Keeping Track Of The World

Research Methods for Regular People

Writing in an Academic Context

Academic writing is a particular style of writing. This approach to writing is more foreign than it used to be because the widespread use of email, social networking and other forms of electronic communication have affected how most of us write. Online writing is generally focused on information transmission. For this reason the considerations of formal writing such as having a thesis, topic paragraphs or conclusions are often not included. However, these are all vital components of academic writing and are also important elements for persuasive reports of any kind. In this post I want to address a few of the characteristics of academic writing that are different from the general requirements of the average email.

In academic writing all papers need a thesis. That is they need some kind of argument explaining what the paper aims to accomplish. This argument or thesis becomes the central organizing focus of your paper. Each section and each paragraph should be written in light of that thesis. The thesis should be introduced at the beginning of your paper and should be reviewed in light of your research at the end of your paper.

In between the introduction and the conclusion each paragraph should concentrate on a single topic that is clearly related to the thesis. In writing that is intended for on screen reading paragraphs are often distinguished by a blank line and thus no indent is needed at the beginning of each paragraph (as in this online post). As the main objective is usually the quick transmission of information it makes sense to divide ideas into a large number of very short paragraphs. However, if you are developing an argument that is paragraphs or pages long a more structured approach to writing paragraphs is needed. There is room for stylistic license but in general every paragraph needs a topic sentence, a developed argument and a summary sentence. Either the topic or the summary sentence must link the paragraph with its immediate context and the whole paragraph must be linked to the larger thesis in some way. In academic writing paragraphs only change with a new element in the argument. A paragraph begins with a sentence or two explaining what the paragraph is about and how it links with the larger paper. The body of the paragraph develops the argument of the topic sentence. Finally, the paragraph often ends with a brief summary that somehow links the paragraph to the next one. Each paragraph is indented and there are no blank lines between paragraphs. See Writing Paragraphs for more detail on what this looks like.

Finally, all academic writing needs a conclusion that summarizes the main elements of the paper or report, describes the conclusions arrived at and draws out the implications of those conclusions for the paper’s audience. All three of these elements must be connected to the thesis of the paper.

Following these few guidelines will make your argument easier to follow and more persuasive and will make your readers more intelligent.


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