Have you heard any transfer rumors regarding David De Gea? Squadra azzurra was really good last night. “Red Devils” always have a tough experience at Stamford Bridge. Now these kinds of questions are specific to one particular sports field – soccer. Most of the sentences above make no sense to people who don’t know anything about the game. If one wants to join the conversation about soccer, there are terms he/she has to be familiar with in order to understand the talk. More than that, if you want to be an effective participant, you have to learn how to play their language game with all of the specific terms and values. And just like with soccer (or any other sports really), academic discourse also has its own lingo. In other words, there are certain terms you must accept and use in order to be successful in this field. So basically whenever you enter any college or university, you enter an academic community that has its values and shares certain ways of writing and speaking. In this article we would like to focus on features of academic writing which will hopefully help you be a better student and handle assignments efficiently.
Features of Academic Writing
Many people ask “How does academic writing differ from other forms of writing?” This is a good question, and the answer will clear things out about what academic writing style is all about. Obviously, there are many distinctive features, but before we get to that, one has to know some rules of academic writing. First of all, it is correct grammar, clear organization of written content and proper academic writing format. These are fundamental things (not even rules actually) one has to adhere to in this type of writing. The actual rules are all about the proper use of literary devices, word choice, style and values. The general purpose of academic writing is to present information in order to display a clear understanding of a particular subject. There are different types of academic writing however, and each of them has its specific purpose (explain, describe, retell, persuade, etc.) Now as we have covered the basics, let’s move on to the actual features of this type of writing.
Precision. Effective academic writing assumes the abundant use of specific dates and figures. Vague word combinations like “a lot of people” or “someone said” aren’t considered good academic writing expressions. 50 thousand, 76%, 1789 miles, year 2011 – these are the words that fit the academic context much better. This would be quite typical academic sentence, for example: Biologist had attempted to synthesize molecular developments for the previous 10 years.
Complexity. If you compare your everyday talk with academic writing, you will easily notice that written language is more complex. It is more sophisticated also from the grammatical standpoint as it utilizes more subordinate and “that-to” complement clauses as well as more attributive adjectives. Academic writing also features more lexical variations in comparison to spoken language. For example, if you could say to your friend something like “Violence has changed once quiet US cities” in academic writing it would look more like “The cities in the United States of America had once been quiet, but they changed when people became violent.”
Formality. Informal language assumes the abundant use of colloquial expressions like “sort of”, “stuff”, etc. along with abbreviated forms of words and phrasal word verbs (for instance, put off). If you have ever read any of the articles on academic writing tips, you must know that the aforementioned informalities are not appropriate in this context.
Objectivity. This may well be the hardest requirement of academic writing for students as they often tend to focus on what they feel and believe when writing their assignments. The thing is that when we are talking about objectivity, we mean that the main emphasis should be on the presented information and/or arguments rather than what you “think about the issue”. Professors in colleges aren’t particularly interested in just what you think; instead, they need to know what you have studied, how you can back up your arguments, and how you can draw your conclusions. So if you have to write an academic paper, forget about appealing to reader’s emotions as well as using “I”, “me”, “in my opinion”, etc.
Accuracy. Being accurate in the use of vocabulary is another important requirement for all academic papers. In everyday conversations, words like “money”, “cash” and “funds” can be used interchangeably. However, when you work on an academic paper, you have to be accurate in using these terms appropriately because each one of them has its specific meaning and context. Despite the fact that they all seem to present pretty much the same concept, these terms have their own distinctive features and applications.
Now that you know the academic writing definition and the distinctive features of this kind of writing, you can be more productive when handling your college assignments. There are a lot of students who have a difficult time when tasked with writing essays and research projects simply because they don’t understand the requirements of academic writings and, consequently, what they are asked to produce. A lot of them are shocked to find out their grades when they receive their papers. The problem is that the majority of students don’t understand what academic writing is all about. If you learn the aforementioned features and do your best to adhere to them when working on your college assignment, then most likely you won’t be disappointed with your essay grades ever since.
In general, academic texts are impersonal in nature. This means that the main emphasis should be on evidence and arguments and not based on personal opinion and feelings. The use of personal pronouns such as “I”, “we” and “you” should be avoided as much as possible.
Some types of academic writing encourage the use of personal pronouns. For example, in reflective writing the use of the personal pronoun is accepted.
You should be aware that the use of personal pronouns may be different between academic fields and that some disciplines do not accept it at all. Make sure to check what is recommended, either by asking your instructor or by reading other academic texts within your subject.
Active and passive voice
One way of avoiding the use of personal pronouns is to use the passive voice.
I used a variety of techniques to analyze my material. (Here the “I” is the subject performing the action).
A variety of techniques were used to analyze the material. (This sentence is impersonal and the action is performed upon the subject, “A variety of techniques”, by an unnamed agent. The choice of “the” instead of “my” also serves to make the sentence more objective).
Use of the passive voice can be somewhat heavy and sometimes imprecise. Nowadays, many writers avoid an excessive use of the passive voice. A way of writing objectively and still use the active voice is to use your material, your text or your research as the active agent.
As this this thesis will show….
The research reveals that….
Read more about the use of the passive voice
Take a look at this short video for more information about personal pronouns and active and passive voice.