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What Is Academic Writing? | Dos and Don’ts for Students

Academic writing is a formal style of writing used in universities and scholarly publications. You’ll encounter it in journal articles and books on academic topics, and you’ll be expected to write your essays , research papers , and dissertation in academic style.

Academic writing follows the same writing process as other types of texts, but it has specific conventions in terms of content, structure and style.

Table of contents

Types of academic writing, academic writing is…, academic writing is not…, academic writing checklist.

Academics mostly write texts intended for publication, such as journal articles, reports, books, and chapters in edited collections. For students, the most common types of academic writing assignments are listed below.

Different fields of study have different priorities in terms of the writing they produce. For example, in scientific writing it’s crucial to clearly and accurately report methods and results; in the humanities, the focus is on constructing convincing arguments through the use of textual evidence. However, most academic writing shares certain key principles intended to help convey information as effectively as possible.

Whether your goal is to pass your degree, apply to graduate school , or build an academic career, effective writing is an essential skill.

Formal and unbiased

Academic writing aims to convey information in an impartial way. The goal is to base arguments on the evidence under consideration, not the author’s preconceptions. All claims should be supported with relevant evidence, not just asserted.

To avoid bias, it’s important to represent the work of other researchers and the results of your own research fairly and accurately. This means clearly outlining your methodology  and being honest about the limitations of your research.

The formal style used in academic writing ensures that research is presented consistently across different texts, so that studies can be objectively assessed and compared with other research.

Because of this, it’s important to strike the right tone with your language choices. Avoid informal language , including slang, contractions , clichés, and conversational phrases:

Clear and precise

It’s important to use clear and precise language to ensure that your reader knows exactly what you mean. This means being as specific as possible and avoiding vague language :

Avoid hedging your claims with words like “perhaps,” as this can give the impression that you lack confidence in your arguments. Reflect on your word choice to ensure it accurately and directly conveys your meaning:

Specialist language or jargon is common and often necessary in academic writing, which generally targets an audience of other academics in related fields.

However, jargon should be used to make your writing more concise and accurate, not to make it more complicated. A specialist term should be used when:

The best way to familiarize yourself with the kind of jargon used in your field is to read papers by other researchers and pay attention to their language.

Focused and well structured

An academic text is not just a collection of ideas about a topic—it needs to have a clear purpose. Start with a relevant research question or thesis statement , and use it to develop a focused argument. Only include information that is relevant to your overall purpose.

A coherent structure is crucial to organize your ideas. Pay attention to structure at three levels: the structure of the whole text, paragraph structure, and sentence structure.

Well sourced

Academic writing uses sources to support its claims. Sources are other texts (or media objects like photographs or films) that the author analyzes or uses as evidence. Many of your sources will be written by other academics; academic writing is collaborative and builds on previous research.

It’s important to consider which sources are credible and appropriate to use in academic writing. For example, citing Wikipedia is typically discouraged. Don’t rely on websites for information; instead, use academic databases and your university library to find credible sources.

You must always cite your sources in academic writing. This means acknowledging whenever you quote or paraphrase someone else’s work by including a citation in the text and a reference list at the end.

There are many different citation styles with different rules. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago . Make sure to consistently follow whatever style your institution requires. If you don’t cite correctly, you may get in trouble for plagiarism . A good plagiarism checker can help you catch any issues before it’s too late.

You can easily create accurate citations in APA or MLA style using our Citation Generators.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

Correct and consistent

As well as following the rules of grammar, punctuation, and citation, it’s important to consistently apply stylistic conventions regarding:

In some cases there are several acceptable approaches that you can choose between—the most important thing is to apply the same rules consistently and to carefully proofread your text before you submit. If you don’t feel confident in your own proofreading abilities, you can get help from Scribbr’s professional proofreading services or Grammar Checker .

What can proofreading do for your paper?

Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words, and awkward phrasing.

academic writing key answer

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Academic writing generally tries to avoid being too personal. Information about the author may come in at some points—for example in the acknowledgements or in a personal reflection—but for the most part the text should focus on the research itself.

Always avoid addressing the reader directly with the second-person pronoun “you.” Use the impersonal pronoun “one” or an alternate phrasing instead for generalizations:

The use of the first-person pronoun “I” used to be similarly discouraged in academic writing, but it is increasingly accepted in many fields. If you’re unsure whether to use the first person, pay attention to conventions in your field or ask your instructor.

