieving these conventions can differ considerably by academic discipline, however; these differences help explain the distinctive sounds of, for example, writing in history versus engineering or physics versus philosophy. One attempt to account for these differences in writing is known as the theory of "discourse communities," as explained in more detail below.
A discourse community is essentially a group of people that shares mutual interests and beliefs. "It establishes limits and regularities...who may speak, what may be spoken, and how it is to be said; in addition [rules] prescribe what is true and false, what is reasonable and what foolish, and what is meant and what not."
The concept of a discourse community is vital to academic writers across nearly all disciplines, for the academic writer's purpose is to influence how their community understands its field of study: whether by maintaining, adding to, revising, or contesting what that community regards as "known" or "true." Academic writers have strong incentives to follow conventions established by their community in order for their attempts to influence this community to be legible.
Discourse community constraints
Constraints are the discourse community's written and unwritten conventions about what a writer can say and how he or she can say it. They define what is an acceptable argument. Each discourse community expects to see a writer construct his or her argument using their conventional style of language and vocabulary, and they expect a writer to use the established intertext within the discourse community as the building blocks for his or her argument.
Writing for a discourse community
In order for a writer to become familiar with some of the constraints of the discourse community they are writing for. Across most discourses communities, writers will:
- Identify the novelty of their position
- Make a claim, or thesis
- Acknowledge prior work and situate their claim in a disciplinary context
- Offer warrants for one's view based on community-specific arguments and procedures
Each of theses above are constructed differently depending on the discourse community the writer is in. For example, the way a claim is made in a high school paper would look very different from the way a claim is made in a college composition class. It is important for the academic writer to familiarize himself or herself with the conventions of the discourse community by reading and analyzing other works, so that the writer is best able to communicate his or her ideas.
Within discourse communities, academic writers build on top of the ideas established by previous writers.
Good academic writers know the importance of researching previous work from within the discourse community and using this work to build their own claims. By taking these ideas and expanding upon them or applying them in a new way, a writer is able to make their novel argument.
Intertextuality is the combining of past writings into original, new pieces of text. Usually attributed to Julia Kristeva, the concept of intertextuality is helpful for understanding that all texts are necessarily related to prior texts through a network of explicit or implicit links, allusions, repetitions, acknowledged or unacknowledged inspiration, and direct quotations. Writers (often unwittingly) make use of what has previously been written and thus some degree of borrowing is inevitable. One of the most salient features of academic writing irrespective of discipline is its unusually explicit conventions for marking intertextuality through citation and bibliography. Conventions for these markings (e.g., MLA, APA, IEEE, Chicago, etc.) vary by discourse community.
Factoring in intertextuality, the goal of academic writing is not simply creating new ideas, but to offer a new perspective and link between already established ideas. This is why gathering background information and having past knowledge is so important in academic writing. A common metaphor used to describe academic writing is "entering the conversation", a conversation that began long before you got there and will continue long after you leave. A quote from Kenneth Burke encapsulates this metaphor:
"Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress."
Intertextuality plays into this because without it there would be no conversations, just hundreds of thousands of writings not connected or able to build on each other. The listening until you can join the conversation can be seen as doing research. All of the research you read, is built on research instead of self-knowledge.
A number of areas of importance in all academic and scholarly writing are:
- Formal style or register
- Writing should not be casual, but be in an appropriate formal register.
- Appropriate references
- Generally speaking, the range and organization of references illustrate the author's awareness of the current state of knowledge in the field (including major current disagreements or controversies); typically the expectation is that these references will be formatted in the relevant disciplinary citation system.
- Typically this lists those articles read as background, and will include the sources of individual citations.
- Plagiarism, the "wrongful appropriation of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions", and the representation of them as one's own original work is considered academic dishonesty, and can lead to severe consequences.
