Academic writing is an important part of many different college courses – not just English – and therefore plays an important role in determining how well a student will perform during their studies. This style of writing has earned a bad reputation over time, due to its sometimes overly-rigid guidelines and unnatural feel, but it is most likely not going to change much in the near future. Contrary to what may seem obvious to some, the goal of academic writing on college campuses is often not to assess a student’s writing skills but to teach them new ways of thinking before they ever put pen to paper.
Exploring Possibilities and Perspectives
It is basically impossible to avoid being biased one way or another on a subject that you are very passionate about, or one that you have studied for a long time, but a lack of bias is a requirement in a lot of academic writing. Journalists live and die by how well they hide their bias, but make no mistake: they do have one. They’re not robots, after all.
Being able to write objectively, and showing a willingness to explore all sides of an issue, is a skill that all students should pick up on as they go. In this regard, academic writing not only helps to improve their English – it helps them to become more inquisitive and open-minded in normal day to day life.
Here are a few points that students should hopefully learn during their prolonged experience with academic writing:
- Avoiding generalizations: People often unknowingly make wild generalizations without even realizing it, or they simply imply it through sloppy writing. Avoid using words such as “never” and “all” unless you are sure of the usage, and can back it up. Instead, lean toward words such as “rarely” and “some”, or another word depending on the circumstances.
- Showing evidence: It is common for new students to be overly emotional in their writing – preferring their own experiences and anecdotes over facts and statistics – which has little value to the academic community. When a student is required to provide citations or otherwise back up their claims, it also enforces a sense of objectiveness and they will tend to explore other possibilities.
- Being specific: As mentioned above, generalizations in the way we understand the English language can be difficult to avoid, which makes specificity very important. Students should learn to be specific when writing, and particularly while citing evidence, so as to avoid the appearance of bias. For example: instead of discussing the habits of “older people”, students should give an age range of who they are talking about, even a general one such as “60+ years old”.
Getting To The Point
Students should learn how to edit their own work, cut out the fluff, and get to the point quicker, through the process of academic writing. This general skill encompasses many sub-skills such as being clear, exact, and using only the amount of words that are necessary to convey the point. Some writers of fiction also work this way, but it is more in line with the academic style of writing.
The benefits of being precise and frugal with words are many, and can be very important factors in readability and effect. Newer students often feel as if more words, and a longer page count, are automatically better things that will help them to get graded favorably. This is generally not the case, and an experienced reviewer or critic will most likely pick up on all of the padding and excess material that has been inserted for no apparent reason other than to get a higher word count.
Creating Interesting and Varied Writing
Another concern that newer students should seek to address is the problem of boring or repetitive writing. This problem can be completely unrelated to the subject matter at hand, and is often easy to fix or avoid altogether through experience.
Sentence structure can play a big part in whether a piece of writing appears natural, fluid, and interesting. Students should consider how well their sentences flow together, which creates a more engaging environment and encourages readers to continue, as well as attempting to vary the length and subject of each sentence.
One of the more common examples of this, particularly for brand new college entrants writing personal essays, can be called the “me, me, me” problem. They will tend to start sentences with “I” or “my” far too often. Throughout the learning process, these students will hopefully pick up on that repetition and attempt to vary the structure or subject of their sentences, which in turn helps to create better readability.
Writing Naturally Without Being Too Casual
Today’s generation of students come from a world of abbreviations and slang, which came about through the need for being concise in text messaging and some forms of social media. When these students come in to the world of academic writing they may either over-compensate by sounding too unnatural, or they may let too much slang slip in to their work.
By over-compensating, and attempting to write in what they believe is a “smart style”, they will use longer words where shorter ones would convey the same meaning. They may also create sentences that are longer than they need to be. This comes back to being economical with words, and writing in an inclusive style that “regular people” will understand without running for a dictionary every five minutes.
It takes time and practice to become a better writer, and in turn a more effective communicator. Academic writing helps students to refine this skill through trial and error, while giving them an audience to show their work to before it is unleashed on the general public.