When you refer to yourself, it should be for good reason. You can position yourself and describe what you did during the research, but avoid arbitrarily inserting your personal thoughts and feelings:


Many students think their writing isn’t academic unless it’s over-complicated and long-winded. This isn’t a good approach—instead, aim to be as concise and direct as possible.

If a term can be cut or replaced with a more straightforward one without affecting your meaning, it should be. Avoid redundant phrasings in your text, and try replacing phrasal verbs with their one-word equivalents where possible:

Repetition is a part of academic writing—for example, summarizing earlier information in the conclusion—but it’s important to avoid unnecessary repetition. Make sure that none of your sentences are repeating a point you’ve already made in different words.

Emotive and grandiose

An academic text is not the same thing as a literary, journalistic, or marketing text. Though you’re still trying to be persuasive, a lot of techniques from these styles are not appropriate in an academic context. Specifically, you should avoid appeals to emotion and inflated claims.

Though you may be writing about a topic that’s sensitive or important to you, the point of academic writing is to clearly communicate ideas, information, and arguments, not to inspire an emotional response. Avoid using emotive or subjective language :

Students are sometimes tempted to make the case for their topic with exaggerated , unsupported claims and flowery language. Stick to specific, grounded arguments that you can support with evidence, and don’t overstate your point:

Use the checklist below to assess whether you have followed the rules of effective academic writing.

I avoid informal terms and contractions .

I avoid second-person pronouns (“you”).

I avoid emotive or exaggerated language.

I avoid redundant words and phrases.

I avoid unnecessary jargon and define terms where needed.

I present information as precisely and accurately as possible.

I use appropriate transitions to show the connections between my ideas.

My text is logically organized using paragraphs .

Each paragraph is focused on a single idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .

Every part of the text relates to my central thesis or research question .

I support my claims with evidence.

I use the appropriate verb tenses in each section.

I consistently use either UK or US English .

I format numbers consistently.

I cite my sources using a consistent citation style .

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Answers Part 1

All Answers Part 1 Academic Writing Quiz 1.1 Background to Writing 1.2A Reading Finding Suitable Sources 1.2B Reading Developing Critical Approaches 1.3 Avoiding Plagiarism 1.4 From Understanding Titles to Planning 1.5 Finding Key Points and Note Making 1.6 Paraphrasing 1.7 Summarising 1.8 References and Quotations 1.9 Combining Sources 1.10 Organising Paragraphs 1.11 Introductions and Conclusions 1.12 Rewriting and Proofreading

Answers Part 2

All Answers Part 2 2.1 Argument and Discussion 2.2 Cause and Effect 2.3 Cohesion 2.4 Comparisons 2.5 Definitions 2.6 Examples 2.7 Generalisations 2.8 Numbers 2.9 Problems and Solutions 2.10 Style 2.11 Visual Information 2.12 Working in Groups

Answers Part 3

All Answers Part 3 3.1 Abbreviations 3.2 Academic Vocabulary 3.3 Articles 3.4 Caution 3.5 Conjunctions 3.6 Nouns and Adjectives 3.7 Prefixes and Suffixes 3.8 Prepositions 3.9 Punctuation 3.10 Singular or Plural 3.11 Synonyms 3.12 Time Words 3.13 Passives 3.14 Verbs of Reference 3.15 Verbs - tenses

All Answers Part 4

All Answers Part 4 4.1 Formal Letters and Emails 4.2 Writing CVs 4.3 Reports, Case Studies and Literature Reviews 4.4 Designing and Reporting Surveys 4.5 Writing longer essays Self Assessment Exercises Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to search --> var addthis_pub="routledgecompanions"; var addthis_brand="Routledge"; var addthis_header_color="#FFF"; var addthis_header_background="#3271bb"; Copyright © 2023/03/13 Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business | Privacy Policy | Accessibility | Access key details Informa plc - Informa: Registered Office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London, W1T 3JH. Registered in England and Wales - Company Registered Number 3099067, VAT Number: GB 365 4626 36 var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-18661261-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); (function() { var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true; ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js'; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s); })(); Book Information / Buy the book

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

Academic writing refers to a style of expression that researchers use to define the intellectual boundaries of their disciplines and specific areas of expertise. Characteristics of academic writing include a formal tone, use of the third-person rather than first-person perspective (usually), a clear focus on the research problem under investigation, and precise word choice. Like specialist languages adopted in other professions, such as, law or medicine, academic writing is designed to convey agreed meaning about complex ideas or concepts within a community of scholarly experts and practitioners.

Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Guide . New York: Routledge, 2008; Ezza, El-Sadig Y. and Touria Drid. T eaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill in Higher Education . Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020.

Importance of Good Academic Writing

The accepted form of academic writing in the social sciences can vary considerable depending on the methodological framework and the intended audience. However, most college-level research papers require careful attention to the following stylistic elements:

I.  The Big Picture Unlike creative or journalistic writing, the overall structure of academic writing is formal and logical. It must be cohesive and possess a logically organized flow of ideas; this means that the various parts are connected to form a unified whole. There should be narrative links between sentences and paragraphs so that the reader is able to follow your argument. The introduction should include a description of how the rest of the paper is organized and all sources are properly cited throughout the paper.

II.  Tone The overall tone refers to the attitude conveyed in a piece of writing. Throughout your paper, it is important that you present the arguments of others fairly and with an appropriate narrative tone. When presenting a position or argument that you disagree with, describe this argument accurately and without loaded or biased language. In academic writing, the author is expected to investigate the research problem from an authoritative point of view. You should, therefore, state the strengths of your arguments confidently, using language that is neutral, not confrontational or dismissive.

III.  Diction Diction refers to the choice of words you use. Awareness of the words you use is important because words that have almost the same denotation [dictionary definition] can have very different connotations [implied meanings]. This is particularly true in academic writing because words and terminology can evolve a nuanced meaning that describes a particular idea, concept, or phenomenon derived from the epistemological culture of that discipline [e.g., the concept of rational choice in political science]. Therefore, use concrete words [not general] that convey a specific meaning. If this cannot be done without confusing the reader, then you need to explain what you mean within the context of how that word or phrase is used within a discipline.

IV.  Language The investigation of research problems in the social sciences is often complex and multi- dimensional . Therefore, it is important that you use unambiguous language. Well-structured paragraphs and clear topic sentences enable a reader to follow your line of thinking without difficulty. Your language should be concise, formal, and express precisely what you want it to mean. Do not use vague expressions that are not specific or precise enough for the reader to derive exact meaning ["they," "we," "people," "the organization," etc.], abbreviations like 'i.e.'  ["in other words"], 'e.g.' ["for example"], or 'a.k.a.' ["also known as"], and the use of unspecific determinate words ["super," "very," "incredible," "huge," etc.].

V.  Punctuation Scholars rely on precise words and language to establish the narrative tone of their work and, therefore, punctuation marks are used very deliberately. For example, exclamation points are rarely used to express a heightened tone because it can come across as unsophisticated or over-excited. Dashes should be limited to the insertion of an explanatory comment in a sentence, while hyphens should be limited to connecting prefixes to words [e.g., multi-disciplinary] or when forming compound phrases [e.g., commander-in-chief]. Finally, understand that semi-colons represent a pause that is longer than a comma, but shorter than a period in a sentence. In general, there are four grammatical uses of semi-colons: when a second clause expands or explains the first clause; to describe a sequence of actions or different aspects of the same topic; placed before clauses which begin with "nevertheless", "therefore", "even so," and "for instance”; and, to mark off a series of phrases or clauses which contain commas. If you are not confident about when to use semi-colons [and most of the time, they are not required for proper punctuation], rewrite using shorter sentences or revise the paragraph.

VI.  Academic Conventions Citing sources in the body of your paper and providing a list of references as either footnotes or endnotes is a key feature of academic writing. It is essential to always acknowledge the source of any ideas, research findings, data, paraphrased, or quoted text that you have used in your paper as a defense against allegations of plagiarism. Even more important, the scholarly convention of citing sources allow readers to identify the resources you used in writing your paper so they can independently verify and assess the quality of findings and conclusions based on your review of the literature. Examples of other academic conventions to follow include the appropriate use of headings and subheadings, properly spelling out acronyms when first used in the text, avoiding slang or colloquial language, avoiding emotive language or unsupported declarative statements, avoiding contractions [e.g., isn't], and using first person and second person pronouns only when necessary.