Academic document types
- Book, in many types and varieties
- Chapter in an edited volume
- Book report
- Conference paper
- Dissertation; usually between 6,000 and 20,000 words in length
- Essay; usually short, between 1,500 and 6,000 words in length
- Explication; usually a short factual note explaining some obscure part of a particular work; e.g. its terminology, dialect, allusions or coded references
- Research Article
- Research Paper; longer essay involving library research, 3000 to 6000 words in length
- Technical report
- Thesis; completed over a number of years, often in excess of 20,000 words in length
- Exam questions and Essay titles; the formulation of these
- Instructional pamphlet, or hand-out, or reading list; usually meant for students
- Presentations; usually short, often illustrated
Summaries of knowledge
- Annotated bibliography
- Annotated catalogue, often of an individual or group's papers and/or library
- Creating a simplified graphical representation of knowledge; e.g. a map, or refining a display generated from a database. There will often be a 'key' or written work incorporated with the final work
- Creating a timeline or chronological plan. There will often be a 'key' or written work incorporated with the final work
- Devising a classification scheme; e.g. for animals, or newly arisen sub-cultures, or a radically new style of design
- Encyclopedia entry
- Journal article (e.g. History Today); usually presenting a digest of recent research
- Literature review; a summary and careful comparison of previous academic work published on a specific topic
- Site description and plan (e.g. in archeology)
Collating the work of others
- Anthology; collection, collation, ordering and editing of the work of others
- Catalogue raisonné; the definitive collection of the work of a single artist, in book form
- Collected works; often referred to as the 'critical edition'. The definitive collection of the work of a single writer or poet, in book form, carefully purged of publishers errors and later forgeries, etc.
- Monograph or exhibition catalog; usually containing exemplary works, and a scholarly essay. Sometime contains new work by a creative writer, responding to the work
- Transcribing, selecting and ordering oral testimony (e.g. oral history recordings)
Research and planning
- Experimental plan
- Laboratory report
- Raw data collection plan
- Research plan (sometimes called desk-based research).
- Structured notes
Disseminating knowledge outside the academy
- Call for papers
- Documentary film script or TV script or radio script
- Opinion; an academic may sometimes be asked to give an expert written opinion, for use in a legal case before a court of law
- Newspaper opinion article
- Public speech or lecture
- Review of a book, film, exhibition, event, etc.
- Think-tank pamphlet, position paper, or briefing paper
Technical or administrative forms
- Brief; short summary, often instructions for a commissioned work
- Peer review report
- Proposal for research or for a book
- White paper; detailed technical specifications and/or performance report
- Artist's book or Chapbook
- Belles-lettres; stylish or aesthetic writing on serious subjects, often with reference to one's personal experience
- Commonplace book
- Diary or Weblog
- Memoire; usually a short work, giving one's own memories of a famous person or event
- Collaborative writing, especially using the internet
- Hypertext, often incorporating new media and multimedia forms within the text
- Performative writing (see also: belles-lettres)
A commonly recognized format for presenting original research in the social and applied sciences is known as IMRD, an initialism that refers to the usual ordering of subsections:
- Introduction (Overview of relevant research and objective of current study)
- Method (Assumptions, questions, procedures described in replicable or at least reproducible detail)
- Results (Presentation of findings; often includes visual displays of quantitative data charts, plots)
- Discussion (Analysis, Implications, Suggested Next Steps)
Standalone methods sections are atypical in presenting research in the humanities; other common formats in the applied and social sciences are IMRAD (which offers an "Analysis" section separate from the implications presented in the "Discussion" section) and IRDM (found in some engineering subdisciplines, which features Methods at the end of the document).
Other common sections in academic documents are:
- List of references
- Appendix/Addendum, any addition to a document
- Academic authorship
- Academic journal
- Academic publishing
- Author editing
- Creative class
- Expository writing
- Knowledge worker
- Persuasive writing or rhetoric
- Rhetorical device
- Scientific writing
- Scientific publishing
- Scholarly method
- Scholarly skywriting
- Style guide
- Hayot, Eric (2014). The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-53741-4.
- Samuels, Boba; Garbati, Jordana (2018). Mastering Academic Writing. SAGE. ISBN 978-1-5264-5506-2.
- Bailey, Stephen (2011). Academic Writing: A Handbook for International Students. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-83083-9.
- Chris Thaiss and Terry Myers Zawacki (2006) Engaged Writers and Dynamic Disciplines: Research on the Academic Writing Life, Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, [5-7].
- Stephen Catterall; Christopher Ireland (October 2010). "Developing Writing Skills for International Students: Adopting a critical pragmatic approach". ResearchGate.
- Hyland, Ken (22 July 2004). Disciplinary Discourses, Michigan Classics Ed.: Social Interactions in Academic Writing. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-03024-8.
- Swales, John. ''The Concept of Discourse Community." Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Boston: Cambridge UP, 1990.21-32. Print.
