Academic Writing

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Academic Writing is a convenient phrase for teachers. It does not represent any important genre of writing. As AWE (this website) uses it, it means 'good writing in the context of Higher Education'. All good writing is the same, in the sense that all good writers consider

  • their meaning,
  • their audience, and
  • their purpose.

Academic writing, as we use the term, is the field of writing by scholars (or trainee scholars, like undergraduate students). Academic writers should consider that their

  • primary audience is professional academics - teachers and other scholars, or other potential scholars;
  • primary purpose is to communicate knowledge (a common secondary purpose is to impress markers and achieve good marks); and
  • meaning is usually complex.

It is this last point that leads to the mystique that is sometimes applied to the term academic writing. Good academic writing is not more complicated than it needs to be in order to express its complex ideas - the best academic writers are always clear. Their clarity relies on being as simple as possible. They put difficult ideas into words that are comprehensible.

With this in mind, students should realize that one skill they must learn is to meet their teachers' expectations. These vary in each subject - and, to a certain extent, with each teacher. The writer's goal is to satisfy the reader. The student writer's goal is to sound like a professional in the appropriate field. This involves amongst other things adopting the vocabulary of the subject: expressing the complex ideas in the words that most briefly and accurately encapsulate them.

There is a tendency for academic teachers to expect 'good grammar', correct spelling and accurate punctuation. These are characteristics of all formal writing, rather than peculiarities of 'academic writing'. Remember that all writers should consider their audiences, and students should consider their teachers' expectations. Do as your readers want. There will be time after you have graduated to experiment. Meanwhile, follow your teachers' prejudices: if they abominate split infinitives, then don't split your infinitives. If they don't care, then you need not make so much effort.