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What is academic writing?

· 3 min read
Taylor Krohn

How often do you stop to reflect on the purpose of your research and the purpose of the article or book you are writing?

Passion led us here Photo by Ian Schneider

Why are you doing that research? What is your ultimate reason for writing that article?

  • To get your PhD?
  • To make yourself look smart?
  • To be respected?

Or maybe

  • to convey your research results and implications as clearly as possible?

How do we learn to "write academically"?

Some people talk about "academic writing" and "academic style" as if they are something special-- as if the only articles that can be published are articles that copy the style of previous articles.

But why, oh why, would you copy someone else's choices?

And if you want to copy, could you choose to copy something that you yourself found easy and enjoyable to read?

Maybe the writer you are copying had no idea what they were doing. Maybe they just threw something together to get it published and be done. We can't know what was in the writer's mind.

Choose what to copy

We can learn to write well by copying the style and structures of good writers, professional writers1.

But most academic writing is not written by professional writers. Most academic writers have little writing experience and no formal writing training before they start churning out papers: most academic writers are amateurs.

By all means, copy the styles and structures of great scientific writers: Stephen Hawking, Bill Bryson, Steven Pinker, and Yuval Harari, to name the first few that come to mind. But, please, take care in copying anything from any other random article you've read.

question

When did academic writing morph into something separate from simply communicating knowledge?

What are "academic writing" and "academic style"?

Wouldn't your research be more impactful if you decided for yourself how it can best be presented?

That would mean letting go of "should" and "have to" and making your own decisions based on the ultimate purpose of "academic writing."

"Academic writing" is

the writing that we do to communicate our ideas and research results as clearly as possible to an international community of interested readers (other scientists)2

"Academic style" is

a professional style that gives all relevant information about the research as clearly and accurately as possible. This style should be accessible to international researchers who all have to read in a foreign language (English).

And why do we do academic writing?

To help move our field forward of course! To learn. To share information. To collaborate and discover.

Can we all agree to write about our research as clearly as possible?

After all, life puts enough obstacles in our path. Let's not create more of them.

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Footnotes

  1. I don't claim to be one.

  2. keeping in mind that we tend to overestimate our readers' background knowledge because of our own curse of knowledge