- Wikidot: Academic Writing For the Students Academic Writing
- Roozen, Kevin. (2015) "Texts Get Their Meaning from Other Texts." Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts in Writing Studies, Adler-Kassner & Wardle, eds. Logan: Utah State UP, 44-47,
- "How to write in an academic style". De Montfort University. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
- Giltrow, Janet and Michele Valiquette. (1994). Genres and knowledge: Students writing in the disciplines. In Freedman, Aviva; Peter Medway (Eds.), Learning and teaching genre. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook (pp. 47-62).
- "Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices". Princeton University. 2012-07-27
- Tony, Becher; Paul, Trowler (1 October 2001). Academic Tribes And Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines. McGraw-Hill Education (UK). ISBN 978-0-335-20627-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Booth, Wayne C.; Colomb, Gregory G.; Williams, Joseph M. (15 May 2009). The Craft of Research, Third Edition. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-06264-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Borg, Erik (2003). 'Discourse Community', English Language Teaching (ELT) Journal, Vol. 57, Issue 4, pp. 398–400
- Canagarajah, A. Suresh (2002). A Geopolitics of Academic Writing. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 978-0-8229-7238-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Coinam, David (2004). 'Concordancing Yourself: A Personal Exploration of Academic Writing', Language Awareness, Vol. 13, Issue 1, pp. 49–55
- Phyllis, Creme; Mary, Lea (1 May 2008). Writing At University: A Guide For Students. McGraw-Hill Education (UK). ISBN 978-0-335-22116-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Goodall, H. Lloyd, Jr. (2000). Writing Qualitative Inquiry: Self, Stories, and Academic Life (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press)
- Johns, Ann M. (1997). Text, Role and Context: Developing Academic Literacies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
- King, Donald W., Carol Tenopir, Songphan Choemprayong, and Lei Wu (2009). 'Scholarly Journal Information Seeking and Reading Patterns of Faculty at Five U.S. Universities', Learned Publishing, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp. 126–144
- Kouritzin, Sandra G., Nathalie A. C Piquemal, and Renee Norman, eds (2009). Qualitative Research: Challenging the Orthodoxies in Standard Academic Discourse(s) (New York: Routledge)
- Lincoln, Yvonna S, and Norman K Denzin (2003). Turning Points in Qualitative Research: Tying Knots in a Handkerchief (Walnut Creek, CA; Oxford: AltaMira Press)
- Luey, Beth (2010). Handbook for Academic Authors, 5th edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
- Murray, Rowena, and Sarah Moore (2006). The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach (Maidenhead: Open University Press)
- Nash, Robert J. (2004). Liberating Scholarly Writing: The Power of Personal Narrative (New York; London: Teachers College Press)
- Paltridge, Brian (2004). 'Academic Writing', Language Teaching, Vol. 37, Issue 2, pp. 87–105
- Pelias, Ronald J. (1999). Writing Performance: Poeticizing the Researcher's Body (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press)
- Prior, Paul A. (1998). Writing/Disciplinarity: A Sociohistoric Account of Literate Activity in the Academy (Mahwah, NJ; London: Lawrence Erlbaum)
- Rhodes, Carl and Andrew D. Brown (2005). 'Writing Responsibly: Narrative Fiction and Organization Studies', The Organization: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Organizations and Society, Vol. 12, Issue 4, pp. 467–491
- Richards, Janet C., and Sharon K. Miller (2005). Doing Academic Writing in Education: Connecting the Personal and the Professional (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum)
- Zamel, Vivian; Spack, Ruth (6 August 2012). Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning Across Languages and Cultures. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-60891-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- The University of Sydney. (2019). Academic Writing.
Architecture, design and art
- Crysler, C. Greig (2002). Writing Spaces: Discourses of Architecture, Urbanism and the Built Environment (London: Routledge)
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- Piotrowski, Andrzej (2008). 'The Spectacle of Architectural Discourses', Architectural Theory Review, Vol. 13, Issue 2, pp. 130–144
- Roudavski, Stanislav (2010). 'Transparency or Drama? Extending the Range of Academic Writing in Architecture and Design', Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, 3, 2, pp. 111–133
- Baldo, Shannon. "Elves and Extremism: the use of Fantasy in the Radical Environmentalist Movement." Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric 7 (Spring 2010): 108-15. Print.
- Greene, Stuart. "Argument as Conversation: The Role of Inquiry in Writing a Researched Argument." n. page. Print.
- Kantz, Margaret. "Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively." College English 52.1 (1990): 74-91. Print.
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