Academic Writing

Academic work intending to be thorough and persuasive in content is particularly demanding in terms of presentation. There are both normal external standards relating to the English language and internal academic conventions. These conventions developed to improve the standards of work. Academic writing in terms of content should lock into the tradition of work, that is work already done. The ideal is to add something extra to that body of work. To get there needs:

  1. Writing correctly
  2. Writing by Conventions
  3. Honest Attribution
  4. Accurate Description
  5. Comprehension and Analysis
  6. Critique and Evaluation
  7. Summarising, Concluding and Introducing

(1) Writing Correctly

Whilst English is a language where rules are broken for creative effect, academic writing demands a more restrained correct English. Correct English is arguably demanding.

(2) Writing by Conventions

(3) Honest Attribution

This is about:

Completely avoiding plagiarism requires effort because it can happen accidentally as well as deliberately, and is still the supreme academic crime. It can apply to small quantities of text, a large quantity of text and rip offs of other pieces of work. This is why writers need to know the tradition and body of knowledge by previous writers, so that accidents are avoided as well as incidents rejected.

The only possible exception to accurate attribution is the maintenance of confidentiality. However, deception and false trails should be avoided.

Therefore all material used in the body of a text should be referenced; and in addition no references should be given that are not used. If the original source for a text is not found, but instead someone else's use and interpretation, then give that original source but "quoted in" what was actually consulted. It is often far more refreshing and revealing to get the original because everyone interprets.

(4) Accurate Description

One function of proper attribution is that material is accurate. Even in a narrative led, postmodern condition of a flux of meaning, accurate treatment of claims, statements and sources is necessary.

(5) Comprehension and Analysis

Carrying out analysis can be shown to be related to linguistic tropes (derived from an application to history by Hayden White, 1973 and 1976, in Green, Troup, 1999, 207-208).

So this means analysis is converting a concept or event into its constituent elements or indeed causes and effects. This reveals what is otherwise concealed.

Some of this analysis means discussing the author's opinions and intentions, and also breaking these up into smaller intentions.

Linkages and contrasts may be found between theories and authors of them as analysis extends more towards evaluation.

(6) Critique and Evaluation

All academic writing should include argument. It may be weaved in and out of analytical evidence but it should be distinct enough from evidence. The reader should be able to make up his or her mind in that retained separation because academic writing is about facilitating the accurate comprehension of the evidence and the issues involved.

This is where, once concepts have been revealed, connected and contrasted, some sort of judgment can be made regarding the collection of evidence and force of analysis and argument in terms of merits and faults.

This trope theory does not imply flights of rhetorical fancy. It means that boundaries are more external and comparative in terms of evaluation. Connections beyond are made, parallels are brought in, matters discussed in other fields which suddenly become relevant. So the metaphor is a reaching out. It is as though the accurate fieldwork description has been analysed, seeing the whole and the parts more clearly, and now it is possible to stand back and make broader points. This also includes what could be better and what could be worse. It can focus on the work and on the author, and on other work and other authors.

Perhaps the judgment is like that produced in a court of law through weighing up the given evidence. The judgment is comparable with other judgments in other similar cases and there may be new precedents. The tradition is reinforced and there is addition.

Approval or disapproval indeed comes into evaluation but these subjective stances should be based on consequences of the evidence as clearly laid out in analysis.

(7) Summarising, Concluding and Introducing

Once the evaluation is done, there needs to be a skilled summary of the evidence and a conclusion restating the critique and evaluation. Summary and conclusion should not be new material. They should guide the introduction too, without letting it give the denouement or findings away. An introduction is a signpost: it should also obey the narrative fiction of something beginning and where the whole may go, whilst of course this is only really known when the work has been completed. The reality is that the conclusion, when completed, does rewrite the introduction. A good piece of work is a circle.

Reference (and inspiration)

Centre for Educational Studies, Institute for Learning (2002), Academic Writing Style, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL:, Academic_Writing_Style.doc, Hull: University of Hull, [Accessed September 24, 2000, 01:59]

Green, A., Troup, K. (eds.) (1999), The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-Century History and Theory, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 204-213.

Rapport, N., Overing, J. (2000), Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts, London: Routledge, 41-51, 236-245, 283-290.