Patricia Drown, Kaplan University Faculty, Social And Behavioral Sciences
Nothing can put fear in to the heart faster than the prospect of academic writing. Our mind immediately fills with pictures of quill pens, dusty libraries, and some robed and bespectacled scholar bent over parchment spilling out polysyllabic words that will ring down through the ages. Relax. Academic writing is far less complex than it sounds.
I will leave it to others to explain the nuances of in-text citations, formatting, and references. What we want to think about first is voice. The tone of your paper is what makes it academic just as assuredly as the format–perhaps more so.
We have become a world of casual writers. Online students commonly use texts, emails, and Twitter to connect with peers and faculty, which can take academic writing from the realm of formal communication to something akin to chatting over the back fence. And there is a place for that. Just not in academe.
So how do you make the switch between the writing style that makes you a hit on Facebook and a writer presenting scholarly ideas?
Here are four practical tips for writing with an academic voice:
1. Remember for whom you are writing. You may communicate with your colleagues, classmates, and even your professor regularly, but when you communicate with any member of the academic community, you take on the responsibility of academic writing. Your academic audience expects a professional presentation of ideas–thoughtful, organized, and concise. In your own reading, who do you take more seriously–the writer who uses slang or starts a sentence with “OK” and assumes you understand, or someone who is in command of the ideas and expresses them clearly and concisely to ensure you understand?
2. Use simple and accurate wording. You do not have to be stiff and stuffy or use big words, but you should make every attempt to incorporate the language of your discipline within your writing. This not only helps your reader to relate to the topic, but also to you as a kindred spirit in the field.
3. Write out every word. Avoid contractions such as “didn’t” and “won’t”; write “did not” and “will not” instead. You will be surprised at how quickly using a formal style elevates the communication and overall fluidity of your writing.
4. Finally, remember you are a scholar. You are an expert on whatever subject you are sharing if you have done the research and are prepared. Presenting it with a formal, academic voice helps to validate the good and important research you have done and the conclusions you have drawn.
So, hold your head high, and face that keyboard without fear. Apply these simple tips to hone your academic voice and believe that you are an academic writer!