VII.  Evidence-Based Reasoning Assignments often ask you to express your own point of view about the research problem. However, what is valued in academic writing is that statements are based on evidence-based reasoning. This refers to possessing a clear understanding of the pertinent body of knowledge and academic debates that exist within, and often external to, your discipline concerning the topic. You need to support your arguments with evidence from scholarly [i.e., academic or peer-reviewed] sources. It should be an objective stance presented as a logical argument; the quality of the evidence you cite will determine the strength of your argument. The objective is to convince the reader of the validity of your thoughts through a well-documented, coherent, and logically structured piece of writing. This is particularly important when proposing solutions to problems or delineating recommended courses of action.

VIII.  Thesis-Driven Academic writing is “thesis-driven,” meaning that the starting point is a particular perspective, idea, or position applied to the chosen topic of investigation, such as, establishing, proving, or disproving solutions to the questions applied to investigating the research problem. Note that a problem statement without the research questions does not qualify as academic writing because simply identifying the research problem does not establish for the reader how you will contribute to solving the problem, what aspects you believe are most critical, or suggest a method for gathering information or data to better understand the problem.

IX.  Complexity and Higher-Order Thinking Academic writing addresses complex issues that require higher-order thinking skills applied to understanding the research problem [e.g., critical, reflective, logical, and creative thinking as opposed to, for example, descriptive or prescriptive thinking]. Higher-order thinking skills include cognitive processes that are used to comprehend, solve problems, and express concepts or that describe abstract ideas that cannot be easily acted out, pointed to, or shown with images. Think of your writing this way: One of the most important attributes of a good teacher is the ability to explain complexity in a way that is understandable and relatable to the topic being presented during class. This is also one of the main functions of academic writing--examining and explaining the significance of complex ideas as clearly as possible.  As a writer, you must adopt the role of a good teacher by summarizing complex information into a well-organized synthesis of ideas, concepts, and recommendations that contribute to a better understanding of the research problem.

Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Guide . New York: Routledge, 2008; Murray, Rowena  and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach . New York: Open University Press, 2006; Johnson, Roy. Improve Your Writing Skills . Manchester, UK: Clifton Press, 1995; Nygaard, Lynn P. Writing for Scholars: A Practical Guide to Making Sense and Being Heard . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2015; Silvia, Paul J. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2007; Style, Diction, Tone, and Voice. Writing Center, Wheaton College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Strategies for...

Understanding Academic Writing and Its Jargon

The very definition of research jargon is language specific to a particular community of practitioner-researchers . Therefore, in modern university life, jargon represents the specific language and meaning assigned to words and phrases specific to a discipline or area of study. For example, the idea of being rational may hold the same general meaning in both political science and psychology, but its application to understanding and explaining phenomena within the research domain of a each discipline may have subtle differences based upon how scholars in that discipline apply the concept to the theories and practice of their work.

Given this, it is important that specialist terminology [i.e., jargon] must be used accurately and applied under the appropriate conditions . Subject-specific dictionaries are the best places to confirm the meaning of terms within the context of a specific discipline. These can be found by either searching in the USC Libraries catalog by entering the disciplinary and the word dictionary [e.g., sociology and dictionary] or using a database such as Credo Reference [a curated collection of subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, guides from highly regarded publishers] . It is appropriate for you to use specialist language within your field of study, but you should avoid using such language when writing for non-academic or general audiences.

Problems with Opaque Writing

A common criticism of scholars is that they can utilize needlessly complex syntax or overly expansive vocabulary that is impenetrable or not well-defined. When writing, avoid problems associated with opaque writing by keeping in mind the following:

1.   Excessive use of specialized terminology . Yes, it is appropriate for you to use specialist language and a formal style of expression in academic writing, but it does not mean using "big words" just for the sake of doing so. Overuse of complex or obscure words or writing complicated sentence constructions gives readers the impression that your paper is more about style than substance; it leads the reader to question if you really know what you are talking about. Focus on creating clear, concise, and elegant prose that minimizes reliance on specialized terminology.

2.   Inappropriate use of specialized terminology . Because you are dealing with concepts, research, and data within your discipline, you need to use the technical language appropriate to that area of study. However, nothing will undermine the validity of your study quicker than the inappropriate application of a term or concept. Avoid using terms whose meaning you are unsure of--do not just guess or assume! Consult the meaning of terms in specialized, discipline-specific dictionaries by searching the USC Libraries catalog or the Credo Reference database [see above].

