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Academic Writing: Style Concerns

November 8, 2010

 

“The point in academic writing is not to sound intelligent but to get your intelligent point across.”

Hello Students,

This post is about writing style, which is quite possibly the most exciting aspect of writing itself!

Did you know that you don’t have to agree with everything that you read?  College is an opportune time to think critically and to engage in respectful, constructive dialogue with your peers and faculty.  A great way to begin the process of active learning is to hone and develop a writing style specific to your field of study.

Academic writing is a distinct style of writing–a tool that you can use to confront, challenge and contribute to [written] discourse with peers and faculty.

When you approach your paper…

 Ask yourself: what is my goal in writing this essay? Is it to INFORM, PERSUADE or perhaps ENTERTAIN?

Style is subjective. Who is your audience? How might an English paper differ from a Biology paper, a news article, or a short story?

COMMON STYLE CONCERNS to KEEP IN MIND:

Levels of Formality: Writing in a style that your audience expects and that fits your purpose is key to successful writing.

In-Group Jargon: Jargon refers to specialized language used by groups of like-minded individuals. Only use in-group jargon when you are writing for members of that group. You should never use jargon for a general audience without first explaining it.

Slang and idiomatic expressions: Avoid using slang or idiomatic expressions in general academic writing.

Biased language: Avoid using any biased language including language with a racial, ethnic, group, or gender bias or language that is stereotypical.

(The previous explanations can be found on purdue.com.)

Wordiness and Word Choice

Avoid using more words than necessary to get your point across.  Sometimes the page limit of a paper feels daunting.  You may be tempted to add lots of filler words, but you professor knows when you are not engaged with the assignment.   Be clear and concise—choose your words wisely.  Some words are too casual for an academic paper, others are out of context.  Avoid using a big word with the intent of impressing your professor if you’re unsure about its definition. 

Remember: Editing is an art in itself! 

 Passive vs. Active Voice

Passive Voice tends to make vague sentences.  When writing in passive voice, it’s easy to lose the subject of the sentence entirely.  For example, “the cake is loved.”  But who loves the cake?

Passive voice just sounds passive!

Passive voice tends to be wordy.  Notice how “sally loves cake” is a three word sentence, and “the cake is loved by Sally” is a six word sentence!

 *Scientific writing tends to prefer passive voice, so keep in mind your academic audience. 

Active Voice

In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. 

Ex. Sally loves cake.

Sally is the subject, and she is actively loving the cake.  Notice that the object of the action (“cake”) is hanging out at the end of the sentence.

Passive Voice

In passive sentences, the object of the action is moved to the beginning of the sentence where the subject usually hangs out.

Ex. The cake is loving Sally.

The subject is now the cake, but the cake isn’t actively doing anything.  Instead, it’s just passively being cake.

It always helps to have someone—besides yourself—take a look at your essay!

 Please Visit the MILLS WRITING CENTER:

Reinhardt Hall, Rooms 251 & 252 (Wing B)

Across from Founders and Commons

E: writing_cntr@mills.edu

P: 510.430.3147

Appointments: 510.430.3360

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