Academic Writing

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

academic writing - student sleeping
Sol Stein has observed that "much academic writing is counter-educational because its dullness insulates its information from nearly everybody" (Stein on Writing, 1995). ( Images)

The term academic writing refers to the forms of expository and argumentative prose used by university students, faculty, and researchers to convey a body of information about a particular subject.

Generally, academic writing is expected to be precise, semi-formal, impersonal, and objective.


  • Central Values of Academic Writing
    "When you write college papers, you need to remember that you are situated within an academic community [with] clear expectations for what your papers should do and how they should look. While you cannot learn the particular methods and conventions of every discipline . . ., you can be aware of the central values to which its members subscribe:
    - Truth. . . . A successful college paper will demonstrate that its writer can use the knowledge and methods of the discipline in which it has been assigned to reveal something that is true.

    - Evidence. Scholars in all disciplines use credible evidence to support the truths they find. . . . Always document your sources for this evidence.

    - Balance. . . . Academic convention suggests that you present your inferences, assertions, and arguments in neutral, serious, nonemotional language and be fair to opposing points of view.
    (Toby Fulwiler and Alan Hayakawa, The Blair Handbook. Prentice Hall, 2003)
  • Methods of Academic Writing: "They Say/I Say"
    "In our view, . . . the best academic writing has one underlying feature: it is deeply engaged in some way with other people's views. Too often, however, academic writing is taught as a process of saying 'true' or 'smart' things in a vacuum, as if it were possible to argue effectively without being in conversation with someone else. If you have been taught to write a traditional five-paragraph essay, for example, you have learned how to develop a thesis and support it with evidence. This is good advice as far as it goes, but it leaves out the important fact that in the real world we don’t make arguments without being provoked. Instead, we make arguments because someone has said or done something (or perhaps not said or done something) and we need to respond: 'I can’t see why you like the Lakers so much'; 'I agree: it was a great film'; 'That argument is contradictory.' If it weren’t for other people and our need to challenge, agree with, or otherwise respond to them, there would be no reason to argue at all.

    "To make an impact as a writer, you need to do more than make statements that are logical, well supported, and consistent. You must also find a way of entering a conversation with others' views--with something 'they say.' . . . It follows, then, . . . that your own argument--the thesis or 'I say' moment of your text--should always be a response to the arguments of others."
    (Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, "They Say/I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, 2nd. ed. W.W. Norton, 2010)
  • Sentence Structures in Academic Writing
    "The sentences in academic writing are often longer and more intricate than the sentences in popular magazines. Academics strive to go beyond what is quick, obvious, and general. They ask questions based on studying a subject from multiple points of view, to make surprising connections that would not occur to someone who has not studied the subject carefully.
    (Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky, From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text and Reader, 2nd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's. 2012)
  • Purposes of Academic Writing
    "[Marilyn S.] Sternglass (1977), in summarizing her longitudinal study of 53 college students' writing development, identified four general purposes of writing in university courses: to make knowledge conscious, to help remember facts, to analyze concepts, and to construct new knowledge. . . . Specifically, [students] used writing to translate concepts into their own language, move from gathering facts to analyses of them, and adjust themselves to the task demands of specific courses and fields."
    (Alister H. Cumming, Goals for Academic Writing. John Benjamins, 2006)
  • The Continuous Nature of Academic Writing
    "Academic writing is not the printed display of one's fully formed thoughts. It starts with flawed, incomplete, vague hunches, ideas and concepts. But, if you exploit its inherent 'revisability,' it allows you to come full circle, to revisit ideas long after you first thought of them, to explore the same things in different ways, to experiment, to revise, to repeat and reconceptualize--all of these are arguably central to the essence of scholarship which you exercise every day in other academic tasks . . .."
    (Rowena Murray and Sarah Moore, The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach. Open University Press, 2006)