Additional Problems to Avoid

In addition to understanding the use of specialized language, there are other aspects of academic writing in the social sciences that you should be aware of. These problems include:

NOTE:   Rules concerning excellent grammar and precise word structure do not apply when quoting someone.  A quote should be inserted in the text of your paper exactly as it was stated. If the quote is especially vague or hard to understand, consider paraphrasing it or using a different quote to convey the same meaning. Consider inserting the term "sic" in brackets after the quoted text to indicate that the quotation has been transcribed exactly as found in the original source, but the source had grammar, spelling, or other errors. The adverb sic informs the reader that the errors are not yours.

Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Murray, Rowena  and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach . New York: Open University Press, 2006; Johnson, Eileen S. “Action Research.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education . Edited by George W. Noblit and Joseph R. Neikirk. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020); Oppenheimer, Daniel M. "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly." Applied Cognitive Psychology 20 (2006): 139-156; Ezza, El-Sadig Y. and Touria Drid. T eaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill in Higher Education . Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020; Pernawan, Ari. Common Flaws in Students' Research Proposals. English Education Department. Yogyakarta State University; Style. College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Structure and Writing Style

I. Improving Academic Writing

To improve your academic writing skills, you should focus your efforts on three key areas: 1.   Clear Writing . The act of thinking about precedes the process of writing about. Good writers spend sufficient time distilling information and reviewing major points from the literature they have reviewed before creating their work. Writing detailed outlines can help you clearly organize your thoughts. Effective academic writing begins with solid planning, so manage your time carefully. 2.  Excellent Grammar . Needless to say, English grammar can be difficult and complex; even the best scholars take many years before they have a command of the major points of good grammar. Take the time to learn the major and minor points of good grammar. Spend time practicing writing and seek detailed feedback from professors. Take advantage of the Writing Center on campus if you need help. Proper punctuation and good proofreading skills can significantly improve academic writing [see sub-tab for proofreading you paper ].

Refer to these three basic resources to help your grammar and writing skills:

3.  Consistent Stylistic Approach . Whether your professor expresses a preference to use MLA, APA or the Chicago Manual of Style or not, choose one style manual and stick to it. Each of these style manuals provide rules on how to write out numbers, references, citations, footnotes, and lists. Consistent adherence to a style of writing helps with the narrative flow of your paper and improves its readability. Note that some disciplines require a particular style [e.g., education uses APA] so as you write more papers within your major, your familiarity with it will improve.

II. Evaluating Quality of Writing

A useful approach for evaluating the quality of your academic writing is to consider the following issues from the perspective of the reader. While proofreading your final draft, critically assess the following elements in your writing.

Boscoloa, Pietro, Barbara Arféb, and Mara Quarisaa. “Improving the Quality of Students' Academic Writing: An Intervention Study.” Studies in Higher Education 32 (August 2007): 419-438; Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; Candlin, Christopher. Academic Writing Step-By-Step: A Research-based Approach . Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2016; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Style . College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

Considering the Passive Voice in Academic Writing

In the English language, we are able to construct sentences in the following way: 1.  "The policies of Congress caused the economic crisis." 2.  "The economic crisis was caused by the policies of Congress."

The decision about which sentence to use is governed by whether you want to focus on “Congress” and what they did, or on “the economic crisis” and what caused it. This choice in focus is achieved with the use of either the active or the passive voice. When you want your readers to focus on the "doer" of an action, you can make the "doer"' the subject of the sentence and use the active form of the verb. When you want readers to focus on the person, place, or thing affected by the action, or the action itself, you can make the effect or the action the subject of the sentence by using the passive form of the verb.

Often in academic writing, scholars don't want to focus on who is doing an action, but on who is receiving or experiencing the consequences of that action. The passive voice is useful in academic writing because it allows writers to highlight the most important participants or events within sentences by placing them at the beginning of the sentence.

Use the passive voice when:

Form the passive voice by:

NOTE: Consult with your professor about using the passive voice before submitting your research paper. Some strongly discourage its use!

Active and Passive Voice. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Diefenbach, Paul. Future of Digital Media Syllabus. Drexel University; Passive Voice. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.  

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Key Terms in Academic Writing--Online Writing Center

Knowing and understanding terms and concepts related to academic writing, and being able to apply them, will help you organize your thoughts and ultimately produce a better essay or paper.

Important terms for you to know include:



Relate information to real-life examples; ask how information "works" in a different context.

Academic argument is constructed to make a point, not to "argue" heatedly (using emotion). The characteristics of academic argument include language that is

The purposes of academic argument are to

A convincing academic argument has two elements:

In written argument, the argument usually is crystallized in an essay's thesis sentence.

