One of my roles as the College of Online Education’s Student Writing Support Specialist is to help students understand what academic writing means, and how they can accomplish it.
Academic writing is an essential skill and one that involves clarity and power of expression. Writing specific and detail-oriented text, incorporating relevant sources, and maintaining a clear sense of audience, purpose, and genre are key elements to writing at a higher level.
I know this sounds a bit complicated, so let’s break it down! Here are eight things to keep in mind when writing:
1. Write to the level of the intended audience.
Academic writing is intended for educated, well-informed individuals who already know the basics of the topic under discussion. Therefore, these readers require no in-depth introduction or explanation of the material, unless specified. It is generally advisable to concentrate on the questions the assignment is asking of you.
2. Get to the point!
The first paragraph of your response should quickly outline the main points to be covered in the entire text. Doing so not only provides a structure for your response but also establishes the primary topic for your reader.
Along these lines, you will also want to choose language that is suited to the subject matter and that is clear and professional. Avoid clichés, slang, and the use of the second person pronoun (you). Keep in mind any length requirement that is set!
3. Take a stand.
This is where students often struggle the most. Creating a thesis statement and outlining the supporting evidence you’ve collected is one of the most effective writing strategies.
4. Provide supporting evidence (along with proper citations!).
This is another problem area. An academic paper should incorporate reliable and sufficient evidence where appropriate (i.e. when you are making an argument), and should correctly credit that evidence through in-text citations and a References or Works Cited page. For example, “Today’s children are not as healthy as those of previous generations” is quite superficial without any supportive evidence. Incorporating empirical research (i.e. statistics contrasting two generations) would make this statement clearer and more definitive.
5. Inform the audience.
Opinion pieces are best suited for editorial works, not academic papers (unless otherwise specified, of course). By supporting the conclusions of your paper with solid evidence, you will enhance your overall credibility and ensure that your audience fully and fairly considers your points. However, a warning, insert direct quotations only when you cannot express the equivalent meaning in your own words. Paraphrasing better illustrates to your readers that you fully understand a source’s claims. Doing too much of either makes your content seem borrowed.
6. Show a little style.
Academic writing requires a specific style and format. Investing in an appropriate style manual (i.e. APA) and adhering to its recommendations can improve the quality of your writing.
7. Edit, revise, and repeat.
Especially when it comes to academic writing, the process of editing is essential and ongoing. Editing should include content as well as the format; condensing and clarifying your material will help ensure that it is both concise and persuasive. By eliminating excessive language, and any ideas that are off-topic, you can produce cogent work that leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind.
8. Seek help if needed.
Never hesitate to have a second set of eyes to help you proofread your work. Remember, even the best writers utilize the advice of an editor!
Writing is a process and one that requires consistent work and attention. Keep at it, and do not hesitate to reach out to me at any time for assistance! For even more tips and strategies, please visit my Student Writing Support website.