What is Academic Writing?

Read the academic text below and decide what elements distinguish it as academic writing. As you read, be guided by these questions:

  1. Is the text distinguishable from literary or creative writing?
  2. Is its language what you might find in academic journals?
  3. Did the writer refrain from stating a personal opinion?
  4. Did the writer make statements that can be backed up by research-oriented data?

If you answered yes to all four questions, then you have correctly identified it as an example of academic writing. What could be other reasons why the text is classified as academic writing?

Below is a KWHL Chart which stands for What I Know; What I Want to Know; How I can Learn; and What I Learned. The acronym has been slightly modified to stand for What I have Known All Along (stock knowledge); What I Wish I Knew (hoped-for knowledge); How I Intend to Learn (process of learning); List of What I Learned (actual learning).

The chart is an inventory of your current and wished-for knowledge about a certain topic. Using the previous text as your reference, complete the KWHL chart below:

In Senior High School, you will be engaged in writing tasks, particularly the kind that will require extensive research. Mostly your writing tasks will involve academic writing. How do you prepare for such a task? In addition to research skills, academic writing demands proficiency in language use. Beyond being able to express yourself well, you need to understand the topic, so you can explain it clearly and convincingly.

Academic writing involves questions and issues that need to be evaluated and analyzed methodically, oftentimes involving research. As such, academic writing relies on the credibility of facts and evidence.

Academic writing is unlike other forms of writing, particularly creative writing, which emphasizes the power of the imagination and the use of figurative language to capture the readers’ interest. Academic writing relies on facts and the use of straightforward and businesslike language. Its purpose is to proficiently impart the writer’s message in the most concise way possible. While creative writing aims to entertain, capture the readers’ interest and teach a lesson, academic writing aims to inform the readers, report a set of findings and articulate issues in a scholarly manner. Creative writing relies on personal experience while academic writing uses data and other empirical evidence to back up a claim.

A characteristic of academic writing is the use of professional and businesslike language, free of jargon, colloquial expressions and politically incorrect terms. Jargon is referred to as shoptalk, or specialized language known only to a particular profession (e.g, the term hydrodesulfurization is a term known only among chemists) and which may have another meaning in another field (e.g., script means prescription in the medical profession; while it means a manuscript containing the storyline in the film industry). Other expressions to avoid in academic writing include colloquial expressions, or informal expressions that belong to more casual, informal discourses. Examples of informal expressions include how dya do? (instead of how do you do?); wanna (instead of want to); dunno (instead of don’t know). Even popular expressions used by millennials such as LOL (laugh out loud) and FYI (for your information) may be unknown to some readers, so avoid using them in academic writing.

Politically incorrect terms include sexist and discriminatory language that diminishes a person’s worth on the basis of sex, race, or economic status. Here are some examples of labels that can use more politically correct terms:

Politically IncorrectPolitically Correct
crippledpersons with disability (PWDs)
autistic/mentally retardedpersons with intellectual disability
poorfinancially challenged
squattersinformal settlers
stewardessflight attendant

Politically correct terms aim to diminish the disparity among people on the basis of physical ability, financial status, and other social constructs. As an academic writer, it would be wise to use language judiciously and to avoid using labels or terms that are offensive and have a negative connotation.

Language is continuously evolving and some terms that were in common use decades ago may no longer be acceptable today so examine the words that you use, especially in the context of academic writing to make sure that you are not going against the accepted trend.

To sum up, academic writing uses a language that is concise, precise, logical and inclusive.

Your choice of topic is an important factor in academic writing, for it will determine the message that you will impart to your readers. Regardless of the type of academic text you will write, be prepared to do some data-gathering. Writers of theses and dissertations must gather data for their studies; the writer of the survey does the same through questionnaires. Even reflection papers involve a certain amount of detail gathering. Those writing a reaction paper must cite facts and counterarguments. Writers of academic texts must engage in data-gathering procedures to arrive at valid, scientific, and empirical evidence. Other sources of data include interviews, focus group discussions, even email and private conversations.

The choice of topic is an ever-present element in academic writing. At times, the topic will be identified by your teachers. At times, you will be given the freedom to choose your topic. In academic writing, possible topics may range from the strictly academic (e.g., the impact of the tuition hike on students from the low-income bracket) to personal issues (e.g., the impact of the no-junk-food policy in the school cafeteria on the students’ freedom of choice). The topics may be other than academic (e.g., the use of red to boost the self-confidence of an individual). Regardless of your topic, your paper should be written in a style and manner that suits academic writing.