The concept is simple: You state your point and back it up. But the backing-it-up part is trickier, because so many things can go awry between point and backup.  Thus, the relationship between assertion and proof involves these:

What to Consider in Writing an Academic Argument

The argument itself.

An argument can be called

Whatever term you choose, it needs to be proven.

Three examples of assertions:

" Scents in the office can affect people's work" is an argument that probably can be proven.

There have been some studies done on the use of scents, especially in Japan, and their effect on workplace actions, workers' emotions, and productivity. It's likely that you will be able to find information on this in scientific or business journals that are written for professionals in those fields. So this actually might be provable by academic argument.

It's hard to determine whether the first example, "X is better than Y," is provable, as it's not specific enough an assertion. You'd need to define X and Y precisely, and you'd need to define the term "better" precisely in order even to approach having a provable argument. For example, the assertion "Learning through doing is more akin to the way most adults learn than learning through classroom lectures," is probably provable with evidence from psychologists, educators, and learning theorists. The point here is that an argument needs to be precise to be provable.

The last example, "UFOs are really government-regulated," may not be provable. "UFO" is a general term that needs to be more precise, as does " government" (whose?). Even if you define UFO and government, it may be impossible to find evidence to prove this assertion. Again, the point is that you won't have an argument if you don't have an assertion that can be proved.

Types of Proof

Proof generally falls into two categories: facts and opinions.

Many students assume, incorrectly, that the more facts, the better support for an argument; and they try to load the support with dates or numbers. But the opinions of experts in the field are just as important as facts in constituting proof for an argument. Expert opinion means that a professional, well-versed in a field, has interpreted and drawn conclusions from facts.

In writing--or in analyzing--an argument, you need to ask whether the assertion has appropriate proof in terms of type and quantity.

It's not enough to argue that adults learn better by doing than by listening to lectures, and to use the experience of one adult learner to validate your argument. You'd need more than one person's experience, and you'd need both facts (generally accepted psychological and physiological observations about the way we learn) and expert opinion (studies done that confirm the facts).

Relationship Between Argument and Proof

The assertion and the proof need to relate to one another logically to have create a solid, acceptable argument. Problems commonly occur in the relationship when there are incorrect assumptions underlying the assertion, or incorrect conclusions drawn on the basis of inappropriate or insufficient proof.

For examples:

In general, the assertion and any assumptions underlying the assertion need to be generally acceptable, while the proof needs to be sufficient, relevant to the assertion and free of incorrect assumptions and conclusions.

A good accessible text that examines the relationship between an assertion and proof (the nature of argument) is Annette Rottenberg's "Elements of Argument," which uses Stephen Toulmin's classic "The Uses of Argument" as its basis.

Rottenberg breaks argument down into

 She explores the relationship among these pieces of argument within the context of writing good arguments. Another good text is Marlys Mayfield's "Thinking for Yourself," which has particularly useful chapters on facts, opinions, assumptions, and inferences. Still another good text is Vincent Ruggerio's "The Art of Thinking" which looks at both critical and creative thought.

The Role of Language in Argument

Language style and use are crucially important to argument.

Argument exists not only in ideas but also in the way those ideas are presented through language.

Your instructor may mean "compare and contrast" when he or she tells you to "compare." Ask questions to clarify what is expected. Try to find interesting and unexpected similarities and differences. That's what your instructor is hoping for--ideas he or she hasn't thought of yet.

You are expected to be able to answer the question: What is the exact meaning of this word, term, expression (according to a school of thought, culture, text, individual) within the argument?

Generally, your definition is expected to conform to other people's understanding of how the term is used within a specific discipline or area of study. Your definition must distinguish the term you are defining from all other things. (For example, although it is true that an orange is a fruit, it is not a sufficient definition of an orange. Lemons are fruits too).

A clear definition of a term enables a reader to tell whether any event or thing they might encounter falls into the category designated.

Examples may clarify, but do not define, a word, term, or expression.

Tip : A definition is never "true"; it is always controversial, and depends on who's proposing it.

Answer the questions: What does or did this look like, sound like, feel like?

Usually you are expected to give a clear, detailed picture of something in a description. If this instruction is vague, ask questions so you know what level of specificity is expected in your description. While the ideal description would replicate the subject/thing described exactly, you will need to get as close to it as is practical and possible and desirable.

