Academic writing serves various purposes. It, essentially, concerns the writing in colleges or universities and, for publication. It follows certain rules and, has some guiding principles. This article, briefly, delineates essential elements of academic writing such as style, structure, audience and tone. It also outlines some problematic areas that novice writers encounter, especially in formal situations.
Elements of Academic Writing
Writing is required in many contexts throughout life. We write for formal or informal situations. Being a skill, writing can be literal or poetic, flowery or direct, verbose or cryptic. Whatever the form it takes, the main purpose of a writer is to communicate his/her ideas with the possible audience.
A good writer focuses on various features of academic writing. The style meant to any writing involving economy, tone, examples, motivation, balance, voice, obfuscation, analogy and grammar. (Zobel, 2014). However, in academic writing, titles and headings, the opening paragraphs, variation, paragraphing, explicit message, ambiguity, tense, repetition and parallelism, emphasis, definitions, choice of words, sexism along with references and citation are of importance. At the same time, punctuation, fonts, and formatting, periods, commas, parenthesis can never be ignored.
Academic writing employs only as many words as are required. Convoluted languages such as nuances, ambiguity and metaphors are avoided although they give any literature its strength making its tone more powerful. An academic writing conveys information; it is not meant to impress readers (Norris, 2016). It is advisable to use one idea per sentence or a paragraph avoiding buzzwords, clichés, and slang. Careful and frequent revision not only establishes a logical flow but also makes the text tout.
Academic writers use examples and statistics to illustrate the concept clearly. The introduction usually gives some indication of the organization of the paper by outlining the contexts as well as the results. It is not advisable to use a particular voice all the time. There should be a balance between both direct and indirect statements. Change of voice sometimes changes the meaning and often changes emphasis.
Wrong analogies also take the reasoning drift leading the readers to go astray. The most important thing is to explain the relationship of the new work to an existing work showing how the new work builds on or differs from previous knowledge. Citation and references help demonstrate that the work is new enabling the readers to judge whether the expressed statements are reliable. Quotations usually support an argument. The copied text should be enclosed in double quotes to assist the readers from confusion while longer quotes are set aside in an indented block.
Problems of Academic Writing
Academic writing is meant for a particular purpose. An academic writer, therefore, should be aware of a plethora of issues and challenges. Non-acquaintance of the components of an essay such as introduction, main body, and a conclusion or grammar, punctuation and style add fuel not only to lose marks, but it leads the writer to cut and paste the earlier work enforcing them to stop thinking about their topic. Similarly, lexical difficulties such as linking words and phrases demand to proofread which a student finds difficult. A student needs to develop certain skills if he or she aspires to become a good academic writer.
The first problem for a student is to choose a topic of academic writing. It calls for a student to refer to the department, discuss it with friends, and browse through previous dissertations of predecessors on higher degree courses. Students are supposed to go to various libraries, look through research journals, consult a catalogue and skim through an index to have a clear cut idea. The second skill required is to collect the data. While collecting the data, students are required to discover relevant sources, be selective and compare ideas from more than one source. Revision of a produced work is another important skill of a student. While revising, they should focus on organization, content, clarity, language, references and citations, proofread on concord, tense, verb, word order, correct parts of speech, layout, use of foreign words and abbreviations.
Writing is not an overnight job. Academic writing demands academic reading. Critical reading not only helps to accumulate ideas but it also familiarizes students with various components of academic writing. It offers them a plethora of opportunities to generate ideas, styles, problems and skills.
Norris, C. B. (2016). Academic writing in English. Helsinki: University of Helsinki
Trezeciak, J. & Mackay, S. E. (1995). Study skills for academic writing: Student’s book. New York: Phoenix ELT
Zobel , J. (2014). Writing for computer science 3rd edition, London: Springer.
(*Dr. Tika Ram Bhatta is currently working as a principal at Sangla Balkumari higher secondary school, Kathmandu. He has also worked as a visiting faculty in School of Education in Kathmandu University. He has been involved in a number of teacher training activities organized by NELTA and Educational Training Centre, Kathmandu including ETTE project of British Council. Dr. Bhatta is one of the recipients of TEA fellowship provided by the US Department of State.)