#acwri: academic writing

Updates: the Academic book of the future project kicked off in October 2014, holding #acbookweek from 9-16 November….see the open access essay collection, written as an “accelerated publishing challenge” during #acbookweek…på dansk, the poetic turn in academic writing and a moan about academic writing as incomprehensible to normal folk

I may have spent over 10 years editing writing by academics into something more accessible, but heck! academic writing is a thing, and as written by non-native speakers offers some opportunities for editorial and translation interventions. Can we boil things down to some rules?

First off, I took a look at FutureLearn/Reading’s Beginner’s guide to writing in English for university study, aka #FLeng4study, which started on 6 October and ran for five weeks. According to the organisers there were over 28K learners from 55 countries enrolled. Like most FutureLearn MOOCs the level felt sub-HE to me, but the following emerged:

  • the key features of academic writing are content (the main ideas and information you want to give plus evidence, ie details and examples), organisation (well structured and linked, giving a coherent whole), language (accurate grammar, good spelling, formal and objective rather than personal style)
  • more on organisation:
    • introduction – two parts; the first part gives some background to the topic, the second part has a narrower focus, telling the reader exactly why you are writing the essay (the thesis statement)
    • paragraphs – also two parts; the first part introduces the reader to the focus of the paragraph (the paragraph leader or topic sentence), the second, the paragraph body, develops the idea as introduced in the first part
    • conclusion – the first part summarises the ideas in the essay, the second part has a wider focus, giving a suggestion for the future, eg a prediction, recommendation or solution to a problem

Week 3 was on using academic language, perhaps rather basic, but illustrates some basic errors:

  • use the present simple for facts, which are permanent or always true and activities, which are repeated or regular; note that the auxiliary verb do is used with the present simple to form negative sentences and questions
  • use there is/are to introduce new information, followed by more information in the rest of the sentence or the next sentence
  • describe general situations using plural nouns without ‘the’
  • use the present continuous for situations which are temporary or changing; formed by using the auxiliary verb to be and the present participle
  • use a variety of clause structures:
    • compound sentences with two simple clauses linked by linking words (and, but, or, so)
    • complex sentences using subordinators (although, because, when, whereas)

Week 4 had some tips on writing a plan, perhaps using mindmapping software:

  • collect all the ideas you have
  • identify the main points and focus on these
  • draw a diagram to show which ideas and evidence to use, organised in a way to answer the hidden question in the title
  • don’t forget evidence (details, examples, facts) to expand on your points

Next up, #acwrimo, aka Academic Writing Month, which with impeccable timing started on 1 November. Find it on Twitter | Facebook | Scoop.it | spreadsheet | map. Launched in 2011 on PhD2Published, #acwrimo is not about quantity over quality but rather about “positive attitudes to writing and established regular and sustainable practices”, with participants encouraged to commit to six basic rules. There’s loads of activity already. Interesting reflections from regular participant Explorations of Style (2012 | 2013).

There’s also a permanent hashtag, #acwri, with fortnightly chats, which I shall keep an eye on no longer run, plus subhash #acwribomo,

And cue linkage!

English for Academic Purposes (EAP):

Style and alternatives:

Apps:

Blogs:

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