First, academic writing is formal. This means that you should not write as you speak. Words and phrases you might say in conversation – like cool or what’s up – should never be used in a college-level paper.
• Your grammar, spelling, and punctuation must be accurate. For example, in conversation it is okay to start a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but.” In academic writing, though, this is considered inappropriate and incorrect.
• Formal writing is also complex writing. When we speak, we often use short sentences to get our point across clearly. In writing, you will be expected to write long, complex sentences to express your thoughts.
• In order to make your writing clear and give context for your readers, you must use transitional words and phrases that indicate your thoughts. Words such as “however,” “on the other hand,” “therefore,” and “as a result of” show how your thoughts are related.
Second, academic writing is persuasive.
• Every piece of academic writing should have a thesis statement. This sentence defines the focus of your essay. The thesis must also be argumentative in nature. In other words, academic writing should not simply summarize what other people have written. You must take a stance and voice your opinion. The goal of academic writing is to enter the scholarly conversation on a given issue and add your opinion to it.
• In order to defend your argument, you must refer to facts clearly. Academic writing is not about entertainment – it is about communicating your ideas.
• You must also be specific when defending your argument. Do not talk in vague terms or abstract ideas. Do not make sweeping generalizations that you cannot defend. Instead, refer to specific facts, figures, and instances to make a case for your argument.
• To be persuasive, academic writing must also consider its audience. Are you writing for your instructor? Does he or she know certain details about your topic? Thinking through your audience before you start writing will help you know which terms you need to define and which terms you can assume knowledge of. Does your audience have any bias or interest in this issue?
Third, academic writing is objective. Academic writing should state your opinion, but it should do it without bias. How can you be objective in your writing?
• First, cover all the facts. If you uncover something important in your research, you should include it in your essay. This is true even if it refutes your argument. It is always a good idea to discuss counter-arguments in your writing because it will make your essay stronger.
• Second, learn about logical fallacies and avoid them in your writing. Let’s take just a moment to explore what logical fallacies are and some of their types. Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning, illegitimate arguments, or irrelevant points. Some examples of logical fallacies are:
o The hasty generalization, which makes a conclusion based on insufficient evidence.
o The circular argument, which restates the argument rather than proving it.
o The ad hominem, which attacks the character of a person rather than the strength of his or her argument.
o The red herring, which avoids key issues or arguments rather than addressing them
o And the straw man, which oversimplifies an opposing viewpoint so that it can be easily attacked.
o The Purdue Online Writing Lab lists other logical fallacies with definitions and examples. owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/659/03/
Finally, academic writing is responsible.
• Any fact you use to support your thesis statement that is not common knowledge must be cited. That George Washington was the first president of the United States is common knowledge; that he was elected unanimously in 1788 is not. If you choose to use this second fact in an academic essay, you must either quote it directly or paraphrase it in your own words. Either way, you must cite or refer to where you found the source.
• Citation styles such as those from the Modern Language Association and American Psychological Association exist to help you cite sources in a regular format that your readers will understand. Citation styles also dictate the general formatting and margins of your paper.
• Failing to cite one or more of your sources results in plagiarism, a serious academic offense. Plagiarism is when you pass off another person’s work as your own, either intentionally or unintentionally. Plagiarism can cause you to fail your assignment or course.
• Since academic writing is about entering a conversation with others, it is important to respect their work and make it easy for your readers to locate the information you used to build your argument. This is the purpose of citing your sources – to give the writers credit, and to give your reader “bread crumbs” to your argument.
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