In the strictest sense, academic writing is what scholars do to communicate with other scholars in their fields of study, their disciplines. It’s the research report a biologist writes, the interpretive essay a literary scholar composes. The media analysis a film scholar produces. At the same time, academic writing is what you have to learn so that you can participate in the different disciplinary conversations that take place in your courses. You have to learn to think like an academic, read like an academic, do research like an academic, and write like an academic — even if you have no plans to continue your education and become a scholar yourself. Learning these skills is what this book is about.

Fair warning

Fair warning: It isn’t easy. Initially you may be perplexed by the vocabulary and sentence structure of many of the academic essays you read. Scholars use specialized language to capture the complexity of an issue or to introduce specific ideas from their discipline. Every discipline has its own vocabulary. You probably can think of words and phrases that are not used every day but that are necessary, nevertheless, to express certain ideas precisely. For example, consider the terms centrifugal forceOedipus complex, and onomatopoeia. These terms carry with them a history of study; when you learn to use them, you also are learning to use the ideas they represent. Such terms help us describe the world specifically rather than generally; they help us better understand how things work and how to make better decisions about what matters to us.

Sentence structure

Sentence structure presents another challenge. The sentences in academic writing are often longer and more intricate than the sentences in popular magazines. Academics strive to go beyond what is quick, obvious, and general. They ask questions based on studying a subject from multiple points of view, to make surprising connections that would not occur to someone who has not studied the subject carefully. It follows that academic writers are accustomed to extensive reading that prepares them to examine an issue, knowledgeably, from many different perspectives, and to make interesting intellectual use of what they discover in their research. To become an adept academic writer, you have to learn these practices as well.

Academic writing will challenge you, no doubt. But hang in there. Any initial difficulty you have with academic writing will pay off when you discover new ways of looking at the world and of making sense of it. Moreover, the habits of mind and core skills of academic writing are highly valued in the world outside the academy.

the service of changing people’s minds and behaviors

Basically, academic writing entails making an argument — a text that is crafted to persuade an audience — often in the service of changing people’s minds and behaviors. When you write an academic essay, you have to

· define a situation that calls for some response in writing;

· demonstrate the timeliness of your argument; establish a personal investment;

· appeal to readers whose minds you want to change by understanding what they think, believe, and value;

· support your argument with good reasons; and

· anticipate and address readers’ reasons for disagreeing with you, while encouraging them to adopt your position.

Academic argument

Academic argument is not about shouting down an opponent. Instead, it is the careful expression of an idea or perspective based on reasoning. And the insights gathered from a close examination of the arguments others have made on the issue.

Making academic arguments is also a social act, like joining a conversation. When we sit down to write an argument intended to persuade someone to do or to believe something. We are never really the first to broach the topic about which we are writing. Thus, learning how to write a researched argument is a process of learning how to enter conversations that are already going on in written form. This idea of writing as dialogue — not only between author and reader but between the text and everything that has been said or written about its subject beforehand — is crucial. Writing is a process of balancing our goals with the history of similar kinds of communication, particularly others’ arguments that have been made on the same subject. The conversations that have already been going on about a subject are the subject’s historical context.