Usually you are asked to discuss an issue or controversy.

Ordinarily you are expected to consider all sides of a question with a fairly open mind rather than taking a firm position and arguing it.

Because "discuss" is a broad term, it's a good idea to clarify with your professor.

You are expected to answer the question: What is the value, truth or quality of this essay, book, movie, argument, and so forth?

Ordinarily, you are expected to consider how well something meets a certain standard. To critique a book, you might measure it against some literary or social value. You might evaluate a business presentation on the basis of the results you predict it will get.

Often you will critique parts of the whole, using a variety of criteria; for example, in critiquing another student's paper, you might consider: Where is it clear? not clear? What was interesting? Do the examples add to the paper? Is the conclusion a good one? 

Be sure you know exactly which criteria you are expected to consider in the assigned evaluation.

If there are no established criteria, make sure you have carefully developed your own, and persuade the reader that you are right in your evaluation by clarifying your criteria and explaining carefully how the text or parts of the text in question measure up to them.

You are expected to answer the question: What is the meaning or the significance of this text or event, as I understand it?

You might be asked to interpret a poem, a slide on the stock market, a political event, or evidence from an experiment. You are not being asked for just any possible interpretation. You are being asked for your best interpretation. So even though it is a matter of opinion, ordinarily you are expected to explain why you think as you do.

You are expected to go beyond summarizing, interpreting, and evaluating the text. You attach meaning that is not explicitly stated in the text by bringing your own experiences and prior knowledge into the reading of the text. This kind of writing allows you to develop your understanding of what you read within the context of your own life and thinking and feeling. It facilitates a real conversation between you and the text.

You are expected to:

A good summary shows your instructor that you understand what you have read and actually clarifies it for yourself.

Tip: Summary and summary-reaction papers are commonly assigned at Empire State College. Read more at Writing Summaries and Paraphrases .

Blend information from many sources; determine which "fits together."

Need Assistance?

Don't forget: if you would like assistance with this or any other type of writing assignment, learning coaches are available to assist you. Please contact Academic Support by emailing [email protected] .

Questions or feedback about SUNY Empire's Collegewide Writing Support?

Contact us at [email protected] .

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Effective Academic Writing 2nd edition Teacher's Site

Effective Academic Writing 2nd edition Teacher's Site

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Welcome to the Effective Academic Writing 2 nd edition Teacher’s Site! Throughout this Teacher's Site you’ll find sample materials, and strategic support that will help you and your students take full advantage of Effective Academic Writing .

Effective Academic Writing, 2nd edition– Contents

The table of contents and a brief overview for each student book for your reference.

Effective Academic Writing Online

Click Here to Take a Video Tour! Effective Academic Writing Online provides new digital content as well as interactive grammar exercises, writing assignments, and timed writing tests for extensive writing practice. The Online Writing Tutor contains writing models and frameworks to help students organize and structure their writing assignments. Instructors can use the online management system to track student progress and assign timed IELTS, TOEFL, and TOEIC-style Online Writing tests.

Outline Templates

Sample templates for writing outlines.

Peer Editor’s Checklists

Sample editor checklists for online writing tutor assignments.

Unit Test Prompts and Rubrics

IELTS, TOEFL, and TOEIC-style writing prompts and rubrics for unit tests.

Final Writing Tests

IELTS, TOEFL, and TOEIC-style writing prompts and rubrics for final tests.

Teacher’s Notes

An introduction to Effective Academic Writing, 2nd edition.

Student Book Sample Units

A sample unit for each level of Effective Academic Writing, 2nd edition. Each sample unit introduces an academic content theme and writing tasks and guides students through the writing process.

Additional Teaching Resources

Writing Template Outlines, Peer Editing Checklists, and Assignment Grading Rubrics to help support the use of Effective Academic Writing, 2nd edition.

Assignment Rubrics

Sample assignment rubrics for unit writing tasks and timed writing prompts.

Peer Editor’s Worksheets

Sample peer editing worksheets for writing tasks and timed writing.

Midterm Writing Tests

IELTS and TOEFL-style writing prompts and rubrics for midterm tests.

Student Book Answer Keys

Complete answer keys for each student book.

Level 3 Unit 6 Sample Stories

Ten sample stories from Unit 6 of the Level 3 Student Book.

Longman Academic Writing Series 3 Answer Key

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academic writing key answer


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