Academic writing is a craft which takes time, patience, and endurance to refine. We can, however, identify certain key guidelines that will help improve your overall composition. First of all, clarity is top priority. Good academic writing is clear and concise; its primary goal is to convey information. “Good prose”, as George Orwell said, “is like a windowpane”. We can achieve such clarity by using short, simple sentences and sticking to the point. We must avoid unnecessary information. Good writing is tightly focused; it only says what it needs to say. If you can delete any word or phrase from your writing without losing the text’s overall sense, then do; those words are probably superfluous. Good writing is well researched and thus insightful. If you are thoroughly prepared you will have much to say and will not need to repeat yourself. Academic writing is critical and analytical: it dissects and evaluates, rather than simply reiterating. Do not be overly descriptive. Make sure each paragraph presents some form of argument. Finally, writing is a revisionary process. Any first-rate piece of work has been subject to thoughtful editing.
Making an Argument
At its root academic writing is persuasive, it seeks to argue a certain point. This point should be made very clear to the reader. This is why it is always a good idea to identify your essay’s core premise early on. With this premise firmly established, the reader can evaluate the rest of the text from the appropriate frame of reference. For instance, you may wish to examine whether or not using Latin phrases makes for a better essay. If opposing this position, you could open: “This essay will argue that Latin phrases do not improve the quality of academic writing”. This is a clear statement of intent. The reader understands your position. Next, it is useful to outline your reasoning: “This is because non-English words place an interpretive barrier between the reader and the text, making it less clear”. Now the reader knows your position and the thinking behind it. The purpose of the essay from hereon is to convince the reader your reasoning is sound. Hence we would want stress the importance of verbal clarity (reiterating our core premise). To do so, we could again cite George Orwell, who advised: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent”. At this stage, we have stated our case; outlined our reasons for this perspective; and backed up our position with an academic source. We are well on the way to mounting a persuasive argument.
Critical Thinking: Balanced Argument
Academic prose has a scholarly tone. This does not mean the writing needs to be stiff or dry. Rather, it should be rigorous and impartial. While we want to convince the reader of our viewpoint, we need to be careful not to construct an imbalanced argument. We should therefore be wary of excessive rhetoric or stridency (we are not writing a polemic). In addition, we should avoid informal or misleading language. If we distort the point at issue we ultimately harm our own case. If our premises are false then our conclusions will likewise be false. For this reason, it is beneficial to present the arguments for and against the point in contention. Showing both sides of the issue demonstrates that we have considered different standpoints and are objective. Be cautious, however, not to mischaracterise opposing viewpoints or to construct straw man arguments. Finally, read as much scholarly literature as possible. Familiarity with the style will enable you to internalise its conventions.
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