The Language of Academic Writing

Read the paragraph that follows. What differences do you see between this paragraph and the typical paragraphs you write and read outside the class?

Using Competence and Efficacy theories, reading researchers have been able to explain the role of learners’ beliefs about their efficiency and ability to perform certain reading tasks. They have reported that these two related factors actually estimate one’s achievement in reading, and have cited activity choice, willingness to expend effort, and persistence as mediators (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). Moreover, a person’s anticipation that he/she will be successful in a reading activity positively predicts his/her performance on that task. Constructs related to Subjective Task Value such as interest, attainment, and utility values explain why there are competent and confident readers who do not prefer to read when they do not perceive any reward for doing so. A third construct, which has been used to study reading motivation, is Achievement Goals. Clear, specific, and appropriate learning goals lead to better performance as argued by experts. 

Researchers like Ames (1992, in Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000) have likewise identified two-goal patterns that influence how individuals set their goals—mastery goals and performance goals. Learners who set mastery goals (also called task goals or learning goals) are expected to have greater persistence in doing tasks and more positive motivation, which is the reason why instructional methods in reading should highlight this type of goals. On the other hand, performance goals of learners will make them focus more on comparing their abilities and grades with others, and in securing social approval (Kolic-Veholec, Roncevic, & Baysanski, 2007). It should be noted that based on some recent studies, both mastery goals and performance goals can and are actually being pursued at the same time by students, although the latter have been previously thought to cause maladaptive learning and achievement outcomes (Wolters & Rosenthal, 2000; Woo!folk, 2007). The last construct, which has been employed to explain what makes individuals want and not want to read, is intrinsic Motivation. It has been defined as “being engaged in an activity for its own sake, rather than for “extrinsic reasons” (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000, par. 12). Reading experts explain that an intrinsically-motivated reader has stronger and more long-lasting reasons for reading. (Mante-Estacio, 2012) 

Academic Writing

You have been writing in your classes for years now, and perhaps most of your output were mostly personal writing—those that are about yourself and your experiences. But have you noticed that in recent years, you have been challenged to write about more complicated topics? Perhaps you have been asked to write an analysis of societal issues in your social studies classes, write a report about an experiment you have conducted in your science class, even write a project proposal for your club or organization. In general, these writing tasks have challenged you to analyze knowledge and ideas and to take a stance related to those.

This type of writing is called academic writing. It has its own set of rules and practices. The previous lessons on writing evaluative statements and rhetorical patterns aim to prepare you more for this type of writing. In the Starter paragraph example, what did you notice about the language and writing style used?

As you read the next discussion, note the differences between academic writing and personal writing.

Qualities of Academic Writing

1. Word choice

Choose words that will really express the meaning you want to convey to your readers.

    • Misused words – words that do not convey the meaning the writer thinks it does. Which italicized word is used correctly?
      • The song affected me so much that I cried.
      • The girl was effected by the problem.
    • Using a pronoun that readers can’t tell whom/what it refers to.
      • My cousin Miguel invited my brother John, even though he didn’t like him very much.
    • Jargon or technical terms — special words and expressions particular to a discipline.
      • The soldiers are having a meeting that anticipates the many checkpoints in the area they will attack next week.
      • The medical reports contained expressions like FX, IM, K. T
      • he police considers Mark the suspect in the murder case.
    • Wordiness
      • In the event that I miss the class, please get a handout for me.
      • If I miss the class, please get a handout for me.
    • Cliches
      • I believe that it is time to let the cat out of the bag.
      • I believe that it is time to reveal the secret.

2. Signposting

Academic writing is reader-friendly; it considers the ability of the reader/s to clearly understand the content of a writing output. One way of doing this is by producing an explicit writing output, which contains signposts (words and phrases that signal key aspects of the output and connect sentences and paragraphs).

This paper aims to enumerate and describe the five most common personality disorders among adolescents.

After discussing the history and advantages of using medicines to regulate personality disorders, I will now present another method of regulating personality disorders, which is the use of therapy treatment.

3. Contractions and Colloquial words

Academic writing avoids using contractions and informal, conversational words.

Go bananas — go insane or very angry
Buzz off — go away
Wanna — want to

4. Rhetorical questions

These are interrogatives that do not expect to receive any response but is usually used for their literary effect. These are avoided in academic writing.

Despite the enormous disadvantages of the proposal, it seems that it will be approved. Do we still have politicians out there who are genuinely concerned with theft people? Is “personal gain over public service” the rule nowadays?

5. Hedging devices

These are words used to lessen the impact and to keep the politeness of an utterance. These are essential in academic writing.

Impolite: Those men are crooks.
Polite: Those men are presumed to have deceived other people because of money.

Impolite: The company is closing down due to mismanagement.
Polite: The company appears to have some management problems, which could cause its closure.